The invitation to evangelize is first of all an invitation to pray. It’s an invitation to move beyond your own needs in prayer, to give voice to other people’s needs, especially their spiritual needs. Remember, our goal as believers is to lift one another up into the arms of Jesus, who is our final destiny and our greatest need.
The simplest way to enter into the gift of evangelizing prayer is to ask for the grace to see someone from God’s point of view. Choose someone with an immediate need. Describe his or her situation to Jesus. Ask God what that person might need: a new job, a successful surgery, the mending of broken family relationships. Then allow these needs to act as a doorway for even deeper prayer, prayer that touches on the person’s deepest, most spiritual needs. And pray like this often, asking Jesus to meet this person’s greatest need of all—a living relationship with God as his or her heavenly Father.
When we pray this way, we join ourselves to Jesus, the great High Priest who stands before the throne of God (Hebrews 4:14-16). We also open ourselves to the charisms and gifts that God wants to give us to help that person.
For example, when Therese’s brother Robert was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, she began praying by offering up to Jesus all his medical treatments. She gave God her own fears too. Then she asked God to show her Robert’s deeper needs. This was difficult, partly because Therese and her brother spoke to each other only a few times a year, at best. “What can I do, Lord?” she prayed. Then she sensed God saying, “Why don’t you be his sister and call him!” So she committed herself to calling Robert every Sunday. God’s compassion and healing touched them both over the three years between his diagnosis and the time of his death.
Visualize God’s Presence. One way to enter into evangelizing prayer is by meditating with a photograph of a person, or by closing your eyes and imagining Jesus approaching him or her. Notice the affection Jesus has for the person, and imagine them embracing. Describe his or her need, and then listen for what Jesus might say. Pray in this way, being careful to also thank Jesus for the big and the small ways that he is already active in this person’s life.
Another way to pray is to imagine this person inside a building, perhaps in his or her home. Then imagine Jesus knocking at the front door, a door without an outside knob. Is the door locked or jammed shut? Is it rusted? Is it too heavy? Will this person open the door? Then imagine that something remarkable happens. All of a sudden, the condition of the door doesn’t matter. As you pray, Jesus passes right through the door and puts his arms around this person. And the strength of his love gives him or her the confidence and the inspiration to accept Jesus and the grace of his salvation.
Whom Do We Pray For? Scripture uses the Greek word oikos, meaning “household,” to describe the people with whom we interact on a regular basis—family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. These are the people we should pray for first, the people who already are, or who we hope soon will become, our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is what Jesus did when he prayed with Peter’s mother-in-law and when he prayed for all his apostles at the Last Supper.
So look at your circle of friends, relatives, coworkers, and acquaintances for people who might need to feel God’s touch and hear God’s word. Choose a few individuals to pray for on a regular basis and decide to pray for their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Pay particular attention to anyone who is not a churchgoer or who has a broken or sporadic relationship with God. Then watch for God’s invitations to share your faith.
Be open to the unexpected as well. It’s not always the most obvious people who are ready for a spiritual change. Often it’s the people who are experiencing major transitions that challenge their beliefs: the death of a loved one, a new job, a divorce, a marriage, a serious illness, or financial difficulties. These circumstances can become “divine appointments,” times when God’s love is present in a special way. Ask for God’s guidance in recognizing and responding to these needs.
John uses another strategy. He begins his daily prayer by asking, “Jesus, please send someone into my day with whom I can share your love and your word. Help me recognize the opportunities you give me.” He has learned that this prayerful attitude of readiness is vital if he wants to be able to help people come closer to God. Even if all he does is notice someone who needs prayer and prays for them, John is confident that he has made a difference in that person’s life.
A friend named Alice tried this strategy too. When she did, she was surprised at the idea that it might be God who was sending her an annoying woman—appropriately named Grace—who would come up to her desk at work every day and talk with her. First, Alice asked God to forgive her for being inattentive and judgmental. Then she prayed for the strength to listen to Grace every day. Over time, the two actually became friends, and they ended up evangelizing together: they invited two carloads of people from the office to a healing Mass in Alice’s parish! “Annoying Grace” had become “Amazing Grace” because Alice took the time to pray.
The Holy Compassion of Jesus. The second step in evangelization involves the way you care for the people you are praying for. It is the most common step you can take to connect them with Jesus. It involves befriending people in need, being truly present to them, encouraging them, serving them with a readiness to share, and performing the acts of mercy and justice that are the fabric of daily life. It is in this arena of caring relationships that we can become the most transparent witnesses to the loving presence of God.
The call to imitate God’s holy compassion is at the heart of caring in the name of Jesus. He wants his own love to become the very pulse of our caring. Jesus himself, as well as his disciples, show us how to do this. So too do many of the saints, who moved beyond a surface level concern and became effective and radiant instruments of God’s love.
Consider the many times when Jesus stopped what he was doing because someone’s needs touched his heart and called forth his compassion: the widow of Nain, whose only son and means of support had died (Luke 7:11-17); the woman with an incurable hemorrhage (8:43-48); and Nicodemus, who came to him with doubts and questions (John 3:1-21). This is how God wants us to see the needs of the people in our lives—especially those of our family members, who need a special kind of caring.
Keep in mind that this holy compassion is not primarily about what you give or what you do. It’s about who you are in Jesus. Only an ongoing, vital relationship with God can turn your acts of caring into acts of holy compassion. Holiness acts like a beacon, and it will attract the people around you who are in need of God’s good news.
A Sign of God’s Presence. No matter what form this kind of holy compassion and caring in the name of Jesus takes in your life, know that God will use you. You can become a sign of his abiding presence, his friendship, and his forgiveness.
Your combination of faith and compassionate concern can become a powerful witness on many levels. That witness, as well as the relationship that you have with the person, is what lays the groundwork for the next two steps involved in evangelization: sharing your faith and inviting people into your faith community. The friendships that come about through your acts of compassion and through the love you show people can create a bridge of trust that helps make them more open and willing to hear about how Jesus has changed your life. It may even make them hunger to be a part of your community of faith. In the next article, we will show you how you can share your faith and invite people to experience what you have.