Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”  – 1 Peter 3:15

“Always be prepared.” Every mission training, apologetics course, evangelism evening that I have ever attended has used this verse. It’s a great verse. It reminds us to be responsive to other people’s questions, to be respectful and kind, and to point to our own personal story of the hope we have found in Jesus.

I’ve shared my story with people on tour buses, in nightclubs, over dinner and across office desks.

My favourite conversations are ones that start with, “why are you a Christian?” or “how can I follow Jesus too?” And they do happen. I’ve shared my story with people on tour buses, in nightclubs, over dinner and across office desks. I love conversations prompted by deep, faith-filled questions. They matter and they can be life-changing.

But if truth be told there are certain tough conversations I am not prepared for, because I dread the questions I might be asked. Not because I haven’t wrestled through the issues, prayed, researched, read the bible, listened to learned opinions and sought counsel. I have and I’m good with where I’ve come to. But because tough conversations are never held in a vacuum, they come complete with sub-text, emotion, history and presumption. Tough conversations can blindside you, words are received in unexpected ways, unsaid words are heard, and relationships are strained – or worse – as a result.

But I do want to be able to give a reason for the hope that I have. There is a reason why I live the way I do, and His name is Jesus. I don’t want to be scared to talk about Jesus just in case someone misunderstands what I am trying to say. So I prepare myself.

There is a reason why I live the way I do, and His name is Jesus.
  1. Preparedness starts with prayer: I am yet to find the ‘right’ answer to a difficult question or the ‘correct’ response to a painful issue. But when I pray, when I ask for grace to fill and fuel my words, when I ask for wisdom and insight, God has always been faithful to answer. Jesus answers the same question “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” differently, because He doesn’t answer with law and rules, but instead speaks truth specific to each person. Tough conversations are tough precisely because they tempt us to look for the rules and the laws so we can get our answers right. Prayer reminds us to look for the truth in the person of Jesus and call out that truth for the person in front of us.
  2. Be prepared to listen before speaking: 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us to speak second, listening to the person speaking first and asking them questions before you answer. Using clarifying questions will help you understand if there are any questions behind what’s initially being asked, so that you can seek to bring as much as you can into the open. Tough conversations can be turned around when we affirm the dignity and image-bearing nature of the other. As we embark on the conversation, remember the person in front of us is loved by God and precious in His sight. Keep that in mind throughout and ask God what He wants the person to know, what hope looks like for them and whatever happens, you won’t go too far wrong.

I had lunch with a friend of mine a few years ago. It was chatty and light hearted, until we got onto the conversation of kids. My friend is gay and I asked him if he was planning to have a family as he got older. This lead to a fascinating conversation on tolerance, living well, and ultimately grace, that lasted for hours longer than either of us had planned. He still brings that conversation up now, years later. He doesn’t remember tough questions or difficult challenges. He remembers grace.