My kids were six months old and three years old when I prayed a powerful, scary prayer one day in my living room: God, use me.
My life was certainly full of good things, which evidenced God already at work in my life, but it felt small. Not because my work as a stay-at-home mom was insignificant, but because much of my life was lived within the safe walls of our church and home. And although on one level I felt I couldn’t take on more than keeping my home, loving my husband, nursing an infant, and disciplining a toddler, my heart cried out for something more, and I found myself whispering that prayer.
God, use me.
I didn’t even know what kind of answer I was looking for exactly, but one week later I met Scarlett. Our daughters met, actually, at library story time, and Scarlett and I introduced ourselves as they played and I bounced my son on my hip. We planned a play date and learned about each other’s husbands, schooling, and families while our girls fed the ducks at the park. We kept meeting for lunch or shopping or a movie and discovered our shared love of a good novel and cute shoes. Here and there I wove details about my church and faith into our conversations, but only when it seemed to fit naturally, since she showed little interest.
A year into our friendship, the cancer that Scarlett had beaten earlier in her life came back with a vengeance. We traded the park and the mall for quiet afternoons at her house with mugs of tea in hand and blankets tucked around our legs. I brought muffins and flowers and cards, played with our daughters, and called often. I was determined to be a good friend; I was determined to love this precious family God had so obviously placed in my life. But I never spoke of the Savior I sought to represent.
Not until Scarlett was placed in hospice care did I finally face my deficiency in this relationship God had ordained. As my friend stared death in the face, I resolved to open my mouth and share the truth of Christ’s unfathomable love and the hope of the Gospel that has so captured me in every way. But I never got the chance. My sweet friend died suddenly on the day before I had arranged to visit her one more time and finally tell her about the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.
Though God only knows the state of her heart, I battled feelings of utter failure after Scarlett’s passing. I struggled with “what ifs” and with guilt and shame before finally laying it down at the feet of our sovereign God. I have since taken a hard look at my life and testimony and wondered why it is so difficult to share my faith with others. How is it that the truth dearest to me and most central in my life can also be so difficult to articulate? Why does the word “evangelism” make me sweat and shift in my seat? Why, when someone asks me to share my testimony of faith in Christ, or the plan of God’s salvation, do I feel like they’re asking me to suddenly stand up and give a reprise performance of my monologue in the 6th grade play? How can telling someone about the Gospel feel like a cheap and awkward sales pitch, rather than a sharing of the most precious treasure?
For me, living out the Gospel with actions is much more comfortable. I love to serve and give much more than I enjoy speaking. I cherished the popular quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words,” until I realized it is not what Scripture teaches. God’s Word clearly instructs us to both live and proclaim the Gospel.
Jesus is, of course, the ultimate model of this, and my favorite example is from John 11, when Jesus travels to Bethany to see Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus’ death.
“So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes on me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ she said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” (John 11:20–27)
Later in this chapter Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (11:38–44), but in the events leading up to that miracle, we see Jesus both living and proclaiming truth. He lived it out by being physically present with his friends in their grief. Bethany was not a safe place for Jesus at this time; it was close to Jerusalem and to the religious leaders who sought to kill him. But Jesus didn’t send a heartfelt sympathy letter to his friends, or even one of his disciples in his place. He made the sacrifice to be present with them. He shared in their pain and wept with them (11:33–35). He didn’t even skip ahead to the impressive miracle of calling Lazarus from his tomb. But he also didn’t miss the priceless opportunity to comfort Martha with the spoken truth of the Gospel, and even that affirming question: “Do you believe this?” (11:26).
Our aim is to follow Christ’s perfect example of both living and proclaiming the Gospel to our family, friends, and neighbors, so what hinders us? Why is this so difficult?
One setback is mistaking moral living for Gospel living. We think we are living a life that proclaims the Gospel, when really we are living a life that is comfortable, safe, and inoffensive. Only God has the power to save (John 6:44), but we are called to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” and to “look carefully then how [we] walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:1, 15).
The Gospel-centered life models Christ’s radical love, forgiveness, and sacrifice. It is not a passive reflection. It is an active embodiment of the truth, no matter the cost. “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” Paul admonishes in Philippians 1:27. Does our life display freedom in Christ from condemnation, sin, and death? Does our life boast salvation by grace alone through faith alone? Do we “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8)? This should be what drives our life if we want to radiate Christ to the world.
Our other obstacle is in boldly proclaiming the Gospel. It is really hard for most of us to articulate the good news of Christ to someone in a way that doesn’t feel forced or awkward. It can feel like we’re trying to sell people something they really don’t need, when in reality there is nothing anyone needs more. It might never come naturally to us, but it is our responsibility, out of love for others and obedience to God (1 Peter 3:15). But for it to be heartfelt, it needs to be in our hearts—daily. We need to preach the Gospel to ourselves first if we want to be able to proclaim it to others.
The Gospel is not something we need once; we need it every moment. We need to remember daily that it is not our hard work that saves us, but the grace of a merciful God (Eph. 2:8–9). We must not forget our wretchedly sinful state apart from Christ’s righteousness (Col. 2:13). We cannot take the cross of Christ for granted. If we keep the Gospel before us daily, it will transform the way we share it with others.
After Scarlett’s death God began to work this out in my heart, giving me a renewed love for the Gospel as I studied his Word, a deeper love for the people in my life who don’t yet know him, and opportunities to put that love into action. Next week I will be halfway around the world, part of a team proclaiming the love of Christ to Middle Eastern refugees and living out that love as we stay with them, eat with them, hear their stories, and teach them English.
At home I pray for those God places in my life, living the Gospel intentionally with my family in the lives of our neighbors and friends, proclaiming it at every opportunity, and still failing a lot. But God is faithful to work in me and in the lives of the people he has called me to love. He has even been faithful to keep Scarlett’s daughter and husband in our family’s life, that we might continue to live and proclaim the Gospel to them, and that he might be glorified still through that quiet prayer of a young mom’s heart: God, use me.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14–17)
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