Friday, October 17, 2014

Reluctant Witnesses

Today's installment of Our Daily Bread is based on Jonah 1:1-2:2. It's good and I recommend reading and thinking and praying it over.

Jonah, whose story is told in the Old Testament, is the means by which God conveys lots of truths. Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh (situated in what is these days, Iraq) to be God's witness.

He hated the people in that city and, as he tells God later in the short book that bears his name, he was afraid that if he told the Ninevites that God was angry with them, they would repent, God would forgive them, and they would walk with God.

Jonah didn't want that. He was, to say the least, a reluctant witness.

Jonah was a bigoted believer. That shouldn't shock us. All believers are recovering sinners, helpless beggars wanting to be free of their sin, who find it difficult to daily subject their sins to the crucifixions God uses to build our characters and prepare us for eternity. One of Jonah's prominent sins, clearly, was bigotry.

But it isn't just bigoted believers who show reluctance to be witnesses for the God ultimately revealed to all the world in Jesus Christ. Other sins can cause this reluctance.

One may be a fear of others and their reactions to our witness that's greater than our fear--our holy awe and respect--of God. This can leave believers cowering in the shadows, unwilling to share words of life, love, and counsel from God that may help the people they're with to have a close relationship with God. Fear has the been the greatest source of reluctance on my part and I have to pray all the time that God will help me to "be prepared at all times to give an account for the hope that is in" me and that I'll do so with boldness and humility.

When we fear others more than we fear God, we violate the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me." We allow others to have more power over our lives than we give to God. They become our gods.

Another source for reluctance may be personal insecurity. We may think that we're not good enough or knowledgeable enough. But Jesus once made a blanket statement about all believers, no matter their age, their knowledge, or how long they've been believers: "You will be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8). (This is said of believers who receive the power of God's Spirit in their lives, which is exactly what happens in Holy Baptism. See John 3:5-8.)

God will never make witnesses accountable for how little they know, only for whether they trust Him enough to share what they do know of Him and His grace and love in their lives.

In John 4, we're told about a woman, a notorious sinner, who is so moved by her encounter with Jesus and His grace for her despite her sins that she runs into the village that had long ostracized her to tell them about Jesus. She told people just what she knew about Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did," she told everyone she could find. "Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:1-42)

That's it. On the strength of the witness of this seemingly disqualified, questionable person, the entire village came to learn about Jesus for themselves. And they came to faith in Him.

You may deem your faith in Christ and your knowledge about God negligible. But no matter how small your faith and your knowledge base, God can use you and your understanding of Him to help others experience repentance and forgiveness and new and everlasting life in Jesus' Name.

Another name for reluctance born of personal insecurity is sin. That's because it evidences a secret belief that God isn't bigger than your ignorance or that you are the only person in the world that God can't use. (I know what I'm talking about. Personal insecurity has been a source of my failure to be a witness sometimes. And I repent for it almost daily.)

Having said all of that, there's one more point to be made on this subject: Reluctant witnesses may be the most authentic and effective witnesses that God has.

Another person like Jonah, for example, who hated the Ninevites, might have relished doing what God wanted Jonah to do in Nineveh. He was to announce that God was about to destroy the city and the people for their sinfulness. A hater might really want to speak a word like that to some people, lording things over people, acting arrogantly, enjoying the prospect of God condemning people. 

A person with no fear of God might also want to be a "witness" in a bid to steal the authority and respect owed to God alone for themselves. Many cult leaders and pastors and laypeople have done just that.

And a person with big insecurities might want to be a "witness" for God to make themselves feel more important.

There may be lots of reasons for believers being reluctant to give witness for the God they know in Christ. But often it's the reluctant witnesses who tell the truest stories and touch the most hearts.

If you're a reluctant witness, ask God to help you give your witness for Christ in your own way, at the places and times He creates for you. You don't have to be someone you're not, just the child of God you are when you trust in Christ.

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