Spiritual Discipline : Witnessing
“This has been 15 years of hard work and dedication. Dedicating my life to the sport, putting everything on hold, all my social life, things that I wanted to do with my friends, my family, my fiancée back home. Things I’ve wanted to do I’ve missed out on all for this moment, it’s all been geared for this moment and it’s finally paid off..”
Said Josh Taylor, the boxer from East Lothian, as he was interviewed having become Britain’s first undisputed world champion in the four-belt era last week.
Boxing isn’t a sport I watch much, but I’ve heard the same kind of interviews from footballers and cyclists many times before- “at last! All that self-discipline, all those sacrifices have paid off, it’s all been for the success I’m enjoying now!”
Over the past number of weeks we’ve looked at some of the spiritual disciplines. The goal of the Disciplines is growth in godliness. We have been encouraged to see them as ways we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and as means through which we grow in Christlikeness. They involve dedication and self-control, but what a reward! To become more like Jesus, to know the reality of his presence. Isn’t this worth infinitely more than any sporting prize on offer?
We’ve looked at prayer, scripture reading, worship, service and giving, today we reflect on the spiritual discipline of witnessing.
I remember as a 21 year old being asked to knock on doors and speak to people about Church and what they believed about Jesus. I wasn’t feeling confident. The Mission was in Merseyside and I had recently entered a fish and chip shop and asked for a fish-supper. The staff all stopped what they were doing and burst out laughing “a what?!” (Apparently ‘fish-supper’ isn’t a thing in Liverpool!) If I couldn’t even get fish and chips without being ridiculed, what hope of speaking to people about Jesus? I wasn’t alone. We had a team of young adults, two from Northern Ireland, one from Wales and one from America. We all felt way out of our depth. Our Church host and leader was a great evangelist who worked for Pocket Testament League. We quizzed him looking for ways to remove the fear we felt. To our surprise he told us that every time he shares the gospel he feels the same fear. But he also reminded us that God was faithful. All our excuses melted away. We went out and experienced the exhilaration of having substantial conversations with people about Christ. And yes, God was faithful.
That doesn’t mean witnessing is easy. Most of us never totally lose the fear of looking strange, of facing rejection, but this is our calling in Christ- to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28) and Jesus pre-ascension promise still stands:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’Acts 1:8
Fred Sanders reminds us that growth comes through practice:
“Any repeated practice that is fruitful for growth in Christlikeness is legitimately called a spiritual discipline… The repeated practice of evangelistic witnessing is a good example…
I have trained thousands of people to share their faith. Several years ago I debated one of the world’s leading intellectual atheists in front of a packed auditorium at a university campus. The courage to do this came not only from depending on Christ in that moment, but also from the spiritual discipline of witnessing. Years earlier I was scared to death to share my faith with anyone. What was I to do to become a calm, courageous witness for Christ? Of course, I read books on evangelism and tried to stay motivated through good music, worship and fellowship with other nurturing Christians. But… that would never have been enough. Transformation as a confident, skilful evangelist could come only if I practiced the discipline of witnessing over and over again.”
We want to be disciples who make disciples. And yet we must be careful in how we measure success. I remember being at a conference as a young person and encouraged to reflect on entering heaven’s gates to be met by Jesus and asked a question… “and who have you brought with you?” The speaker did a great job of making his audience feel ashamed of our inadequacies. Is this really how success will be measured though? On the number of people we bring with us? No.
“What is success in evangelism? Is it when the person you witness to comes to Christ? Certainly that is what we want to happen. But if this is success, are we failures whenever we share the gospel and people refuse to believe? Was Jesus an ‘evangelistic failure’ when people like the rich young ruler turned away from Him and His message? Obviously not. Then neither are we when we present Christ and his message and they turn away in unbelief. We need to learn that sharing the gospel is successful evangelism. We ought to have an obsession for souls, and tearfully plead with God to see more people converted, but conversions are fruit that God alone can give. In this regard we are like the postal service. Success is measured by the careful and accurate delivery of the message, not by the response of the recipient. Whenever we share the gospel (which includes the summons to repent and believe), we have succeeded. In the truest sense, all biblical evangelism is successful evangelism, regardless of the results.” (Donald Whitney)
One final point. I have called this Spiritual Discipline ‘witnessing’. Witnessing could be defined very broadly. As we love those the world rejects, we point to the one who loved us and gave himself for us on the cross. As we reject sin and live in purity we point to the God who is holy and pure. As we stay true and faithful we point to the God who never lies or breaks his promises. As we live together in diversity, yet in unity, we point to the Triune God- One God in three divine Persons. The lives we live ought to bear witness to the God we love. But none of these things are a substitute for evangelism. Only the Gospel (literally ‘Good News’) can bring people into right relationship with God. Good News cannot be understood and embraced unless and until it is spoken. This is the responsibility and the privilege of every Christian, we might not have all the answers, or the eloquence of Spurgeon, or the authority of MacArthur, but as we speak for Jesus, (and practice the other spiritual disciplines) God will be with us.