By Andrew Hoffman
We’ve explored ways to open gospel conversations with Bay Area natives who typically have succeeded wildly at life without seeming to try too hard, or without flaunting their success too much, either. They dress down, have a west-coast-jazz kind of mellow and almost always have vocations that combine idealism and earning power. They know something about everything, they act conscientiously towards all things, and often enshroud others with their emotional intelligence. These are high capacity people.
But, even the most conscientious person is tempted to attribute success to his or her own brains, skill or effort. If left unchecked, this self-congratulation bears all kinds of little children: contempt for others, impatience, pride. It is into this dynamic that we often find ourselves wanting to bring the gospel. Gospel sowing is agricultural work. You don’t walk into your field and push the “grow-plant” button. You do things that seem tangential at first, digging, tilling, seeding, and watering. Then one day a sprout pushes up almost seemingly by itself, with no explicit recognition of your previous efforts. In the same way, gospel conversations involve a great deal of tangential work. We sow, we till, we dig, we wait. One of the keys to this work is to plant reminders about the deep realities of life as we all know it. These become seeds with the potential for spiritual growth.
One such truth is that no matter how much effort any one person makes towards success and prosperity, much is a result of factors beyond his control: birth place, natural smarts, socio-economic level, parental influence, good fortune… the list is long. An easy seed to sow that carries great potential spiritual vitality is simply to say, “we are a fortunate people, we have been blessed to be where we are.” This simple statement is an undeniable truth. In it are conditions in which the gospel can thrive. Here flourishes humility. Here is the truth that much of our success is the result of forces beyond our control, which is humbling. In addition, compassion towards others and active service on their behalf, both natural outworkings of the gospel, become more likely when we realize that what we have is not merely the result of our own cleverness, but has been given to us, perhaps to steward for the welfare of others. These inner shifts constitute the beginnings of a transition from self-congratulation to self-giving. To make this shift is to take on the qualities of Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6–7a).
We can’t cause the gospel to grow in someone’s heart but we can foster conditions that make it more likely. So, how can you seed your next conversation with the recognition of blessing or fortune? How might God bring forth spiritual curiosity and enquiry from it? ©