A few years ago, I was sharing with my sister the frustration I felt about witnessing or telling others about Jesus. It cannot be done properly without the leading and enablement of the Holy Spirit. In my strength it becomes forced, pushy, awkward and without results. She wisely said, “. . .where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17) reminding me that the power to witness is a God-thing. Good advice.
However, there is a paradox here. On one hand, I need the Holy Spirit to help me tell others about Jesus, but my silence is not always about His absence. Sometimes it is about my cowardice.
If I am walking with the Lord as I should, witnessing to His grace and goodness is the norm and should simply be happening. Just before ascending, Jesus told His disciples:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The disciples were still concerned about the kingdom being restored to Israel, but Jesus had a different plan. His kingdom is not political but spiritual. His rule is not over territories, nations and cultures but over human hearts. The expectation of a political Messiah caused most of the Jews to miss who He was. They wanted a white knight on a white horse who would deliver them from the dominion of Rome, not a suffering Savior on a rugged cross who would deliver them from political oppression. They even missed identifying Him because of false expectations.
Reflecting on that, it seems to me that any disappointments I’ve felt about God were for the same reasons. I was a spoiled child — and expected God to indulge me. He does, but not in the ways I’ve wanted or demanded. I’ve had to learn to let God be God. His thoughts are higher than mine; His purposes far different than anything I might determine.
As for the witnessing part, what is it that God wants me to witness to? Christians need to be careful here. If we think differently about Jesus’ mission than what the Bible describes, then we will tell others our version and eventually they will be disappointed. For instance, if my version of the gospel is that Jesus will solve all problems and drive away all discomfort, I can tell others this, but it will be without the authority and power of the Holy Spirit — and it simply isn’t true. They will be disappointed.
In reading the Bible through each year, the bigger picture is far different than my first impressions. In the beginning, I saw only what I wanted to see — the indulging God who would answer whatever I asked in the name of Jesus. However, I’ve learned something about what it means to pray in His name. Most of the time I was using it as a magic formula, not at all as God intends.
I’ve done that with witnessing too, that is, tried to persuade people in the power of logic and rhetoric. This is not what God meant when He promised the power of the Holy Spirit.
The other lesson in all of this is realizing what people expect from God is not always the same as what He is offering them. The Bible says that the flesh (or natural person) resists the Spirit and this is true. The gospel is offensive and rejected unless the power of the Spirit is at work. No amount of persuasion or reasoning will do it when a “I want” blocks the will of the Lord.
Jesus, help me remember these things as I pray and as I share Your message with others. Keep me from false expectations and from trying to talk to people with my ideas of what they need to hear. May I always realize my own helplessness and rely instead on Your loving power.