Dangling a carrot at Christmas
Theoretically at least, if you dangle a carrot in front of a donkey (or any other such carrot-loving animal for that matter), the animal will start walking towards it in an attempt to eat it. I must disclaim, however, that since I have never actually dangled an actual carrot in front of an actual donkey, I cannot authoritatively vouch for the actual effectiveness of this method. Nevertheless, it’s a useful image.
“For what??” I hear you cry. Well, for a part of our personal outreach. This image helpfully illustrates the way in which, in our desire to bring up a gospel opportunity, we can say something a little ambiguous or intriguing that prompts a question from our friend such that we are then able to bring up the gospel.
In fact, this is a rhetorical device used in many walks of life. It’s possible that the rather obscure title of this blog post acted as a carrot to you, making you wonder what on earth this was all about, such that you bit the carrot (as it were), such that now you’ve made it all the way down to this sentence. Thank you, and well done for demonstrating this to yourself!
Dangling: Make the most of every opportunity
But here’s the main point I want to make: Christmas, and maybe particularly Christmas carols, present multiple opportunities for dangling a carrot. And as musicians, I imagine a good number of evenings over the next three weeks are likely to be spent singing, or at least playing the accompaniment to, carols. And in many cases, I imagine we’ll be stood or sat beside fellow musicians who are yet to “come and adore Him, Christ the Lord.” Well I want to encourage us all to make the most of this opportunity, for indeed, Colossians 4:5 says: “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” And as I’ve said, carols can present some fabulous opportunities.
A carol stuffed full of carrots
Let’s take ‘Hark the Herald’ as an example, partly because Mendelssohn wrote the tune (and I like Mendelssohn), but chiefly because the words are magnificent.
Here’s a sample of lines, one from each of the five original verses (we tend only to sing the first three), in which beautiful and profound doctrines are communicated:
- “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
- “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel”
- “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.”
- “Now display thy saving power, ruined nature now restore, now in mystic union join / Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.”
- “Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, Stamp thy Image in its place.”
What glorious words these are! In these we find at least partly communicated the doctrines of Reconciliation, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption of Man, the Resurrection of Man, the Restoration of Creation, Union with Christ and Sanctification. In one carol! There are few occasions which provide such an opportunity for unbelievers to encounter such profound truths. It would be madness not to try to make the most of this!
How to dangle
And yet the question is “how?” Every year, again and again, we’re told by our UCCF staff workers and CU leaders and church leaders just what a fantastic opportunity carol services are, and how they’re the easiest invitation of the year. And yet how many of us have felt like we’ve rarely actually made the most of the opportunity? We long to see our friends saved, but we’re yet to see anyone come to Christ through a carol service. So how do we do it? How do we dangle a carrot?
Well, this depends to an extent on the friendship you have, in terms of how much you talk about Christian things with your non-Christian friend, but it will also depend in large part on our personality, because there will be ways that are more natural to some, and less natural to others.
If non-Christian Nancy says, “oh those Christmas lights are beautiful!” and super-keen-evangelist Susan says, “Yes, they are, but did you know that Jesus is the light of the world?”, it feels so shoe-horned into the conversation that it is as though Susan has grabbed the carrot and stuffed it forcefully down Nancy’s throat! Nancy’s reaction will be to feel sick and probably to spit it back out rather than keep eating. Not the result Susan was after!
Intrigue, not confront
So how do we do it? Well I suggest that our aim with the carrot is to intrigue rather than directly confront. In the example above, Susan reacted to a comment made by Nancy. If you like, Nancy was the one who dangled the carrot, Susan just snatched it from her hand and forced it into her face.
Rather, let us be the ones to take the initiative in conversation. And more specifically, let us try to intrigue our friends such that they invite us to explain ourselves, which is really where we’ll get our opportunity to speak of Christ. Hopefully.
So, at the more direct end of the spectrum (and since we’re aiming to intrigue, rather than to confront directly, this is still pretty low-key), you could, after having sung ‘Hark the Herald’ say, “Wow, I just love those words!” or whilst looking down at the words on the order of service, say, “That is just magnificent!” You would, at the very least, hope, maybe even expect, your friend to say something to that, to ask you to explain what you mean a bit more. And so you could say, for example, how enormous it is and how marvellous you find it that the eternal God would be pleased to dwell with mankind as a man Himself. And for all you know, that might lead to a conversation.
Or, you could look afresh at the words of your chosen carol (again let’s say ‘Hark the Herald’) and say, “I never noticed that before!” or “I always forget that bit.” Hopefully they’ll say “what?” And you can say, “I always forget the poetry of verse 3, of Jesus being "born [so] that man no more may die.” And perhaps that might lead somewhere.
At the very least, I hope all of us who indeed rejoice to ‘hail the heaven-born prince of peace” will ourselves exude such an extraordinary aura of joy and peace, in our words but also in our very demeanour, that it might prompt questions from our non-Christian friends. Let's be those who really celebrate the coming and birth of Jesus, rather than simply enjoy the jolly festivities, wonderful though they undoubtedly are.
A few questions you might ask:
- What if our friend doesn’t ask a question? Or what if they listen to our follow-up statement but don’t ask anything after that?
- That’s fine! Don’t worry about it! You dangled the carrot. It didn’t go anywhere. Leave it, move on, be a normal friend. Keep praying. But don’t force it! And don’t feel guilty. The Lord knows you had a proper motive. The results department is His department, not yours.
- Isn’t this a bit calculating? Aren’t we supposed to have “renounced secret and shameful ways” (2 Corinthians 4:2)?
- This is thought-through, but it's hardly any more calculating than inviting your friends to a carol service in the first place when what you’re most interested in is less that they have a really enjoyable time (although you do want that), than that they hear a clear gospel message. It doesn’t mean you have to advertise it to them as a chance to hear a gospel message with a few carols thrown in - no, it's a carol service, and it's fine to call it one! And it’s hardly a shameful thing to want to talk of Christ to our friends, and if they’re really our friends, it’ll hardly be a secret to them that you want to talk of Jesus to them!
- Do we really even need to talk about this? Since it’s only the Spirit’s work in people’s hearts that will move them towards Christ, can’t we just rely on Him to move them to meditate themselves on the words of the carols rather than awkwardly bring it up?
- Yes, it’s only the Spirit that can work on the inner heart of a person, but the Spirit’s main weapon is the Word, which is His sword (Ephesians 6:17), and indeed Scripture makes very clear, in Romans 10, that people need (even though it’s the Spirit that does all the heart work) to hear the gospel through words spoken by humans! And it's worth noting that, frankly, people simply do not think much, if at all, about the words that they sing - so a little help is usually advantageous.
- Can I be more direct than this?
- Of course, if appropriate! For some people, who perhaps are more direct in their style of outreach, and who have the sort of friendship with their friend that means they’re always chatting about this kind of stuff, it may be okay to go right for the jugular and, having sung “Hark the Herald”, to ask: “Don’t you feel weird singing that?” “What?” they ask. “Well, in that last verse you’ve just called people to ‘hail Jesus’ calling him ‘the heaven-born prince of peace’ – that’s a pretty big claim!” This might work for some people, in some friendships. Use your discernment!
So this Christmas, don’t stick a carrot on a snowman, which comes to nothing. Dangle it in front of a real man, or woman, and see whether they bite or not. Who knows? Maybe through the inner work of the Holy Spirit, one more sinner may be reconciled to God, and given second birth! “Hark”, the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King!”