Provoke Life

How to share your faith without being ‘that person’
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If you’ve spent any time on a college campus, you’ve probably run into one of the “Bullhorn People.”

The Bullhorn Person at my university was Brother Jed. He would show up the first week of school, set up camp in front of the student union, yell at college students for 4-5 hours, accuse them of sinful lifestyles, and tell them God had condemned them to Hell. Apparently, he did this at college campuses all over the country. 

To those readers who have never encountered Brother Jed, or any other Bullhorn Person, trust me. It was as lovely as it sounds.

I was raised in the church, but my faith didn’t really come alive until shortly before heading off to college. I wanted others to know Jesus as I had come to know him. But when I got to campus and encountered Brother Jed, I knew I didn’t want to be like that guy.

There are any number of versions of “that guy,” and the qualities of that status transcend gender. While most aren’t as dramatic as a Bullhorn Person, there is a way of talking about Jesus that serves as a turnoff to those not connected to church and faith. It’s how so many have approached evangelism in the past few decades—as a transactional encounter that leverages guilt over sin to elicit faith.

As a result, most Christians are hesitant to share their faith, often for fear of being lumped in with the Bullhorn People of the world.  

And yet, Jesus calls us to make disciples. As much as it is easier to believe you can pass on your faith without saying anything, I don’t think it works that way. The Apostle Paul wrote, “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10:14).

Jesus wants to bless the world with his life. He called disciples to “fish for people” to join this movement and receive this life. Jesus cast a vision for a new kind of community that would reflect this life. A community that would embody the Kingdom of God. A community that would be a light to all the nations of the world. A community that would “provoke life” both within and beyond it.

We call this vision for life and community the Beatitudes

The Beatitudes are nine statements describing who the blessed people are. We find that we become those people ourselves when we embrace this vision, live according to it, and make space for those people the Beatitudes describe. 

You’ve probably read the Beatitudes and heard them preached on. But have you ever considered the Beatitudes as a vision for your life?

People who embrace the Beatitudes quickly realize that you don’t need a bullhorn to tell people about Jesus. They become people who:

  • receive the Kingdom of Heaven and pass it on to others (Matthew 5:3)
  • are embraced by God and invite others into that embrace (Matthew 5:4)
  • inherit everything they were meant to have and help others enjoy their inheritance (Matthew 5:5)
  • no longer hunger for anything and be part of feeding those who do (Matthew 5:6)
  • find freedom from their flaws, and help others find that same freedom (Matthew 5:7)
  • align their hearts with the heart of God and guide others into that alignment (Matthew 5:8)
  • know the depths of love God has for them and become conduits of that love in the world (Matthew 5:9)
  • take hold of God’s eternal promise and grasp the hands of those straining to reach it (Matthew 5:10).

When you embrace the vision of the Beatitudes and live out your faith according to them, you will provoke a response. Others may look at you with the same kind of negativity that the Bullhorn People provoke. Jesus did tell his audience that living the Beatitudes would cause them to “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

But you will also provoke another kind of response, one equal and opposite to that negativity. You will provoke life. 

As you both receive and reflect the Kingdom Jesus came to bring, you will draw others to you and, through you, to Christ. You will earn the right to share the difference Jesus makes in your life and how Jesus can make a difference in theirs. You won’t need a bullhorn. You will BE a bullhorn, but one that speaks the Good News the world is desperate to hear and in a way in which the world might actually listen.

It isn’t for me to prescribe to you how to embrace the vision of Jesus found in the Beatitudes and live according to it. Every context and every disciple is different. But there are some questions you can begin to think through as you imagine how Jesus might want to provoke life through you. 

As you answer these, perhaps the Spirit will start to stir ways you might provoke life in your neighborhoods and networks of relationships without feeling like you have to be “that guy.”

Questions to consider:

1. Do people know you are a follower of Christ? How do they respond to you when you tell them? Would they know if you didn’t say a word about your faith?

2. How would you describe the difference Jesus makes in your life?

3. Which of the Beatitudes seems to resonate most with you? How could you make space for those it describes and become who it describes yourself?

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Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

Pastor Eric Johnson lives in Lake Orion, MI, where he serves as pastor/redeveloper of King of Kings Lutheran Church. He is the author of the forthcoming book Provoke Life: How You Can Help Jesus Change The World (coming December 2022). His great loves are Jesus, his wife Laura, his daughters Emma and Leah, and Ohio State football.

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