Always Be Prepared
The day after my birthday my husband and I decided to drive to Sedona to hike the West Fork Trail. The weather was beautiful and it was good to have a day filled with fresh air and sunshine and exercise, a day away from the office, a time to rest.
Imagine my surprise when we passed a pair of lady hikers who paused in our hearing just long enough to say something like “Yeah, I really don’t get that Christian thing. Do you know how much evil has been done in that name?”
It caught me so off guard that I couldn’t respond. Perhaps I shouldn’t have anyway, since I was technically eavesdropping even though it was unintentional. But this was especially convicting to me since the Wednesday bible study I lead had just been discussing the importance of witnessing and I was thinking about preparing a sermon on the topic with I Peter 3:15b as my scripture passage:
Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
Always be prepared – who knew the Boy Scout motto was stolen from the Apostle Peter!
But the fact was, I wasn’t prepared. Later, I thought about it and wished I had shared that much good has been done in the name of Christianity – both in the past and today. I wished I had mentioned some of the Christian organizations that do great work worldwide: Compassion International, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, Mercy Ships, and others. I wished I had spoken about the difference Jesus had made in my life.
How should I have prepared? Preparation requires thought and reflection, taking inventory of what I believe and why. Is it based on scripture? If so, which ones? I need to anticipate how others might respond to my explanation. I need to examine if my life is congruent with the characteristics of a Christian life (being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ). Actions still speak louder than words.
An even more fundamental question to consider from this passage is “Is there hope within me?” If not, people may not care what or why I believe. When faced with a difficult situation, hope helps me to imagine or work toward a solution, not to give up and throw in the towel. When disappointed, hope keeps me from sulking and causes me to look at what God might be teaching me through the experience. I need to look at the evidence of hope within me.
Some of us are very good at these first two parts. But the third piece can be a challenge as well: “do it with gentleness and respect.” I would be unlikely to properly represent Jesus to these ladies if I became defensive and abrupt. I might only confirm their view of Christianity as a source of conflict. My goal in speaking to them should not only be to inform them about Christianity but to transform how they think about Christians and how they understand and view Christ. If I am stepping out as Christ’s ambassador, I must be ready to give a personal witness about who Jesus is and the difference Jesus has made in my life.
Here are some thoughts on witness from Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, in his book Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination:
The first thing we learn in witnessing is not to tell everything. Witnessing is not babbling… If witness is to be anything more than gossip about God, it must be the word internalized… Difficult or not, it must be done. Successful or not, it must be done. God wills that his redemptive activity in history and among persons be known… Witness is not an option. It is not a special assignment given to the especially articulate, or the brashly insensitive… there are no emeriti in the work of witness.
Or perhaps this is best summed up in a simpler statement by St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” And always be prepared!