The conversation wasn't exactly lagging, but it wasn't really going anywhere either. Pretty typical for the first Sunday of a new term, and typical of 6 adults who before today had not met and discussed spiritual things as a group. Yet the topic was especially difficult and contributed significantly to the occasional awkward silence: the topic was evangelism.
Our teacher had been talking about the necessity of self-denial, and posed this question for us to discuss around our table: "Why is dying to self an important concept when sharing our faith with others?" We weren't getting anywhere, so I brought up the idea of talking about self-denial with regard to raising children. Now THAT was something we could all relate to, and we came up with three ways we must deny ourselves when it comes to parenting, but the answers apply to evangelism or anything else we do as believers.
First, we must die to our desires to be at the center. Two families at the table had four kids. One couple had three, including twins. One was a widow raising a granddaughter in high school. All of us could relate to the daily decision to lay our wants and needs down at the cross for the betterment of our children. We did this first with our spouses in marriage, and exponentially more with every child God brought us.
The same thing is true with regard to living as an evangelist: we must set aside our rights and entitlements for the sake of those we share the gospel with. We can't be at the center and properly proclaim to others that Jesus is at the center.
Second, we must die to our desire to be liked. Often doing the right thing for my kids means willingly disappointing them. They don't always like what I have to say or do as their parent, even though I'm convinced that saying or doing it is a loving thing. For a while, they don't like me. My 4 year-old daughter loves to say, often within the same 10 minutes, that she loves me and doesn't like me, all depending upon how much I agree her opinions and convictions. But her choices can't be my guide. I have to die to my desire for her to like me at every turn if I'm going to be a good father.
Similarly, to be a good evangelist, I have to die to my desire that those I share the gospel with will still like me when I'm done. Reading through Paul's experiences in Acts, we see him constantly trusting Jesus with his reputation and need for companionship. On occasion, people rejected Jesus without rejecting Paul, but more often than not, sharing Jesus meant losing respect and admiration from the very group of people Paul had once led. Paul had to die to his desire to be liked by others in order to be an effective evangelist, and so do we.
Third, we must die to our desire to be the hero. What parent hasn't watched in anguish as their kids fail at something, and do so over and over again. I recall my oldest son's first soccer match a few year ago in which he was put in as goalie. One problem: the coach had not taught goalie to any of the kids, so my son was the guinea pig who watched ball after ball fly by him into the net. I'm not sure who suffered more: me or him. It was all I could do to not run out there and give him a few tips or grab the coach and demand a personnel change. I wanted to rescue him from his trouble. I wanted to save him.
Similarly, who doesn't want their family members saved? Who doesn't want to convince them of their need for the Lord, and even decide for them if we could? Even Paul said he would give up his own salvation if it meant salvation for other Jews rejecting Jesus at the time (Romans 9). But the role of the evangelist is not that of savior, but messenger. The successful evangelist is the one who shares the good news, PERIOD. Only God saves. If I'm going to be an effective evangelist, I have to die to my desire to be the savior, embracing my role as the messenger.
When I consider these three things, I'm reminded of Jesus' words in Matthew 16:24-25. How true they are! "If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it."