Words That Shine by James Loftin
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. – I Peter 3:15 NIV
I ducked into a small coffeeshop one cold, wet morning in northern China. As I sipped my latte, I noticed I was being watched. He looked as cold as I did. He was dressed nicely, and I assumed that he, like me, was on his way to work. Regardless of what my mother taught me, staring is not considered impolite in some cultures. I took another sip, smiled, and made eye contact with my fellow coffee drinker. He responded with a little wave as he said, “Good morning” with a heavy accent.
I knew what would happen next. It happened to me almost every day. I was an obvious guest in the country and people are curious. I invited the man to my table, and we began to talk. My new friend desperately wanted to practice his English and learn more about Western culture. He asked many questions about vocabulary, business, the USA, and my life. Some of his questions were more personal than most westerners ask. I understood and engaged him enthusiastically. Eventually, he asked a question that drove my heart back to I Peter 3:15. “Please tell me why so many Americans are religious Christians?” As I shot up a prayer for guidance, I quickly recalled my context. Although there is a growing number of Christ followers in China, the vast majority of people have had no exposure to the Gospel. I realized that I needed to choose my words carefully.
One does not need to be far from home for this situation to become reality.
Is there someone in your life that has no background in the Church or the Bible? Do you go on mission or business trips that involve cultures where there are few if any Christ followers? Is there someone who has moved to your neighborhood as a refugee, as a university student from another country, or as an international businessperson? I suspect that God has already given you a desire to demonstrate and share the Good News with these people. But here is the question: Are you prepared to share your faith graciously and with words that effectively communicate with someone who is from a faith and background far different from yours?
Created in God’s Image
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus looked his disciples in the eyes and made a shocking declaration: “You are the light of the world.” We are created in the image of God. One aspect of God’s image is our Creator’s gracious willingness to bring light into darkness. When Jesus identified his disciples as the light of the world, he announced that in the core of our redeemed souls is the ability and passion to spread the light of Christ. This is our spiritual DNA. You were made for more than the enjoyment of your forgiveness and the other blessings of God. You were made to shine. As we allow God’s Spirit to shine through our words and actions, we bring God glory, and we join God’s mission to transform the world with the love of Jesus.
To shine more brightly, most of us will need a transformation of our attitude as well as our actions. As you seek God’s help in reclaiming your identity as the light of the world, the Spirit will change how you see your role in God’s mission and the way you live out your faith. In this transformation, passion will replace dread, urgency will replace idleness, expectancy will replace a lack of faith, engagement will replace spectatorship, intentionality will replace haphazardness, confidence will replace insecurity, and daily shining will replace episodic shining. A casual approach to shining for God will be replaced by an attitude of adventure that seeks to change the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Our Savior is calling us to live in such a way that our lives will have maximum impact on the world with the good news of God’s love. We are invited to live as lights shining brightly in darkness. This high-light approach to life does not happen without focus and work. Think about Jesus’s lantern illustration in Matthew 5:14-16. To get a lantern to the most strategic place in a room, we might have to string a rope from the ceiling or fashion a lampstand that can hold the lamp high. This strategic shining takes effort. There is a risk and a cost for anyone who determines to reflect the maximum amount of God’s light. But the glory of God and the urgent needs of the world deserve our best.
Sharing your faith story is the most important and effective ministry you will ever have. All other ministry methods will be effective only to the extent that you have a clear, winsome, Christ-honoring testimony. For biblical examples, see the testimonies of Paul (Acts 21:37-22:21) and the blind man that Jesus healed (John 9:1-27). Many believers, however, never take time to carefully consider and describe the process through which they began to follow Jesus or the reasons that they began this journey. As important as this preparation is to be an effective witness in one’s own culture, it is even more important for those wanting to make a positive impact for Jesus with people who are from a background and culture far different than our own.
We prepare for many things in life that we deem important or enjoyable. We prepare for a career with education. We prepare for marriage with counseling. We carefully prepare for the dinner we are cooking for friends. Are you prepared to honor Christ with a clear, humble testimony when you are given the opportunity?
This article (Part I) offers a theological framework and motivation for preparing a testimony that is more likely to be understood and appreciated in all settings. Part II of this article provides practical guidance on how to prepare that type of testimony.
Regardless of your personality or vocation, you can be ready to share. Your words can shine!