“Our witness isn’t what we say we believe or even what we think we believe. Neither is it the image, pose or posture we try to present to others. It’s what we do, what we give, what we take and actually bring to our little worlds. In some sense, the future will know what our witness was better than we can, the ways we rang true (or didn’t).” –David Dark, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious
If the title of this post had the word “Evangelism” in it you probably wouldn’t have read this far. Now that you know it’s the topic your thumb is set to scroll this post away. But wait–other than my flawed writing–why is that? I guess because we get it mostly wrong and the devil has had his way. We are wrong to let this word end this way. We’re talking about soulful, eternal matters. An “-ism” just doesn’t seem to fit.
At Centerpoint Church today we talked about sharing the gospel and being a paraklete on Christ’s behalf. “Give it Away” was the title of the sermon. That seems more appropriate. Three generous, simple words in four syllables.
As a Christian there is almost nothing that intimidates me more than the call to make disciples. This is what it’s all about and I have no idea what to do. It makes me anxious. And that pretty much cripples my witness right then and there. No one is curious about an anxious Christian. People are curious about the mellow hippy ones living in peace and harmony and with God and neighbor and 6 children and 2 goats and 4 chickens in inner city Detroit.
Jesus said in Luke 5 that the disciples would catch men. He came over and said this after they had tried and tried and waited and waited for fish to come. Then acting on maybe equal parts doubt and curiosity they took Jesus’ suggestion (later they might see it as obedience). They put the nets down into the deep water. The nets became so full of fish they were breaking. They filled two boats so heavy with their catchings that they began to sink. Surely struggling, they pulled their boats to the shore. After all that work they left not only all the fish but “everything and followed him (v.11)”. It’s so moving and incredible, but do you find this a bit frustrating? He performs a miracle involving fishing and then right after says they will catch men for Jesus. Was this just a way to get their attention? When I read it, by putting these two events together, he seems to imply that there will be huge harvests and they will happen quickly and miraculously. What about all the waiting and failure that preceded the miraculous catch? Related or unrelated?
Violet was a friend I met about four years ago. After being a full-time working mom for seven years she decided to stay at home full-time instead to spend more time with her three kids. She was adjusting and learning the ropes of how to have more time than money instead of more money than time. Awesomely extroverted and funny, Violet loves talking to anyone–even stoic, introverted, midwestern-vanilla me. We spent a lot of time together for a while there. I loved that she was from the west coast–a dreamer and a well-educated thinker. She was also adamently anti-Christian and agnostic. I’d never had that kind of friend before. It was a challenge just to overcome self-protect mode and keep from running quietly away. But I really wanted her to know Christ. I dreamt of giving her a Bible for her birthday but gave her a vase of flowers from my backyard instead. I had it all wrong I guess. I was thinking of her as “my project” but of course she was neither a project nor mine. People always sniff that out a mile away even when intentions are the best. I needed more time for the relationship to grow perhaps. Instead my impatience grew (despite having never actually shared the gospel at all) and I just let the friendship fizzle out.
So now I have a new person I feel God has put in my life that he wants me to be intentional about praying for and spending time with. We’ll call her Farrah. When I told my dad about this new friend he said, “Wow that could be a great witnessing opportunity.” He’s right, except that it’s well, scary. Seriously, I can’t imagine any task harder than witnessing to a Muslim in America right now. There is so much fear and misunderstanding between our faiths. So much distrust. Maybe, for now, our friendship is witness enough.
I’ve cast my nets out there (if friendship and swapping baked goods counts) and am waiting patiently. I’ve mentioned that I’m a Christian but that’s about where it ends. I should say more, but what? In the meantime I’ll enjoy her company and the harissa and sage tea she serves me on her front porch and be grateful for the kinship of moms, the gift of hospitality. I’ve missed opportunities to “give it away” often, but I’m hoping that there are things I’m doing that I don’t even notice. Maybe, for now, my witness is invisible to me but visible to her (at least no one could fault me for insincerity). I pray that when the time to speak is right that the Holy Spirit will drop a hint like a grand piano on my head and give me some words to speak, too.
Maybe we don’t have to start the conversation, but just answer the questions. Who says it has to be persuasive preaching? When asked, or accused, we defend Christ. Sometimes it’s not about what we do, but what we don’t do. We can “quench not the spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) by stepping aside and letting the Holy Spirit move. When my girls put on Christian music and Farrah’s daughter is over, I can overcome that fearful impulse to have them turn it off, for example. Sometimes its about getting out of the way. We can prayerfully make our spaces safe and welcoming ones for the saving work of God. We testify, when asked, about where our joy comes from, about what makes us different. The only thing is, I’ve never been asked.
Before Jesus filled the nets with fish the disciples had waited and waited and waited. There is so much waiting in fishing. There is a lot of down time. You have to find things to do in the meantime, find ways to pass the time but still be alert and ready to give it away. This is not easy if you’re doing it right. And I’m pretty sure most of us aren’t. We spend our lives rationalizing that evangelism is what we’re already doing. They will know we are Christians by our love, right? That whole Franciscan thing about sharing the gospel and only using words if necessary. Surely this is our modern witnessing style.