Our reading for Tuesday, May 21, 2019 is Acts 9:1-9.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.”I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. NIV
Why do so many believers in Christ find it difficult to publically declare their faith in him? One reason will be the fear of the response by others to our convictions. Most persons share in common a desire for acceptance. We define our worth through the opinion of other people, especially those we respect and closest to us. We fear their rejection in whatever fashion it is expressed whether isolation or outright ridicule. Depending on how boldly we assert ourselves we fear the reprisals from employers, colleagues or others who though they may not exert personal influence may impact our wellbeing in tangible ways.
A second cause for our reluctance may come from poor witnesses we have experienced. Though we might admire their conviction we are embarrassed by the rude and inconsiderate presentations of the gospel. We may also take offense by the shallowness of the message or even the judgmental approach of certain witnesses. This causes us fear being perceived as like those insensitive evangelists we have experienced. We are embarrassed by them and fear we might be numbered with them should we more boldly proclaim our faith in Christ.
Still there are those of us who may be uncertain of what to say or feel unprepared in our knowledge of the Bible to back up our witness. Worse yet, due to certain doubts and questions we harbor inside we deem ourselves unqualified or anticipate failure if we should attempt to interject into relationships and conversations our faith based opinions. The easiest way to counter our lack of knowledge is to study and read.
If we entertain personal doubts then there is no better recourse than search for answers with the help of the Holy Spirit and conversation with other followers of Christ. Honesty regarding our personal doubts and question may even open others who question faith themselves to the reasons for our maintaining faith in the midst of personal doubt.
If you have been involved in church to some extent you will be acquainted with this story of the conversion of the apostle Paul. There is much I can draw from this incident, however the slant I wish to take this evening pertains to the conversation Jesus had with Saul who we know will become Paul, the greatest evangelist of all time. Jesus asks Saul twice why it was he was persecuting him. Saul was hunting down Jewish believers in Jesus. He was not persecuting Jesus. Yet he was indirectly. Whenever we are rejected, shunned or actively persecuted for our faith it is not we who are persecuted, but Jesus. Accepting this might reduce how personally we take the rejection we feel of our attempts to witness for Christ.
We can resolve the other objections and obstacles that make us hesitant over witnessing for Christ by cultivating a sensitive and compassionate spirit that will be assertive yet respectful of others. We can earn the right to be heard by embracing a true concern for others and we can better our knowledge of the Bible and deepen our faith so we can be more confident in what we share about Christ with relatives, acquaintances and even strangers. But overcoming our fear of rejection will come only by desiring God’s approval over that of others. We will always experience God’s approval when we overcome our fear through faith.
The real question is whether we truly love others. If we have truly been set free from sin and are grateful for God’s grace and acceptance of us then we shall desire that others will also discover him and receive Jesus as their Savior, Companion and Leader in life. If we truly believe that faith in Jesus is the way to eternal salvation and truly love our neighbor then every obstacle and barrier to our professing openly our faith in Christ will be overcome. The only obstacle to our witness is our lack of faith.
It is not about us but it has everything to do with Jesus. Our fear and reluctance is founded in concern for ourselves which is sin if it is not replaced by love for Jesus and others. Let us surrender our excuses and open our eyes to recognize the source of our fear. Let us confess our fear and ask for faith. Let us overcome our fear of persecution by making the small steps of sharing our faith with others.