Peter! John!” … “Christ is alive … I thought He was the gardener but He called me by my name! He really IS alive!” The words gushed out as Mary Magdalene told the disciples of her encounter with the risen Lord. The first witness of the resurrection could hardly contain her excitement and amazement.
Sometimes, we too are excited as we tell others about Christ, but sadly, other times our attempts at witnessing hardly match the joy and spontaneity of Mary. Too often we miss the obvious open doors as we timidly wonder what we should say. Sometimes, we take the plunge but somehow manage to back ourselves into a corner as we encounter unexpected responses. There are times that we come on too strong and turn the person away. We alternate between wishing we had spoken up and wishing we had remained quiet. Why is witnessing so difficult?
There are many factors in seeking to witness for the Lord Jesus in these times. At the very core, we are living in a spiritually unfriendly world that still rejects the Savior and His Word. A Christian is out of step with the current of the age as he is a “twice-born” traveler living in the world run by the “once-born.”
The Bible is under heavy attack, and faith is ridiculed as being simplistic and irrelevant. The “hard, difficult, perilous times” that Paul wrote about are here. Despite the difficulties of the age, God is still placing the privilege and responsibility of gospel witnessing into the hands of sinners saved by grace. In fact, He has no other plan.
The Call to Witness
Am I really called to be a witness? The Lord’s mandate to His disciples was clear. “You shall receive power … and you SHALL be (not should be) witnesses unto Me.” (Acts 1:8, NJKV) as empowered by the Holy Spirit. A witness is “one that personally sees or perceives a thing and gives testimony to its truth.” It should come as no surprise that the God of the Bible is a “witnessing God.” The Father gave witness of His delight in His Son when the heavens were opened (Matt 3:17). As He stood before Pilate, the Lord Himself stated, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world that I should bear witness unto the truth” (John 18:37). The Holy Spirit is also a witness, as His work is to “reprove the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment” as well as to testify of Christ (John 15:26, 16:8). What marked the Godhead now marks every believer. No believer is exempt from the commission to speak of Christ and to declare His glories. It’s not optional. One writer said, “We should never treat the Great Commission like it’s the Great Suggestion.” A sinking, lost world desperately needs to hear of heaven’s amazing grace, but we are often tuned in to other things and fail to pass on the good news. The revival preacher, Leonard Ravenhill, gives a stirring rebuke to us today.
“We Christians are debtors to all men at all times in all places, but we are so smug to the lostness of men. We’ve been ‘living in Laodicea,’ lax, loose, lustful, and lazy. Why is there this criminal indifference to the lostness of men? Our condemnation is that we know how to live better than we are living.”
The Context of Witness
So, where do I start? I know the scope is the world but I’m living in “Plainsville.” The simple answer is to start where you are. The Lord told the wild man of Gadara to “go home to your friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). After the Samaritan woman had met the Savior at the well, she went back to the city and began to invite others to come and meet Him. These, along with many others, started to witness where they were to those that they knew best. Many of us can look back with thanksgiving that there was a brother or a sister or a friend that spoke to us of our need for salvation. There will always be people that will cross our pathway either briefly or for an extended period of time: co-workers, neighbors, or classmates. Sometimes, the Lord will place someone in the seat beside us on a bus, train or airplane because they’re searching for something more in life, and we have the answer! We need to be “ready always to give an answer” to every person that asks us a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).
The Content of Witness
What do I say? Is there a defined way that I should begin? No! “Canned” approaches don’t work. We need to be real and in touch with what’s going on. The Lord’s dealing with the Samaritan woman is a good example as He simply asked for a drink while sitting beside a well (John 4). It was a real need on His part, but He made it the unforced beginning of a conversation with a searching woman. In the talk that ensued, the Lord graciously offered her what would satisfy her soul, while faithfully touching on the sin of her life. Once she had acknowledged that, He wonderfully revealed Himself to her as Savior and Lord. Broadly speaking, our witness should include these realities. People today are lonely, depressed, empty, and fearful, looking for satisfaction and happiness with little hope and purpose, and so a Christian needs to recognize their need and make them aware of heaven’s interest and desire. At the same time, we need to address the root issue of sin that has caused the alienation and guilt.
Of course, the ultimate objective is to tell others about the Lord Jesus. A good place to start is with your own personal testimony. That’s what the man from Gadara did. He went back home and began to “publish how great things Jesus had done for him” (Mark 5:20). He was no secret believer! People may argue with our theology, but they’ll be unable to deny the reality of a changed life. We may not have all the answers, but we can at least tell others of what the Lord has done in our own lives.
Sometimes, the content of witness will not be verbal but visual. It has been said that “people would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” Our life needs to back up our words. We are a witness even when we say nothing. Mary’s anointing of the Lord in John 12 included no recorded words, but her action was a powerful witness of her devotion, love, and worship for her Lord. Peter outlines the fact that “by doing right, we silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1Peter 2:15). A good testimony lays a foundation for effective witness. Even an unsaved husband may be “won” by the lifestyle of his wife as he watches her respectful and pure conduct (1Peter 3:1-2). None of us is perfect, but a life of honesty, integrity, humility, and genuine love is the basis for powerful testimony.
The Character of Witness
So what should mark me as a witness? I’m not very courageous and I have difficulty expressing myself. Amazingly, God uses such ordinary people to advance His kingdom and to proclaim His truth. The focus of heaven is expressed in Isaiah 66:2; “To this man will I look, even to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit and trembles at My word.” A person who is conscious of His dependence upon God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is a powerful tool in God’s dealings. Witnessing is spiritual work, and we must realize our absolute dependency upon the Holy Spirit, not upon our natural abilities. He is the One who prepares hearts and uses the Word of God in conviction and revelation. The new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it’s an amazing reality to watch His work in action. We need to be careful that we don’t try to manipulate people or pressure them into a profession. No one was ever saved through our cleverness or persuasiveness.
On the horizontal level, people need to sense our honest concern and care for them. We may not have all the answers, but we can show our love for their souls. Truth also needs to be conveyed accurately and faithfully. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov 27:6). We are dealing with eternal issues, and we dare not minimize the realities of a person’s need. Truth needs to be presented with patience, gentleness, and respect. The Lord never belittled a person or embarrassed anyone publicly. There were stirring words of condemnation to those who rejected His entreaties, but in His personal dealings one on one, He sensitively moved with grace and truth, carefully exposing sin but tenderly revealing His love and provision. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone …. patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2Tim 2:24 ESV).
The Challenges of Witness
Sometimes, I feel so inadequate and fail so miserably. What should I do? There are numerous challenges to effective witnessing that need to be faced head on. Not every listener or contact is open for truth or ready to engage. Too often, we fail to discern their receptiveness and make some basic mistakes in the process. Here are a few.
1) TOO MUCH, TOO SOON – John and Jerry were university classmates but only recently had they begun to speak about the Bible. John had never read it and so didn’t know much about salvation, but Jerry was saved and had a real concern about his friend. One day, John asked a simple question and Jerry thought, “Here’s my chance!” For the next half hour John “poured the gospel” into him. It was all true, but John wasn’t ready for the avalanche of truth and began to distance himself from a well-meaning, but unwise, believer.
2) TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE – Julie’s neighbor Chloe was continually on her mind as she knew that she was going through a hard time and struggling with life. She had tried several times to talk to her but nothing had opened up, so she hoped that one day she’d be able to have a real good talk with Chloe. She was shocked when she heard the news that Chloe had been killed in a head-on crash on her way home from work.
3) TOO QUIET, TOO LONG – Ashley was a believer; pleasant, courteous but shy, and she found it difficult to speak to others about the Lord. She really hoped that the girls in the office would notice the difference in her and maybe even ask about it. But no one did. She often had lunch with Jacqueline but never had the courage to speak to her about salvation. When Jacqueline was promoted to an office downtown, Ashley timidly passed along a gospel tract but missed the opportunity to talk to her about it.
4) TOO STRONG, TOO AGGRESSIVE – Howard loved to witness and to debate about the Bible. He had read a lot of books on apologetics and knew the rebuttals to the claims of skeptics. Joel was one fellow who often asked him some tough questions, and one day the discussion turned into an argument. Tempers began to flare as each of them accused the other of being intolerant and irrational. Howard began to blast his friend with Scripture, but as he finally walked away, he knew that he had lost the war.
The Commitment to Witness
I’d like to witness more effectively. Any helpful hints? Remember that we’re seeking to present a Savior that the world still hates. We’re battling an enemy that is determined to undermine truth and oppose true witness for Christ. Also, our mouths may be closed because of fear or because of a lack of concern for the lost. The cost to the Lord Jesus as heaven’s true Witness was Calvary. For Paul and thousands of others, it was martyrdom. For many today, it is rejection, ridicule, and suffering, but the joy of speaking of Christ to others is unspeakable. Here are just a few tips that will keep commitment on track:
- Keep your own soul happy and your own life clean so that you can be a fitted tool in the Lord’s hand.
- Pray for the Lord’s guidance and ask Him to bring a soul across your pathway.
- Buy up every opportunity. Don’t presume that it will be there tomorrow.
- Prepare your mind and heart with scripture and arm yourself intelligently. The world needs answers of truth, not suggestions or opinions.
- Get some good gospel tracts to pass along if you find talking difficult.
- Don’t give up after failure or rejection. “We shall reap if we faint not.”
- Remember that we’re links in the chain and every link is vital. You may only sow one seed and never see the harvest, but without the sowing there would be no harvest.
As Jim Elliot wrote: “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”
May each of us become “crisis believers” turning those around us to face the Living Christ.