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Prepared to Speak

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

What do you do when the nicely dressed young men from the Latter Day Saints or Jehovah's Witnesses stand on your porch and ring the bell? Do you pretend not to be home? Do you answer the door and tell them you're not interested as quickly, firmly and politely as you can muster? Do you invite them in for coffee and an hour-long conversation comparing your religious beliefs with theirs?

Sharing faith with people door-to-door in a cold-call kind of way simply is not a very effective way to witness, in my opinion. Walking up to strangers on the street or in a mall and asking them a canned question meant to try to open the door for a religious conversation seems mostly awkward and pretty much doomed to fail. It seems to me that faith is best shared from one heart to another in the context of a relationship of mutual respect and trust. I believe that friendship is a bridge over which Jesus travels from one heart to another.

One of the things I see in the Apostle Peter's advice in 1 Peter 3:15 is contained in the phrase, "Always be prepared to give an answer..." Giving an answer assumes a question has been asked. We are to be prepared to answer when someone notices Jesus in our lives and asks about why we act with such love or why we're being so nice to them.

To me, being prepared means being a friend. It means genuinely caring for and building friendship with a neighbor or co-worker or fellow student, seeking God's best for them and genuinely wanting to bless their lives. As we spend time with one another and get to know and trust one another, conversations about the weather or sports or prices naturally grow to conversations about an illness or loss of a family member or losing a job. And those deeper conversations form the context for sharing the hope that I have in Jesus Christ naturally and non-threateningly.

To me, being prepared means praying for my friend and asking God to show me ways to bless them. As I learn what is going on in their life, I have the opportunity to lift them to God in prayer, and can usually even find times when it's comfortable to pray with them about what's going on. Our neighbor across the street told us a few weeks ago he had to have surgery. Shirley and I expressed out support and offered to pray with him right then and there. He agreed to let us pray with him and we shared a holy moment as neighbors and friends right there in his garage.

To me, being prepared means thinking through a quick version and a longer version of what my life was like before I met Jesus, how and when I put my faith in Him, and what changes He has made in my life since I gave my life to Him. Giving an answer does not necessarily mean having Biblical arguments to defend God's existence or answer objections to theological issues like why there is evil in the world. It is good to wrestle with those issues and have a sense of why we believe what we do believe, but we don't have to have a degree in theology or apologetics (the study of how to defend our faith) to be a witness.

To me, being prepared mostly means being attuned to and ready to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus Christ living in my heart knows the heart and mind of my friend, and He is quite capable of giving me the words to say in real time to speak exactly what my friend needs to hear to be drawn to Him. When the Spirit whispers, "Just tell them you are here for them and give them a hug," then the most effective thing I can do to share my faith is do just that. Does it leave many things unsaid? Yes. But the Holy Spirit knows what He's doing in drawing people to Jesus, and I can rely on Him to do and say just the right thing if I am attuned to Him.

Jesus said it this way:

Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:17-20 NIV)

There may be times when God calls us to make a witness courageously in the face of the hostility of the world towards Jesus. There may come a time when our culture becomes so antagonistic toward Christianity that persecution becomes reality. Even then the Holy Spirit will speak truth through us in love, just like He did with the first Christians when Rome persecuted them.

But most of us will not be called upon to witness in that highly charged, combative situation. We are more likely to be given the simple opportunity to care about and share our hope with a neighbor or friend or relative or coworker or fellow student. And as Peter says, we are always to share what we share with gentleness and respect. Relationship is the bridge over which Jesus travels from one heart to another. I wonder how God will give opportunity today for each of us to share the hope we have in Jesus with someone we know and love...?


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