1. Ask questions
Good conversationalists have at least one thing in common: the ability to help the other person open up and talk. That’s certainly true of witnessing. You need to show the people you witness to that you’re interested in them, that you consider them and what they have to say important. That’s an important part of showing them love. And unless you ask questions, you’re not going understand them well or know how to relate to them. You’re not going to know what they need and how to best help them unless you ask them and get them to talk.
Ask about their background, their work, their family, their likes and dislikes, and so on. Try to get them to talk about themselves. With most people, that isn’t very hard. Most people are starving for attention and appreciation, so when you express interest and concern for them personally, they know they’ve found a friend and someone they can confide in. Don’t be surprised if before long even perfect strangers start telling you their problems and confiding in you as though you were an old and trusted friend. The Lord and the Holy Spirit will go to work in their hearts and show them that you really are concerned, and this will cause them to open their hearts to you.
2. Listen to the answers
Half of being a good witness is being a good listener. In fact, that’s often what people want most: someone to listen to them and sympathize, someone to talk to and tell their troubles to. If they feel you understand them, it helps them to communicate better and more freely.
You need it too. To be an effective witness, you need to get on people’s level, to put yourself in their shoes, to empathize—and the only way you can do that is by listening carefully to their answers. As the conversation gets deeper and your questions weightier, send up a silent prayer for the Lord to help you understand their hearts, as well as their words. Ask Him to help you see them as He does, and to show you how you can best reach them with His love.
You can encourage them by nodding in agreement, or guide the conversation by saying a few appropriate words from time to time, but resist the urge to expound on what they’re saying or using it as an opportunity to make a point of your own. Be careful to not cut them off; let them get everything out. Listening is not only one of the most important parts of being a good witness, but it’s also one of the most difficult. It’s only natural to be eager to supply answers to people’s problems and questions when those answers are clear to you, but don’t do so prematurely. You may end up getting someone’s whole life story, but keep listening. This is another important part of showing them love.
Listening also has this important side effect: Once you’ve shown yourself to be a good listener, others are more likely to be more interested in and receptive to what you have to say when it’s your turn to talk. They’ll be less defensive and more open to new ideas and views, and they will be more understanding themselves.
3. Give God’s answers
Once people have had a chance to unburden their hearts and you have come to understand their problems and needs, you’re in a position to give them God’s answers—the main one of which, of course, is accepting Jesus as their Savior so He can then better help them with all their problems.
Tell them how He helped you when you were going through the same thing or something just as bad, or tell them how He helped others. Then show them in the Bible where the Lord promises the needed solution or change. Quoting or paraphrasing verses from the Bible is good, but with most people, getting them to read those verses themselves, straight from the Bible, is even better. Help them to base their faith on the Word right from the start.
You may talk with a hundred people and approach the subject of salvation from a slightly differently angle with each one, depending on their background, problems, and needs. You may even use the same basic Bible verses with most of them, yet each time the Lord will help you tailor His answers to that person’s particular needs.
4. Get a decision
Once you’ve clearly explained the gift of salvation, then you need to bring people to the point of decision by asking them if they would like to invite Jesus into their heart and life, and offering to pray a simple prayer with them. Then if they say yes, you can continue: “It’s simple—you can just repeat after me.” And then you begin a short salvation prayer.
This point may be where your faith will get tested, because you probably won’t be sure what their answer to your invitation to pray will be, and you won’t want to risk offending them. But if you’ve done your best during the first three steps, then you need to trust the Lord that He has been working in their hearts and will help them make the right decision.
You can’t always win people, but you can always get a decision—either a “yes” or a “no” or a “maybe later.” Some people say “later” because they feel embarrassed: they either don’t know how to pray, or they feel too self-conscious to pray in front of you. Others want more time to think about it. But the fact of the matter is, there is usually no time when they’ll be more ready than they are at that moment, right after you’ve boosted their faith with God’s Word and a large dose of His love and encouragement.
Should you risk offending people by asking them more than once to make the decision to pray and receive Jesus right then and there? What if they say they don’t think they’re quite ready, or that they want to go home and think it over? Should you be “hard sell” or “soft sell”? A lot has to do with how receptive they have been to what you’ve told them and how close they came to praying with you, but a good rule of thumb is this: If you’re sure you will be seeing the person again and will have another chance to pray with them, soft sell. If it’s unlikely that you will see them again, then this may be their last chance to get saved, so don’t give up too soon—be a bit more hard sell. If after several promptings they’re still not ready to pray with you, be sure to at least give them a tract with the salvation message and prayer. Maybe they will be ready to receive Jesus once they’re alone and don’t feel so put on the spot, or after they’ve had a little more time to think about it.
There is an old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” That’s true of people too. You can lead them to the truth, but you can’t make them receive it. You can show them God’s love, but only the Spirit of God can help them make the right decision. Ultimately, the choice is theirs.
Even if they don’t pray with you to receive Jesus then and there, you can offer to pray for them as you wrap up your witness. This may help convince them of your sincerity and concern, if they still need convincing. It can also serve as an example of how easy and natural it can be to talk to Jesus in prayer.
You should also try to follow up on people who were receptive but didn’t pray to receive Jesus on the spot. Maybe they just needed time to think it over. If you call or visit them the next day or the next week, they may be ready to give Jesus a try—or you may find out that they’ve done so in the meantime.
Faith and understanding: How much does it take?
How much faith do people need, or how much do they need to understand about God or the whole salvation process before they can be saved? Surprisingly little, actually!
Jesus said that unless we become as little children, we can’t enter into the kingdom of heaven.1 Babies don’t understand all about their mothers or fathers or how they were born or all about life. They just feel their parents’ love and accept and receive it.
And that’s all people need to do to receive Jesus and be saved: feel God’s love in Jesus, knocking at their heart’s door, and reach out in childlike faith to open the door and invite Him in.—Adapted from D.B.B.
Be like Jesus—listen
Take a lesson from Jesus. When you take your problems to Him in prayer, does He just listen for a moment and then interrupt? Rarely. He’s always there, always available, and always ready to hear from you. He’s always willing to hear you out—to listen to your side of the story. He gets down on your level. He listens carefully to your words, but He also hears the muffled cries of your heart. You know He understands.
Jesus looks at your motives, not at whatever mistakes or messes you may have made. He’s never harsh or condemning. He always holds out mercy and hope and forgiveness. No matter how far you’ve strayed, He never stops loving you.
Listening—really listening—conveys love. It conveys not only your love, but also the Lord’s love for the person, which is unconditional, forever, and perfect in every way. Let others see Jesus in you by trying to be as loving a listener as He is, and you won’t have a hard time winning their hearts to Him.
Listening is a talent that can be cultivated. It begins with a sincere desire to understand others in order to better love and help them. Ask Jesus for the gift of empathy, and then ask Him to help you learn to put it to good use helping others and loving them into His heavenly kingdom.—Keith Phillips