Hi Taylor! Thanks for sharing this question. I want to echo @Brittany_Bowman1’s thought that it’s encouraging to hear about your heart for the people in your community.
Also, Taylor, do note that while sometimes harvests do take more than a season, God sees your faithfulness and your heart for your community. I’m convinced that we’ll never know the full extent of how God has used our individual ministries to impact the kingdom until we’re in Heaven. Take heart that God has purposely placed you where you are and intentionally designed your heart for this mission field!
I’ve been thinking about your question since you posted it and I thought, “Right there with you, Man!” At first, I didn’t think I would have anything to offer in response, but I’ve tried to spend some time thinking since I struggle with this question too. I hope something in here is helpful to you!
When we think about provoking deep thought in people otherwise un-inclined, I think it’s important that we think about how we develop interests. So, an illustration:
I don’t care about how the wi-fi in my house works. To get me to care about the science-y stuff that happens between the router thing and my laptop, you’ve got to show me how that science-y stuff is useful. For example, let’s say the wi-fi breaks and my brilliant little brother who fixes everything is out of the country. Then, I’ll become a wi-fi hero (probably using my overly limited phone data…), not because I care about the mechanics of wi-fi, but because I really want to watch Netflix. The point is: I have to have a motivation beyond the thing itself. Try to tell me about wi-fi gadgets and my eyes will glaze over in two seconds. Break my wi-fi and cut me off from my lifeline (my brother), and my motivation to learn will skyrocket. My point: If we want to provoke thought among people who aren’t naturally inclined to think deeply, we’ve got to give them a why.
I don’t think it’s our job to get people to think more deeply. I’ve had to realize — through much disappointment and sometimes frustration — that my place is to show love and grace in the places where they are most ironic. When people see Christ in us, they are motivated to discover what is different about us. This becomes their why - their motivation - to think about very difficult subjects, like God Himself.
We have to show with our lives that there IS something more to our lives than our to-do lists, starry-eyed career ambitions, and in-the-moment activities. This “something more” involves:
seeing the least of these and ministering to them,
having an attitude of faith,
showing grace when revenge would be “normal,”
giving generously time and resources, and
sacrificing ourselves for others’ benefits.
I fail at these very, very often, but there have also been times when God has helped me be faithful in them. Reflecting on those times, I’ve seen how they can be very powerful. Here’s a story from my life:
There was someone (an atheist) I knew who was a natural thinker and who started deep conversations as often as I did. However, there was little forward movement over the course of several years! When I was moving away, I felt like the Lord impressed me to give a gift during our last meeting. It was a gift that would cost me a lot of time, but because I felt like the prompting was from the Lord, I gave it anyway. The person’s reaction to the gift was profound - deep gratitude and kindness I hadn’t seen before. Today, I don’t know where the person is in their walk with Jesus, but seeing their reaction to the gift made me believe that act of grace and honest love made a far greater impact towards helping the person think deeply about God than any of those deep conversations we had. Deep conversations are great - but when someone else encounters the attributes of the God that they’ve been thinking about (or not thinking about) - that’s when things really happen.
I believe we see this pattern - encountering God, and then thinking - in the Bible. At the beginning of his ministry, people came to Jesus for healing. They came to him because they could receive something from him. Then, when the blind saw and when the lame walked, others wanted to know more about Jesus – that’s when they began to think about God seriously. An encounter with Christ is the ultimate thought provocation. When we become like Christ, we have the same privilege of encouraging others to seriously think about God.
I’d say that to provoke thought in other people, we must begin by living a different kind of life, embodying a Christlikeness that makes someone pause from his/her endless to-do’s because it reveals an uncommon love that doesn’t compute with a robotic, culturally-inured, and self-minded way of life. Over time - two years, ten years, one week - people will notice. And when they inquire, we should “be prepared to give an answer for the hope that [we] have!”