Friends, we’ve all had this experience before and you know what I’m talking about. It’s the moment where you heart starts beating a lot faster inside your chest, you get a little hot around the collar, your mind starts racing, you’re looking for words that just don’t seem to come. And when you do start to speak, you stutter and mumble and fumble your way through your message.

This is the moment that someone has challenged your cherished beliefs in Jesus, in God, or the Bible, and you weren’t ready for it. And because you weren’t ready, you fail to give a good answer for the hope that is within you. But then you remember: wait, the Bible says to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” That’s 1 Peter 3:15. And so then you feel like you just blew that opportunity! Has that ever happened to you? It has for me.

For years, I engaged a friend of mine — with whom I was very close at the time — we went back and forth over everything related to Jesus, the Bible, Christianity, other religions, etc. and many times — this was 10 years ago now — many times my friend laid something on me that I was not prepared to answer. And so my heart started to beat a lot faster inside my chest, my mouth got dry, I looked for words that just didn’t seem to come.

Friends, we’ve all been there! And maybe for you it just happened recently! Well that’s okay, because these are just opportunities to reflect and be prepared for the next time. And, so, in the spirit of the next time, I’d like to give you a couple things to think about so you can be prepared.

Of course, the reason we find ourselves in these situations in the first place is because we are not always intentional with our encounters with others. And when we go into an encounter, but we don’t — first — think through and prepare for what might happen, we get surprised, and then we get nervous, and then we get stuck.

So this leads me to the main takeaway for you on today’s monologue: “Always be ON GUARD so you’re never caught OFF GUARD.”

This principle stands on top of other biblical verses that reinforce the notion that we should not coast for a day. We should always be ready. Paul said in Colossians 4:5 to “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” I already mentioned 1 Peter 3 but in chapter 1 Peter also said this: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We need to prepare our minds for action, friends, not only to be set apart for the Lord but so that we will be ready to get into encounters with others. Why? Because God may have set that moment aside for His providence. And we have to be ready for that!

Well, there are 2 ways to stay on guard so you’re never caught off guard: Anticipate and Roleplay. What do I mean by anticipate? I mean, you need to find some alone time — this is when no one else is around — and you need to start thinking long and hard about the people in your life. What are their beliefs? What are their passions? What do they always seem to want to talk about when they come around you?

Now, a lot of us don’t do this because the moment we get some free time, we fill it immediately with distractions. We’ll get on social media or watch tv or play games. Or whatever we do to pass the time. And I’m not saying those things are necessarily bad. But what I am saying is: You need to dedicate a significant amount of quiet and alone time so you can go deep into your thoughts and start thinking about the people in your life.

There’s a great scene from the movie “Sherlock Holmes”, the one with Robert Downey Jr., where Sherlock is in an underground boxing match. Well, time slows down, and Sherlock begins to think through very carefully what is going to happen next so that he can win the match. So, for example, Sherlock anticipates that he’ll throw a handkerchief in his opponent’s face, which will cause his opponent to blindly jab, which will allow Sherlock to block the jab and throw a cut to the left cheek… and he just goes down the line anticipating his own moves and then the moves of his opponent. This all happens before he actually fights. And so then he does it, he goes through with his plans, and the fight sequence plays out exactly as he had anticipated.

This is what I’m saying we should be doing before entering into any encounters with others. And I don’t mean that our attitude should be like we’re in a boxing match. But we should be thinking ahead about who our audience is, about what they believe, what drives them, what they’re passionate about, what they tend to talk about, all before they say it. Before we’ve even entered the room with them!

So, for example, if you know that you’re going to be hanging out with your neighbor, and you also know that your neighbor is an atheist, then you should spend some time anticipating what they might say about the universe, about evolution, about God or your belief in Jesus, all before you hang out with them.

Now, this even requires an extra step, if you think about it. You won’t even be able to anticipate what your friend might say unless you first get to know what they believe by asking them questions. So it really comes back to our First Date Evangelism approach. The first thing you should be doing when engaging others for Christ is putting the focus on them and asking them to talk about themselves. And then just listen to what they have to say. This is how you’ll be able to anticipate later what they may say when you encounter them again.

I think this will also give you some clues about how to proceed when evangelizing or giving an apologetic for Christianity. On the last Ask Nate Anything livestream (which is every Thursday at 4 p.m. PST on our Facebook page, so mark that down) I answered a question that someone asked about how I start evangelizing. Do I begin with the Bible or do I begin with the resurrection event? And I said it depends on who I’m talking to. Because I don’t jump into conversations with a pre-rehearsed script. Instead I initially talk to people about themselves and listen to the beliefs that come out in their stories and answers to my questions. And then when I hear a belief about reality that does not comport with what I know to be true, I zoom in on that and ask some leading questions to get to the Gospel. So in the process of simply listening to my friend or family member, I’m already getting what I need, not only to anticipate what they’ll say in the future, but also to start asking some great leading questions. And this is what you should be doing to. Anticipate what your friends or family members will say or do before they do it!

Well, it’s one thing to anticipate what you think your friend or family will say in a future encounter. But it’s another thing entirely to be ready to respond when that time comes! And this is where roleplaying is so vital to a proper defense of the faith or presentation of the Gospel. Roleplaying is when you get a friend and ask them to run through potential scenarios so that you can practice how to respond in those moments. Even if you don’t have a friend to roleplay with, get in the bathroom and talk to the mirror like a crazy person.

Look, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Roleplaying builds your confidence, it makes you a better speaker, and it makes you creative. That is, the more you practice responding out loud with a friend (or even the mirror), the easier it will become to say what you’re practicing. And the more you practice, the more you’ll start to find new and amazing ways to say the same thing. After about the tenth or eleventh time, you’ll start to realize that there are examples that you can use when illustrating the point you want to make. Also, the nerves will disappear as your responses become second nature. If you roleplay responses to challenges enough times, it just becomes like any other activity, like brushing your hair or making yourself lunch. It’s just something that comes much more naturally.

So let’s put these two pieces together. If you take some significant quiet time and anticipate what your friend or family member believes and says in advance, and then you take those statements and practice responding to them in roleplay scenarios with a friend, you will not be surprised, get nervous, or get stuck communicating the Gospel or giving a defense of your faith in Jesus.

So be encouraged, if this has happened to you in the past, it happens to the best of us! We just need to stay prayerful and intentional, we need to treat these slip ups as opportunities to be ready in the future, and in the meantime anticipate and roleplay. Anticipate and roleplay. And then watch how God uses you in a mighty way for His kingdom and His purposes.

Speaker, Educator, President of A Clear Lens, Inc. and host of A Clear Lens Podcast. B.Sc., M.Ed. Lives in Las Vegas with his wife, two sons, and dogs.