by Mark Gutman
In 2 Kings 7, four lepers who are desperate to find food decide to go to the camp of an invading army and see if they can get help. They figure that they have nothing to lose, but they are surprised to find that the army has disappeared and left all its food and supplies. After they get enough to eat and hide a lot of loot, they begin to feel guilty. 2 Kings 7:9, NLT: “Finally, they said to each other, ‘This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on; let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.’” Motivated by fear of punishment for not telling good news, they headed off to tell what they found.
I had an experience somewhat like theirs. My favorite time of the week used to be Sabbath at about 5 pm, but not because it was time to eat or because it was almost sundown. And my most dreaded time of the week was Sabbath at about 1:30 pm. A certain witnessing program was in progress at my school on Sabbath afternoons, and I felt obligated to take part in it. It involved knocking on doors and asking people questions to find out if they understood the correct way to be saved and if they had implemented that correct way. If people answered incorrectly to either of the critical questions, I was to find a way to instruct them about the true way to be saved and/or get them to accept Jesus. For a variety of reasons I was uncomfortable with the process, but like the lepers I thought I’d better witness to avoid some kind of punishment. The witnessing would begin at about 1:30 each Sabbath afternoon and end at about 5:00, which was why I was so relieved when it was 5:00.
My motivation was quite different from the one Peter and John exhibited in Acts 4:20. When told not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they said, “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” “No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born in his heart a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. If we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and are filled with the joy of His indwelling Spirit, we shall not be able to hold our peace. If we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good we shall have something to tell.” (Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p.78)
In Mark 5, Jesus is described as casting an unclean spirit out of a man. The grateful man wanted to stick with Jesus, who had been so accepting and helpful, but Jesus told the man, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been” (Mark 5:20, NLT). It’s one thing to tell others about a theory; it’s an entirely different matter to tell others what God has done for you. And Jesus sent the man to his family, to people he knew, to tell about benefits he’d enjoyed. The man’s words would have more influence on people who knew him and could see the difference that had been made in his life.
1) Mingled with people
Some of our witnessing efforts try to take a shortcut. Ellen White recommends a longer-term method of witnessing. “Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men [and women] as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’" (Ministry of Healing, p.143). Knocking on doors of people I didn’t know, I was asking people to follow what I said when I hadn’t mingled with them, shown my sympathy, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. I might have done all those things for a few minutes, but con men work the same way.
In the book 100 Things I’m Not Going to Do Now That I’m Over 50, author Wendy Crisp says (item #9) that she will not join AARP, explaining that “a copy of Modern Maturity on the coffee table is as cheering an image as a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the doorstep.” Most people are not thrilled at having Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, or other strangers on their doorstep trying to get them to join a religious group. They’re less bothered when a long-time friend shares something that has benefited him or her.
Folks might not mind picking up helpful suggestions from friends, but people don’t usually welcome being told they’re wrong. They’re not thrilled when others, especially total strangers, announce that “if you don’t agree with me, you are bad,” or something to that effect. As Edgar Guest put it for many of us,
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way….”
Later in the same poem –
“And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them but the one who shows the way.”
People who aren’t gullible want to see that what we’re talking about makes a difference to us, that our theory isn’t just theory.
In The Gospel Blimp, Joseph Bayly writes about a church that attempted to convert people in their town by flying a blimp that could show messages in lights and broadcast over a loudspeaker and drop bundles of tracts. The blimp’s tracts clogged gutters, the electronics interfered with TV reception, and the townspeople got very angry at the blimp project. At the end of Bayle’s amusing story someone got converted, in spite of the blimp, through the friendliness of one of the church members. Many witnessing programs I’ve seen, though, remind me of Bayly’s blimp. Distance witnessing.
Flying blimps and knocking on doors of strangers may be well-intended but they are quite different from the friendly sharing that Jesus assigned the grateful man in Mark 5. They result in far more collateral damage – needless offensiveness while garnering meager long-term results.
Much of the witnessing I “did” involved scare. While it may not have scared everyone who was on the same witnessing project, it scared me (I’m not eager to ring doorbells of people I don’t know), and it was designed to scare the people I met (“accept what I tell you or you will burn in hell” – although I was supposed to phrase that more carefully). Again, very different from the sharing that Mark 5 and Acts 4 talk about.
Keeping quiet about good news can be difficult. If something means the world to you, you’ll usually be eager to share it. Something you’re not eager to tell others may not mean very much to you, which will make it harder for your listeners to get excited about it either. Of course, you may have something to share but lack opportunity or an interest in learning by someone else.
If we have good news to share, let’s share rather than scare. Let’s share with people something that has made a difference to us. And let’s at least start our sharing with people we know who can see what our good news does for us.