It is not always easy to approach someone about the Gospel. Whether it is a family member, coworker or a complete stranger, striking up a religious discussion or requesting a one-on-one Bible study doesn’t come naturally for most of us. Sometimes we hesitate. Sometimes we are frozen stiff with fear. We can fear the unknown. We don’t know how people will respond. Maybe they will be angry if I start to talk about Jesus. Perhaps they will be confused, frustrated or uninterested. We start imagining all of the possible negative responses and it frightens us.
I think a Biblical character who could relate to this dilemma is Nehemiah. In the opening chapter of his book, He is presented with news of the struggling Israelites back home in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:1-3). Nehemiah is currently in a foreign land serving as the cupbearer for the king (Nehemiah 1:11). He is a good distance away and physically cannot help God’s people in rebuilding the city and the wall around it. He knows if he is going to go back to Jerusalem, there is one person he must go through first: “O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant…and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11).
If he wanted to go home, he would need the permission of one of the most powerful men in the world at that time: the king! Nehemiah asks for God’s blessing in this effort; he knows this won’t be an easy task. He might have imagined all of the possible negative outcomes. The king might get upset that Nehemiah is asking for time from his duties as cupbearer. Nehemiah could word his request the wrong way, anger the king, and be executed. The king could simply be apathetic and not care about the desires of any of his servants, including Nehemiah. He wants God to bless him with favor before this man, because he is nervous, hesitant and fearful of approaching the king. Let’s consider how Nehemiah deals with this trouble in application to our approaching people about the Gospel today.
First off, Nehemiah prayed to God about the situation. Even though it seemed hopeless, he asked God to open a door. And we must be mindful that, in our evangelistic efforts, God can open doors we think are locked and shut completely. He can put us in situations where we don’t expect fruits to our labors, and then the seed grows despite our expectations. We need to pray to God about the souls around us, the opportunities that arise, and the courage to overcome our fear of approaching people.
Secondly, Nehemiah prepared to approach the king. In Nehemiah 1:1 the story opens in the month of Chislev. In Nehemiah 2:1 it opens in the month of Nissan. Comparatively, these calendar points are about 4 months apart. It is a while before Nehemiah makes his request. But in that time of waiting, Nehemiah is active in preparation. When the king grants his request, Nehemiah knows exactly what to ask for: the time he will be gone, the time he will return, the supplies he will need, and the letters he will need signed by the king for travel (Nehemiah 2:5-8). He was prepared to speak to the king. The same can give us confidence in our approach to non-Christians. We can take time to investigate the individuals we want to evangelize to. Maybe we have heard a comment here or there that they have made about God. Perhaps they mentioned what church they are a member of. What do I know about that church? How did this person sound when they spoke about God; happy or angry? What are some doctrinal questions or challenges that might come up in a discussion? Spending some time preparing and practicing what we are going to say, and anticipating what things might be asked, can make us more confident to spread the Gospel in an efficient manner.