Does the thought of witnessing strike fear in your bones?
Silently, I stared at my professor and waited for someone else to say what I was thinking. He had asked our class, “What moral values should we teach young people in public schools?”
Several students responded, their answers reflecting humanistic thinking, something not unusual at a campus like the University of Illinois.
I wanted to speak out for Christ, but the fear of man ensnared me. What would happen to my grade? If any others had shared my convictions, they, too, let the opportunity pass.
When I later discussed my frustration over my chicken-heartedness, other Christians affirmed that they had experienced the same problem and with it the same sunken feelings of personal failure. Even pastors could relate – but that realization offered little comfort.
The Lord helped me begin to resolve this problem as I studied Paul’s letters to Timothy. Timothy had problems that many young Christians face.
Paul exhorts him, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness” (1 Tim. 4:12). Perhaps observing that older individuals intimidated Timothy, Paul issued yet another exhortation – one that speaks to every believer.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God. … For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:8, 12).
Instead of rejoicing with those who are zealous for the cause of Christ, why is it we sometimes cringe in embarrassment and shrink back from offering our own verbal witness?
I continued my study of Scripture pertaining to the concept of shame:
- “Every one therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).
- “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
- “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
- “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
- “But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God” (1 Pet. 4:16).
- “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
- “And now, little children, abide in Him, so that if He should appear, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).
The problem is evident, but what about the solution? Paul emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Christian (cf. 2 Tim. 1:6-7). Note that the “spirit of timidity” does not come from God. It’s a fear of man produced whenever we fail to acknowledge, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).
Another reason we silently give up opportune times is because we don’t know God’s Word well enough. Paul tells Timothy:
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Sometimes, our study of the Word requires getting help from someone else, whether it takes the form of engaging in discipleship training or some other outlet. The more the believer knows, the better his likelihood to grow, at least in his ability to “accurately handle the Word.”
“Growing” includes obeying the “going” of our Lord’s Great Commission. Too often we are satisfied with the fruit of the Spirit but indifferent to cultivating the fruit of our witness. But witnessing for Christ is a product of Christian growth for every believer, not just extroverts or those with a “gift” for evangelism.
Although we sometimes blame our failure to witness on personal temperament or “lack of the gift,” God’s Word exposes this excuse for the rationalization it really is.
In Acts 4:19-21, the apostles boldly responded to their opposition:
But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.’ And when they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which they might punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened.
“But they were apostles,” we whine. “What about me in that Psych class when the teacher says there’s no such thing as sin?”
Acts 4:23-31 offers an answer. After returning to their friends and reporting their experience, Peter and John began a prayer meeting, petitioning God for boldness. “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence” (Acts 4:29).
God revealed Himself in a mighty way and honored their request:
And when they had prayed, the place … was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).
Boldness comes when we are filled with the Holy Spirit in answer to believing prayer. Any excuses we may have must fall to this truth, for they are merely rationalizations reflecting our real shame regarding our relationship to the Lord Jesus.
It was time to practice what I had learned. But I was dismayed as I heard my professor begin class by asking the same question: “What moral values should we teach our young people?”
I felt like Jonah, being given a second chance. Again, my inward struggle surged; I played with those thoughts that previously had gripped me with silence. But I applied what God had been teaching me.
I raised my hand. The professor acknowledged me, and I said, “I think we should teach the values taught in the Ten Commandments, so that our young people would understand what sin is and their need for the Savior, the Lord Jesus.”
What a reaction! Stunned silence swept the room. Everyone was intently listening to what I had to say.
Thanking me for my comments, the professor continued to gather responses. Meanwhile, I sat anxiously waiting for class end, hoping to make a quick exit.
But as class ended, I was surprised to find myself surrounded by classmates. They began to ask me questions about my comments.
Praise God – I had the joy of sharing my faith with them. They wanted to hear more the following day. What joy filled my heart.
I realized that shame had robbed me of many blessings and vowed to deal with it the rest of my life.
The thing is, I know it will require a day-by-day, moment-by-moment sensitivity to God, fearing Him in love more than I fear man.
Ron Carlson, MOODY