by Jon Bloom
(Editor’s note: With this post, we continue our series One Question to the Gospel. We asked, “What one question has helped you begin a gospel conversation?”)
In personal evangelism, I rarely use the same method twice. Each person’s experiences, issues of concern, and views of God are different and so conversations follow different paths. So my first response when asked what one question I use the most as a bridge to the gospel was that I don’t have one.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that’s not true. The one question I ask more than any other when a conversation has ventured into personal concerns or beliefs is, “Can I pray for you?”
This question isn’t necessarily a direct bridge to sharing the explicit gospel, though it can be. But what it does for me and the person I’m speaking with is acknowledges the existence and presence of God and invites his or her direct, active participation in the conversation and the issue itself as an active participant. That’s not to say that God isn’t already participating. But in our conscious minds, it does make God less of an abstract topic and more of a concrete Person.
It is also a moment of mutual humbling, as both of us in effect confess that we are not gods and we need the help of our Maker.
As I pray in Jesus’ name, it explicitly names who the Maker is (John 1:1-3), and that there is only one Savior to appeal to (John 4:42), only one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5) who can take us to the Father (John 14:6, 1 Pet. 3:18). Praying in Jesus’ name can itself be a bridge to the gospel because when it seems appropriate, I can state explicitly in my prayer why I’m praying in that name.
We don’t pray to manipulate anyone. Prayer is not a formulaic evangelism technique. Rather, it is a real confession of our real need of God and it’s a real expression of our real care (and God’s) for the one we are speaking with. When someone detects our authentic faith and care in our desire to pray for him or her, it can connect with him or her in a way that’s different and sometimes more disarming than more abstract discussions or arguments do.
Praying for people is not a panacea. It doesn’t replace other helpful, needful questions or moments when bold proclamation and debate are called for. And in some cross-cultural contexts, this is potentially dangerous. So it always calls for Spirit-led wisdom and discernment.
But in my experience it’s rare that someone refuses an offer to pray for him or her. Every person, whether he or she acknowledges it or not, carries within him or her the image of God. And deep in the soul there is something, however dim, however darkened by unbelief, that speaks of God’s existence and his or her need of him (Rom. 1:19-20).
So, consider asking people more often, “Can I pray for you?”
Jon Bloom (@bloom_jon) serves as president of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched in 1994. He is also author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith.