Overflow: You can’t give away what you don’t have

Dr. Bruce Hopler

Vice President of Church Strengthening

Point Magazine // September 2022

If you have spent much time reading the Scriptures, you know sharing your faith is critical to being a healthy growing disciple. Knowing it is one thing; doing it is another.

I have heard all sorts of excuses for Christians not to share their faith. OK, I’ve made all those excuses myself.

I’ve said such things as:

  • I don’t want to come off sounding like a cheap salesman.
  • I don’t want to be a hypocrite, and this person has seen enough of my flaws.
  • I don’t want to be embarrassed.
  • I don’t want to lose my standing with this person (job position, friendly neighbor, new friend).

The reason evangelism is so difficult is we make it that way. Sure, our fears and anxieties are a big part of this. But why is it so hard to share the Good News?

No matter how introverted you are, if you have an incredible, life-changing encounter that others can benefit from, do not hold back. Share your story.

At the risk of sounding harsh, not sharing the gospel’s Good News and how Jesus transforms lives often results from not having recent stories of God impacting your life. But the deeper you press into your relationship with Jesus, your faith will spill into everyday living as it overflows out of your life.

Simply put, you can’t give away what you don’t have.

Sharing your faith is not only an activity you do; it is something that comes from the overflow of Jesus’ love in you.

What is overflow?

My wife recently retired from teaching fourth grade. She often taught in a Christian school focused on under-resourced children from broken, nonreligious homes. She aimed to lead her students to Jesus without the fear-based evangelism that encouraged children to raise their hands through a subtle form of peer pressure, as she experienced in her childhood.

Instead, she shared with them daily what God was doing in her life. They would hear about God’s love and see what a transformed life looked like.

Last year, one by one, every student in her class placed their faith in Jesus. Many were baptized in our pool by a local pastor who invited their families to church. That is overflow.

Recently an elderly neighbor sought out my wife and me following her husband’s death. We were the only people she sought out, even though we were not very close to her. Every day when we walk our dog, we wave, smile and occasionally make small talk.

She did not know I work in ministry. But as she put it, she was drawn to us. So now we have an open door to minister to her. That is overflow.

When my wife and I engage in relationships with people and create a ministry of presence, those relationships naturally become deeper. That is overflow.

How does overflow occur?

Effective evangelism occurs when you share out of the overflow of your journey. Rather than trying to learn the latest tricks and tips to share Jesus, I challenge you to learn instead how to work on your spiritual formation so that your faith is fresh and vibrant.

We learn in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

When you learn the discipline of working on your inner self, your outer self naturally transforms, drawing people to you. Of course, you need to freely share that Jesus is the center of who you are; but it is in no way pushy if people come to you to learn more about how to receive what you have discovered.

Psalm 46:10 (NASB) says we should, “Stopstrivingandknow that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth.”

If we pursue a deep, authentic relationship with God, the overflow of our transformation becomes the very reason our neighbors and our world will come to meet, know and follow Jesus.

Spiritual growth requires discipline. But what if you lack discipline?

How do you grow in your spiritual journey, so that your faith is so vibrant that it naturally overflows into the lives around you? It’s not easy, and I still have much work to do in my life.

The Bible teaches us spiritual growth requires discipline. According to Hebrews 12:11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Another word for discipline is intentionality. You may not always feel like growing, but you can get there by adding highly intentional structures into your life. So, here’s a good rule of thumb: Where you lack discipline, add structure.

For example, I love the idea of being physically healthy, but my taste buds love Twinkies® and my body revolts every time I exercise. My body lets me know it is not my friend when I employ physical disciplines in my life. But I do it because I want to be physically healthy.

Spiritual disciplines work the same way. Being highly intentional about working on your inner life is neither natural nor easy. You must value your spiritual growth over the ease of comfort.

Prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, small groups, generosity and confession are foundational to the Christian life. So, Christian, if you lack discipline, begin by adding structure to one or more of these spiritual disciplines.

How you can incorporate spiritual disciplines into your life

If you are more seasoned in your faith, it does not mean disciplines become easier. On the contrary, sometimes it requires more creativity. So, while not ignoring those already mentioned, some other spiritual disciplines might help you grow deeper in your faith.

As you reflect on these, prayerfully ask the Lord to reveal one or two that he might be leading you to incorporate into your life. But, of course, you can’t do it all. So instead, look at what you think might be right for you.

1. Focus: Choose a word for the year

Ask God to reveal a word or a theme he wants you to work on in your life. Then, once you have that word, pray daily for God to reveal what he is showing in your life.

Examples include lovegraceoverflowslowfocuscourage and patience.

2. Margin: The art of making room

Our busyness often keeps us from seeing and responding to where God works. Do you need to put your phone down more often or schedule fewer activities? We often miss where God is at work because we cram too much into our lives.

3. Creating fresh rhythms: Recognize ways you draw nearest to God 

When I try to pray in a prayer closet, my mind wanders. For me, walking in the woods and talking aloud to God keeps my relationship with him fresh. Just because specific disciplines worked well for you the past few years does not mean they will stay fresh for the next few.

4. Listening: Turn your relationships from transactional to transformational

This is about learning to care deeply about the person with you. If you are thinking about what you want to say while someone else is talking, you are not showing you value this person.

Instead, learn to listen deeply and become curious about that person. God probably wants to show you all sorts of things. By the way, listening applies not only to people but to God, too.

5. Praying through Scripture: Allow God’s word to be a living word in your life 
There is nothing wrong with reading through the Bible in a year. Yet, sometimes less is more. Here is how this could work:

  • Pick a small passage (from one to five verses).
  • Pray God will reveal what he wants you to hear from that passage.
  • Read it three times with very different tones each time (i.e., slow read, read with emphasis on different words, read with several long pauses, etc.).
  • Ask the Lord to reveal a word or phrase on which he wants you to focus.
  • Pray through those words.
  • Spend the day meditating on those words.

6. Creating sacred allies: Form spiritual friendships 

I’ve heard it said that soul work is not only slow work; it is shared work. A friend gave me the following questions to help determine who would make a good spiritual friend. I encourage you to consider them, too.

  • Who wants what’s best for you?
  • Who likes you?
  • Who sharpens you?
  • Who deepens you?
  • Who is loyal to you?
  • Who is fun for you?
  • Who rejuvenates you?

7. Justice and Mercy: Experience heartbreak ― then do something

Stop looking away from injustices in the world and allow your heart to break where God’s heart breaks. You can’t solve every world problem, but you can pick one or two to become passionate about and bring holy change to the world around you. For example, I am passionate about better understanding racism and working alongside others toward defeating it.

8. Neighboring: Love the people around you ― because Jesus loves them
I have never understood how some people so easily share their faith with random strangers. I am just not wired that way. My wife and I build intentional friendships with people we are drawn to.

For example, I don’t follow sports, but maybe you do. You can reach other sports fanatics much better than I ever could. (Sidenote: I’ll be praying for your friend the next time the Lakers kick a field goal to win the World Series.)

9. Authenticity: Lend no power to darkness

Someone once said, “When we only share our successes, we are in danger of becoming competitors. When we share our struggles, we are on the path to becoming true brothers and sisters.”

Most people will only know 80% of the real you. A best friend may know 90%. I have brothers in my life with whom I share everything. Why? Because darkness has little power in my life when there is little to hide.

10. Personal worship: Embrace the power of corporate worship 

Corporate worship is not only powerful but necessary. Show me someone who enters deeply into corporate worship, and I will show you someone who also worships during his or her private time. Spending time in personal worship changes your entire outlook on life.

11. Dying to self: Find true transformation

Change begins at the end of your comfort zone. In other words, change will never happen until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. So, how is God pushing you to admit it is time to leave your comfort zone and make a genuine change?

Effective evangelism spills out of the overflow from your spiritual journey. So, ask the Lord to reveal where he wants to work in your life and explore the depth to which he calls you.

Dr. Bruce Hopler, Vice President of Church Strengthening

Dr. Bruce Hopler has been coaching pastors and church planters for over 20 years. He now serves as the vice president of Church Strengthening at Converge. Bruce started a church in Maryland against all odds with no core group and no upfront funding, but it has grown for 18 years. He then moved to Las Vegas, where he was the Spiritual Formation pastor for the eighth-fastest growing church in America. During his time in Vegas Bruce completed his doctorate in spiritual formation and leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. After four years there, he moved to Orlando to join Converge. Bruce loves planters and pastors. He has been certified in StratOps, Church Unique and SOULeader coaching. He strives to help pastors discover what healthy means, within their unique calling and context.

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