Witnessing as a Way of Life
February 1, 2007 - How do we make witnessing a way of life?
by Lon Allison
When we read the Gospels it seems that Jesus and His closest followers certainly did. Remember what He said during dinner at Zacchaeus’ home? “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV). In fact, on His resurrection night, He would say to them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21, NIV). His “way of life” was now in their hands and hearts. We know from the Book of Acts, the Epistles and history that they did the job well.
But the job is not finished. The task of witnessing begun by Jesus and carried on by His disciples is now in our hands. In fact, the Apostle Paul suggests that this task is a part of our spiritual DNA. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, NIV). We have been reconciled to God, and in that new life we now call others to be reconciled to God. Thus we stand in a grand and long tradition that began with the Son of God Himself.
But if you are like me, the theology of witnessing is easier to grasp than to practice. To help make witnessing a way of life, I have adopted practices that focus on habitually practicing three activities: prayer, care and share.
Sometime near the end of my daily devotions, I say, “Lord, I’m available to talk about You with anyone You bring my way today.”
Making evangelism a regular priority starts with prayer and is fueled by prayer. It need not be the words I use above, but the ideas in the prayer are important. First, in this prayer we offer ourselves to God for the task of witnessing. At every point in our lives, we are called to say, “Not our will, God, but Yours.” This is especially necessary in our role as witnesses. I get so busy that I can go through a day or even a week with nary a thought about sharing my faith. I also quite easily become afraid to witness. Satan is a master at tempting us to be afraid of witnessing, so I must be fully surrendered to Christ to be aware and in tune with the urging He places in me to witness.
Second, the prayer reminds me that God is the evangelist. He brings people into our life orbits so we can share our faith with them. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 we are told, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (NASB). Notice the sense of action—God reconciling the world to Himself. At its best, witnessing is simply cooperating with the God who is already attending to the person brought into our presence. A lifestyle of witnessing begins with such an offering in prayer.
I also keep a list of names in my devotional Bible of specific non-Christian people I pray for regularly: friends, relatives, associates and neighbors.
“Live such good lives among the pagans, that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us”(1 Peter 2:12, NIV).
I need to live a Spirit-filled life among my non-Christian friends. That means they will see over time a quality of love and living that looks a lot like Jesus. Recently I had the opportunity to lead my taxi driver to Christ. I use the pronoun my because when Jim first came to pick me up, I sensed that he was a person who wanted to talk and who thought deeply about the sorrows of life. So for several months, I called Jim rather than a taxi-hub, and he has taken me to the airport at least 10 times. After his commitment to Christ we met for sodas, and he told me that he feels “a kind of peace” when he is with me. I was embarrassed by such a compliment, but after reflection I was not so surprised. When Christ inhabits us, we begin to display His attributes. Our lifestyle of care is important in making witnessing a way of life.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6, NIV).
The life of a witness requires talking. I think witnessing is one part prayer, one part care and at least three parts share. If we don’t tell people about Jesus, they will never know He is the source of our love and lifestyle.
The first stage of sharing is moving beyond everyday topics to spiritual matters. For many Christians, this is the most difficult part of witnessing. I follow the 10-minute rule. That means I don’t start “God talk” until I’ve been in some level of conversation with a person for at least 10 minutes. After that, a conversation usually has proceeded from the perfunctory to the personal. It’s no longer about the weather; it’s about life. I ask God to open the door and give me the words to say. Those words are almost always a question rather than a declaration. It is usually something like, “Do you have any spiritual background or practice?” The answer to a question like that usually moves the conversation toward the things of God, or stops the discussion completely—which is fine. After all, it is God’s timing that matters, not ours. I follow the 10-minute rule for ongoing relationships as well. It may take several short discussions over days, weeks or even years to bring a person to Jesus.
The second stage of sharing has to do with storytelling. Jesus always had a story handy and so should we. Stories from our daily Christian journey are best. When we are with believers, we call these praise reports, but I often call them “God sightings.” They can be large or small miracles, but when shared with a non-Christian who is spiritually curious, they are marvelous. Such stories should come out of our everyday lives.
For instance, I live in Chicago, and we had a huge snowstorm the day I wrote this article. I was so glad my friend Dallas helped me shovel the snow. I thanked God for him more than once between shovelfuls of snow. How would I share that “God sighting” with someone like my taxi driver, Jim? Perhaps like this: “Jim, God sure came to my aid this morning moving all that snow. My friend Dallas came out and gave me two hours of his time. God provides!” When shared in that way with a spiritually curious person, it displays a kind of worldview that says “God is active in every situation.” Most non-Christians have little experience of a God who is present in, involved with and caring about anything that concerns us.
Sharing at the third stage is when we have the privilege of telling people how they can meet Christ personally. I like to use booklets like “Steps to Peace With God” to help me in this task because it keeps the Gospel content clear and memorable. They add written words and pictures to my verbal witness. Sometimes I read the booklet with a person, and other times I give the seeker the booklet and set a time in the next few days to discuss it, after they’ve had time to read and re-read it.
There is nothing on earth quite as wonderful as the joy we feel when God allows us to be present as a new birth occurs! So claim your heritage and let Jesus make witnessing a way of life for you.