A few years ago Connie and I ran a training program overseas. We told our participants, “You may not witness to someone unless they first ask you a question that opens the door.” In other words, let the Holy Spirit prepare the ground.
Jim (not his real name) came to witness and even plant a church during his few months with us. Two days on site and already he had witnessed to 3 young men and reported to us that they were truly open to the Gospel.
I warned Jim to slow down and wait until he understood more about these people. But he kept on. Jim’s conduct was both unwise and dangerous since the site where we ran the program was not just non-Christian — it was anti-Christian. Later these same fellows tried to forcibly convert Jim through intimidation and group pressure and I had to personally go and rescue him.
People tell me that they want to reach out and tell people about Christ. Reaching out is very American. Reaching out is taking action, doing something, being decisive. Reaching out sounds good. Heroes take action!
But we are supposed to be servants. Servants wait for the master to choose both the time and the task. Normally the servant does not understand the bigger picture. As servants we want to be available and ready when opportunities come. Being ready means we are sensitive to the preparation and work of the Holy Spirit in the other person’s life. We want to recognize when God has set the stage for us to act on His behalf.
Notice the difference: Our taking action puts us in control, being ready to act and acting when God prompts puts Him in control.
The Scripture tell us, “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” (I Peter 3:15b NIV).
Out of Control
I know a mission leader who is praised for his unceasing drive to do a work for God. Yet God says, “I would rather do it myself, with your help. Not have you push me aside so you can decide what needs to be done.” Unfortunately, this leader is often overwhelmed and has periodic break-downs. How wonderful? No. Life is a burden. God is distant and no matter what this man does, God seems to be unresponsive.
God in control
If God has set the stage then we know that He has prepared the other person to be receptive. (Or not receptive! “And whether they listen or fail to listen . . . they will know that a prophet has been among them (Ezekiel 2:5 NIV)). God is in control when he sets the boundaries of the task. We know that if He gives us the task then He will also give us the gifts and abilities to handle the task. Most importantly, He will enable us to handle both the task and its demands.
Breakdowns do not come from God. They can come when we constantly try to prove to God that He did a good thing when He saved us. However, there is nothing we can do to make God accept us any more than He already has in Christ. The point now is to love Him and out of that love to serve Him when and if He directs. Our walk with God as sons and daughters is a walk of love and fellowship with Him.
Something to Say
Witnessing comes easier when we actually have something to say. One person told us how uncomfortable she always was in classes on witnessing. It was an effort for her to witness to a schedule (i.e. door-to-door, on the street corner) or when her witnessing was out of duty.
Since then she has found the reality of a daughter relationship with God as her Heavenly Father. And she has received some real answers to life’s problems from Him. Now she finds it hard to be quiet and wait up on God. She shares now out of enthusiasm and it flows out of her naturally rather then being contrived or a formula to follow.
Then there is this letter:
I really hate to ask you for time, but I think I’ll burst if I don’t have some time with you . . . . You see, I’ve decided I can no longer live the Christian life. You have helped me see this, and I thank you for this.
If you think this sounds bad so far, read on dear friends!
I came to Christ in simple faith in the hope He, well, might be able to love me. He saved me, though I know He did so because He couldn’t get out of it, His word and all a matter of principle. I thought the least I could do was “serve Him,” witness, etc.
It wasn’t until I accepted the label son of God as the most important label that I realized I could no longer serve Him, nor effectively witness for Him again. My entire life has been ground to powder and cast aside. That’s OK. I wasn’t meant to live the Christian life, it was meant to be lived through me. At long last—my Father, OK? ― has broken through my religiosity to make Himself known, the depths of His riches, the wonder of His grace, the immeasurable height, breadth, length, and depth of His love.
But I thank God for you. Your willingness to be faithful to portray Him consistently in a land that has made up their mind as to Who He is, to a man who thought he knew Him as close as anyone could, or the best that I could. Yes, I thank you. Not to puff you up, nor to please you, but to encourage you . . .
The Right Approach
There are different ways to present the same information when it comes to witnessing. Not everyone responds to “Do you know that God has a plan for your life?” even though it is an excellent presentation. This means that you must care enough about people to know where they are ‘coming from’ and what their concerns are. Friendship evangelism should not be faking friendship or viewing people as targets instead of valuable human beings.
Our country’s heritage may have begun on a Christian foundation but that does not mean that people today understand that much about Christianity. The average small child today does not know who Jesus is except as a curse word.
You may need to start at the beginning and not assume the other person understands what you are talking about! For example, from television and Hollywood there has been a strong message for years that God is a vague force if He exists at all. You may need to establish that there is a God. Until you do, it is premature to talk of a loving God sending His Son to save us.
Many presentations begin with our need to recognize that we are sinners yet the tribe we lived in would never admit they sinned until after they accepted Christ as Savior. The Indians accepted Christ because He provided a way to their becoming a part of God’s family. (Christ did introduce the phrase ‘born again.’)
Coming from a communal society these Indians were very interested in living with and relating to God as family. Sin was only acknowledged through the ministry of the Holy Spirit after they were saved.
Presenting Christ as a ticket to Heaven or as a way of escaping judgment misses the point. His purpose in dying was to create the grounds for God to accept us and yet, at the same time, pay for our sins through His sacrifice and create a basis for satisfying justice. Our sins were in the way and had to be dealt with, but God’s purpose was to bring us into fellowship with Himself.
We mislead when we talk of accepting Christ and life will be forever more without problems or always a blessing. Sorry, but we live in a sinful world and it may not get easier when we become the children of God.
Witnessing is more than presenting the Gospel. We need to be willing to take the time and spend the energy to get people on their feet. In the parable of the banquet, the servants went out to give invitations. Of the three groups mentioned that received invitations, only the first group was fit to come. The other groups were crippled, blind or lame and needed help to get to the banquet or were very suspicious and resistant and needed a lot of careful handling and encouragement.
It is wrong to lead someone into the light and then walk away and leave them with the dim light of the Gospel—babes in the Lord—and alone in a world of darkness. So there is a price to getting involved as a witness just as there is also blessing.
It is through Christ that we can be called the children of God but keep the balance: “For God so loved the world that He send his only beloved Son . . .” So, “Thank you Father for sending your Son . . .”
copyright 2000 Richard D Smith