Let your light shine before men (and women)

I was recently asked to teach a small segment of a class for new believers at our church.  The lesson had to do with telling others about what God had done for them as a result of their making a commitment of their lives to Jesus.  As I was preparing for the lesson it occurred to me that there are probably lots of new Christians out in the blogosphere who long to do what’s pleasing to God, including sharing their experience of salvation, but just have no idea how to go about it.  Or maybe they just don’t think they’re equal to the task.  So I decided to dedicate this week’s blog to this subject.

 Being simultaneously bold and meek

 I think it’s important to talk about attitude, before I even get into mechanics.   On the surface, the character traits of boldness and meekness appear to be incompatible.  And yet they are both important to any Christian who is going to have a real influence with their circle of friends.

 It seems like one of the first things a new Christian is told after they’ve made a commitment to Jesus is that they need to tell someone about their experience – that they need to be bold.  And the Bible is filled with such admonitions as that in Proverbs 28:1.  “The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.”  Yet there is very little teaching on boldness.  So new believers are often left to their own devices, and the world’s erroneous and confusing interpretation of what it means to be bold.

What Christian boldness is not

Boldness is not being obnoxious, pushy or aggressive.  The world teaches people to stand up and be heard, to talk loudly until someone listens, and to never take no for an answer.  However, the Bible says that no man comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him.  In other words, it’s not going to do anyone any good if you persist in pressing on when a person no longer wants to hear what God has done for you and what He wants to do for them.  If they’re not ready or interested, just change the subject and talk about something that interests both of you, like sports, your flower garden or the evening news.  If you show them kindness and respect, perhaps you’ll have another opportunity later to talk to them about the Lord – when they’re ready.

 Neither is Boldness condescending – talking down to the unbelievers.  Constantly quoting scriptures to unsaved relatives, friends and coworkers, or presenting evidence that the Last Days are imminent, will rarely change a person’s heart.  A person is going to be influenced more by the life they see you live every day.

 What Christian boldness is

Boldness is being warm, confident and courageous.  This is the way we should approach the Throne of God – because we are His adopted children, whom He has promised to meet every need and to fulfill every promise.  And it’s from this position of kinship to our God that we must also set out to share His Gospel with others.   To the unsaved we must be warm.  While we speak openly and freely of God’s grace, we must do so in plain and everyday language and with respect for every person, regardless of their social or spiritual status.  Before everyone, saved and unsaved alike, we must demonstrate confidence – in the Lord’s ability, not ours, and in His Word, not our personal opinions.  And before all, we must be courageous – knowing God has our back whenever we step out in the name of Jesus and give God all the glory for our accomplishments.

 Surprisingly, Meekness and Boldness go hand-in-hand

  If you question the importance of meekness, open your Bible and read what Jesus had to say about it in His “Sermon on the Mount”, chapters 5 through 7 of Matthews Gospel.  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”   Still, even some long-time Christians often erroneously equate “meek” with “weak,” inferring a character flaw.  Although that’s an erroneous conclusion, even the word “weak” as the Apostle Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 12:10, [Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong] does not have a negative connotation.  It refers to his (and our) total dependence on God – and the recognition that “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)  Areas in my life which are weak (deficient) He will fill – Him and Him alone

 But the word “meek” actually implies a gentle soothing disposition.  A definition I prefer, and one which I believe Jesus would agree with is “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”  Meekness is a gift from God that enables a person to battle and defeat his or her own human nature that wants to dominate a situation or another person.  A meek person does not harbor resentment when another takes credit that is due themselves.  They realize God knows who deserves the credit and He is the issuer of eternal rewards.

 A bold person (warm, confident and courageous) needs to be meek if he or she is going to make an impact for Christ in their society in such a time as this.

 Let your light shine

 But how do you even get to that point of telling others about the impact God has had in your life?  There’s an old Christian adage:  “Preach the Gospel always – and if necessary use words.”  It’s often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi; but, in truth, no one knows for sure.  In any case, it’s very consistent with Jesus’ declaration, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  In another place He says you don’t turn a lamp on, then hide it under a basket.  You put it on a lamp stand, and let it light up an otherwise dark room.

 What does “Let your light shine” even mean?  It means, you’re different now that you’ve ask Jesus into your heartAnd people, once they find out that you’re a Christian will start to watch you – to see if what you have is real and lasting.  And that’s good – because once they’re sure it’s real, they’ll start to ask questions.  The hard work of starting a spiritual conversation with them, often will be done by them.

 But how do people know you’re a Christian if they don’t ask?  Obviously, you can tell them with words – or you can tell them with the change in the person they see every day.  And both have to be consistent.  Words are meaningless if your character doesn’t match what you say happened to you inside.

 Now that may discourage some of you – especially if you’re a brand new Christian, and you’re still struggling with some of the same behavioral issues that you had before you committed your life to Jesus.  But don’t be discouraged.  None of us is perfect – even long-time followers.  Remember – it’s a process.  Although you’re forgiven and washed clean the instant you sincerely commit your life – it’s rare that your entire nature will change overnight.  Expect daily improvement, not perfection.

 If somebody at work next week says, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a Christian,” that’s OK!  On the other hand, if, two years from now they say the same thing, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a Christian,” – there’s a problem.

Expect to act differently and don’t be afraid to act differently

Pray that God will help you lose all interest in those bad behaviors and addictions that once and maybe still dominate your day.  He’ll do that for you, if you sincerely want to change.

Fill the gaps: You can’t just stop doing what’s displeasing to God.  You have to start doing what is pleasing to Him also.  That’s when reading the Bible and “hanging” with other believers is not only nice, but necessary – you’ve got to find replacement good behaviors and thoughts.

People you’ll have to deal with:  There are three groups of people you’re going to have to deal with right away:  (1) close friends, (2) your immediate family and (3) casual acquaintances.

Your closest friends will be some of the hardest to deal with.  They’re going to want you to participate with them in their bad behaviors.  (Smoking a joint or otherwise getting high to “have fun”, going to the bar, cussing, …)  You’ve got to have the courage to decline.  You may even have to break off some of those close friendships (at least for a time), if they don’t accept you as you are.  And they are going to want to know why.  Keep your answer simple, until you’re more mature in the things of God.  Sometime in the future, a month from now, or a year, whenyou’re strong enough – invite them out for a coffee.   Then tell them what God did for you and what He can do for them.  If they’re truly your friend, they’ll at least listen politely.

With respect to spouses, kids, parents, grandma and grandpa – the Bible says to let them see your love, your chaste behavior, your kindness – and that’s what may win them over.  But don’t preach to them.  It’ll just get them teed off.  And pray that God will bring other Christians into their lives – people they can respect and identify with.

Your co-workers and casual acquaintances will see your change in behavior, language and attitudes.  They’ll see that you don’t fly off the handle in meetings anymore – you don’t look as sad and depressed – you’re less selfish and so forth.  And they will eventually want to know what caused these changes in your character.

Prepare to give an answer.

 Everyone who has committed their life to their Savior and Lord has a unique story.  The Bible calls that your testimony.  That’s what you’re ultimately going to share with other people.  Your personal story will have a greater impact on most unbelievers than any other spiritual message you can deliver.  And it’s really important to give a lot of thought to how you present your story.  I’d even recommend that you write it down.  It’s worth the time to organize your thoughts about what really happened in your life.  Expect God to help you explain your story.

 There are three parts to every Christian’s salvation story:

(1)  Who you used to be:  You had a dilemma: you had a problem with no apparent solution.

(2)  Who you are now:  You’re a different person now, set free from whatever “enslaved” you in the past; you’re forgiven; you’re now filled with internal peace, increased confidence and joy; the list will include all the changes that you recognize in your behavior, your mental state (attitudes and emotions), your physical body, etc.

(3)  What happened to get you from then to now: you went to a conference or church and heard a message that touched your heart; someone at the mall approached you and prayed with you or gave you a Christian tract; you just pleaded with God – “If you’re real, help me,” and He did.  I recently heard a testimony about a young man who was ready to commit suicide, if he didn’t hear from God.  He placed his loaded shotgun in the corner of his bedroom, then lay down on the bed and pleaded with God: “If you’re real, show me, help me.  Otherwise I’m going to end it right now.”  Nothing happened!  He heard and felt nothing!  After several minutes he started to get up to kill himself – and a “hand” pushed him back down on the mattress and wouldn’t let him rise – until he came to the conclusion that he needed to look for a Christian church that could explain to him what had just happened.

 When you write your story down, have two versions: the total story and the abridged version – i.e.: under three minutes.  You’re going to have opportunities to share your story with people who are “on the run” and may not have the time to listen to your entire testimony.  The abridged version however will plant some seeds in their life for someone else to water and perhaps another to harvest.

 Strategize and Practice

 The time and effort you take to prepare (e.g.: in writing down your story) will build up your confidence before you ever are led to talk to others about it.  But so will the next two steps.

 Practice your delivery.  Share your story with people you trust – which usually means people in your local church and Bible study.

 Strategize opportunities to share your story with the people you are already acquainted with.  Then pray and ask God for opportunities to share your story, for tact in how to deliver it, and for the wisdom to recognize the proper timing.  Then expect God to open those doors of opportunity.

 As your confidence grows, strategize ways to initiate conversations with complete strangers, and with people who may be too dense to ask you about your new life.  To assist you in this, I highly recommend a book entitled “One Thing you can’t do in Heaven,” by Mark Cahill.

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