Talking about God in a Troubled World
Heraclitus the 5th century BC Greek philosopher wrote: Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain. He was commenting on the creative thinking required to understand the nature and meaning of life. His wise words make a great deal of sense: many discoveries within science are unexpected; many of our experiences in life are unexpected.
Twelve months ago no one predicted the rise of a novel coronavirus that would impact the lives and livelihoods of millions around the world. Covid-19 has shown us that we are not in control of life and that we should expect the unexpected. Indeed, the discerning will ask, ‘Is there more to life?’
So, how should we respond? Come with me to Colossians 4:2. Paul the Apostle writes: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.
Prayer. The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal observed: God instituted prayer in order to allow his creatures the dignity of causality. God has made the universe in such a way that we can make an impact with our prayers – within certain limits of course. It’s an amazing thought. God has given himself the discretion to act within his overall plan according to our prayers.
Prayer is not just a means of keeping the lines of communication with God open. God listens to our prayers and answers them in ways that are for our good. Prayer of itself is not powerful. Prayer is only powerful because we are addressing the all-powerful God.
This is why Paul urged the Colossians to be steadfast in prayer. He knew, for example, that effective outreach begins with persevering prayer. To devote ourselves to prayer is to bring our requests to God in much the same way that the energetic widow of Jesus’ parable did. In this parable in Luke 18, the widow gave her local magistrate no rest until her cause was settled.
The first Christians were committed and enthusiastic in their prayer. Humanly speaking it is one of the reasons for their terrific success in spreading God’s good news. Perhaps Paul’s Colossian readers had become apathetic. That’s why he insists, Continue steadfastly in prayer… ‘Never give up praying’, he is saying. ‘Your prayers may not be answered immediately. But never give up.’ Indeed, the Bible tells us it is God’s great passion that people turn to him. This is a prayer we can be assured God will answer.
Notice also the emphasis on thanksgiving. True prayer can’t exist without heartfelt thanks, any more than thanksgiving can exist without prayer. They feed and fuel each other.
In this context Paul wanted the Colossians to pray, not that the doors of his prison might open, but that opportunities might open for him to declare the mystery of Christ – even while he was in prison. Yet how often do we pray that God will open up doors of gospel opportunity for us?
The way we live. But there is more. Consider verses 5 and 6: Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the most of the time. 6Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Paul has two pieces of advice for the Colossians, and for us – about life-style and speech.
We are all obliged to act wisely and graciously towards people we live and work with. We are to live out the new resurrection life that Paul has been writing about in chapter 3, with wisdom and integrity.
We are also to cultivate conversations that are gracious and yet seasoned with salt. We are not to be bland, insipid, and gossipy, in our conversations, but rather we are to start doing the unexpected, pushing back against the culture, looking for, and even creating opportunities to raise questions about the meaning of life. We can do this over coffee or a meal, or online. As we do this, we need to be prepared to answer people’s questions.
With people you know you might ask: ‘How are you really doing in these troubled times?’ You might also consider ways you can bring a comment from a book such as John Lennox’s very readable, Where is God in a Coronavirus World? Remember, our aim is to explore ways to introduce the notion that there is more to life than this material world.
You might look for an opportunity to ask: ‘Do you think there’s anything beyond this life?’ ‘Friends of mine feel we only have one life and we should make the most of it. What do you think?’ If the response is that there’s no future beyond the grave, you could ask: ‘Are you sure about that?’ You could also add: ‘For me the Christian idea of resurrection has a lot going for it’.
If their response is that there’s a future beyond the grave, you might ask: ‘Can we be sure of this?’ It’s worth remembering that Jesus’ resurrection is foundational for Christianity. Every sermon recorded in the Acts of the Apostles refers to it.
Furthermore, be prepared to tell your own story of faith in no more than three minutes. Begin with a brief account of your life and then focus on two or three unexpected events that led you to faith in Christ. Because it’s your story, it’s important.
And don’t forget, it’s worth pointing enquirers to one or two introductory courses: ‘Christianity Explored’ and ‘Word One-to-One’ are very good.
Above all, continue steadfastly in prayer – perhaps for five people you know – that the Lord will provide unexpected opportunities for you to introduce them to the Lord Jesus Christ, whose love and compassion are far greater than we ever dreamed.