I have been trying to rethink all that I have learned and a lot that I haven’t learned yet about witnessing and restate this as I see it and what will truly emphasize the truly essential matters of witnessing. I think there is a great deal of false emphases, false principles that are carried out in so-called personal witnessing today.
I am almost amused, if it weren’t so tragic, at the way people occasionally defend their spiritual lives and sort of put them on display by recounting how many people they have won to Christ and judging their own ministry or another’s ministry with the words, “Well, after all, I’ve won so many or he’s won so many, therefore it must be effective.”
There is something of a demonic spirit in me from time to time because I am always tempted to ask “Well how many have you driven away from Christ?” Because no one seems to keep records along this line and yet I constantly run into people who have been literally driven way from Christ by false approaches on witnessing. Have you ever met anyone like that who said, “Well, I once was interested in this, but I went through such and such an experience or somebody button-holed me once.” or “I went forward once and this happened to me and I don’t want to have anything more to do with that.” Have you ever met anyone like that?
Well, you see this is due to some emphasis upon false principles of witnessing and, unfortunately, these are rather widespread in our day and we need to carefully observe the scriptural principle: “Test the spirits whether they be of God” or not. Not everything you get in a Christian publication, not everything you see in under the edicts of a Christian organization is scriptural. Not everything you get in Peninsula Bible Church is scriptural. I can tell you that. So you need to test these things and see that they are in accord with the Word of God.
Now, last week we tried to look together briefly at what I feel isthe most important principle in witnessing. If you never learn any other principle of witnessing I would certainly feel that you had covered 90% of the ground if you thoroughly learn this one because there is no possibility of genuine spiritual success without it and if you really learn to operate on the basis of this first principle, I am sure all the others will come along. As you remember, the Holy Spirit is the soul winner, not the Christian. We do not win souls ourselves. We cannot do so. We cannot bring anyone to Christ.
Oh, we use the term we “lead so-n-so to Christ” and I don’t know as that is inappropriate because we mean that we were an instrument in that respect, but actually no one ever leads anyone else to Christ only the Holy Spirit does this. The work of regeneration is a spiritual activity and only the Spirit can do it and we saw how this is made clear by the picture that scripture gives of those who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They are dead in trespasses and sins and what good does all the technique of salesmanship do with a dead person? If you want to demonstrate this for yourself, try selling Fuller brushes to corpses and see how well you do. It is impossible. What a dead person needs is life and only the Holy Spirit can give life.
Now it is more than just the actual giving of life. The Holy Spirit is also the active agent in preparing hearts for a witness, in awakening interest, in stimulating a curiosity, in bringing to any a sense of need. The spirit of God must do this. We cannot do it. We cannot argue people into need. We cannot in any way convince them by reasoned logic, or anything else, that they are in need of Christ. Now to us as we look around and having see our own need and seen how Christ can meet it we look at the world around about us and we see people in need all around us. In every situation we observe, we are made aware that the cure of any problem is Christ.
If the person had Christ, what a change would be in their life, what a difference would come into their situation and we can see this clearly, but they can‘t and one of the mistakes that new Christians continually make especially those just barely recently won to Christ, is to think that all they need to do is go out and tell their friends what’s happened and they’ll all, without any delay, immediately turn to Christ and they forget how long it took the Lord to prepare them. We forget how long it took the Lord to prepare us before we would believe, and how many people had told it to us beforehand. And we either did not heed it or just simply let it slide off and in many cases don’t even remember it. But you see this indicates that the spirit of God must do a preparing work in hearts. Therefore we cannot duplicate this. We must never think of ourselves as the one who wins souls. All we are is the right man in the right place saying the right thing to the right person. That’s all. And it will never be any more than that either. If we learn that principle, we’ll have gone a long way.
Now this means that certain conclusions follow from this, if the Holy Spirit is the soul winner and he must do the work, then obviously the technique of soul winning or witnessing is not salesmanship, is it? We can’t talk people into this. We can’t learn certain parroted programs and go at them and win everybody around us to Christ that way. We can’t take any one special group of people and say, “Now systematically I am going right down the line and win them all to Christ.”
We can’t take our neighborhood and say we are going to go door-to-door and win everyone to Christ in the neighborhood. Or our Sunday school class, or whatever group it may be. Because of course, the Holy Spirit, as the Lord Jesus made clear inJohn 3, is sovereign. He blows whereHe “lists” in the old version or whereHe desires. He is like the wind, it blows where it desires to. And we can’t make Him blow on the ones we want Him to blow on, He is sovereign. What we need to do is learn how to recognize the signs of where He is working and be ready as an instrument to be used in helping that one.
So salesmanship is out of order on this. As the article that I read to you last week points out, there are certain comparisons that we can use between techniques of salesmanship and witnessing, but there are also some very important differences. The differences are over-riding. We can’t, therefore, simply learn certain high-pressure sales techniques and thus become effective and efficient soul winners. This is a denial of the very basic principle of soul winning – that the Holy Spirit must do the task. And this means that the motive behind our personal witnessing can’t be just the taking of “scalps”. Sort of making a record for ourself as a soul winner. I am afraid, unfortunately, that this is often appealed to. People take a good deal of spiritual pride in the fact that they have won so many people to Christ. “Look at what ‘I’ have done. This long list of people that ‘I’ have won to Christ.” There is a tendency to engage in this especially if we are naturally inclined toward sales techniques anyway as a kind of mark of spiritual valor. We hang these scalps on our belt, much as the American Indians used to do, as signs of our prowess as warriors for the Cross. This can never be so if the Holy Spirit is the soul winner because obviously we can’t take credit for something that only God can do.
None of us go around boasting about how tremendous we have been in creating the world. We weren’t there and we couldn’t have done anything if we had been. That’s something only God can do and the regeneration of an individual is only something God can do and He does the whole process and if he uses us as his instrument we’re simply that an instrument in that. All of these, as I came to realize them, were a tremendous sense of relief for me. When I came to realize this, it took the pressure and burden of personal witnessing off my shoulders.
Now I dislike these courses that announce “Soul Winning Made Easy” because in a sense it is wrong, but in another sense it is very right. Soul winning is easy because it is not our job. There is no way of learning a technique that makes it easy as though we take this on as our particular responsibility, but when we see that it is only our job to be available as an instrument in it and that the whole total initiative and responsibility and strategy comes from the Holy Spirit, then it is easy, isn’t it?
Now here’s the third thing that follows the Holy Spirit’s sovereignty in this, and that is the occasion for personal witnessing is not to be contrived, that is, manufactured. We don’t have to create artificial situations for witnessing. That is what we do of course, when we arm ourselves with an armload of tracts and proceed to systematically button-hole every individual that comes our way. We’re contriving the situation for witnessing. We’re ignoring the individual as to whether he or she is prepared. We’re ignoring their personal rights in the situation. In many ways we are infringing upon the right of a person to be wrong if he wants to be, but God never infringes on that. And this is one of the great joys of our relationship with Him is that he doesn’t force us to be right. He pleads with us and He moves upon us and He urges us, exhorts us and so on.
Notice the language of the Apostle Paul in his writing to individuals, he always says, “I exhort you...” “I plead with you...”. He only commanded those who had already given him the right to command them by their own commitment to the will and purpose of God. But through all of this he exhorts and pleads and this is our position.
Now this means, therefore, that we are under no compulsion to go about and force a witness upon anyone. This is a great help to me. I remember as a young Christian, I used to feel that the whole responsibility for saving the world, at least that part that I was daily in contact with, rested upon me, and that if I did not say something to every individual I met, I’d probably meet that person at the judgment seat and his blood would be on my hands. I remember what a terrible bondage this put me under. When I was in the city of Chicago I used to feel that every time I got on the streetcar that I was responsible to bear witness to everybody on the streetcar. I would either take a bundle of tracts and force myself to go down the aisle passing them out to everybody or, on some occasions, I’d stand up in the streetcar and I’d say something to everyone in the car.
That didn’t go on very long, because I soon discovered that I was an unwelcome intruder on the scene.
This is what I mean by some of the false emphasis on witnessing that drive people away from Christ. This is what gets labeled as “fanaticism” and rightly so.
I soon learned that this could make me feel very proud, cause I could go back to my friends and boast about how much I had been doing for Christ, but it really was not accomplishing very much. I saw very few people that came to Christ that way. Now some, yes. You can always find some who have been won to the Lord in this way, but it is not because of the method, but in spite of it and therefore does not justify it.
So the occasion of witnessing must be prepared of the Spirit. Now, let me add this word on the positive side. Prepared hearts are all around us. All around us! When Jesus said to the disciples at the well of Samaria, “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields for they are white already to harvest.” What did he mean? He means you do not need to do any job of preparing anybody. They are already prepared. They’re all around you. Just find them.
Opportunities are being given to us every day, of this I am convinced, on every hand, by people to say a word to open a door or a further word that would bring somebody to Christ, I am utterly convinced that today, perhaps as never before, at least in my experience, maybe because I am becoming aware of it, that there are just literally just thousands of people around all ready prepared just waiting for somebody to start talking to them about Christ and if they will just open the door a little, they are ready to respond and you can see them come to Christ.
Since I’ve seen this, I find that when an occasion to come in contact with a non-Christian presents itself, I find it almost invariably true that somebody around is open. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much occasion to come in contact with non-Christians as I used to have or perhaps as you have, but when I have I find them all open. I speak to businessmen and rub shoulders with them as much as I possibly can in every way that I can, and I find open doors all the time and open hearts all the time. Oftentimes, I am not ready, but I haven’t seen many occasions wheresomebody around me was not ready.
Now the process of finding these people is sort of like a housewife selecting fruit in a market. Did you ever watch a lady buy vegetables or fruits in a market? What does she do? What the grocer hates. She pinches it all. I saw a sign in one market one day that said, “If you must pinch the fruit, pinch the coconuts.” Just a just a little probing to see if it is ready, that’s all – and that is what we need to learn to do. Just a little probing with individuals to see if they are ready.
The amazing thing is you can never tell by looking at them or by listening to them. Sometimes the person with the most vile language, sometimes the person with the most bitter attitude, the one who is seemingly hardest to reach, is the most wide open.
I guess you’ll never forget D. Parsons coming to your meeting. If you know D. Parsons you’ll know why I say that. If there was anyone you would think would be unreachable for the Gospel, it would be D. Parsons. He is a kind of happy-go-lucky, slap-on-the-back, devil-may-care sort of an individual and you would think the Lord would save fire-hydrants and telephone poles before he would ever get around to saving him. But he came into a meeting, heard the Gospel once, came back the next week and was converted. And it stuck. He is still walking with the Lord.
You never know. You can not judge by outward appearance. We must learn to probe behind the surface a little bit. Maybe just a word of suggestion. I have found the best approach is not a forthright, “Are you a Christian?” or “Have you ever been born again?” or something similar because this is too abrupt. Just a word that kind of leaves the door standing open just a little bit. If they respond to it then you open it a little bit more. If they close it, then you can start talking about the weather or a baseball team or something innocuous. You don’t have to push the point.
But if the Holy Spirit has prepared hearts, you’ll find that if you just open the door a little bit, those prepared hearts will just rush right through it. And it is the easiest thing in the world to witness then. You’re talking to somebody that is ready to listen. As I pointed out last time, this is what the Holy Spirit shows us again and again in the Word of God, doesn’t it? The woman at the well, Nicodemus, the Ethiopian eunuch. All these people were ready to listen when the witness was there. So I come back again to that statement:witnessing is simply the right person, in the right place, saying the right thing at the right time.
So that’s the first principle,the Holy Spirit is the soul winner.
The second principle is this:witnessing is witnessing. I know what you are thinking, you‘re thinking I’ve gone off my rocker reading Ogden Nash or something like that. Who said, “A job is a job is a job is a job.” But I mean this, witnessing is witnessing. What is a witness? How do we use that word, “witness”? What does that word mean to you?
You are talking about someone who tells something.
You have to see something, don’t you? Sure. You have to see it.
I had a minor automobile accident the other day and immediately, of course, I wanted to see if there were any witnesses. Now there were a lot of people that showed up immediately on the scene. Any kind of a little collision attracts people right away, don’t they?
But when I began to sift them through, nobody was actually there when it happened. They all saw something, but they did not see the accident. So there could be no witnesses.
Now, a witness starts out with telling something that you have seen or known. You’re experienced in. Which means of course witnessing is not arguing religion. If that is what you are doing, you are not witnessing. In fact you may be driving someone away. Witnessing is not answering all the questions somebody asks you about the Bible. That is not witnessing either. Witnessing is not trying to be intellectually dazzling about how much you know about religion; showing off all your knowledge of the scripture, how many verses you can quote and how much you have memorized and how many references you can give. That is not witnessing, you see?
Witnessing is telling what happened to you. Now if nothing has happened to you don’t say anything cause you can’t witness. Just go on keeping your mouth shut and praying something will happen. But if something has happened, then tell about it. That’s all. That is all that witnessing is. Isn’t that simple?
Now, as I said last week, what you’re telling about is something that you happen to be the world’s greatest authority on. It is something that happened to you. So all you need to do is tell what happened to you.
The simplest formula for witnessing is that presented by the man who was born blind recorded inJohn 9 whom the Lord healed. And do you remember what he said?“This one thing I know, once I was blind, now I see.” And the whole combined, highly trained, largely systematized theology of the school of the Sanhedrin could not overthrow him. They finally had to give up and kick him out of the church because they could not overthrow that argument.“Once I was blind. Now I can see.” Now that is wonderful witnessing. And he did it immediately. He didn’t go through any courses in personal work. He did not even take the “ABC’s in the Christian Life” He just said what happened to him. That’s all. So this isn’t something that requires highly trained personnel. It just means doing what comes naturally as a Christian. Just saying what happened to you; the blessing God has brought into your life.
And you can expand it and include what has happened to others. You can use examples from the Scripture. This is part of witnessing. Look at Nicodemus; look at the woman at the well; look at the Ethiopian eunuch; look at the Philippian jailer. It helps to share these stories with somebody. You will find some circumstance in the Scriptures that fits almost any circumstance you can run into. Rahab the harlot and other personal incidents from the Scriptures. You can use these. These are testimonies of others who have met Jesus Christ and have experienced the change He’s made.
Or you can use stories that you know of today – about the men and women that you rub shoulders with. If somebody opens up to you and pours out a problem in their life and the Holy Spirit may suggest to you: “The persons experience is just like so-n-so that you already know. Why don’t you tell them what happened to them? How the Lord met their need?” And this is a witness – you’re telling something that happened.
Okay, let’s have 3 minutes for questions:
Q: You say that the spirit prepares that person’s heart, but does he prepare you to say just the right thing?
A: Yes, but you don’t alwaysfeel prepared. We are more prepared than any of us realize. We always are, but we don’t always feel prepared. Our preparation is the spirit of God Himself in us.
Q: What if you don’t have much of a background in the Bible.
A: You are just like that man born blind, aren’t you? You just say what happened to you. And don’t be alarmed if they don’t receive it or it doesn’t make any visible impression. Many a Christian has been won to Christ by the after-effects of a witness, and the person who said it had no idea that what he was saying made any impact at all.
Q: [says something about cheerfulness]
A:Oh, yes. A cheerful countenance is one of the best witnesses there is. In fact the whole demeanor of a Christian: his quietness, poise, confidence, assurance in times of pressure or trouble. His control of his temper and so on, his joy, all of this is a continual witness. We are witnessing all the time and if these things are there, they are oftentimes the thing the Lord uses to open the door to somebody.
Peter says this [1Peter 3:15] . He says,“Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts...”That is, let your relationship to Him be right.“...and be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you…” Now why would they ask you a reason? Because they have seen something in you that make them wonder, “How come you are able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs?
Well, the answer is Christ, isn’t it? So be ready to give that answer.
Q: I’d like to know, how do you open the door? You’re talking to someone about everything but the Lord and you want to say something. How do you get started?
A:There’s no rule. You just turn the conversation out of what has been said to you. You look to the Lord while you are talking, you’re praying silently within, “Lord show me how to open a door here.”
I was in a lobby in a hotel in San Francisco the other day with a man I had just met for the first time. We were talking to the hotel manager who had introduced me to him. And the hotel manager said, “Did you ever try to arrange a banquet for 2000 people and none of them would come?” And I said, “No, I haven’t.” “Well, “ he said, “I am a member of an alumni society of a college back east and we’ve got about 2000 people in this area and I was told to try and set up a banquet for them and I set up a date and wrote out all of the invitations and nobody will come.” And I said, “No, I’ve never had that experience, but you’re just like that story in the Bible where it tells about how God had a great banquet and he invited everybody to come and nobody would come, so he had to send out into the highways and bi-ways and hedges and compel them to come in because they wouldn’t come.
And I said, that’s kind of the situation you’re in isn’t it‘? He said, “It sure is.” And I said, “Well, what have you done with the Lord’s invitation?” We didn’t have much time to talk because somebody came up right then and caught his attention, but it was a natural open door.
Sometimes just a word about current events or maybe a word of quiet expression of confidence. These days, this startles people. Nobody is supposed to have any confidence these days and a word of confidence that the Lord is going to work things out, oftentimes this will open the door. You have to say something that sounds a little religious, but it doesn’t need to shock people.