My auto mechanic in Turkey was the miraculous survivor of a hand-grenade attack by terrorists. Despite ongoing pain from his wounds, he was always cheerful and filled my visits to his mechanic shop with comedy and comradery.
Then one day he called me and, in a most serious tone, told me he urgently needed my help. He insisted I take him to my church and counsel him. Of course, I was very curious what he had in mind. He was a conservative Muslim and had never come to my church before.
So on a Tuesday afternoon we sat down together in our quiet sanctuary. The mystery deepened as he told me with foreboding how a foreign woman, a stranger, had told him that there was a stash of gold—lots of it—in his family’s cherry orchard.
He was so freaked out about this revelation that he couldn’t sleep. Now, like Pharaoh calling on Joseph, he was asking me to interpret this cryptic message. All I could think was that the lady was some kind of medium or psychic. After an hour of talking and praying with my friend, the answer to this riddle suddenly dawned on me. The foreign woman must be a Christian who had told him, “You have treasure hidden in a field!” (Matt. 13:44). So, as we sat together in the church, I opened the Bible with him.
This woman had left him with a thought seed that was so loaded, it wouldn’t leave him alone! She accomplished something significant: stirring deep thought.
That is a great tactic for any tentmaker or missionary—to get people to think outside their ordinary round of life duties.
Christians often hold back from spiritual conversations with Muslims in an attempt to be polite, but in fact most devout Muslims are eager to talk about sacred things because they are as alarmed by the growing secularism in society as true Christians are.
In this sense, when witnessing to a Muslim, it is prudent to begin your spiritual conversation viewing them as an ally rather than an opponent. Remember, you are talking to a person who appreciates an all-powerful Creator, who values prayer and the prophets, who believes in an end-time judgment and who has convictions that there is a straight path to live by.
Obviously, their understanding of the details of the straight path are quite different from ours. We know Jesus said, “I am the Way.” That isn’t so obvious to your Muslim friend. So respect for the Bible is an initial building block you can work on. The big question is how to get them to dig into that “field” of the Bible and find the treasure of Christ.
One of the primary ways Christians alienate Muslims is by taking the role of teacher. We must remember we are working with someone who is equally certain that they are right. So declarative statements of “the Bible says” rarely go anywhere with your Muslim friends. Rather, consider how you can creatively get your Muslim friend to see with new eyes. Here are three ways to do this:
When asked if he is a Christian, one of my friends likes to respond, “A little bit.” That is a redirect, prompting the questioner to follow up with, “What do you mean?” This gives my friend opportunity to explain that not all of what is called Christianity is what Christ intended. The principle is to turn questions in a direction the hearer least expects. To the man who asks if I believe the Quran, I may say, “The Quran and Bible serve two different and important purposes. The Quran reminds us to love Allah, while the Bible reminds us that Allah loves us.” This leads to a deeper conversation.
Fear is the greatest enemy. Unfortunately some religions do their adherents the disservice of heaping on loads of fear. I often like to ponder hopeful things aloud in the hearing of my Muslim friends. In this way, they find conversation with me rewarding. Anyone who has the hope of Christ can minister to Muslims by talking about scripture promises, visualizations of grace, encouragements of God’s love, and hope about certainties God has given to the faithful.
In Islam, people largely avoid asking “why” questions about their beliefs. So I have found that creating curiosity is like giving an oyster a grain of sand to turn into a pearl. Curiosity can sometimes be developed by just alluding to a subject. For example, you might ask, “What do you believe happens to a wicked person after they die?” Let them answer, and then say, “Oh, that is much different from what I believe.” Then stop and allow the curiosity to build. Or you might ask, “How do you believe Jesus was born?” Let them answer and then say, “Hmm. I wish you could read the words that Gabriel spoke to Mary. They are so interesting.” If they ask for more, delay. “It really is something very different,” or “I am not sure you would want to know, as it is based on the words of a Jewish prophet.” Their curiosity will allow you to go much further than you could if you were pushing your thoughts on them.
Life is busy, but people still do think. It is our duty and privilege to help them think about significant things. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again, and He told the woman in Samaria to drink Living Water. We can follow His example and use words that stop people in their tracks and make them take notice. Let’s help people to sink their plows deep. There is much treasure in that field!