As the last few people filed onto the plane, to my surprise, the seat next to me remained open. Stuck in the middle chair for a cross-country flight, it now seemed as if my hopes of having some extra room to stretch out my arms and legs would come to pass.
Then suddenly, he sat down.
While getting settled into his aisle seat, the red-haired man pulled out a neck pillow and gummy worms. When he offered me some of his candy and politely asked my wife if she wanted his plane-issued blanket, I knew I had a talker on my hands.
But that wasn't the issue. The "problem" was the immediate conviction I felt rush through my Spirit to share the gospel with the stranger sitting next to me.
Motivated by the motto of Lecrae, Trip Lee and the rest of the 116 clique, I’d like to think that I live "unashamed" for Jesus. And thanks be to God, I've had the privilege of leading several people to Christ through ministry. But when it comes to taking the gospel from the safe haven of church to the uncertain ground of the streets, evangelizing to someone whom I know nothing about is a challenge that, honestly, makes me nervous at times.
What if they get mad at me or I turn them off by bringing up God? What if I say the wrong thing? What if he asks me a question that I don't know the answer to?
For six hours, I wrestled with those thoughts as the wide-eyed man periodically broached topics like sports, what led him to move to Hawaii, and his aging father back in Connecticut. I had my chances to bring up Christ, but each time I let them slip away, instead reasoning that my polite spirit was enough to plant the right seeds.
Hopefully, it was, and that was my prayer for him as our plane landed on the runway. One thing I did not need confirmation from God about was my disobedience to what He had placed on my heart.
As I asked for forgiveness, I began to wonder how often I had missed the mark in this respect. Sure, my neighbors see me and my family go to church each Sunday. And yes, those who know me soon come to realize my love relationship with God. But is that enough? If faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17), at what times must lifestyle evangelism give way to boldly sharing the gospel with an acquaintance or stranger?
Of course, there's no cut-and-dried answer to these questions. On one hand, it's safe to say that thumping your Bible to your co-workers or shouting about the world's impending doom are not the most effective means of evangelism. But as Jesus says in Matthew 5:15, "neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house."
As I continue to grow in this area, I've found that two things are critical to evangelism: prayer and discernment.
Outside of Jesus, if there's one man we can learn from when it comes to evangelism, it's Paul. In Ephesians 6:19-20, we find insight into what granted him the strength and words to win souls, all while enduring hate and torture for spreading the gospel.
"Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel."
God will never call us to do something without equipping us with the resources necessary to complete the task. All we have to do is ask. With all of the people we encounter and conversations we have on any given day, remaining in constant fellowship with God by renewing our mind with the Word is vital to generating the right words and approach to evangelism through the Holy Spirit.
Ask in prayer each morning that, in putting on the armor of God, the Lord will prepare you for any and every opportunity presented to lead people to Christ, seasoning your conversations so that we may be the salt of the Earth. And pray every night that God reveal in His wisdom how we can learn and grow from our daily interactions during the current season in which God has us.
One morning, my wife and I opened our door to see water flowing from under one of our neighbor’s doors. Thankfully, another couple had also noticed and was in the process of knocking on the door to make sure the people inside were fine. Thankfully, it turned out, they were.
The situation was a reminder of a challenge God has placed on my heart this year of better following His second commandment: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
If water was flooding out of my house – or more importantly, there was a leak in my spiritual life that needed to be attended to – I would certainly appreciate having a neighbor to come knock on my door for help/encouragement.
By praying for God’s discernment and wisdom to fall upon us daily, we are able to better position ourselves to attend to the needs of our neighbor. That way, rather than asking Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” like the lawyer did in Luke 10, we will respond as Jesus told us to in the parable of the Good Samaritan: To go and do the same – or in other words, be neighborly to all people.
Perhaps you sense that your neighbor needs prayer. Ask them – or better yet, pray with them on the spot. Perhaps you see them in need. Help them. Perhaps you feel led to show them the love of Christ. Invite them over for dinner.
In our fast-paced, keep-your-head-down world, it’s easy to justify that we or our neighbors – both the literal and figurative ones – do not have time to do such things. Or, like I did during that flight, we may find it intimidating to seemingly impose ourselves upon someone else’s life.
But in coming to terms with that, I leave you with two verses that have encouraged me in my continued striving to be more of a bold Christian. It’s amazing how, when I pray these verses aloud, God will grant me the conviction, courage and circumstances on that same day to plant seeds that, with prayer and love, God can ultimately blossom into another servant for His kingdom.
“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are bold” - 2 Corinthians 3:12
“For God has not given us a spirt of fear, but one of power, love and a sound mind” - 2 Timothy 1:7.
Brandon Parker is the Communications Manager for the NFL Players Association. Formerly a sports journalist for The Washington Post, he has a passion for impacting young men and women through writing, mentorship and outreach rooted in God's Word. Brandon lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter. You can follow him on Twitter at @brandoncparker.