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Witnessing In
Hopeless Situations

Abstract: Sometimes our witnessing efforts apparently backfire on us. Does that mean we have failed? It depends on the attitude we take concerning those experiences. For all we know, their very failure may be sowing the seeds of future success. I continue to share ideas and stories in the hope of encouraging members (of the Christian Witnessing Works group on Facebook) to seek witnessing opportunities every day as part of their lifestyle, and equipping them for greater success.

I have learned that seasoning our witnessing experiences with ongoing gratitude helps considerably. I have this notion on good authority, for we find this attitude frequently highlighted in Scripture—Daniel giving thanks at his window (Daniel 6:10); Paul and Silas singing in prison (Acts 16:25). In both cases a wonderful witness was rendered and people’s lives were changed for the kingdom.

When it comes to witnessing, we sometimes find our best efforts backfiring and crumbling around us, sometimes becoming profoundly embarrassed by what goes on, such that we might be tempted to give up and stop, and believe all is lost. But the Scriptures indicate otherwise, and so has my experience.

Note the following.

I was traveling from Los Angeles to Auckland New Zealand. Sitting next to me was a casually dressed middle-aged man. Sitting next to him was a young woman. After we had taken off, eaten, slept, and begun to gree the new day being within a few hours of Auckland, I began conversing with my seatmate.

Inquiring about his purpose for traveling I learned he was from Australia and was returning home after calling on clients in San Francisco. He asked me about the purpose of my voyage and I shared that I was embarking on a six week speaking tour of churches-it usually brings a reaction of some kind. His was anything but positive, for he informed me that he had neither a relationship with God, nor did he have any respect for Christians.

“Really,” I countered, thinking I was going to have a VERY interesting conversation.

“Absolutely,” he retorted, and began detailing a litany things that were presently wrong with churches, to say nothing of the egregious past activities the church had promoted--think inquisition, etc., and went on seemingly forever. To my “But that was in the past,” and “Those were people, not God,” protests, he retorted with, “Well, what is the church doing today? If there were anything to the church, the church would be doing something to correct today’s problems,” and listed Iraq as an example.

I have to give him credit for having many of his historical facts somewhat correct, at least as far as I could tell, and acknowledge his strength of conviction and his utter implacability against my efforts to dislodge him from his “don’t care, nor care to know” attitude!

This went on for a long time, and I was getting few words in edge wise, and he was obviously enjoying himself at my expense—he had a bit of an audience obviously eavesdropping. I began to regret my initiating the conversation. Was this what God had in mind when it came to witnessing? It seemed He was losing ground through my witnessing instead of gaining ground this time around.

But, having often counseled seminar attendees to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, having sought to practice what I preach in saying “yes” and “thank you” often—”Yes, you have allowed this and I accept it from you; thank you it is surely for my good somehow”—I started quietly reminding the Lord that I had started the conversation for Him and not me, and that if He wanted to do anything, He might start!

Encouraged apparently, I finally took the reins of the conversation and began asking my own set of questions.

“You have been telling me all the awful things the church has ever done. You have listed these in detail and been fairly accurate. You have refused to let me have a word in edgewise. Now tell me, what are you personally doing to make a difference? Surely you would not accuse me of something you are not doing. Tell me, what are YOU doing?” And I went on for a time.

It goes without saying that the conversation didn’t go much longer, for we quickly reached an impasse. He admitted he WASN’T doing anything, and quieted down.

Hm…not sure I accomplished anything, but at least I tried.

In parting, however, he said something curious that warmed my heart: “I’ve been stuck sitting between two Christians-the young woman was also a Christian-and I’ve had to endure the two of you. Neither of you have convinced me about Christianity, but I have to give you credit for something: I can’t go home and sit around doing nothing anymore! I have to go home and get involved, I have to personally do something that will make a difference in my community”

I hadn’t suggested that he change his life, nor suggested anything about spiritual deficiencies, I had only asked hard questions about how he was doing in terms of his own values, and somehow, he had come under conviction.

Did I succeed in my witnessing? I don’t know, nor probably will ever know this side of heaven. However, I believe He took another step towards the kingdom that day. And, I am accordingly glad I started that conversation. What if I would have complacently sat reading a book instead of making myself available for God to speak through.

Did my prayer of thanks for the situation make a difference? I believe so, for thanking God for what appeared to be a hopeless situation somehow freed God to work in a greater way, changed my attitude from discouraged weakness to one of courage and resolve, and brought about a series of questions that apparently awakened his conscience and jarred him out of his complacency.

IF we are on God’s mission, and we should CONTINUALLY be on God’s mission—remember, witnessing should be a LIFESTYLE, we can be confident that no matter what is going on, He WILL BE USING US AND HAVING HIS WAY!

I hope we hear some witnessing stories from some of the people traveling to GYC.

Happy witnessing, and don't limit God out of your fear of potential outbursts, for in God’s hands they are ALL for good (Romans 8:28)!

Dan 12/19/2007

Thanks for not making commercial use of these essays and limiting them to personal use without my permission.