The Right Heart:
The most basic step in reaching Muslims is simple: make a friend. How do you do this? First, in order to make a friend you have to be a friend. A good question to ask is “are you someone a Muslim would want to be friends with?” (Again, all this is exceedingly simple, but yet it is surprising how many Christians ignore this.) In order to be a friend you have to actually like the person you want to be friends with. So our question then is “do we actually like Muslims, or are they somebody we just want to have a religious dialogue with?”
Before we ever attempt to have a spiritual conversation with a Muslim, or anyone else for that matter, we need to check our hearts and see what our true motivations are. If we find that we don’t actually like Muslims, then our conversations will reflect that. Perhaps some have been raised in an environment that, whether openly or not, see’s Muslims as the enemy or perhaps others still feel the sting of events like 9/11. If this is the case, we need to confess it and ask the Lord for a fresh start. Jesus did not just give us a nice suggestion but a command when he said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Therefore, if we claim to be followers of Jesus in any way, we need to adhere to this basic law. For the vast majority of Christians, Muslims are not the enemy, but even if they are we still need to love them and pray for them.
This is exactly where Ananias was challenged in Acts 9. The Lord told him directly to go and see Saul, the great persecutor of the faithful who would later be renamed Paul. Ananias knew who Saul was and even tried to remind the Lord of this, but the Lord simply said, “Go” and then told him Ananias that he has great plans for Paul. Ananias obeyed, and soon we see one of the greatest men of all time released from blindness and boldly proclaiming Jesus as Lord.
Our challenge today is far simpler. Few of us will be told to personally encounter someone as violent as Saul, but yet our commission is the same, “Go”. Our attitude towards Muslims does matter. In order to truly be the fragrance of Christ we need to first communicate his unconditional love by the way we live. We can’t do this on our own, so asking the Lord to fill our heart with His love is a wonderful place to start.
Please note, being loving and relational can bring great opportunities even within a very limited time. Just like the multiplication of the fish and loaves, God can do amazing things even in a short encounter.
Once our hearts are right, we should simply find ways to meet our Muslim neighbors. This may simply be as easy as introducing yourself to a fellow student or neighbor, or, as I experienced while waiting to board a plane, I simply asked the two Muslims next to me “How do you guys like your iPhone’s?” Contrary to the way most Christians think, conversation starters don’t have to be spiritual. Subjects like sports, school, the latest electronic gadget, and many other things are wonderful ways to begin a conversation.
When in a new Muslim community I simply put myself near people and find ways to start natural conversations. At any time when I’m not chatting to someone I quietly pray as the Lord leads me. Intentional prayer walking through a community is a great place to start, but then be on the lookout for natural connections that can take place. Be patient through this process as perhaps the Lords wants a lot of prayer to be done before any conversation starts.
Through this process we need to be careful not to force a conversation on someone. If a person doesn’t want to talk, that’s ok. We can’t make them want to talk by talking more ourselves. Allowing a conversation to end before any spiritual content is discussed can seem like a failure, but yet perhaps the Lord is actually doing more than we can see through that. For example, in an initial meeting with a new friend I found myself frustrated with what I considered to be a lack of progress. However, I later realized that only after several conversations about “nothing” did I earn his trust as a friend which allowed trust to be built and provide a platform for later spiritual conversations.
It is also important to understand that we may get into a conversation with someone we would never expect. If this happens, don’t worry and just be a good steward of the opportunity the Lord gives you. This is exactly what Jesus did in John 4 with the woman at the well, and she ended up bringing her whole village to see Jesus! In fact, some of the best conversations I’ve had take place when I’m the least ready. One evening while doing an outside chore I got into a conversation with some men from the local mosque. I was dressed poorly and was dirty from the chore, but yet the Lord did great things. These men were actually professional Muslim evangelists and we had a wonderful conversation about Jesus.
If you don’t live near any Muslims then find the closest Muslim restaurant or café and just go be a good customer, but keep praying until the Lord opens the door for such a friendship. It usually happens that Muslims are closer than you think!
In sum, and as it’s mentioned in other places on this site, pray that the Lord will 1) give you a love for Muslims, 2) lead you to a person of peace, and 3) speak through you when the time comes. It’s very difficult to go wrong with these three foundations in place. Our job isn’t to generate results as the world seems them, but to just be faithfully wait on the Lord and, like Ananias, go when the Lord say to go.
Once a conversation or friendship is started it is not usually a long time before something spiritual comes up. We need to be very wise in these moments and not misinterpret it as an open invitation to share all of our information at one time. The desire to share everything about Jesus immediately is, for some, too hard to resist. Getting to this truth can happen quickly, but it should only come as the Spirit leads and as the listener is ready for it. When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well in John 4 he started with simple truths and then built on it. In these moments we need to be sensitive to the Spirits leading and chose our words wisely.
Think of these conversations as building a pyramid. We start with a very broad or general base and with each new level we are adding more specific truth. For example, we may start with the fact that God loves us, and then that we need God’s mercy and forgiveness to be made right before God, and so forth. Going through several of the characters from the Old Testament is a great way to add more layers of truth. Each consecutive layer of blocks gets narrower while elevating a seat for the pinnacle, which is that Jesus is the only way to God.
As we lay these foundations we may find that our friend is happy to receive it, if so then thoughtfully carry on to the next one. However, if our friend struggles with a particular truth, like “good works are not enough to justify ourselves before a holy God”, then we know which layer of foundation he or she needs. Skipping this step and moving on to Jesus is not likely to help our friend resolve this and it denies them the chance for the Lord to speak to them personally on this issue. Dealing with such issues will also build a more firm foundation which will later help them understand that Jesus is the only way.
If a friend gets stuck on a particular issue, just be patient and ask the Lord for guidance. Take time with them to study relevant passages and study in a way where they can discover the truth for themselves. Simply declaring something to be true will most likely be insufficient. Unfortunately, just like some of Jesus’ own followers left him (John 6:66) some may loose interest during this process. This is very difficult, but we can’t force spiritual openness and more than we can tell a flower to bloom. In this situation, keep praying, love your friend, and walk with him as far as you can.
There are some rare but increasingly frequent times when we find someone who has far more of a spiritual foundation than we realize. Some Muslims start reading the Bible or have a dream about Jesus and are therefore ready for you to jump straight to Jesus. Regardless how ready you feel, if your friend is ready then take them to the top of the pyramid right away. In doing so we should talk about being a follower of Jesus and having him as the great sacrifice over our lives. You can also simply say, “Let’s follow Jesus together” and continue walking with your friend in this light.
No matter where you begin or how many layers in your pyramid, once the time is right offer to get your friend his or her own copy of the Bible. Some will want this right away while others have only been interested in a Bible once I’ve explained the entire gospel to them. Either way, don’t force it on them but offer it as soon as it’s appropriate. The word of God is incredibly powerful, so this is a vital step.
If possible, get a Bible that is either in their heart language or one that has modern and simple English. One friend was given a Bible by a preacher and said he couldn’t understand it. I later found out he was given a King James Version, which is fine for many people, but exceptionally difficult for our Muslim friends.
One of the best ways we have found to start these spiritual conversations is by using a tool called the kingdom circles. Please go to that section next!