Our theme in Discipleship Ministries this year, Discipleship Happens at the Table, is winding down this quarter with an emphasis on being “Successful in Witness.” We have focused on the snapshot of the early church as described in Acts 2. We have discussed doctrine, fellowship, and prayer. We see that they were successful in witness because the church was growing in numbers AND in producing true Christ-followers.
I wonder if we have not veered off course by that word witness (used as a verb) and the fears that it can provoke in us, especially for the shy, introverted person. Perhaps our focus on that word has been more narrowly focused than necessary. If someone tells me I need to witness to someone, my mind immediately conjures up a singular vision of walking up to a perfect stranger and telling them about Jesus Christ. And while there is nothing wrong with that scenario, I believe it only touches the surface of how we, as Christians, can witness to the world of unbelievers.
Hebrews 12:1 says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This Scripture is a powerful reference to the superheroes of the faith listed in chapter 11. In fact, verses 39 and 40 clearly tell us that “they were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (NIV). Clearly, the best is yet to come when we choose to shake off what hinders us and keep our eyes focused ahead, while learning from those superheroes who have set such great examples. That’s what our Superhero theme is all about for the 2019-2020 school year.
I have always loved the Hebrews 12:1 verse, but it took on a deeper meaning for me a few years ago. I call it my Rio Grande Experience. Many years ago, David and I took my parents to New Mexico on a mini vacation. After a beautiful train ride through the mountains, we stopped back by the Rio Grande Gorge outside of Taos, New Mexico. It was starting to rain so David dropped me and my parents off at the middle of the bridge. I put up the umbrella and attempted to protect my parents from the rain. I quickly realized that something was terribly wrong. I felt an electrical sensation coursing through my body that was very frightening, and clearly, it was coming from the umbrella. I attempted to let go of it, but it literally had my hand locked in its grip. I could not straighten, nor tear my fingers away from the umbrella.
My father grabbed my hand, confident that he would be able to pry my hands off the umbrella. His powerful grip did nothing to help pull my hand off the umbrella. Instead, touching me sent the electrical impulses through him. His powerful grip was no match for that electrical current. My mother tried to help me as well, but I was literally shocking anything that touched me. I hurried over to the edge of the bridge and began shaking my arm with every ounce of strength I could muster. It took a lot of shaking, but the umbrella finally broke away from my hand and went crashing into the gorge below. I had finally broken away from what could have become the grip of death.
The cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 11 were full of faith, yet this first verse in chapter 12 reminds me that not all was perfect. They had to deal with a lot of stuff and had to choose to “throw off” things that tried to hinder and entangle them.
I had placed my faith in that umbrella that morning to protect us from the rain. Instead, it became the conduit of another power that was dangerous. No matter how hard I tried, I passed on that danger to everyone I touched that morning. The same is true of our sins, our actions, our attitudes, perhaps even our good intentions. When we have hold of the wrong thing, it can bring us down and affect our witness to everyone around us.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NIV), which is at the end of some great instructional text, admonishes us to “test them all,” and to “hold on to what is good.” It didn’t take me long that afternoon to “test” that umbrella and realize that it was connecting me to the source of danger. I knew I had to literally “shake it off.”
Our umbrella could represent a lot of different things as we walk along our journey of faith and witness. Are you hanging on to some preconceived ideas for instance? Are you hanging on to some friends who have pulled you down before? What are you passing on to others because of that hindrance? The power that was flowing through me that day was the result of a bad decision I made to raise that umbrella. I had failed to notice that in the distance, lightning was flashing across the sky. I knew I had to let go of the source of danger.
By the same token, had that umbrella been connected to the very power of God, (and I believe it was since I am still here to tell the story), it would have been a good thing. Numerous scriptures describe some things that we must “hold on to” in order to be an effective Christian and successful witness to the world around us.
Deuteronomy 13:4 says, “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.” Proverbs 4:13 tells us to “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” And Hebrews 4:14 tells us to hold firmly to the faith we profess through Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we are called to be a conduit of His glory, His power, and His love. Everyone we touch should be fully aware that we are children of God. When it is His power coursing through our veins, it is all good. That is how we can be successful in witness. It is far more than an occasional witnessing encounter. It is a decision to create a lifestyle of being Christ-like. Your day in and day out witness is a powerful tool. That includes acts of kindness, letting your actions speak louder than your words, seeking justice for the world’s vulnerable, and so much more.
So, my challenge to you is to hold on to three things that God gave me several years ago for Girls’ Ministries leaders. First of all, everything that you do must be motivated by Passion–God’s passion. In Romans 12:8, where the gifts are discussed, Paul emphasizes that “the leader should lead with passion.” My second challenge to you is to take hold of Excellence. Ecclesiastes 9:10 challenges us to excellence when it says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might….” In other words, give it your best. And finally, keep your Zeal! Romans 12:11 says, “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
I have no doubt that the cloud of witnesses [Superheroes] described in Hebrews 11 were guided by these same (or similar) principles. I have done my best to hold on to them well during my tenure as IPHC Girls’ Ministries Director. They are a winning combination for being an ongoing witness to the world for Jesus Christ.