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FIRST-PERSON: So what’s an “open door” to do with the Gospel?

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) — One of the challenges of maintaining ministry or witnessing relationships is knowing when and how to offer spiritual input into another person’s life. It’s easy when “visitation” of people who first visited your church is your only model of sharing the Gospel or offering ministry to others. You know the purpose of the meeting, the other person knows it, and the conversation isn’t really started until the spiritual purpose is introduced. That’s fine in that context.

But what about your family members — the people you share holidays, family events, and life’s ups and downs? What about your co-workers, neighbors, friends at your gym, or other people you interact with on a consistent basis? Every conversation isn’t about the Gospel or other spiritual issues. In fact, if that is all you talk about you may find you don’t have too many of these people in your life. They see you coming — and go the other way.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to share the Gospel. We want to do that as often as appropriate. We are also supposed to be kind, not browbeating people or otherwise being a nuisance. When that happens, the Good News becomes bad news! None of us want that. So, when and how do you help your friends and family consider spiritual issues, particularly the Gospel? You look for open doors of opportunity.

Paul used this imagery in 2 Corinthians 2:12 and reported praying that “God may open a door for us” in Colossians 4:3. The image of an open door means “a created opportunity.” We should pray for and look for these in the lives of people around us. That begs the question, “What does an open door look like?”

Working with people, particularly as a corporate chaplain in the baseball world, has helped me to crystallize an answer. These four phrases encapsulate the “open doors” we are looking for: people die, health fails, relationships struggle, things break. When any of these things happen — and one or more of them is inevitable — the opportunity to speak up about the Gospel (and other spiritual resources God provides) is presenting itself. Pay attention and walk through the open door.

For example, a few years ago a friend’s mother died. I showed up at the funeral. He asked, “What are you doing here?” I replied, “I thought you might need a friend today.” Through tears he replied, “Thanks.” That moment opened the door for further conversation about his life, his mother, and his questions about life after death (and the Gospel). In another instant, a friend was injured in a work-related accident. I showed up, sat with his wife while he was being treated, and she said, “Can you say a prayer for us?” After that, we freely talked about God, the Gospel, and his care for us.

Pay attention to what’s happening to people in your circle of relationships. Don’t stress about how to bring up the Gospel or otherwise dialogue about your faith. Just watch for open doors — and have the courage to walk through them. Remember, when people are hurting most other people avoid them — afraid of saying the wrong thing or uncorking emotions they can’t handle. Don’t be that person. Have the spiritual maturity to draw close to distressed friends. When you do, amazing things happen.
Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., just north of San Francisco, and the author of “Live Like a Missionary.” This column first appeared at his blog, JeffIorg.com.
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