September 17, 2005

Witnessing--Our Calling


hat which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1).*

Witnessing does not mean talking about a theological theory or about something we know from hearsay; it means talking about something we have experienced. But "talking" need not always be words--it can also be actions, living and personal involvement in all sorts of different projects.

"What are you up to?"
Pots and pans in my hands, I went to my car and began loading it up carefully. Two minutes later my (Adventist) neighbors came out of their house, also loaded with pots and pans.

"What are they up to?" asked one of our neighbors, who had moved in a few weeks earlier. Another neighbor, who was working in his garage, told him, "Oh, they go to church."

1540 wednesday"Yes, we are having lunch together after church--everybody brings something and then we share. We call it potluck," we told him.

"Interesting . . ." was his reply.

A principle of communication is this: you cannot avoid communicating independent of a Christian lifestyle; you cannot avoid witnessing with your lifestyle. When people know we are Christians, they are watching us. So in a way, we can be only a good witness or a bad witness. We are a good witness when we do the "good works, which God prepared in advance for us" (Eph. 2:10).

We should always ask Jesus how to approach our neighbors, friends, and colleagues at work. We should ask Him to let us know when to speak and what to say. Recently I've started to pray for my neighbors. We have a good but not too close neighborly relationship. They know that I am a Christian, but we don't talk about it very much. I started to ask myself: How can I show them God's love that I experience in my life in so many ways? I started to talk to God about it--and waited for opportunities.

A few weeks later two people in one family died in the same week. They didn't ask questions about life after death or why people die, but they expressed their appreciation of my being there to listen, to help with small things, and to give a hug when needed. I'll continue to pray for them and wait for the opportunities God will provide.

He came as a witness.
John the Baptist's reason for living was to be a witness for Jesus. "He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe" (John 1:7). John was only pointing to the light (Jesus), and through that light people came to believe. It is important to realize that people don't come to believe through the witness to the light (through John, or through us), but they come to believe through the light itself, Jesus. That lifts a heavy burden off our shoulders--we don't have to "make" people believe. We can't be proud about it--it's not something we have achieved; it's not our success.

Jesus gave us one of the greatest examples of how to witness by His approach to the Samaritan woman (John 4). He engaged her in conversation, which was an unusual action for a Jewish man in those days. By asking her for water, He showed that He was on the same level with her--not higher or better than her; in fact, He "needed" her. He led the talk into an area the woman knew--getting water from the well every day. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again," He added, "but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst" (John 4:13, 14). That awakened the woman's curiosity and desire for something better.

His next statement was profound and interesting: "Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (verse 14). As the spring is a never-ending source of water, I will not be thirsty again because Jesus (through the Holy Spirit) is living in me. He is the never-ending source of strength, support, love, peace, and grace. He's the spring of salvation, and I can get it for free (see Isa. 55:1). And what's more, it becomes a spring of water in me, which means it will also flow to others and help them find Jesus, His love, and His peace--and through believing in Jesus, salvation. Witnessing therefore means letting that spring of water, which I became through Jesus, flow to the people around me.

Jesus led the woman step by step. When she brought up the topic of the Messiah, He simply said, "I who speak to you am he" (John 4:26). He did not put pressure on the woman; He just invited her. It was the woman's decision to react to that invitation. I am sure that at that moment a special atmosphere surrounded them. Then the disciples arrived, "but no one asked, 'What do you want?' or 'Why are you talking with her?'" (verse 27).

1540 wednesdayThe woman then "went back to the town," "leaving her water jar" (verse 28). She was eager to get back to the people of her town, and did not want to be slowed by a jar full of water--the living water was more important to her than the water in the jar. The woman went straight to the people. Some Bible scholars say that she had gone to the well around noon because she didn't want to meet anyone. Maybe she had a bad reputation in town because of her various affairs with men. Was she ashamed of her life? But after talking to Jesus, she did not care; she had met the Messiah, had been forgiven, and went straight into town to talk to the people. "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" (verse 29). She invited the people to see and experience Jesus for themselves: "He knows me, knows my sins and still accepts me, loves me . . . come and see for yourselves" (paraphrase, verse 29).

The command "Come, see"--touch this person, experience Him--is an invitation that is very important for people today. People don't believe just because someone tells them to; they believe because they have experienced Jesus themselves. And that's what witnessing is all about--telling what we have experienced with Jesus and encouraging people to try it themselves.

Many people of the town went out to the well and urged Jesus to stay--which He did. "And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, 'We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world'" (verses 41, 42). I can imagine that among them were skeptics who probably asked themselves, Should I believe a woman like her? They had to see for themselves! This again shows that only by seeing "the light"--Jesus--people come to believe. But they can get curious and want to get to know Him through our words and lives.

Witnessing directly to our fellow believers is also very important. Recently I went to a convention not feeling very well. I was struggling with some personal problems. The testimonies of others lifted me up and helped me to grow spiritually. The stories of how God had touched their lives and helped them cope with difficult situations were inspiring. I felt that God wanted me to hear the stories and through them get His message: "I can heal you, too." As believers we need to encourage one another by sharing what Jesus has done for us. We should witness to one another as well as to the children and young adults in our churches, and of course, most of all, to the unchurched people in our neighborhood.

"Church teens go crazy--in a good way!"

I have received a newsletter with church-planting news. The reports are encouraging and inspiring! It is very exciting to read that church teenagers are "going crazy" about "making programs for totally unchurched friends," and that they are learning "how to understand and live their commitment to Jesus," which makes them "grow spiritually and personally." Think of the resulting benefits: not only do they reach their unchurched friends, but they themselves grow spiritually.

Questions for Sharing

1. How can I witness to the people closest to me--my own nonbelieving relatives? The neighbor next to me?

2. Can witnessing be programmed, that is, put into a prearranged package? Why or why not?

3. Think of the past week. How have I witnessed for my Lord?

God wants us to get involved in united witnessing; He wants us to reach out to people who have never heard about a loving God, and He knows we will get inspired and grow spiritually ourselves. There are many ways to do that. Whether our local church organizes a project for the children in the community, conducts a seminar, goes from door to door, raises funds for an ADRA project, runs a church radio or television program, helps with a project for the socially disadvantaged, plants a new church, runs a Pathfinder club, takes part in a satellite evangelistic campaign, or whatever, God is calling us to do it. So again, the most important point is to ask God what He wants us to do and to be open to whatever project He shows us. I believe He has already prepared the project and the people.

Using mass media such as the Internet, radio, and television is also a great opportunity for witnessing. Many people have easy access to the Internet, and the number of participants in Bible correspondence courses via the Internet is growing. In some countries where it is difficult or prohibited to openly preach the gospel, radio has been a good way (sometimes the only way) to tell people about Jesus' love. Very exciting also is the television work that is currently developing in many countries around the world. It provides an excellent opportunity to reach people in their homes.

But we can meet these challenges only if we join together. People need to get involved with their time and ideas to produce homepages for the Internet and programs for radio and television. We need much prayer so that the programs "speak" to people. And we also need money to finance the production of radio and television programs. United witnessing through media is a great opportunity for the Adventist world church.

Wherever in the world we live, whatever our personal situation might be, you and I are called by God to witness to His love. How? God will let us know. I pray that my Christian lifestyle is like an open book from which people can read about God's love and want to get to know Him personally. For the moment, He has called me to work in an Adventist Media Center and produce television programs (among other things). And my neighbors? I am challenged to talk to them about my God.
*All Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the New International Version.
Gabriele Ziegler is in charge of video production in the offices of the Voice of Prophecy in the Adventist Media Center in Germany.