(Anthony de Mello)
As the story above indicates, it is essential for disciples of Jesus to rethink our role in the great story of God — prepared at any moment to give our applause to God. The Apostle Peter encourages his readers with these helpful words that have much to say about how we give our applause:
Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within you; yet, do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter. 3.15).
The time will come when you will be asked (whether by friend or foe) to give an answer for what "makes you tick." Like an athlete, you must prepare for "game time"—that critical moment when someone notices how you are living and asks for an explanation. Of course, that doesn't mean you should never take the initiative to share your faith. What it does mean is that your witness will likely be more effective if you live in such a humble yet magnanimous way that others ask about your life. And when that time comes, you must be prepared to answer!
In our media-driven, Hollywood-crazed culture, banality reigns supreme. "I just want the 'real deal'", people often lament. Therefore, when asked what makes your life different, it is essential that you speak honestly and openly, remembering out loud what your life used to be like before Christ set you free from the gods of this world, including your own selfish ambition and pride.
In the passage above, Peter admonishes his readers to answer others with "gentleness and respect." This is crucial and must not be overlooked. Sure, we must be bold and, of course, our testimony must be accurate. However, we must also be decent, remembering what our mothers always told us: "It's not what you say; it's how you say it." Or to paraphrase Paul, "if I know the right answers to all of life's questions, and can witness eloquently to my salvation but have not love, it counts for nothing."
Like the other spiritual disciplines, witnessing is a spiritual practice that takes intentionality, not to mention the guidance of the Spirit and the accountability of fellow believers. Here are a few exercises that might help to prepare you in the important work of a witness.
- Prepare your response. Towards the aim of being ready to witness, write down on one page or less, "Why you are a Christian." As you prepare, you might contrast how you once lived (or what your "thought life" was like) with now. Remember, when asked about your hope, others are not wanting a long sermon full of platitudes or clichés but a personal, honest story.
- Practice with a friend. Like any exercise—spiritual or physical—the practice of witnessing can be enhanced by a spiritual friend or guide. Therefore, you might want to ask someone you respect to listen to or read your testimony and give you honest feedback about whether it sounds authentic, compelling, and applauds Jesus.
- Seek to be gentle and respectful. One way to work on this is be present to those that God places in your path on a regular basis—especially with your family. As this old adage goes, "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
- Pray. Ask the Lord to give you opportunities to witness, to have eyes to see the people he is bringing into your midst, and to speak with compassion. As you go through the day, you might try praying (silently and with eyes opened wide) the prayer of Teresa of Avila, "Lord, love the world through me."
See previous exercises: