April 24, 2009

There is a time to be silent and a time to speak . . .

The pastor visited a member of his congregation who was in jail because he had not paid the fine on several hundred parking tickets. During his visit, he told the man to do the church a favor and not tell anyone that he was a Christian.

That story dismayed me when I first heard it, but many times I feel just as unqualified to share my faith as that man in jail. I know that my life could be a better example of what it means to follow Christ. I thought of this when reading these verses today:
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Before a Christian opens their mouth in defense of their faith, several other things are supposed to be true. That is, I need to earn the right to tell others about Jesus.

Sanctify the Lord God in my heart. I wrote about this last week. It means that God is set apart in my heart and mind. He is in first place and I am to think of Him continually, always considering His ways and His commands to me. When He occupies the throne of my life, my conversation will be more apt to reflect His priority and supremacy.

The hope that is in me. This assumes I’m not one of those sour-faced, gloomy Christians that only thinks about the negatives. Ouch. Sometimes I do. Others are optimists by nature and our Christian hope makes them more so, but I tend to be pessimistic and need the Holy Spirit’s enthusiasm and His help to keep my mind on the promises of God. Otherwise I will see the worst, the dark clouds, instead of the best and the silver lining that God has created for me. I know He keeps His promises; I know my hope is certain, and a sure thing. Having His positive attitude toward life and the future will also affect the way that I talk.

Meekness. This is strength under control, a lack of feistiness. I know who God is and what He can do so I have no need to retaliate or even get anxious over real or perceived threats. When I remember the sovereignty of God (how can I forget that?) and rely on His promises, my heart is calm and that assurance is reflected in the way I communicate with others.

Fear. This is about being in awe of God, but also being in awe to the point that I pay attention. God is not a sunset to be enjoyed, but a consuming fire to be respected and obeyed. He could destroy me in a blink. If He says “Speak up” then I must open my mouth. If He says “Be quiet” then I must do as He says. Yes, He loves me and I love Him, but His plan for humanity includes my obedience. I need to fit in with that plan, not take the silly stance of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” There is too much at stake to fiddle around. For instance, how I respond to God could make a difference in where others will spend eternity.

Have a good conscience. Last week a woman in my class said that she was “born guilty” and went on to describe her extremely tender conscience. She feels responsible for nearly everything that goes wrong. On the other hand, the world is full of people that refuse to take responsibility for anything and have seared their conscience; they refuse to feel guilt. God has the answer to both. His Spirit shows us our sin. We are to agree with Him (confess) and He will forgive us and remove the guilt. He will also separate true guilt from false (which needs faith, not confession) and sharpen the conscience of those who have grown dull. Just ask Him.

For me, having a good conscience means keeping short accounts. As soon as I am aware that something is wrong (guilt, like pain, is one gauge), then take it to the Lord. He is my Savior; I cannot fix it myself. When I live in this state of instant bookkeeping, God more easily gets my attention. When He asks me to speak up (or shut up), I am more apt to hear Him and do what He says.

Be ready to speak. For a long time, I used to practice in my mind what I should say to people, but God never put me in situations where what I practiced would be appropriate. Then I read the verses about trusting God to give me the words rather than plan beforehand. That worked well, except that He didn’t seem to ask me to say anything and I grew quite comfortable about being quiet. Something was not working. This verse says to be ready to speak and I wasn’t. Now I’m working on it. When I am with people, even Christian friends, I’m trying to have one ear open to them and the other open to the Holy Spirit.

Being ready means just that, listening to God. If He says “Speak up” then He will also let me know what to say. Not only that, if my heart is tuned in, He will also give me the attitude that He wants me to have. Should people mock the Christian faith, I’ve no power to make them feel ashamed of doing that (meekness), but these verses point out that if I do what God asks, He can touch their hearts.

Defending my faith is not about sticking up for what I believe; it is about sharing the hope that I have in such a way that others want it too. It is about giving them reason to open their hearts to God. At first this might mean a sense of shame in their hearts, but He will never leave them with that for very long because He blesses those who seek Him.

As for me, I’m to be a living example of how to do that, how to get from shame to blessing and hope — without being afraid to tell others what He wants them to hear.

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