Getting started is far easier than many imagine, but yet it is here that so many fail. Afraid of failing in our outreach many never even begin and, thus, we fail in a much larger way of not obeying the Lord and being carriers of the good news. However, it doesn’t need to be this way. In fact, it all starts with remembering who God is and who we are. Isn’t God the one who does the work and aren’t we just willing servants doing his will? We all believe this, but many will need to remember our foundations to help us walk out this belief in a practical way. I think of them as The Big Three because they are foundational for every type of ministry.
1. Truly love Muslims (or whoever the listener is)
As said previously, we need to love our Muslim friends from the heart. Love is the highest calling and identity of a follower of Jesus. Love gives our words weight. Do we want what we say to matter? Then serve them on a platter of love. The funny thing is, we all know who loves us and who does not, and we’ve all been victim of someone who makes us think they care for us only to try to get something from us. If we’re honest, we are all capable of this and have probably done it ourselves. Love can’t be acted out. Only true love from the heart can fulfill the Lords command.
Love is especially needed for Muslims. Many Muslims have told me how they feel Christians don’t like them. In the Middle East I’ve had been asked, “Why does the west (which is synonymous with “Christians” for many Muslims) hate us?” Sadly, some Christian leaders have confirmed this by saying terrible things about them. A mosque leader in the US even told me recently that Christians come to his mosque and are disrespect the Muslims there. This behavior stands in stark contrast to how Jesus commands us to treat others in Matthew 22:39 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” For those who believe all Muslims are our enemies, Jesus also addressed this as well in Luke 6:27 “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” If we really love them they should see it in everything we do whether we are having a spiritual conversation with them or not.
Love will not only give our words weight, but it will also provide opportunities to share. As my relationship grows with my Muslim friends I often see them growing more and more vulnerable with me or even start a spiritual conversation before I do. One friend who loves to argue even said one night “What if you’re a missionary or something?” I simply responded, “have I ever treated you like a project?” He thought for a second and said, “No, you haven’t” and then changed the subject to something else.
At this some will say, “OK, I’ll really try to love Muslims” but this will still fall far short, not to mention that our friend deserve far better love than this. We must admit our best human effort can only produce manufactured love, so wouldn’t it be far better if it were God’s love flowing through us? 1 John 4:7 says, “love comes from God”, so let’s go to God to get this love. All we need to do is ask. Before meeting a Muslim friend I often pray like this. “Lord, I want to confess that my own effort to love my friend will fall far short of the love you want me to express to them. So Lord, would you just fill me with your pure and holy love so I can express it as you desire.”
From there, I just go and be myself and have faith that God is going to accomplish this through me, and he often does. One evening while doing a study with some Muslims and Christians one of my more recent Muslim friends suddenly expressed to the group his appreciation for me. I was really taken back by the depth of his words and simply responded with “Thanks, bro. I love you too.” In hindsight, I’m honestly not sure specifically what I did that made him appreciate me so much, but I know I prayed that prayer and God somehow accomplished it through me. These prayers are often answered through little intangible things like how well we listen. God has a unique way for each of us to communicate his love, so just depend on the Lord to give you this love and go spend time with your friend.
This isn’t a prayer to simply pray once and be done with it, but to be prayed continually. I still pray this after many years. Praying this consistently will revolutionize your life even if it seems to happen at an evolutionary pace. Like children who don’t realize they are physically growing bigger we often don’t recognize how God grows out heart bigger as well. A surprise tackle from a two year old is much easier to handle than a similar move from a five year old. Likewise, as our love grows it will make a much larger statement. When you find yourself interested in actually getting to know your Muslim friend as a person and not just as a Muslim, when you listen intently and not just wait for your turn to talk, and when you have compassion on the for difficulties they face, then you’ll know that you’re prayer is being answered.
In sum, ask God to fill you with his love for your friends and then believe that he will do it. You’ll probably be surprised in how God communicates this through you, so there is no need to try to force it. Trying to demonstrate love too much on our own efforts can even look suspicious. Just pray, believe and go. Let God do the rest!
Key scriptures on love:
Matthew 22:35-40 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 15:17 This is my command: Love each other.
I Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
1 John 4:7-13, 16-19 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.
Warnings about a lack of love:
1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
2. Look for a person of peace
Luke 10 describes how Jesus sent out his followers to start by looking for a person of peace, but this is seldom who we think to look for in sharing our faith. Most of us start looking for anyone we can have a conversation with and get straight to the gospel as soon as possible. There can be merit to this, but it is not less obedient, spiritual or bold to keep looking for the right person and then focus your time with them.
So who is this person? Jesus described the same person in Matthew 10:11,12,14 as someone worthy, deserving, welcoming and willing to listen. I believe this can be summarized as someone who is relationally and spiritually open. A person of peace isn’t someone who is just looking for an argument, but someone who really enjoys friendship and is open to talking about spiritual things.
The beauty of looking for this person is that we sometimes get caught up with just one individual who, in the end, may not be even spiritually open at all. If your friend isn’t a person of peace then it’s ok to keep looking for someone who is. However, this doesn’t mean that you no longer see the person or that you aren’t friends with them any more, but just means that they are not the relationship you invest all your energy into. This may be hard, but remember that it was Jesus who told his followers to move on to another town if their message wasn’t accepted. Satan would love for us to get caught up in a relationship that goes no where, so we need to ask the Lord to guide us to the right individual.
Sometimes I’ll find out right away if a new contact is a person of peace or not, but sometimes it takes longer. Generally speaking, as we become friends with a Muslim, spiritual things will naturally work their way into the conversation. In fact, many Muslims LOVE talking about God. If this isn’t the case I ask the Lord to lead the conversation so I can see if my friend is spiritually open. As time goes on I’ll get increasingly bold in initiating something spiritual, but that also gets easier to do now that we are friends. As we saw in 1 John 4:18 “perfect love drives out fear”, so love will give us all the boldness we need.
Some of my friends are wonderful people but not spiritually open, so, on average, I’ll spend about 15 minutes a week with them. That’s a pretty small investment. It’s worth it because over time some have become more and more open. One friend seems to make a small spiritual step forward about every six months, so I regularly keep in touch with him. Another friend is incredibly busy and I only talk to him about every other month, but after five years he is now starting to ask me spiritual questions. Even the woman at the well in John 4 was, at first, a bit snarly with Jesus and even questioned his authority in verse 12, but Jesus kept the conversation going towards what really matters and we soon see her bring her whole village to Jesus!
As we seek to share Christ with our Muslim friends we need to remember that the Lord can draw people to himself who are not people of peace at all. In Acts 9:1-4, Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute Jesus’ follower when Jesus himself met him. Likewise, the demon possessed man in Mark 5:2 was also not a person of peace, but yet this man and Saul both came to faith. As we look for a person of peace we need to remember that the Lord will draw to himself whomever he will. One leader from the North Africa said they often see enemies come to faith. With this in mind, we need to keep looking for a person of peace while acknowledging that the Lord may bring someone else to faith at a moments notice! Our hearts need to be ready for both. A good way to pray is for the Lord simply to lead you to the right person and then don’t narrow your imagination for who that is.
As you go, a great prayer to pray is this “Lord, would you lead me to a person who is ready for a spiritual conversation. Please protect me from imagining the wrong things about what this will look like and keep me from getting discouraged if this doesn’t happen according to my schedule. I place everything on your alter as a living sacrifice according to Romans 12, so please continue to transform me through the renewing of my mind so I can do your will.”
3. Ask the Lord to speak through you
Generally speaking, a great majority fears the point of actually having a spiritual conversation. Many have said, “what if I don’t know what to say?” as if it’s all up to them. Others will try to replicate fruitful conversations that others have had with Muslims, but this can lead to a simply a series of robotic answers. Our goal is to love, and nobody has ever felt love from a machine.
I failed at this while attending university. While attempting to go street witnessing one evening in a rough part of town I thought it would be best to simply read through a gospel tract with someone and let the tract do the talking for me. You can probably imagine how well that went. I felt like a complete failure, but the Lord, as he often does, still used that in my life. Although my motives were good, the Lord showed me I was placing all my faith in the tract and not in him. I confessed this and then looked for answers what to do. It wasn’t long before I found something.
So how do we do this? Jesus told us in Matthew 10:18-20 “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Therefore, all we have to do is not worry about what to say or how to say it (the very things people worry most about) because the Lord will give you what to say. That’s it!
For many of us this will initially be very unsatisfying. It appears to be to simple, and many doubt that God can actually speak through us. The funny thing is most Christians have an easy time believing God created the entire universe simply by speaking and that anyone can be forgiven of a life of sin simply by putting their faith in Christ, but still somehow doubt God can put divine words in our mouths. Doesn’t scripture promise that God’s presence lives inside all believers? It was God’s very presence that guided the children of Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and the presence that filled the temple with smoke so much that the priests couldn’t do their temple duties (1 Kings 8:11). Imagine what the Israelites of the exodus would have thought if we would have told them “this same pillar of fire will one day live in each true believer.” I doubt they would have been able to comprehend it, but would have absolutely longed to see that day! This is the same presence that fills us now and we need to believe that it can work through us.
We see this command of Jesus being lived out be the disciples in Acts 4. Before this the disciples did not exactly have it all together. In fact, Acts 1:6, just before Jesus gives the great commission and then ascends, we see them ask Jesus if he is now going to restore Israel. What they most likely had in mind is not the salvation of Israel but a political restoration of their beloved homeland. It’s almost hard to believe that after all this time with Jesus they still get it wrong, but then something happens. In Acts 2 we see the coming of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ followers are changed from the inside out. By Acts 4 we see them, as Jesus said, arrested, put on trial, and speaking through the Spirit. Peter and John demonstrated this when the religious leaders “realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
I’m a firm believer in training people to reach Muslims (notice we’re building a whole website to do so!) but if we rely on anything but the Lord speaking through us our best efforts will only fall flat. As Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”, there is no amount of clever anecdotes that can open a closed heart, so we need to rely on the Father to do it for us. One of the greatest prayers we can pray is “Lord, I want to acknowledge that only you can give me the words to make a difference in their lives, so when I speak would you be the one speaking through me. Give me the right words to say Lord and help me not to worry about what to say or how to say it.” Our goal should also be to speak to their hearts. Jesus never spoke to two people in the same way and I believe that the Lord will often have us introduce Jesus to our friends in a whole new way as well.
I’ve often been in situations where Muslims want to argue and ask me seemingly impossible questions. At times this has left me thinking so hard for a good answer I feel like sparks are going to shoot out of my ears. In these moments we need to pause and simply pray “Lord, I confess I’m trying to think of what to say, so please help me to stop worrying about this so you can just give me the right words.” Again, this seems all too simple, but yet it is exactly what Jesus commands us to do. We may need to pray this prayer many times and that’s ok. Just keep working on it as a discipline until it becomes natural. Remember, Jesus said in John 6:63 “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” Our words need to be from the Spirit of God and not from our flesh.
When God answers this prayer it doesn’t feel like we suddenly have a face like an angel, at least not for me. In fact, it may even feel to us like nothing of substance, but when God speaks through us is will actually pierce the heart of the listener. Recently a friend told me “what you told me last week really blessed me and challenged me”. The funny thing is, when he told me what I said I didn’t even remember saying it. The best response is to silently thank God for speaking through me and avoid any temptation to let it become pride in my life.
In sum, we need to honestly ask ourselves if there is anything besides the Spirit of God that we are relying on to reach our Muslims friends and depend on the Lord to be the one speaking through us.
Summary of The Big Three
After considering that we to ask God to 1) help us truly love our friend, 2) lead us to a person of peace, and 3) speak through us, it is easy to recognize that we are completely dependent on the Lord for this entire process. Therefore, why would we worry about any of these things? No matter how little training or experience we have we should be able to go out in faith that God is the one who will work through us. The Lord is big enough to handle all our personal struggles. We are told to “cast all your anxiety on him” (1 Peter 5:7), so all we need to do is be faithful and go! Yes, we should still use our minds and give it our best shot, but yet recognize that we can only do this through the power of God in us. From this starting point we will find far more freedom, and even far more fun, as we walk with our Muslim friends and have conversations about the Good News of the Kingdom!
The Big Question
Some may be temped to read through The Big Three above with a checklist mentality and just tell themselves “OK, I’ll try to do that.” But before anyone goes out and does outreach we should quietly ask ourselves this question “Do I really believe that the Lord can use me to see a Muslim come to faith?” For many, this simple question is more revealing than we like, but it’s far better bring an honest “no” to the Lord and let him deal with it than to go out in ministry with a false “yes”.
If the answer is “no” then the Lord has a solution: bring this doubt straight to him! We need to remember that we serve the Great Physician, so, if we can get over our pride, a little heart surgery can bring renewed life to our soul. A great way to start this process is simply confess it. One way is to pray “Lord, I want to confess that I am having a hard time believing that you can use me to see a Muslim come to faith? Can you help me to believe in you in a much greater way.”
Some of us doubt the Lord can use us in a significant way because we have believed a lie. Perhaps someone once said or even implied, “you’ll never amount to anything” and we believed it. Maybe we have failed in one part of our life and have unknowingly taken on the identity as a failure. Such lies are Satan’s candy, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Another way to go deeper is to ask “Lord, can you show me where I stopped believing in you?” From there sit in silence and pay attention to what comes to mind. Maybe you’ll remember a hurtful or humiliating situation. If someone hurt you tell the Lord that you forgive him or her even if you need to ask the Lord to help you do this. Whatever the situation, ask the Lord to show you the truth about that situation and about who you are. We can even ask the Lord to show us lies that we believe in any part of our lives, but however we do this we need to cling to the God’s truth about who we are and how he can use us. By having faith in God’s truth we really are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) and, as we saw with David, watch children take down giants!