How (Not) to Save the World: Check the Easy Box
Excerpt from How (not) to Save the World: The Truth About Revealing God’s Love to the People Right Next to You by Hosanna Wong
I did not know how to speak to my brother. I didn’t handle his hurt perfectly. Thankfully I didn’t give him strange religious speeches, but I didn’t have anything better to say either. I was away at college, hundreds of miles away, and would call and ask how he was doing, but all he wanted to do was talk about comic books. I couldn’t get any emotion out of him, not even grief. He would merely respond to my questions with new cool things he discovered in the latest Marvel or DC Comic he was reading. (Did you know the Hulk was originally supposed to be gray, not green? And Wolverine was nearly named the Badger? You’re welcome. Love, Elijah.)
If I wanted to have a relationship with my brother, I had to start reading comic books. I had always loved superheroes, but mostly with a shallow, what-I’ve-seen-on-TV level of love. This was going to take some deep diving into secondhand comic bookstores and getting lost in the layers of cosmic universes and the psyches of mad scientists.
So that’s what I did. I fell in love with what he loved. I learned how he saw the world. Over the next couple months, whenever I’d call him, we’d have a lot to talk about. When I visited, we’d go to thrift stores and try to find hidden treasures. We had never been closer. I started to see the world like he saw it, not how I saw it. And this world had way cooler monsters, planets, and explosions.
When we take the time to learn someone’s lens of the world, we can speak more effectively into their real life. So often we want to do the right thing, say the right thing, but we don’t consider the context of who is listening on the other end of our perfected speeches. We get to pat ourselves on the back that we reached out to someone or we said the spiritual one-liner we’ve been trained to say, all the while not truly helping anyone.
I had to learn this the hard way.
Checking the easy box? That’s how (not) to save the world.
To be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20 niv), we will need to know two things:
- The words and ways of those around us. In essence, we need to know people’s personal languages. This does not solely mean the dialect of someone from another country or culture. This also means the worldview, the cultural lens, and the current feelings of someone who technically speaks the same language as you. What has your teammate gone through this year? What past hurts from the church do your neighbors have? What has your coworker been struggling with? What is your little brother’s favorite comic-book character? Have you spent the time with these people to ask these questions? Their unique answers will change how you speak specifically to each and every one of them. For some of us, we know the words of God, but we are not sure of the languages or lenses of the people in our lives.
- The words and ways of God. For some of us, we know the language of the world around us, but we are unprepared to speak on behalf of God. To be effective messengers, we need to consistently be reading the Word of God so we know what He is like, what He says, and how He speaks. Peter urged us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 niv). We need to be knee-deep in the words of Jesus and the ways of God, our Father, so that we are already prepared to speak with truthfulness, gentleness, and respect whenever a door opens.
We can easily read Peter’s words about being prepared to give answers and say, “Okay! Just tell me what words to prepare! What’s the speech?” But again, this won’t be a memorized speech that can be copied and pasted to every single person alive without knowing anything about them. That’s checking the easy box. That’s the solution many of us prefer. Isn’t there some solution to brokenness that doesn’t take so much time? Is there a way for souls to be saved that doesn’t take so much energy? What Jesus calls us to is a life of intentionally listening to Him, listening to others, opening doors, sitting at tables, having relationships, and speaking to people in ways they understand. A memorized speech won’t be in everyone’s language, relevant to everyone’s lens, and able to answer their specific heart’s most burning questions. Some of us know scriptures by heart, can quote a mini sermon at any point, and can give theological reasoning behind many of our church’s most sacred teachings, but we don’t know the questions people around us are actually asking, the hurts they are feeling, or the needs they have.
We must be good listeners of people and good learners of the Word of God. In a sense, we must become bilingual, learning both languages and lenses to communicate as clearly and effectively as possible. We need to know the questions people are asking and know God’s answers to their questions.
This won’t happen on accident. This will take reading the Word of God with more frequency and intentionality. This will take reaching out to your friends to ask how they are, asking your teammates about their lives, showing up to your neighbor’s sports games, going to your friends’ school plays, creating dinner parties at your home, and offering to spend time with and speak life to someone younger than you.
This will not be checking the easy box, but this will be what it takes to speak effectively into people’s lives. It may ruin your routines, push your plans, and take up more time than you anticipated. It may look like reaching out to those who don’t reach out to you and caring for those who don’t yet care for you. It may look like forgiving those who hurt you or canceling anticipated plans to mourn with someone who lost a loved one. This is the tough stuff. This calling is not cute. This will be the hard, humbling work, the dying-to-yourself work, getting your favorite clothes drenched in fresh mud to be in the dirt with people who are feeling defeated on an active battlefield. As we enter the sacred spaces of people’s hurting hearts, we will need to leave our egos on the sidelines. But we’re talking about resurrection. Actual resurrection. If we want to see people once dead in sin raised to life in Jesus, healed, and restored by His power, we might have to be uncomfortable sometimes.
Order your copy of How (Not) to Save the World: The Truth About Revealing God’s Love to the People Right Next to You by Hosanna Wong
Taken from How (Not) to Save the World: The Truth About Revealing God’s Love to the People Right Next to You by Hosanna Wong. Copyright © 2021 by Thomas Nelson
Hosanna Wong is an author, speaker, and performer who grew up in an urban ministry on the streets of San Francisco. She has toured the country as a spoken-word artist and sought-after speaker in churches and at conferences. She and her husband serve in various ministries feeding and sharing the gospel with homeless and low-income families. Learn more at hosannawong.com
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