Missional prayer leads to conversational mission. As Tom Nelson has said, it isn’t sufficient to stand on a shovel and pray for a hole. The gospel of Christ and the Christ of the gospel do not call us to prayer and inaction. He calls us to prayer and mission. Prayer and mission go hand in hand and are not optional; they are essential. Paul tells us to conduct ourselves with wisdom towards outsiders. What wisdom? The wisdom is living like Christ, living redemptively. In Christ are hidden all the riches of wisdom and knowledge. Who are the outsiders? The outsiders are the Gentiles, the nations, those outside the temple-city of Zion that God has called us to pray for and converse with. They are your co-workers and your neighbors, your family and your friends. How do we make the most of our time? This could be translated “redeem the time.” We redeem the time with our seasoned speech, our words of witness, with our conversations. This brings to mind Col 4.4-7:
pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
When Paul requested prayer for a door for the word, he also asked that he would speak clearly. He could have used any word to describe this witness—proclaim, preach, announce, declare—but he chose conversational words: speak, answer, speech. Preaching is just one way for the gospel to be communicated. Conversation is an equally important way. We need to speak the mystery of Christ in the vernacular of the culture. This means we need to know Christ and live Christ, to think theologically and live redemptively. We are to do so with grace, which does not mean you should memorize pat apologetic answers. We are to consider each person, which does not mean win the argument, lose the person. Instead, we need to engage in missional conversation, conversation that lovingly and relevantly presents the gospel and looks to God to open the door of the heart. David Powlison says we should do three things in conversation: 1) listen to others’ stories 2) empathize with their story and 3) redemptively retell their story.
A number of weeks ago, I walked into the Sportsman to get my haircut by Marlene. As she was cutting, we began talking.(I have known Marlene for several years, and as far as I can tell, she is not a disciple of Christ.) I looked for an opportunity to listen and to love, to find a place in the conversation where the gospel could speak…and the door opened. After some conversation about God and life, she shared: “I second guessed God this week.” So I asked her how. She told be about a highway patrolman who died last week, leaving a wife and seven kids behind. “That’s terrible, awful,” I said. “Where did it happen?” “Why?” she asked. “Why does he allow stuff like that?” I replied by telling her that was a good question, a difficult question. I asked he if she knew how the car wreck happened. She didn’t. I told her that God does care about that kind of stuff, but so does Satan. Satan wants it to happen and causes suffering. But, I said, he won’t forever because God has promised to right all wrongs, to secure justice forever; it’s just a matter of time. I continued, “The world is fallen; it’s a screwed up place. There’s all kinds of crap. But Satan isn’t the only problem. We’re also the problem. People are responsible for what they do—drugs, rape, and alcohol if it was involved in the accident. Stuff like this accident reminds us of our need for redemption. The world isn’t as it should be, but that’s why Jesus died, to set it all straight. She just listened. I continue to pray. God calls us to missional prayer and conversational mission. In fact, missional prayer will always lead to conversational mission.