BARRY’S WITNESSING AGAIN?
By: Kima Jude
When a young man interrupted our first date by approaching our table at a pizzeria, my future husband and I both looked up in
surprise. Without invitation the teenager, a stranger to us both, pulled up a chair, straddled it, and leaned his elbows on the
table. Disconcerted, I stole a glance at my date, but although he looked quizzical, Barry smiled a greeting.
“Man,” the teen said, ignoring the hoots from his friends nearby, “sometimes I lie on the ground and look up at the sky for hours,
talking to God. I think He listens to me.” His last sentence sounded more like a question than a declaration. Tell me God is paying attention, he seemed to plead. I listened, mesmerized, as our tentative first-date chatter turned into a weighty spiritual discussion of God’s love.
Fascinated by that turn of events, I later tried to analyze what had happened. A seeking adolescent picked a stranger out of a
crowded restaurant for some on-the-spot spiritual counsel – and got it. That meeting was nothing less than a divine appointment.
The incident also provoked some key questions for me. Did Barry possess some kind of spiritual charisma that effortlessly drew
seekers like a magnet? Was it a unique spiritual gift reserved for a chosen few?
In subsequent years of marriage I watched in awe as Barry amassed more such divine appointments. As I struggled to become a better witness myself, I shook the stardust out of my eyes long enough to get a clear look at the faith-sharing process. Although the aura of divinity never faded, gradually the mystique began to disappear.
I saw that Barry was gifted with qualities of spiritual leadership, but I also discovered practical, down-to-earth reasons why he got a lion’s share of witnessing opportunities. He’d fine-tuned faith-sharing to a science. He had learned to operate a spiritual radar so sensitive that his antennae automatically went up when a witnessing opportunity presented itself. Seekers found themselves channeled in his direction because he regularly sent out the right signals that he was receptive to their questions.
Wanting more opportunities to share my faith, I began an operational check of my own spiritual radar.
Transmit Clear Signals
I discovered that the single most important element in sharing my faith is sending out the clear signal that I am a believer. That
signal can be transmitted verbally or nonverbally.
I often failed to recognize nonverbal means of signaling my faith because spiritual behaviors exist primarily for the believer’s
benefit rather than for an observer’s. For example, the young man from our first date probably didn’t approach us blindly, as I had initially thought. Most likely he saw us pray before we started on our salads. Already seeking, he discovered someone at his elbow who might help. Likewise, because Daniel prayed daily in front of a window, his faith captured the attention of others and
eventually resulted in the capitulation of a pagan kingdom to God.
One evening my husband and I stopped to talk to a couple about our faith in Christ. When we invited them to receive Christ, both
turned us down. “But,” Kathy added regretfully, even as she shook her head, “I know there’s something different about you. I can see the joy on your faces. I’d like to have that.”
The best signal, of course, is a lifestyle so permeated by love and holiness that any observer can read it. “Let your light shine
before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).
When that happens, believers don’t have to search out opportunities to share their faith. The seekers come to them. That’s probably why Peter advised, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Late one night, Barry received a phone call from someone he only vaguely remembered from childhood. But Frank knew Barry’s
reputation. “I heard you were all grown up and pastoring a church,” he said, before spilling out his desperation and hopelessness. Barry was prepared for this seeker who had sought him out.
I decided it was imperative that I establish my own reputation as a believer. As I reviewed my behavior, I realized that I tended to
be so reticent that initially I hid God’s presence in my life from strangers. Furthermore, I saved my spiritual reflections for other believers, keeping my conversations with unbelievers on a secular level.
I soon found that volunteering simple personal information, such as my marriage to a pastor, sent an easy-to-read signal of my
faith. Although I didn’t start pouring religious jargon into my conversation with unbelievers, I learned not to shy away from
making appropriate references to my faith. For example, when mentioning a problem I would sometimes add: “I’ve been praying about it.”
Peter did much the same when he was solicited by the lame beggar. “Silver or gold I do not have,” Peter replied. But his remarks
didn’t end there: “What I have I give you” (Acts 3:6).
Be Receptive to Distress Signals
In addition to giving others the right signals, I also discovered that I needed to be receptive to the signals they were transmitting. Good spiritual reception involves being alert to indicators, whether direct or indirect, of spiritual distress. It means looking others in the eye, listening to their tone of voice, watching their body language, paying attention to a change in their habits.
One day while my husband and I were participating in a door-to-door campaign for our church, our knock was answered by a young woman who was friendly and forthcoming. In answer to our queries, Yvonne told us that she and her husband didn’t attend church anywhere, although her husband was now involved in a support group for persons battling chemical dependency.
Probably without realizing it, Yvonne had signaled their spiritual distress. She not only openly identified a problem with spiritual
roots but made it clear that she was receptive to spiritual help by correlating church attendance with a support group.
We immediately asked if we might return and talk again. Within weeks both Yvonne and her husband accepted Christ, in part because we had been alert to her distress signal.
Some signals are more faint but just as real. One day while Barry was walking through the streets of Atlanta he caught the eye of a
man and, reading some silent signal, stopped to chat. As it turned out, the man had just been released from prison and was making his way back home. Within the hour he prayed to receive Christ.
This is just what Peter did when the lame beggar asked him for money. “Peter looked straight at him, as did John” (Acts 3:4).
When they read the distress signal, their antennae automatically went up.
On the other hand, merely picking up on a distress signal may not be enough. We often have to ask probing questions to understand the underlying spiritual problem. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch, when he heard the man reading from a messianic passage in Isaiah. This opening query led to a discussion of the identity of Christ, culminating in the eunuch’s baptism (Acts 8:26-39). If Philip had hesitated because he didn’t want to pry, offend, or embarrass the other man, the eunuch’s conversion might never have happened.
Sort Out Mixed Signals
Not everyone is prepared to hear or answer the kinds of questions that probe their spiritual needs. But for some, these questions
provide an open door to receiving help. This is the point at which we often have to wade through mixed signals.
Earlier I mentioned Kathy, the woman who verbally rejected Christ even as she told us that she wanted the kind of joy radiated by
Christ’s followers. As she talked about the “glow” she saw on believers’ faces, I looked closely at Kathy’s face. In contrast, she looked troubled and uneasy.
Kathy was sending mixed signals, communicating a fear of change as well as a desire for change. Despite her initial rejection of
Christ, it seemed apparent that the Holy Spirit was at work in this situation. Believers continued to fellowship with Kathy and her husband, both of whom ultimately accepted Christ.
Stay Tuned to the Holy Spirit
Although I have come to terms with the earthly side of faith-sharing, the sacred aspect still awes me. I continually realize
that my spiritual radar is never really functional until I tune in to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well was apparently divinely inspired. “He had to go through Samaria” (Jn. 4:4), the Bible states simply. Philip didn’t just happen across the Ethiopian eunuch; an angel had told him which road to take.
“I want a divine appointment,” I once told a prayer partner. “I want to know that God has sent me to somebody.”
One day during church visitation we knocked on the door of an unfamiliar house. “You must have been sent,” the woman said,
leading us to the room where her elderly father lay dying. She gently stroked his brow. “I want you to pray for him.”
It didn’t feel like a divine appointment. It wasn’t climaxed by a dramatic conversion. But we met this woman’s need of the moment, and that’s what counted.
Another evening we visited a home and shared the gospel with a young woman to the accompaniment of rattling pots and pans as her boyfriend, out of sight in the kitchen, fixed dinner. She didn’t accept Christ, but months later the boyfriend showed up in church at a critical juncture in his life. When I recognized him from that brief moment he had popped his head out of the kitchen, I felt fresh awe. Long ago I’d thought our message had fallen on deaf ears. Now I wasn’t so sure. Maybe our signal had been received just as God intended.
From experiences like these I have begun to understand how subtly the Holy Spirit broadcasts His presence. Sometimes the Spirit’s leading is so strongly felt it’s overwhelming. But more often, I feel sure, it’s little more than the faintest whisper that can nudge a sensitive believer to take part in God’s unfolding plan to redeem humankind. The signals are all around us if we’re willing to tune in.
(The above material appeared in Issue 74, 1993 of Discipleship Journal.)
Christian Information Network