Are you afraid to witness?
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:29-31
Do you cringe as you approach someone with the Gospel message? Does your stomach begin to turn in agonizing pain to the point that you rationalize that they probably have already heard it and do not need you to say anything, so you walk away in dread? I have done this and still do at times. Even after doing, teaching, and writing on this for over twenty years, I still allow my fears to win out at times. For me, this is a constant battle; perhaps it is for you, too. We Christians, who are saved by faith and who love the Lord with all of our hearts and minds, are the biggest barriers to others? hearing of the Gospel. Why? Because most of us are too fearful to witness. We are scared to death of what other people may think!
We need to be aware of the fact that witnessing can be scary. We need to understand that many of us Christians will cower away from our call, seeking other things to fulfill the void of that unused call. Once we do realize this, we can start to overcome our apprehensions. Nevertheless, it has been my experience as a pastor, trying to get my congregation to reach out, that most Christians just will not deal with their fears; inharmoniously, the fears themselves become too scary to deal with. Thus, it is important to seek our Lord's precepts on whom we are in Him, how He can use us, and how He is our love and empowerment for living and for sharing. If not, the distractions we pack into our lives to hide His call will become our gods, and "lord" over us, preventing us from taking advantage of the precious opportunities He has for us. These distractions can isolate a church from her community and also prevent the personal growth and faith development of its members. We are called to walk in Him in faith. Don't allow apprehensions to rule you.
We can take comfort that we are not forced to proclaim Him; rather, we are encouraged to live a life of distinction and of service. We have a choice to either impact others for the Lord or cringe from our call and live a self-fulfilled life. Saved? Perhaps; but, as the book of James asks us, what good is it? We can choose to walk away from, walk around, or walk to the person in need. We can embrace His call to share His love, or we can fill that call with trivial, meaningless expectations that block our hope in Him. We need to realize the importance and relevance of His call to proclaim His name. When we do so, we are encouraged to stretch out and share the love we have received from Christ. What is stopping us? Well, most Christians just do not know how, and/or they are fearful.
Being Bold for Our Lord
If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. Isaiah 7:9
Ask yourself, am I afraid of failure? What is it that really scares me? We need to realize that we do not need to fear. Now, consider that God understands your difficulties, and it is OK to fail as long as you were obedient by trying. Remember, Jeremiah was a big failure in the eyes of his country and world, but a great man of obedience in God's eyes. We are called to go and do; contrary to popular evangelical thinking, we are not called to succeed. We are not responsible for the results. If you have been witnessing for years and have seen only a few converts and thousands of rejections, well, praise God. Maybe you need to consider your tactics, but the willingness and implementation to obey are seen as success in God's eyes. The measure of your performance is your obedience, not in numbers of converts. He takes care of the results; He takes care of us. We need to avail ourselves for His use, just as we proclaim to others in His Name. The real failure is when we do not do this!
So, what are we really afraid of? I have to ask myself this when I start to cower, when fear is at my door. I need to witness to my fear before I approach the person on the porch. Incidentally, just as I write this last paragraph, there was a knock at my door, and I observed through the peephole, two well-dressed clean-cut young men with nametags on their shirts. My first thoughts were, I do not have the time for this. I have a deadline on this book and must get to my work and the mountains of email I have not answered, I am running late on my sermon, and I forgot to feed the cat. But, the Spirit convicted me, and I opened the door. Thus began several weeks of personal dialogue as they sought to witness to me. I listened, asked questions and so forth, back to them. This opportunity would have been a waste if I had allowed my rationale of not enough time to take away that prospect; it also would have been quite ironic. Oh yes, the cat got fed and my sermon was completed.
When we allow fear to overtake us, we allow cowardice and fearfulness to defeat His call in us. This will only lead to our becoming cynical, being negative with others, and then discouraging others so we are creating an atmosphere of pessimism in our church instead of one of outreach. These negative traits create negative attitudes that are infectious to others. They cause people to retreat from the chance to go forward with God's call to them. Thus, the people and/or churches remain ensnared in fear, allowing obstacles to stop them, so that the work our Lord has for them remains undone.
How can we overcome this? I have found that the biblical character of Boldness is one of the keys to overcoming our fears. Being bold comes from our willingness to venture out and do the right thing at the right time, regardless of the barriers or fears we may encounter. This enables us to speak the truth and perform a task without fear of the consequences or results simply because it is the right and biblical thing to do. Boldness makes us realize that God is, indeed, in control. Christ is there within us and beside us, and He will take care of us. Therefore, we do not need to fear what others can do or how they respond to us. Rather, we are to concentrate on our character and call, and, with passion and conviction, share with others what Christ has done for us.
Have you considered that boldness is good, not just for witnessing, but also for all aspects of the Christ-life? What part does boldness play in your relationships with church members, friends, coworkers, and family? If someone is being falsely accused in your presence, do you remain quiet, or do you defend the truth, even if the accusers come against you? If something were a potential danger to a child, what would you do? When it is election season, will you make your voice heard at the ballot box and, perhaps, to your friends and acquaintances?
The 16th century Scottish Reformer, John Knox (1505-1572), was famous for his slogan, "O God! Give me Scotland or I die!" He was a person who boldly spoke the truth of the Christian faith to a nation in transition from the harmful and repressive theology of apostate Catholicism and its prideful leaders to a godlier, Protestant nation. He was able to challenge leaders who used religion as a way to control society. He faced many dangers, many imprisonments, and many beatings, but he succeeded in his mission by bringing reformation to Scotland.
One time, while he was preaching in his packed church in Scotland, he was arrested for teaching the Bible outside of the "Church." He was put in chains, then forced to be a "slave" and do the harshest and lowest job ever conceived-row the oars of a galley ship. A tragedy was turned into a triumph! For the duration of those long months of pushing and pulling oars, he was able to spend the time in surrendered prayer and devotion to God. At the same time, he was also able to build his frail body and strengthen his health through diet and exercise. He was able to gain physical strength, and, most importantly, strengthen his prayer life. This forever changed him into a person of deep spiritual maturity and gave him even greater boldness and physical strength to preach the Word, regardless of the cost. John Knox's passion and preaching became so powerful that the corrupt Mary, Queen of Scotland, said, "I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe." She eventually lost her head in England. The rest of the corrupt leaders met dishonorable ends, too. On John's tomb are these words: Here lies the man who never feared the face of clay. He was able to use boldness, tempered by the Spirit, to change a nation and create the Presbyterian denomination. We have to ask ourselves, what are we doing? We may not change the course of history, but we can change the course of our lives, and perhaps the people we touch, too.
Do You Know God and What He Can Do?
We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:7-8
Remember that boldness is an aspect of faith; it comes from the confidence we have in Christ, for who He is and what He can do. This attitude directly affects how we respond in any given situation. When we have confidence in our Lord, we can venture beyond our limits, abilities, and comfort zones to engage in the simple things of life-from talking to a stranger in a kind, encouraging way, or sharing the Gospel with a friend, to the big stretches, such as church planting, teaching with truth and conviction, or going overseas to a strange and foreign land as a missionary. Keep in mind that boldness works together with caution; they balance each other by helping us display understanding and enthusiasm for a better, more mature approach to life.
Caution is not the opposite of boldness, nor is it an excuse to slow down to the point that we are not doing anything, so that our fears and misgivings take over. Rather, being bold and being cautious are two characters that work together so we can live a life with clear judgments, making good decisions and moving forward so that we are glorifying our Lord. Thereby, He can bring us better prospects and opportunities. Cautiousness is being discerning so we do not rush into things when the timing is wrong or when the situation does not merit it. It is being sensitive to dangers as well as God's timing, providence, and knowledge. This is paramount in witnessing, as we have to be sensitive to timing-to when the person is ready. A sincere, mature Christian will never ever force, conspire, or manipulate a person to know the Lord. We model and use words when necessary; we never ever "bully" to compel someone; rather we seek opportunities and God's timing. It is His work and not ours that saves; force is not only unnecessary, but it can countermand the work of the Spirit.
Thus, cautiousness keeps a governor on our passions and excitement so we do not overrun others or take others to places for which they are not yet ready. Being cautious also means knowing that we are not the essential component of the church; He is! Otherwise, we could allow our excitement and boldness to control us, and not the reality of the situation or the allowing of the other characters to work in harmony. If we permit unrestrained passions to direct us, we may take the church and/or our personal life in the wrong direction. We will then miss vital opportunities and what Christ really called us to do.
When we take away boldness, we construct one of biggest barriers that prevents people from witnessing; we will be unleashing fear and not love. Without boldness, we will think we do not know enough to witness. I am amazed at Christians who tell me they cannot witness because they do not know enough, when most of them have known the Lord for years. Contrastingly, most people who come to faith in Christ come because of the witness of new Christians who know almost nothing. The fact is that we do know enough. We have to allow our knowledge to flow out as well as flow in, or we become like the Dead Sea-lifeless and void.
Most Christians fear evangelizing and witnessing because of the possibility of rejection or of how friends and peers might perceive them. The role of evangelism, of saving people, is God's-and His alone. He chooses to use us for His glory; but it is His Spirit that convicts and converts. We are the tools, the rods and reels He uses. The importance of whom and what we are and do in Him far outweighs any concern about how others see us. Our responsibility is to obey and let Him use us. We are not responsible for whether or not people accept the message; we are only responsible to proclaim it as effectively and as passionately as we can. This takes the "personal responsibility" and "fear of rejection" load off of us. We need not fear rejection because we are not being rejected; God is the One who is rejected. He is the One to whom people do not want to conform; we are merely His servants.
They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." Luke 12:53
Will my friends hate me for witnessing to them? The answer is yes; your friends and family may and will come against you. They will think it is just a phase, and will ridicule you, or think you have gone "fundamental" and consider you irrelevant, uninformed, and uneducated. We, as Christians, should expect this because Jesus told us that people would persecute us-even family-for standing up for and sharing our faith. Remember, they persecuted Him, too. The blessing is that Jesus blesses our efforts no matter how people respond to us-even family and friends. He is there; He loves and encourages us. Our friends just do not understand the gospel so they do not understand us; therefore, they will respond according to their feelings and not according to facts. We must explain Christ to them in love, keep them in prayer, and be patient. Until they have the Spirit, it will all be foolishness to them. Our prayers, kind words, and efforts are worth more than gold even when we think they are not, so we must be consistent and loving to those who do not understand us.
God Is Our Provider
And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." Exodus 3:12
We have to appreciate that when we walk in Christ and follow His mission, we need not fear or worry. God does not reject us, so we do not need to fear that others may reject us. We can take a chance. We can "go for it!" When we realize this, we will have a higher sense of courage. When we realize that God has given us the strength to face any situation, trial, or peril, we will have courage, which is the ability to react, knowing that God is in control, that He who is in me is greater than he who is against me. Then, we will experience more joy as we take more chances to serve and honor Him. He will be there with us!
Courage, for the Christian, is the motivation to say and do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. We are fueled with courage because God promises to help us and save us through what Christ has done for us. It is His working in us with strength, power, and conviction. Because of our saving faith, we should have the response of gratitude, willing to tell others about what He has done for us and what He can do for them. Fear and trepidations will not go away, but when we lean on Him, He will give us the courage for evangelism and teaching.
When we are not effectively walking in Him, we will not have the necessary strength to sustain us in a witnessing endeavor. Fear and cowardice are the opposites of courage. Fear will keep us running from our call whenever we get some resistance, whether it is sharing the faith or exercising our gifts. When we do this, we dishonor our Lord Jesus Christ. It is OK to fail; it is not OK to never even try!
Ask yourself these questions: What are the things that cause me to have fear, especially with others? What happens to my relationship with God and with others when I am cowardly with others, refusing to take a chance even if it hurts me? Be encouraged that you can do this; be confident that God gives you the power and the opportunities. You are already victorious because you are a person who is saved. Consider how much you can grow and learn when you are willing to take a chance now and then, and how much that can influence others around you who struggle with fear.
Remember; Courage is crucial for sharing the faith, and teaching the truth of Christ. Jesus told us this would not be easy, that we would meet resistance. However, He gives us the faith and courage to prevail. All of the characters and Fruits in the Bible, those that result from the Spirit working with us, work together. So, being courageous will be within the parameters of love, kindness, and self-control. Also, take heed; being courageous means not doing things stupidly or taking unnecessary chances.
Our Reverence Is Essential for Worship and for Witnessing!
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Proverbs 1:7
The next character that will help us overcome our fears is reverence. Reverence is the true response that leads to worship for all who come before God. It is recognizing and honoring the authority of God with awe and fear because He is God, and because He is more awesome than anything or anyone-period. When we are really and truly being reverent and worshipful toward God, we will also be respectful of people, not just because of their position or authority, but as potential brothers and sisters in the Lord, regardless of their personality, knowing He loves them, too. He desires the lost to be saved!
What happens when we are not being reverent toward God? We start to produce the rotten works of the flesh, such as hatred, disdain, disloyalty, and contempt; these are the opposites of an attitude of worship toward God. With these bad attitudes, we will flee from God's love and precepts, ignore His call, and just do our own thing. We will have no fear of God; we will do as we please, thus placing us on a path to chaos, strife, and destruction. We will have no desire to serve Him or do the right thing, outside of obligation. We will miss out on true intimacy with Him, destroy relationships, hinder growth in others, our church, and ourselves, and miss out on the process of maturity as well as the wonder of His plan.
Proverbs tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 3:7). This type of fear is not being scared or fearful of what will happen, nor is it distrust of or terror from God. Rather, it is reverence and awe that fuels our worship and faith. It is the understanding of the wonder and majesty of our incredible God, who transcends time and space, and who is bigger than the entire universe He created, yet, personally knows and loves us with deeper and more love than we could ever comprehend.
In the Old Testament, the stipulation put to the Jews was that they follow their God and stick to the covenant. The covenant we have now is Grace; the stipulation is that we accept it by faith. The growth of our fear (awe) is a response to His majesty. Reverence is taking the incredible knowledge of His majesty and applying it to our lives, so we will walk with confidence in our Lord and operate with respect to Him and to the others whom He knows and loves.
Reverence leads to worship because we can acknowledge who God is and respond in the only way we can-the surrender of our will to Him and the worship of Him. As His created beings, saved by His Grace from a destiny we created and deserved, we have an obligation to give Him our entire honor, that is, all of our praise and all of our adoration. This is the reason for the primary purpose of our saved lives, which is to give God the glory that is rightly due Him. Why must we? Because He is Holy, Sovereign, and the Creator!
The Bible plainly tells us that we are to show reverence to God and to the things that represent His person and presence (Hebrews 12:28, 29). Most Christians will say, yes to the first part, to fear and respect God, but do they do so with one another? What about the things and the "stuff" that represent God, such as stained glass, icons, pews, and the church lobby? Many Christians today do not believe that church facilities need respect. Yet, God's Word tells us, "Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:30, 26:2). This passage is referring to a tent where God's sanctuary was set up, not the great temple of Solomon that was built later. So, even the most commonplace location is considered very special to God, and thus is also deserving of our reverence. If common places are special, how much more are the people He created?
Why is this important in witnessing? Because how we worship God will help determine our attitude. Reverence is a very important character regarding how we relate to both God and others. Reverence and respect have similar meanings. However, reverence has more of the meaning of worship, and pertains to God. We used to call our ministers Reverend as a means of respect. However, we do not worship them, but God only. Ministers are God's representatives, and to a degree, all Christians are included in the doctrine of the "Priesthood of all Believers." But, most people no longer call their pastors Reverend, and children no longer respect their parents. Often, they even call them by their first names. We mock our church leaders and ignore their advice while our churches run down into dysfunction and irrelevancy. We need to be respectful towards all people, whether we agree with them or not. We need to recapture the respect for parents and authorities, something that has eroded and caused much rebellion, strife, dysfunction, and chaos in our society.
When we grow in maturity in our Christian walk, we will naturally show more reverence and respect for God's presence. This mindset must also transfer to how we deal with His creation, with people, and with what represents Him. We do not wake up one day with character. When we do have it, others will see it; they may even point to it, or be discipled from it. Character is the proof text that He is working in us. Character is what is missing in the world. Character is your light that will help you shine His Light to others!
Questions to Ponder
1. Has fear gripped you? If so, what are you really afraid of?
2. What parts do boldness, reverence, and courage play in your relationships with others? How would these character traits help you in witnessing?
3. How and why is courage crucial for sharing your faith?
4. Think through the steps you need to take to put courage into action. Think of a specific instance such as, how can you have the tenacity and kindness to witness to someone when you have been wanting to, but have not done so thus far?
Some passages to consider: Daniel 3, 6; Mark 12:29-31; Daniel 3,6; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; 7:16; Ephesians 6:12-14; Hebrews 13:6; 1 Peter 4:7-5:8
More passages to consider:
1. Being Bold for Our Lord: Genesis 6; 1 Kings 18; Proverbs 28:1; Isaiah 7:9; Daniel 3,6; Mark 12:29-31; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; 7:16; Ephesians 6:13-14; Hebrews 13:6
2. Knowing God and What He Can Do: Daniel 3:8-30; Hebrews 13:6; 1 Peter 4:7-5:8
3. Cautiousness: Psalm 112:5; Proverbs 3:5-14; 12:16; 14:15; 16:25; 19:2; 28:26; 29:20; Ecclesiastes 5:2; Isaiah 55:8-9; Matthew 5:10-12; 10:37-38; Luke 12:51-53; John 5:30; 15:20; Romans 12:21; James 1:19
4. God is Our Provider: Exodus 3:12; Deuteronomy 31:6; Josh. 1:9; Psalm 23:4; 31:24; Proverbs 28:1; Phil. 4:13; 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:4; 18
5. Courage: Matthew 8:23-27; 24:9; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Timothy 4:3-4
6. Reverence: Deuteronomy 7:21; Nehemiah 4:14; Psalm 48:1; 86:10; 95:3; 97:2; 145:3; Proverbs 1:7; 3:5-7; Daniel 9:4; Romans 12:10; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Hebrews 12:28, 29; 1 Peter 5:5
7. Priesthood of all Believers: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Hebrews 4:14-16; 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5-9
© 1992, revised 2004, 2007 Richard J. Krejcir Ph.D., Into Thy Word Ministries (Taken partly from chapter of 11 of Network) http://www.intothyword.org/