Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Steve Sjogren & Dave Ping's new book, Outflow: Outward-Focused Living in a Self-Focused World, (Group Publishing, 2006).
Imagine that your life is a fountain. If you focus mostly on yourself, you’ll be too dry or clogged up to flow properly. But if you shift your focus to other people, the living water of God’s love will flow through you to your family, friends, and others throughout your community and the world.
Here’s how you can let God’s love flow through you:
* Invite God to fill you up. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you. Then rely on His power and wisdom in your everyday life. Depend on God’s unlimited strength instead of your own limited strength. Recognize that God Himself will provide all the living water your fountain needs to overflow into other people’s lives.
* Remember your blessings, and ask for new ones. Make time to write down some memorable ways God has blessed you – including some blessings that came in disguise. Think about how those blessings have shown you God’s love in action. Thank God for specific blessings He has already given you, and don’t hesitate to ask Him for new ones.
* Let your selfish ways decrease so God will increase within you. Ask God to help you change selfish thought and behavior patterns. Pray about each of them specifically. Don’t depend on your own efforts or look to other people to find true fulfillment. Remember that God is the only reliable source of fulfillment.
* Offer your treasure to God. Recognize that God placed such a high value on you that He was willing to die for your sins so you can be reconciled to Him. Honestly ask yourself what your relationship with God is worth to you. Consider what you treasure most in your life – time, money, family, friends, your work, or something else. Then think and pray about how you can offer that treasure to God by using it to serve Him.
* Get to know God’s voice. Get your spiritual senses tuned up through prayer, Bible reading, and talking with Christians you admire who will help you grow in faith. Ask God to reveal Himself to you and help you recognize His voice. Stop hurrying; slow your pace of life down and pay close attention to ways God will speak to you every day. Stop worrying; realize that dwelling on your concerns will drown out God’s voice. Decide to trust that God is powerful enough and loving enough to care for your problems. Choose to trust that God knows what’s best for your life. Know that when you trust in God is when you’ll be most fulfilled. Pray for God to make you aware of the things that steal your time, help you give up control over the things you worry about, and to help you trust Him with every aspect of your life.
* Make time for worship. Recognize that worship isn’t just about attending a weekly church service; it’s a lifestyle of expressing your love for God all the time. Set aside time on a regular basis to praise God for who He is. Schedule times of prayer and Bible reading every day. Look for creative ways to connect with God each day, such as by hiking in His creation, journaling your thoughts to Him, or using the talents He has given you to serve people in need.
* Share every part of your life with God. Know that your contributions to the world may seem insignificant to you, but from God’s perspective, they make a powerful difference. Understand that small acts done with great love can accomplish just as much as huge, heroic feats for God. Don’t hold anything back that God leads you to give. Ask Him to use everything you have – time, energy, money, talents, lessons learned through suffering, and more – to accomplish His purposes. Be honest with God about all your thoughts and feelings. Fully express your hopes, joys, desires, fears, doubts, and struggles. Place them all in God’s hands and trust Him to transform them into a force in your life that will help you change the world for the better.
* Serve God with love. Decide to serve a cause that’s greater than your own life – God’s kingdom. Realize that you can’t earn God’s love, so don’t try to do so through service. Don’t serve expecting to get something for yourself in return, either. Instead, let your gratitude for all God has done for you motivate you to do what you can to contribute to His work on Earth. Ask God to help you see beyond your own problems to other people’s lives, and to make you aware of opportunities to help them. Don’t procrastinate; schedule a few hours this week to help a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker. Make it a habit to set aside time to help others; incorporate service into your lifestyle. Know that service will enrich not just those whom you help, but also you, because it will draw you closer to God. Expect that service won’t be convenient, but it will always be worthwhile. Let people whom you serve know that you’re helping them with absolutely no strings attached. When God leads you to do so, serve people anonymously. Be creative about ways to fit more service into your life, such as by transforming some of your daily activities into acts of service and using money you would have spent to buy something for yourself to buy a gift for someone else instead. Recognize that even small acts of service are hugely significant in God’s eyes and can have big results.
* Evangelize wisely. Acknowledge the negative experiences many people have had with evangelization efforts that come across as pushy, rude, arrogant, or disrespectful. Make sure the people you’re trying to reach with the Gospel know that you care about them as people – not just potential converts. Ask God to help you see people as He does. Pray for God’s love to flow through you into the lives of people you encounter. Make time to build genuine relationships with them. Remember that they need to know that you care before they care what you know. Consider what specific ways you can naturally let God’s love flow into the everyday activities you do with your family and friends. Think and pray about what acts of kindness you can do to communicate God’s love to them. Always be prepared to answer spiritual questions people ask, but do so with gentleness and respect. Remember that most people are loved into God’s kingdom rather than argued into it. Don’t feel undue pressure, as if you’re the only one responsible for bringing a loved one to Christ. Understand that God wants you to do your part, but that ultimately He is the one who works in that person’s heart to draw him or her into a saving relationship with Him. Remember that God loves your family and friends even more than you do, and, unlike you, God isn’t limited in His efforts to reach them.
* Listen well. Let people know you care about them enough to truly listen to the thoughts and feelings they express. Lay aside your own agenda in conversations and give people a chance to control the direction and pace of the conversation so they can fully express themselves. Know that doing so will tell people that you genuinely care, and will often lead them to share more openly with you about their spirituality. Be slow to speak, but quick to listen. Ask God to help you avoid becoming angry, defensive, or controlling when those you love say something with which you disagree. Ask people open-ended, non-threatening questions to help get them wondering about spiritual issues and begin exploring the issues more themselves. Pray for the Holy Spirit to get your mind off whatever might be distracting you and onto God’s purposes as you converse with other people.
* Reach out to your community. Whenever you’re out in public in your local area, ask God to give you His perspective on the people you meet so you can see them as He views them. Ask Him to help you have genuine compassion for acquaintances and strangers in your community. Pour out generous words and kind actions whenever you have opportunities to do so. Make it your goal to have every person you encounter experience some of God’s love through you. Notice people around you who seem to need more peace, and pray for them silently or even approach them to start up conversations with them. Make a habit of going to same stores and restaurants so the employees there will come to know you personally and you can share God’s love regularly with them. Get involved in what’s happening in your area by volunteering and serving in visible ways locally – not just through your church, but also through other groups like an animal rescue group or park conservation board . Take local adult education classes, join the Chamber of Commerce, or join a sports team to meet other people in your area. Consider kind acts like paying for the meal of the person in line behind you at a fast food drive-through, or tipping extra generously at a restaurant. Once strangers become your friends and you engage in deeper conversations, don’t hesitate to invite them to come to your home for a meal, attend an event like a sports game or concert with you, or come to church with you. Be sure that you’re reaching out to everyone you meet – even people who might make you feel uncomfortable, such as the disabled, terminally ill, or people struggling with addictions or poverty. Let God push you out of your comfort zones. Ask Him to replace your fear with faith, and help you love people unconditionally, as He does. Intentionally go to places where you’ll likely come into contact with people who have different values than you do – such as bars – and get to know someone there with whom you can build a genuine friendship. Recognize that God wants to use your efforts to reach out to help not only other people, but also you, by helping you mature through your relationships with them. Ask God to help you learn all He wants you to learn from the people you meet. Pray for God to reveal His vision for your community, and help you understand specific ways you can help fulfill that vision. Be willing to take risks. Remember that the point of reaching out isn’t to get more members for your local church, but to help people reconcile with God, no matter where they end up going to church. Look at a map of your community and pray for people in various neighborhoods. Consider walking through those neighborhoods as you pray.
Adapted from Outflow: Outward-Focused Living in a Self-Focused World, copyright 2007 by Steve Sjogren and Dave Ping. Published by Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, Co., www.grouppublishing.com.
Steve Sjogren is a best-selling author and founding pastor of Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. His innovative approach to evangelism helped the church grow from 30 people to more than 6,000.
Dave Ping is Executive Director of Equipping Ministries International. More than 130,000 pastors, missionaries, and volunteer leaders have been equipped to reach out more effectively using his practical training.