Evangelism is a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is a means of grace used to draw believers closer to Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filled people are soul winners because the Holy Spirit prioritizes bragging on Jesus (John 15: 26-27).
The triune God commands every believer to make disciples. You cannot make disciples without doing the work of an evangelist (Matt 28:19-20). Evangelism is hard work because we are engaging in a battle for the soul against an unseen foe. Paul commanded a young pastor named Timothy “to keep his head in every situation, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist and fulfill his ministry” rather than become frustrated with other image bearers and seldom evangelize.
Our unbelieving neighbors do not know that an unseen enemy will keep them in a quagmire of brokenness without repentance and faith. We, however, are aware that the evil one is at work blinding the eyes of these precious souls (2 Cor. 4:5-6). Evangelism is spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-6). We need God’s power through prayer to break the chains of sin in our lives so that we can see the Spirit of Christ break the chains of hopelessness all around us. The Holy Spirit will empower us if we rely on Him.
The apostle Paul is a wonderful example of someone who connects the power of prayer with soul-winning care. In Colossians 4:2-6, Paul prays for an opportunity to present a message of hope in a nonthreatening way. Paul knows careless words flowing from an uncaring heart will kill evangelism from the start. So, he models a simple prayer for evangelistic power, “God, help my heart so I can lovingly engage an unbeliever’s heart.”
Evangelism begins with prayer.
In verses 1:9-10, Paul says, “For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.”
In chapter 4:1-6, Paul provides a pattern for creating an evangelistic culture: prioritize prayer and thanksgiving before you do anything else (v. 2).
Paul believes transformative prayer will cultivate a heart of care. He says, “devote yourself to prayer.” Transformative prayer will help you pinpoint the true enemy. The Holy Spirit will give you a heart of compassion so that you see lost people rightly. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, commands the Colossian saints to pray for three things:
1. Pray for open doors to engage hearts (v. 3)
William Edgar, in his work Reason of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion, argues that apologetics (defending the Christian faith) is concerned about the whole person. Believers must learn how to discern the issues of a person’s heart before we open our mouths to speak. We pay attention to the eyes, body movement, voice intonation and we acknowledge their personhood.
This means we spend more time listening than speaking. We ask open-ended questions to hear their heart. We never speak over them. We listen and pray the entire time.
2. Pray for an open mouth to reveal His heart (v. 4)
God will give you the boldness to share His story alongside your story. Remember who you were before you came to Christ, who you are now that you are in Christ, and who you will become because of the love of Christ. You can reveal His heart by sharing your heart.
Evangelism is about friendship. God planned to redeem the world before the world was formed. You are a part of a great story of God’s redemption. You have the privilege of inviting others to enter this transformational story of love. Remember, an evangelistic message involves information and invitation. Tell them about sin. Tell them about the Savior. Invite them to embrace the loving arms of Jesus who died in their place.
3. Pray for a merciful heart (vv. 5-6)
People are not our enemy. They are victims of our enemy. You cannot allow cynicism to reign in your heart or your words will hurt people from the start. Hurt people, hurt people. Paul Miller says, “Cynicism looks in the wrong direction. It looks for the cracks in Christianity (and people) instead of looking for the presence of Jesus. It is an orientation of the heart.”
Prayer will season your tongue with mercy and will keep you evangelistically thirsty.
Curtis Woods is associate executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.