Grad and Faculty Minister Rick Mattson proposes that worship leads to witness, that witness is the overflow of our inner life of relationship with God, modeled to us in the encounter of Anna with the infant Jesus in the Temple
One day I met up with an atheist friend that I’ll refer to as Jenny. I hoped to share with her the message of God’s love, so I commenced with my usual practice of listening “in stereo,” with one ear attuned to my friend, the other to the Holy Spirit. I was trying to discern from God how he’d been working in Jenny’s life of late, and also, what he wanted me to say (or not say) in the present conversation.
Honestly, I got nothing. The Scripture teaches more generally to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,” (Colossians 4:6) which I tried to obey. But no more specific guidance was given me by God, that I know of.
In retrospect, two possible explanations come to mind for this divine silence. One is that God had not yet granted that special “prevenient” grace to Jenny of spiritual inclination. Thus, she was not ready to talk about anything beyond surface topics.
A second explanation is that I was not as attuned to the voice of God as I thought. Perhaps he was speaking but I wasn’t hearing.
To this day, I’m not sure what happened. I have to trust that God used me somehow to show his love to a lost friend. In any case, I want to be better prepared for future conversations, and would like to offer some suggestions for how you might join me in preparing for sensitive, Spirit-led witness.
- Draw near to God: This seems a simple concept, but we often neglect it. The prophetess Anna models for us the practice of faithfully drawing near to God, as we read in Luke 2:37b: “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” An astonishing verse follows, rarely mentioned in Christian gatherings: “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (38b). This was Anna’s evangelism. She encountered God in temple and in person, then simply told others about the just-arrived Messiah. Anna demonstrates what it means to invest in devotion that spills over to witness. I appreciate the unadorned language of the text: She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all . . . One gets the impression of a natural progression from speaking with God to speaking about God, with no hesitation.
- Remain in Christ: Jesus teaches in John 15 that he is the vine – the source of nourishment and life – and his followers the branches, extensions of the vine that “bear fruit” in the world. Verse 5 sums up the lesson. “’I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”’The word “nothing” strikes me every time I read this passage. Apparently, branches will be devoid of fruit if detached from the vine.As a person who enjoys frequent spiritual conversations with nonChristians on college campuses, golf courses, airplanes and other places, I can attest to the variable proximity of my heart to Jesus. Some days I feel close to him, other days less so. And while feelings aren’t always a reliable guide, the relationship between vine and branch is, in fact, relational, not merely positional. That is to say, we are rooted in Christ by faith, and feelings one way or another don’t change that truth. And yet, do we nurture this precious relationship with Jesus? Pray throughout the day? Practice the presence of God? Gather with the saints for worship? These are relational questions that I believe affect our relative fruitfulness in witness. I think of the tree “planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season” described in Psalm 1. So whether connected to the vine or planted in rich, stream-side soil, the fruit of our lives is necessarily born of devotion.
- Practice makes imperfect. I wish to be practicing the fine art of hearing God’s voice, so that when I show up in a coffee shop with someone like Jenny, I’ll be at my best, imperfect as that is. Of course, our primary means of hearing God’s voice is through the Bible, so whatever words, images and prompts received directly to our hearts and minds from God must align with Scripture, as interpreted by our faith communities. And I would add that bathing ourselves in the word of God will enable us to recognize his voice more clearly.So then, how to get started (or re-started) in hearing from God? If I may suggest a simple method: Ask God’s guidance, then obey what you hear. You probably won’t get it right, especially at first. I certainly didn’t (and don’t). Yet, progress is exciting and can be quite an adventure. I awoke early one morning and felt a prompting from the Lord to head to our basement and clean the shower stall. I couldn’t get the prompt out of my head. Yet, I debated: I’m not a morning guy . . . there’s no guarantee this Voice is real . . . and isn’t it presumptuous to think God would deign to whisper in my ear? Then I remembered that my wife’s primary love language is “acts of service,” so I bolted out of bed (fell, actually) and performed the unpleasant chore.Looking back, what do you think of my supposed early morning phone call from heaven? Was it God on the line or my own internal voice? I say it doesn’t matter. I heard, obeyed, and I believe God was pleased. And I believe he is more likely to entrust me with future divine words if he knows I’m open to obeying, even if I sometimes miss the mark. In any case, I recommend practicing the art of hearing God’s voice in mundane matters such as shower-cleaning, and then moving on to (greater) matters of personal witness.
God spoke through a mere mortal
In December of 1981 I found myself in the 41st row of the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois, not for a Big Ten basketball game, but to hear a famous preacher, Billy Graham. Mr. Graham was in town to address the Urbana Mission Convention, and I had arrived early for a good seat. As the great orator approached the podium and surveyed the crowd of 18,000 Urbana delegates, I was struck with his hawk-like appearance and commanding presence. At “Good evening, Urbana!”, he had me. And then there was just the preacher and me, fame and obscurity, alone in the arena, the throng around me melting away. At a point in his message Mr. Graham looked directly at me (I’m sure of it), and emphasized the importance of every Christian spending time worshiping God in both individual and corporate settings. And from this place of worship – this encounter with the living God – we would naturally follow the final command of Jesus to go to the world. Thus, a simple two-step liturgy for all of life: Worship, then go. Worship. Go. And repeat. I took those words to heart, which have informed my life’s journey all these years.
- Devotion: Think of some of the images we’ve seen: Anna the cloistered prophetess who gave her life to prayer and worship. Jesus the vine, calling his followers to remain constantly in him. The tree planted by streams of water, its roots deep in the soil of the Spirit. Candidly, then, how is your devotional life going? May I ask if your work, family, and witness flow from a solid connection with the Lord? What, if anything, needs to change?
- Witness: I believe God has gone ahead of us into the lives of our nonChristian friends and acquaintances, and is calling us to join him in his work. This takes spiritual discernment on our part, the ability to hear his voice. But it also takes a willingness to step out in faith, ask questions, enter conversation, and when the time is ripe: share the gospel message. Again, candidly, how is your ministry of evangelism going? Are there Christians with whom you can team up for encouragement, prayer and accountability for more faithful witness? Who is God calling you to begin sharing the message of Christ?
If you’re a person like me whose vocational calling is to the university world, let’s remember the exhortation of Billy Graham at Urbana ’81: Worship, then go. Worship. Go. And repeat!