Sharing the Gospel with People Suffering Because of COVID-19: Example First—Words Second
In last week’s blog I presented several strategies for helping people who are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The strategies I recommended are practical ways you can follow Christ’s admonition in the Greatest Commandment to love your neighbors as yourself, particularly when trying to help people suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have long believed the most effective form of evangelism is setting a consistent Christ-like example for others. This is partly because setting a Christ-like example will carry more weight with people than mere words. But it is also because your example might open doors for a more in-depth sharing of the Gospel. Hence, my philosophy of evangelism is this: example first—words second.
When loving your neighbors as yourself opens doors, be prepared to share the Gospel and how it relates to their suffering. What follows are several points you can share with people who because of your Christ-like example ask for an explanation of how your faith helps in times of suffering:
God has a purpose for your suffering. God uses adversity to strengthen His saints as is shown in Romans 5:3-5: “We also exult in our tribulations knowing that tribulation brings perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint.” As Christians, we can stand up to the adversity we face knowing it is part of God’s plan to strengthen us for even bigger challenges in the future. This is the appropriate time to explain that God works all things to the good for those who love Him. He uses our suffering as part of the plan He has for our lives. This message may help your hurting neighbors see there is a plan for their lives and a purpose for their suffering. It may help them see they are not just random beings made to suffer by the unfeeling, uncaring whims of fate.
Use adversity to bring you closer to God. A lot of people, Christians included, allow adversity to drive a wedge between them and God when just the opposite is what is needed. Just as Christians should let adversity drive them closer to God, people who are suffering because of COVID-19 should do the same, believers and unbelievers alike. As human beings we are frail, but with God we can gain the strength to persevere. Sunny day believers will struggle with adversity just as much as unbelievers because life is like the weather, sometimes it rains and often unexpectedly. This fact will show unbelieving neighbors that Christians struggle with adversity and sorrow too. The difference is that as believers we have Christ to help us through the pain, fear, and uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into our lives.
You are not alone in your adversity and suffering. In stormy weather, the rain falls on believers and unbelievers alike. Life can be hard and often is. As Christians we are to seek out fellow believers who have suffered but persevered, learn from their experiences, and grow from their wisdom. We should also share their stories with hurting unbelievers who are seeking to know more about God. If you do not know of a fellow Christian who has endured adversity and suffering, go to Scripture and find role models there. The Book of Job is a good place to start. It is also a good story to share with unbelieving neighbors who are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic (or for any other reason). Biblical stories of suffering will show your hurting neighbors they are not alone, that suffering has been part of the human experience since the beginning of time.
· Refuse to give in to adversity and sorrow; never give up. As Christians, we can call on the Bible and prayer to keep our suffering in perspective, to give us the strength to hang on a little longer when we feel like giving up. God is bigger than the problems we face. He knows when we are suffering, and He knows how much we can take. God is like the coach who knows that athletes must suffer through the pain of being pushed to their physical, mental, and emotional limits if they are going to grow and improve. Consequently, we rely on God as our coach during times of adversity and sorrow. He knows our limits. This message will help your neighbors who are suffering because of COVID-19 see that there is hope. With Christ at their side, they too can endure.
Reach out to someone else who is suffering. As Christians, we know that one of the best ways to mitigate our own suffering is to reach out to others who are hurting and help them. This is what is meant in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of God.” Invariably, when we reach out to others who are suffering, we gain a more positive more thankful perspective on our own pain. No matter how badly we are hurting, there is always someone who is hurting more. Showing your hurting neighbors that in times of adversity, they can help themselves by helping others is one of the best gifts you can give them.
Take the long view. In times of adversity and sorrow it is easy to get caught up in the suffering of the moment and think our problems will never end. Consequently, it is important to learn to take the long view. When the suffering we are enduring seems it will never end, Christians can go to Scripture and read what is written in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” By clinging to God in times of trouble, we will eventually emerge from the darkness stronger and better. It is important to share this thought with your neighbors who are suffering because of COVID-19 because the adversity they face or the sorrow they feel might be blocking their vision of the future. People who suffer adversity or sorrow without the support of Christ tend to think the pain they feel at the moment will be with them forever. Make sure your neighbors know that even in their darkest hours Christ can point them to a brighter day.
As you help your neighbors cope with adversity and suffering, think of these words from Lamentations 3: 19-24: “Remembering my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall…This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassion does not fail. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul; therefore, I will hope in Him.” No matter how difficult the problems your suffering neighbors face may seem at the moment, the Lord is bigger than their problems and His compassion for them will not fail. Share this message with people who are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic when your Christ-like example opens a door.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press