"I want to find out more about Christianity. But I don't know where to start. I want to try a church. There's a church on my road, but I'm a bit scared about going there. What should I wear for church? I don't know if I'm a Catholic or a Protestant. I wonder if you could help me, please?"
People don't approach me with requests like that everyday. In fact, they probably do it once every five or so years. But there is nothing to get the heart beating faster than when someone we know signals that they are really interested in finding out more about Christianity. In this case it was a Brentford footballer in the youth team who I only knew by sight. How thrilling that someone is actually seeking spiritually! For me it's a bit like my old rugby playing days, when you're about to receive the ball with the try-line beckoning. It's all about taking a deep breath, controlling the adrenalin surge, and not doing anything foolish.
Let's be honest, it's easy to fluff it when it comes to helping people to see the truth and grace of Jesus Christ, isn't it? We can be cowardly, and let the opportunity slip; we can be clumsy, and leave people in even more of a muddle by our enthusiastic but ill-chosen words; or we can be overbearing, saying too much and just putting people off. We drop the ball, and the chance goes begging. So how do we make sure that we are channels of God's grace when people actually do want to find out about Christianity? Here are just two ideas:
Be yourself. If someone has asked you something, anything, about Christianity, it's presumably because they've seen something attractive about you. They feel safe to ask you. Don't then suddenly change into something you're not, least of all an arms-waving 1000 words to the minute apologist for the Gospel. They've taken a very big step in opening up to you as they admit an interest in God and Jesus Christ. Be yourself, and help them to take just one more step in their interest. Possibly they're at least as underconfident in asking you as you are in responding to them. Recognise that, and don't flap. You may not be the person to tell them the whole Gospel and answer all of their questions. You can, though, be a link in a chain.
Be patient. Most people take a thousand very small steps as they come to Jesus Christ, over a very long period of time. Maybe it was like with with you. Conversion happens overnight for very few people. For most of us it comes after a huge number of conversations, thoughts, changing perceptions, sermons, insights, and so on. It happens, to almost all of us, through the input of Christian friends. So my inquirer approached me six weeks ago, and was very serious about checking us out at Gunnersbury. I believe that he's still serious. But he's also nervous, and come sunday 10.30, he tells himself many reasons why today's not the day. I need to be patient with him, remembering that God was infinitely patient with me before I came to Christ. And I need to be prayerful.
In all of our efforts to see people coming to Christ, let's remember that we are called to point them not to ourselves, but to Him. Remember the Samaritan situation, in John 4? One woman encountered Jesus, a man who read her heart and her life-history. Her word to her fellow villagers was 'come and see a man' (Jn. 4.29). They went to check out Jesus because they had been encouraged to by someone who clearly had discovered something for herself in Jesus. And their experience? 'We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the World' (v. 42). Amen, may many see the difference Jesus makes in our lives and be motivated - and helped by us - to come to Him for themselves.