Does the word “witnessing” make you squirm?
It does me. I know I need to share my belief in Jesus with those who don’t know Him or what He has done for them, but I get scared. I’ve seen witnessing done so badly that I’m afraid my listeners will immediately label me as one of those crazies.
You know, the kind that grab you by the collar and screech, “Turn or Burn.” The kind that ignore the fact that your child is puking all over her stroller while they go into the finer points of the plan of salvation. The team that rapid-fires Bible verses at you, gives their partner a high five, and then participates in an activity not necessarily condoned within the page of said Bible.
So, I tend to say nothing.
And then I worry that I’m not concerned enough about the eternal home of the people I encounter in my daily walk. Even on vacations, I feel like I need to be on high-alert for witnessing opportunities.
On a recent trip to visit my adult daughter, I was pondering this. I should find chances to engage people in spiritual conversations, I thought, as I dumped my swimsuit into my overnight bag. Yet something inside me told me I can’t sound scripted. I can’t force the conversation. Still, I need to look for opportunities, open doors if you will, and pounce on them.
I forgot that the best witnessing spills out from the overflow of our lives.
Returning to our hotel after a lovely breakfast at a favorite restaurant, my husband and I parked beside two men readying their motorcycles for a cross country ride.
Now I have a thing about motorcycles. I love the freedom, the feel of the open air, the put-put sound of the motor, and the surge of power as you overcome the wind. I’ve always thought it would be cool to ride a moped. Yes, I know all the scary stuff about safety records of motorcycles. So, I figure, Heaven will be a lot safer. I’ll save my dare-devil dreams for the afterlife.
I let my appreciation of those beautiful cruisers overcome my sensibility. I forgot that these men didn’t know me from Eve. They’d never heard the story of What I Saw Today. They had never encountered my perverse sense of humor regarding wanting to drive with a white cane sticking out the window or asking for a large print driver’s manual at my local BMV. I also forgot that they may not have had the same theological perspective of life after death that I do.
I just blurted out my true feelings, the first thing that popped into my brain.
“Wow, what beautiful bikes. When I get to Heaven, I’m gonna ride one of those.”
One of the men, a true biker aficionado, said the first thing that came to his mind.
“Why wait? Why not now?”
In my free flow of consciousness, I continued, true to all that is within Karen Wingate.
“Well, my vision is 20/100 so I can’t drive. But I’ve always said, when I get better vision, I’m gonna drive a motorcycle.”
Now the dude was kerflummoxed. He stammered and stuttered.
“Oh yeah. Uh, I guess so.”
Did I blow it?
In writing circles, we are taught to write to our target audience. Write to their felt needs and interests. I blew that one. I never even considered the background of my listener. Was he a Christian? What was his view of the afterlife? If he wasn’t a believer, I can imagine his consternation. He was traveling cross county. He’d met nuts of all kinds and here was the biggest nut of all. A woman who talked about the afterlife as real as if it were a visit to Yosemite National Park. And excited about it, no less. When I get to Heaven, I’m gonna drive me a motorcycle. Whoa, note that bit of confidence. Not if. When. What chutzpah!
When this earthly life is the best there is, you grab all you can. You defy age and disability and do it anyway. On the other hand, when you are confident that life will be exponentially better on the other side of the grave, you respond with hopeful anticipation. “Someday I’ll see better. I know I will.”
At that moment, I felt like Cornelius Hackl in the wonderful film, Hello Dolly, when Dolly Levi teaches him to dance. At a crucial point in the dance lesson, he loosens up and takes off. He looks up with that silly grin and shouts, “I’m dancing!” And then he wobbles.
I headed toward the hotel door. My breath came in short gasps and my heart thumped two extra beats. “I was witnessing!” Oh my goodness, did I say something wrong? Should I have quoted a Bible verse? Maybe I should have considered what this guy thinks about heaven before I go blurting my arrogant confidence in its existence. You know, till the soil a bit first, ask questions? “Sir before I tell you that I would like to ride motorcycles in Heaven, let me ask you – what is your take on the afterlife?” Yeah, right. And shouldn’t I have mentioned something about the fact that I’m confident about going to Heaven because of what Jesus did for me, not because of what I”ve done for Him or the rest of humanity?
Besides, how do I know there will be motorcycles in Heaven? Eternity with Jesus will be even more wonderful than riding a motorcycle.
The best kind of witnessing
“You did the best kind of witnessing,” my husband assured me. “You were authentic.”
Jack was right. My sentiments had poured out of me naturally, flowing out of the fullness of my life. It was instinctive, heartfelt, and unplanned. It was who I am. It expressed my hope in Heaven, my assurance of where I will be after I die, and my confidence that I will be made whole once I reach Heaven’s gates.
So how do you relay your faith in Christ to the people you encounter every day? The first step is to deepen your own relationship with Christ, to let Jesus become so real in your life that when the moment comes, your response flows out of who you are. Your unplanned words will expose the real you— and that’s when your Christianity will become alluring and compelling.
And perhaps I sell myself short. Perhaps the man saw something different – a disabled woman who looks forward with hope to healing and, unlike other disabled people he may know, is content with the wait. A woman who doesn’t fear death but believes down to the soles of her Adidas that something wonderful awaits us on the other side of the grave. I’ll leave it to the Lord to bring someone else into his life who can explain that belief in and following Jesus is his ticket to having that same level of confidence.
In the meantime, I really wish I was a bugging device on the inside of that man’s brain. I wish I could be privy to his thoughts about that crazy woman who wants to drive a motorcycle when she gets to Heaven. I want to hear him call his wife that night and wonder aloud, “Can Heaven be that real, that wonderful?”
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