In dealing with the woman of Samaria (Jn 4) the Lord is showing us that there is a way to use, as it were, a dimmer switch to lead a soul gently into the full light of the gospel, into the full light of spiritual things in a Scriptural way, without compromising the truth. Thus the desired end can be achieved in a inoffensive manner that complements the work of the Holy Spirit of God in a person, and which when we practice it may be referred to as "gossiping the gospel".
Having grasped the opportunity and opened the conversation some might now find that the difficulty is in swinging that conversation to spiritual things. I think that when these two points, opening the conversation and swinging to spiritual things, are not defined separately it leads to confusion in thinking that we must somehow start the conversation in the spiritual realm, which itself introduces fear because we suspect the likely reaction may be unfavourable. There is one of these old stories of a barber who attended a seminar on witnessing and on returning home afterwards thought about the many people who passed through his shop. Wonderful opportunities had been missed because he had never witnessed to any of them. So he determined to speak to the first person who came into his shop. A man came in, sat in the chair and said, "Shave this beard off please". The barber stood behind him honing the razor until it was really sharp. He was very nervous and came round to the front with a big red face, eyes bulging with fear, razor shaking and said, "Friend - are you ready to die?" He lost his customer. His problem? He did not start off in the natural realm, and because he started off with spiritual things fear had caused him to become unnatural.
How do we overcome the fear of opening a conversation? Let me suggest a few things.
1. Recognize that the Lord is the ultimate creator of opportunities
It is helpful to appreciate that we are not up against the world, the flesh, and the devil on our own, and that there is One who is more interested in the souls of men than we are. The example left by the Lord, as a dependent man, is given in Isaiah 50.4: "He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned". So, at the beginning of every day seek the face of God for wisdom and discernment. He knows every circumstance and situation that will come into your life each day. Pray for the wisdom and discernment to recognize every opportunity, and pray for courage to take them.
2. Be as natural as possible
Consider those who are good at personal work. Notice how relaxed they are with people and how they seem to be so friendly towards everyone they meet.
3. Practice being friendly
Get into the practice every day of being friendly to people you meet. Begin speaking to those you meet every day in a friendly way. If you are not used to doing this begin simply by saying things like, "Hello - nice day isnt it?", or, "Awful day isnt it?", or, "How are you?". Start simply; always ask a question so that the person knows you are interested in them and that you would like a response. We are truly blessed as a nation in that we have a natural built-in friendliness that some other nations do not have, and we should use that to our advantage in gospel witness. From personal experience I know that it is a rare street that you would walk down in Northern Ireland without someone nodding at you or saying, "Yall right?". Other nations are not all so friendly, neither do they have such a national pastime as we do - the weather. We all love talking about it and everyone has an opinion on it.
4. Remember that you do not have to be an expert on any subject
You can start off a conversation in the natural realm, just to establish a rapport and open up a dialogue simply by being friendly and talking about something nearby - the garden, flowers, a car etc. You do not need to be an expert on any of these topics. Remember that you are not entering into the conversation to demonstrate your great knowledge on natural subjects. All you want to do is to show that you are a friendly person, interested in people. You want the peace of mind and soul that you have, that godly contentment that you enjoy, to come across in the conversation, and that will pave the way for the eventual swing to spiritual things.
5. Be on the lookout for natural topics - Acts 17: the inscription to the unknown god.
Try to remember good illustrations, sometimes just a comment or line will relax both parties and build the rapport - but be natural about it. You could perhaps say something about their dog, relate a short story about your car, or say, "Thats a lovely child you have". This will give the other person a chance to respond in a friendly way and will often show what kind of a disposition they have, and this will sometimes be a direct link into spiritual things. The apostle Paul used this method in Acts 17 when he spoke about the altar to the unknown god.
6. It is extremely important to smile
We may not smile enough, yet volumes have been written on the value of a smile. There are none on earth who have as much to smile about as believers. A smile is welcoming: a smile says, "I am glad to see you", "It makes me happy to meet you". From time to time I have to stand at the front door of the Gospel Hall and greet people coming into the meeting. I always try to make them feel welcome, perhaps with a nice comment on their dress, or suit, or Bible. I am always looking out to see what it is that makes people feel comfortable and welcome. Many are the things that I have said and done to make people feel at home that have never been commented upon, yet I have lost count of the number of people that have said that the most important thing to greet them at the door is a smiling face. A smile of welcome says so much without any spoken words.
7. People are most happy when they are talking about themselves
In a survey carried out on behalf of a telesales organisation, telephone conversations were recorded and scrutinised to find the most popular subjects that people in general liked talking about. What was found was that in all the conversations and words analysed the most frequently used word, and hence subject, was the word, "I". People love talking about themselves, but afterwards will usually ask about you as well. When someone specifically asks about your life or interests then you have a green light to immediately swing to spiritual things. You have not imposed your desire upon them, you are not saying, "Now, I want you to listen to me", nor have you given the impression that what you have to say is far more important than what they have just said. Because you have started in the natural realm and they have now invited you to speak about yourself, turning on the light of the gospel will not be such a shock or be offensive to them. They still might not like it, but you have been able to witness to them in a friendly and courteous manner.
That is how the Lord Jesus led the conversation in John 4. He started off speaking to the woman in the natural realm, and the woman then asked a question. What prompted her to do that? I judge it was His friendly manner. She was taken by it, for He was so exceptionally friendly. "Why are you so different?", was her real question and the Lord immediately swung the conversation to spiritual things.
To be continued.