By Chris Ritter
I met a new friend this week and, at one point in the conversation, she exhibited the tiniest of coughs. Immediately, she began to profusely apologize and explain that she had a chronic lung issue and was not infected with COVID. The word “contagious” has taken on heightened meaning in 2020.
But COVID is not the only thing that is contagious. Hopelessness is contagious. Fear is contagious, Hatred is contagious. We can feel these things creeping into our soul when we are surrounded by them. On the positive side, hope is also contagious, as if faith and love. If contact tracing was available for faith, hope, and love I desire that our gatherings would be major spreader events. In fact, I hope you catch a raging case of hope this morning.
Today we launch a new message series called “Radiate.” We will be looking at how to grow our impact in the world. Each of us has a circle of influence that is as unique as our fingerprint. Your circle and mine might overlap, but you have a sphere of influence I could never have. It is your mission field. I hope you have a godly ambition to grow that circle and maximize your impact within in for the Kingdom of God.
A few years ago a best-selling book came out that highlighted an otherwise obscure Bible character tucked away in one of the ancestery lists of the Old Testament. Remember The Prayer of Jabez? In 1 Chronicles it says Jabez prayed,
“Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.”1 Chronicles 4:9-10
God was not put off by Jabez’s request for enlarged territory. Maximizing our potential actually glorifies God. A friend named Danny Powell used to say, “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.” Jesus loved to tell stories of servants entrusted with property. Those that were rewarded were the ones who used what they were given to gain even more. To these the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Christians need an entrepreneurial spirit, looking for opportunities to expand our impact.
As we talk about how to grow our personal impact, there is a key verse that I want us to consider together:
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus says we are salt. Salt’s #1 job is to be salty. If it loses its flavor, it ceases to be of worth. Salt is not necessarily uncommon, but it is essential. I changed my eating patterns recently and started having bad leg cramps at night. Doing some online research, I kept seeing pink Himalayan Salt as a possible cure. I thought it might be pricey, but even fancy pink salt is just $5 at Wal-Mart. It did help, I think, but it had to get out of the salt shaker and into me.
Like salt, light it not rare but you sure miss it when it is not there. Jesus said to put our light on a stand so that all can see. Hide it under a bushel? No! We are to be a city set on a hill so that all around can be guided.
It is interesting that Jesus says two possibly contradictory things in the Sermon on the Mount. On one hand he warns against doing religious acts for others to see. He said not to pray on street corners to be seen by others. He said not to let others know we are fasting by looking dishoveled. But this does not mean that we are to make our faith private. Christianity is deeply personal, but never private. Each believer in an ambassador for Christ.
Alistair Begg says there can be no such thing as a secret discipleship: “Either your secrecy will destroy your discipleship or your discipleship will destroy your secrecy.” We must “go public” with our faith.
The economy of heaven is different than the economy of earth. But some will be richer than others. I believe those will be richest in heaven who bring the most people with them. We all have good intentions, I am sure, on this account. But some people have translated their good intentions into habits.
The Power of Testimony
The most effective soul-winners I know have a habit of telling their own story of faith. They look for opportunities to share what Jesus has done in their lives. In fact, readiness opens the door of opportunity:
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,1 Peter 3:15
Peter tells us that living passionately for Jesus will cause people to ask questions. His advice is to always be ready. You never know when an opportunity might present itself. Often those opportunities come after a time of listening to others. It might be a friend in a crisis moment. This presents us with an opportunity to reach back into our own story to communicate a time when God brought us through similar circimstances.
Our story is our testimony. It certainly includes the moment we came to faith in Christ. But it also includes all those times when God directed us, helped us, corrected or challenged us. Think about the Apostle Paul. In Acts, we find that he used every opportunity to tell the story of what happened to him on the Damascus Road. He loved to tell his story.
I am always surprised by the number of Christians who discount their own stories. Some perhaps don’t feel their story is dramatic enough to hold anyone’s interest. But your story may be more relatable to many than a story of dramatic transformation. God deals with us in a varity of ways. We need all the stories of grace told and celebated.
Some may be reluctant to bring up the subject of faith because they do not have the answer to the theological questions that might arise. Some are not confident in their own knowledge of the Bible. But the admonition in Acts 1:8 is to be witnesses. A witness simply relates what happened to them. They don’t tell other people how to live. They don’t teach theology. They simply tell their story. And you are the world’s leading expert on your story.
So “automate” your evangelism. Look for those opportunities to say a good word for Jesus. We all have times when we “have the floor.” Maybe we are called upon to pray at a family gathering. Or maybe we have been listening to a co-worker share their challenges with us. That is our opportunity to speak. Social media gives us all a platform to share. Maybe your next birthday or anniversary you simply include an account of how Jesus has helped you.
Getting Beyond Yourself
It always surprises people when I say this, but I am an introvert at heart. The reason I hide that well is that God taught me some lessons in my early 20’s that stuck with me. He put me, for a couple years, in employment as a salesman. Do you know what you call an introverted salesman? Poor and hungry! I realized quickly that if my family was going to eat regularly and live indoors, I needed to learn to be outgoing.
In sales they talk about “elevator pitches.” You might find yourself next to a person riding up to the 4th floor. You need to be able to positively engage and share a 45 second version of what you have to offer. Most Christians would do well to think about a short and long form version of their Christian testimony.
A good outline for sharing your story in this:
- Before Jesus
- What Happened
- After Jesus
I grew up in a Christian home and went to church every Sunday. We sat on the back row of Cache Chapel United Methodist Church. But I really didn’t have a faith of my own. I didn’t not believe, but God seemed like a very distant concept.
When I was twelve years old I had the opportunity to attend Beulah Youth Institute in Eldorado, Illinois. During that week of camp, a speaker named Fred White communicated the Gospel. I really don’t remember what he said, but I experienced a profound tug at my heart to respond. I went to the altar and prayed that night. I knew something had happened inside me.
After that night, my lifestyle did not change radically. I was a good, church-going boy before camp and I was the same afterward. But the difference was that I knew Jesus knew me and had called me personally into relatioship with himself. Since that time, I have never walked alone.
You see? That is a quick before, during and after version of a time I encountered Jesus. Any time God does something for you, you can turn that into a simple testimony. Your testimony can and should include what God is doing in your life right now. Like bread, testimonies are best served warm.
Jesus likened sharing the faith to fishing. My experience of fishing tells me that it is an exercise in patience. There is bait… something of interest you have to offer. Our part is to be ready when there is a nibble. You can fish without catching anything. But you will never catch a fish if you don’t drop your line in the water.
This week I challenge you to share your story three times. Make the first one an easy one. Grab a Christian friend and ask to swap faith stories. There is nothing like a friendly audience. But you also might try to share your story with someone without a strong faith. Family members are generally very interested in our lives and are ready to listen. Being vulnerable helps others to drop their guard. Also, look for a chance opportunity that the Holy Spirit might give you to share your story. Put 1 Peter 3:15 to work. Always be ready.
Writing out your Christian testimony gives you the opportunity to reflect and organize it. This creates a valuable keepsake for your kids and grandkids. It is the kind of thing that people hold onto for years.
We all have good intentions to be salt and light for Jesus. The best soul-winners have a plan and a habit for sharing their story. Your testimony is one of the most powerful tools you have. I dare you to use it.