I think one of the most overlooked aspects of witnessing is the reality of who is actually doing the witnessing. Most of my background in witnessing has been dominated by seminars, sermons and books telling me how to be witness. The advice has ranged from the openly confrontational to the subtle and covert. I have been told that I need to get in people’s faces and confront them about heaven and hell and I have been told to feed the hungry and visit the sick so that I can get an opening to tell people why I am doing what I am doing.
I have also been provided with lots of witnessing aids–tracts that range from the polished and slick to the smudged and confusing; witnessing schemes guaranteed to bring people to faith; books to recommend; videos to show. Supposedly, if I can memorize the latest techniques, spout them off perfectly and confidently and provide the latest book or YouTube resource, then I can be assured of the opportunity to lead someone through the Sinners’ Prayer.
The emphasis is on me and what I need to do to be an effective witness. But lately, I have been thinking a lot about Acts 1. Although the ultimate goal is for the early believers to give witness to the risen and living Jesus, they are told to wait (Acts 1.4). They are charged up because of the resurrection and the presence of Jesus and the wonder of the newness and would have made great witnesses–but they are told to wait.
The waiting, I think, is because they need something before they can be effective witnesses–they need the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself makes this connection when he says in Acts 1.8, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (NIV) Before they can be witnesses, they need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I think we need to think a lot more about what that means.
If the witnessing cannot begin until after the Spirit comes, it means that the Spirit is a vital and basic component in the witnessing process. I am a witness because of the presence of the Spirit–and maybe I can only be a good witness if I am letting the Holy Spirit lead me in the process. Maybe the sermons, seminars and books got it all wrong–maybe witnessing is the role of the Spirit, who uses my openness to the Spirit to accomplish the process of helping people discover God’s love.
If that is the case–and I think it is, then witnessing becomes something very different. Rather than being dependent on me, witnessing becomes a process of me opening myself to the Spirit’s power and leading. After all, the Spirit knows the whole context much better than I do and can be trusted to show me the best approach and process for any given person. The Spirit was at work in the life of the person I think I should witness to before I got there and will be at work after I leave the picture.
So, to be an effective witness, I need to open myself to the Spirit’s leading in the situation so that I can add to the Spirit’s witness, not confuse or block the Spirit’s process. My efforts, growing out of my knowledge and desire, may be just the thing the Spirit needs–or they may be just the thing that the Spirit doesn’t need. I may actually make the process more difficult when I step in, unless I begin and end with a commitment to discovering where the Spirit is going and what the Spirit wants me to do in the process.
Maybe effective witnessing isn’t about techniques, memorized programs or someone else’s approach. Maybe effective witnessing begins with learning how to better open myself to the Holy Spirit, a process that I know from personal experience can be slow and difficult. Maybe, like the disciples in Acts 1, waiting is an essential part of the witnessing process. We wait for the leading of the Spirit, who is at work and knows just how to proceed and who will reveal our role in the process when the time is right.
Maybe the real power behind effective witnessing is waiting for the Spirit and working with the Spirit rather than trying to do it on my own.
May the peace of God be with you.