Can I Get a Witness
Imagine God saying “Can I get a witness?” That should not be too hard because we are called to be witnesses to Him in this world. He’s asking that question, looking directly at you, directly at me and saying, “Will you be my witness?”
Jesus said in Matthew 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” We know from that passage and others that there is an expectation of witnessing. It is the way people come to know God. But why does God need us to do that? Can’t He reveal Himself to people in the world without our help? He is God, after all. The cool thing is that God wants us to be part of the plan of salvation – and that is an honor for us. It is an honor and a duty to be His witnesses in the world.
But there's more! St. Paul said in Acts 20:26-27: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul spoke of his responsibility to preach the whole Gospel, and we have that same responsibility today. If Paul had not preached the truth, he would have some ownership of the loss of the souls he encountered. And we do as well. We have a stake in the salvation of others. That's why we are called to witness.
So how do we do that? There are two specific ways: We can witness with our words and with our actions.
Witnessing with Our Words
The most basic way of witnessing with our words is sharing our story. God has done something in our lives. He changed something – he changed us in some way. We have become a new person. So what has changed? What difference has God made in your life? How can you describe that transformation in words to another person? That’s sharing your story.
You can also share your story by telling someone about an experience you had with God – a God moment – so to speak. When have you been able to see God’s hand at work? I know God is working when I write. Ideas flow, words come, I have the time I need to sit and write. I can also see God’s hand in spiritual direction meetings when I am able to identify what’s blocking a person in their encounter with Jesus. And I can see His hand when I become aware of one of my faults – a time I’m being selfish or fearful or proud. He reveals my weaknesses to me so that I can begin to overcome them. These are all God moments and sharing these God moments with others is a way of witnessing in the world.
A second way to witness with our words is in the conversations we have. Here are three specific ideas:
Be fully present. When in a conversation with someone, they should be the only person that matters in that moment. We don't get distracted by our phone or other people or TV. The time is theirs. When we are fully present to another person, we recognize their value. I think if I was in a conversation with Jesus, he would make me feel that I was the only person in the world in that moment – the only one that mattered. We can witness to Jesus by being fully present in our conversations with others, just as Jesus is with us.
Always be charitable. this applies especially when the conversation turns to gossip. The Letter to the Romans includes gossip as one of the serious sins that keeps people out of heaven. Yet we do it so frequently and so easily. We get sucked into a conversation that tears people down, which is a poor witness to our Christian faith. A positive witness always has charitable conversations. So we redirect conversations to something more appropriate for a Christian.
Speak naturally about your faith. Don’t force it into the conversation ("Speaking of loving bacon, can I tell you about my Jesus."). There are natural openings in conversations if you look for them. For example, someone invites you somewhere but you can’t go because you have something at church. Tell them that – don’t hide the reason you can’t go. Be authentic with people – if faith is the biggest part of who you are, it should be obvious to those around you.
A third way to witness with words is to answer questions about your faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within you.” Know what you believe and why, and be able to explain it. Some things are a mystery, but your hope should not be. You won’t have all the answers, but can probably answer the big ones. Questions are one of the ways people learn about God.
You may also have the opportunity to correct lies and misunderstandings of your faith. Attacks on your faith can make you defensive, but if you approach those attacks from a perspective of curiosity (they really want to understand), you are more likely to remain calm when responding. Maybe you were put in that conversation to correct an error. Someone might say to me, "Why do you Catholics worship Mary?" I can give an answer to that – we don’t. Then I have a chance to explain. This is a way to witness with my words.
A fourth way to witness with words is to extend invitations. When was the last time you invited someone to church or to an event at church? Sometimes God has a person right in front of us and wants us to invite them into His family. How often do we fail to do that because we think they will say no? Do not be afraid. They can say no. It’s okay. But they won’t say yes if you don’t ask. So invite them to church or a small faith group or faith events like revivals or concerts. Invite them to listen to a podcast or read a blog. Those are all ways to witness. Let God lead you and then be bold and speak!
Witnessing with Our Actions
1 Peter 1:22 tells us to "love one another intensely from a pure heart." In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus tells us to "Love our enemies." In both Scripture passages we are commanded to witness with our actions. So what does that look like? Here are four ideas to get you thinking:
We serve others without an agenda: Maybe our service will make another curious enough that they ask us what’s wrong with us – why are we so nice? Then we can share our witness. When we serve first, we earn the trust that can lead to an opportunity to witness with our words. The other part of service (other than the doing) is the heart of service. Do all things with love. (1 Corinthians 13:3) No grumbling. No patting yourself on the back. No quid pro quo. Just pure service in love.
We witness by extending mercy: This is one of the most demanding of God’s commandments. It takes time and grace and will. Jesus taught us to pray: "Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." We want to be like the father of the prodigal son, welcoming back the one who caused us pain. The world thinks we are fools when we do this. It’s okay. Unforgiveness is poison to our souls and bodies. And healing comes through mercy. That is a powerful witness!
We witness by being a good friend: We don’t just befriend someone so they will come to church, as if they are a notch in our salvation belt. Our job is not to save souls but to serve souls. Be a friend without setting spiritual goals for the other person. Just love them. And be authentic, even in your imperfection. Don’t be afraid to be honest about your struggles.
We witness in our suffering: We can make the most of our suffering by offering it up, making our suffering redemptive as was the suffering of Christ on the cross. When we suffer with hope and joy, people wonder why. It is inspiring. Every suffering can be counted as joy when we unite our suffering with the crucified Christ.
The ultimate question is how does God want you to witness? We learn that through prayer. Let God lead. He will show you who to witness to and how. Listen for God’s prompting to talk with someone or serve. Pray for opportunities to share. Watch for those opportunities, and if you miss one, ask for another chance.
Now let’s consider a few questions to bring to prayer:
How is God calling you to witness with your words? Who does He want you to speak to?
How is God calling you to witness with your actions?
Which is harder for you? Words or actions? And why?