Christians have often found it difficult to share the gospel with Buddhists. Buddhists have often found it difficult to become Christians. Why is this?
Many Buddhists come from countries where families and societies are closely knit. In Thailand they say, “To be Thai is to be Buddhist.” A change to Christianity is often seen as a betrayal of family and country.Christianity feels foreign. Their own spectacular temples, intricate systems of morality, and elaborate ceremonies lead Buddhists to assume that becoming a Christian would be a step down. Buddhists beliefs about life, death, and salvation are vastly different from ours. Many times they simply don’t understand what we are saying or find it unbelievable and irrelevant.
So what can we do? We must become BRIDGE BUILDERS. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit who is fully adequate for taking the gospel to the entire world, including to Buddhists (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit gives us three bridge pieces that will span the gaps and make it easier for Buddhists to experience God: CHARACTER BRIDGES, ACTION BRIDGES, and WORD BRIDGES.
A transformed CHARACTER is extremely important because the focus of Buddhism is right-living, right-thinking, and the denial of desires. Buddhists must see someone living the good news they are seeking.
Compassionate ACTIONS are also an important drawing factor because Buddhism is full of merit-making. When Buddhists see us caring for the poor and ministering to their own families, financial and health needs, it will be easier for them to think our scriptures and our God have something to offer them.
Empowered by such love, our WORDS will sink into their hearts. We will learn to speak in ways that lead them simply step-by-step to great truths.
These three bridges are not a method; they are the power of the Holy Spirit, directly died to the fruit of the Spirit (character), the gifts of the Spirit (actions), and the tongues of the Spirit (words).
As we call out to God in prayer, He will use us to make bridges directly to the hearts of Buddhists.
We can began building these bridges with four simple steps.
1. Listen to know their beliefs and needs.
Listening to our Buddhist friends helps us know what is important to them. It communicates that we value and respect them. If we don’t know their needs, how can we care for them? do we know what our friend believes? What does he or she think about God, life, death and what comes next?
Some Buddhists think more about spirits, magic and protection than about Buddha’s teachings. Some are highly philosophical with no room for what is unseen. Others are very secular, thinking only about their families, businesses or pleasure. Jesus used parables tied to what people lived and liked. Once we know their beliefs and interests we will know where to start the BRIDGE and what piece of the good news they first need to hear.
2. Affirm similarities in values
Buddhists believe in the law of karma – everyone reaps the good or bad that they sow. Most are confident of an afterlife in hell or heaven for awhile and then a return to this world of suffering. Most Christians want to jump quickly into the good news of forgiveness and truths about death and eternal life. Usually the Buddhist is either confused or offended. Is there a better way?
BUILD another piece of the BRIDGE by affirming what you hold in common. We also believe we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). share some of Solomon’s proverbs and Jesus’ teachings that highlight the morality we hold in common, the truth that suffering comes from wrongdoing. We too believe in something beyond the grave, in angels and evil spirits.
Our understanding is different, but why not start with a friendship based on what we share. If we believe that all truth has its source in God, we don’t need to be afraid to affirm the good which Buddha taught. You can even use their proverbs and stories as Paul did in Acts 17. If they’re not ready to see Jesus as the eternal Son of God who can forgive sins, then let them come to value Him for His wise teachings, later for His kind actions or His power over evil spirits. in time the step to full belief won’t seem so big or so hard.
3. Joyfully share about differences through a testimony
People may not want to discuss religion, but if you’re their friend, they’ll listen to your story. Prayer enthusiasm and sincerity will make the truths come alive. If you want them to understand about a living God, tell them something that happened when you asked for His help. If you want them to believe Jesus can forgive sins, talk about your struggles and the peace you found in the story of the cross.
Scatter the seeds of truth lightly and frequently. Your stories, friends’ stories, and stories from the Bible interestingly told and shared at the right time will never be forgotten. how much better this is than a debate in which no one is changed and probably become more closed than ever.
4. Invite them to experience something new
The BRIDGE is not finished until our Buddhist friends step into a relationship with the living God. Our job is to BUILD small steps by inviting them to try a variety of new experiences. At the right time we might be able to say:
- “May I pray for your troubled teenager?”
- “Would you like to try memorizing this scripture that helped me in my relationship with my wife?”
- “Would you like to experience a Sabbath with my family this weekend? It has really helped us grow close together and has helped my stress levels too.”
- “Try praying to God every night before you go to sleep and see if it helps your fears go away.”
Small steps, where God’s power can be felt, will make it easier for a Buddhist to make full step of surrender and loyalty to God. While studying Thai, a missionary needed a tuk-tuk (3-wheeler) to get him to school and back. He prayed that God would send him someone who would be open to the gospel. The tuk-tuk driver was friendly and they struck up a conversation on the way to the missionary’s house.
The missionary took the driver’s business card and began to pray for him-one Buddhist out of millions, named Saran.
Whenever he needed a ride, the missionary called Saran. He listened to his struggles. The missionary introduced his wife and children to Saran and his wife. Saran was drawn by the love and joy he saw.
Whenever it seemed to fit, the missionary told sayings or stories of Jesus. He gave him a pamphlet, then a booklet. Saran was genuinely interested. Further friendship developed; and one night Saran came with his wife to watch the Jesus video. At the end of the video, with tears in his eyes, Saran asked Jesus to forgive his sins and come into his heart. What joy in heaven and in earth!
What about you?
Today God is longing to communicate His love to the many Buddhists that do not know Him as their Father. Will you join him as a BRIDGE BUILDER?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.