Oct 01, 2009
What's a Witness?
I was talking with an old friend of mine the other day and the subject of witnessing came up. She bashfully admitted that though she loves the Lord with all her heart, she has very little desire to run around telling people the story of how salvation was brought to us through Jesus Christ. I understood the guilty feeling she was going through. It messes with your head because you’ve been taught that if you love Jesus and people, you’ll be happy to witness to others.
The whole world of witnessing was such a turn off to me that I could barely stand to have it brought up. After sitting through hundreds of sermons where the pastor would shame the hell out of me for not telling the world about Christ, the guilt and condemnation finally took its toll. I pretty much decided to throw the whole witnessing thing out the window altogether. So when my friend opened up to me about how she felt about witnessing, I understood her heart completely.
So what’s with that anyway? Why would we feel insecure about telling someone we meet on the street about Jesus? Why does it feel so weird to give the whole Gospel script to people? Are we holding back? Is it really because we don’t care for people as much as we should? What is it about us that is so hesitant to witness? Are we embarrassed of Him, or are we just not believing enough in Him? Why is it that this subject seems to condemn most Christians?
In the last forty years I’ve heard no less then a hundred different pastors stand up and reprimand their congregations for not witnessing enough about Jesus. I’ve been to conferences, work shops, Sunday school classes, and weekend retreats designed to encourage and equip Christians to get out and be a witness for Christ. It’s the age-old problem that pastors have bitched and nagged about for as long as I can remember. It seems that no matter how many sermons are preached on the subject, people don’t get any better at it. The best anyone’s ever been able to do is to encourage their congregation to invite others to church so the pastor can do the witnessing. In fact, this is what witnessing has become in today’s church.
I recently had a pastor friend of mine ask me my opinion as to why Christians never witness. My answer is simple.
For the most part I think Christians don’t witness because they haven’t witnessed anything.
I believe that we have lost sight of exactly what a “witness” is. Church people use that word wrongly. It amazes me how often we mistranslate that word in today’s Christian world. I honestly believe that most honest Christians think the word “witness” means something totally different for us than it does for the rest of the world.
We are taught that witnessing is a commandment. That’s impossible. Witnessing is not up to you. I can’t command you to be a witness for the OJ Simpson case. No matter how much of a law I make it, being a witness is not up to YOU. You were either there and saw something or you weren’t there and you didn’t see anything.
When the OJ Simpson case was finished, did you feel guilty for not being a witness for that case? Probably not, because you didn’t witness anything. You would have absolutely no reason to be there. Being a witness is not something you can decide to do. You can’t walk into a random court case going on in your city and ask the judge if you can take the stand because you were commanded to be a good witness. Amazingly, that is EXACTLY what most Christians do every time they “witness” because they’ve been taught that a witness is telling people everything you’ve learned about something.
If you read the papers and watch CNN religiously in an attempt to gather as much information as you can about an upcoming high profile murder trial, you still are not qualified to be a witness. No amount of knowledge or memorized information about a case is the equivalent of witnessing what actually took place. Ironically, Christians today think that because they read about something in the Bible and listened to a sermon on it, they’ve witnessed it. That doesn’t even make sense.
Pile on top of that, the fact that we are constantly pressured to take the witness stand and do a good job. It’s no wonder Christians come across to the world as being insincere and hypocritical. We are insincere because we are calling ourselves a witness to something we’ve never personally witnessed. The best we can do to improve our witness is to study theater. I honestly believe it is not by accident that drama teams have popped up in churches all across America. The more realistic we can make out time on the witness stand, the more convinced the jury will be.
We are taught to, be a “good witness” and no one ever stops to think what in the world that means. It doesn’t even make sense. In fact, the very wording of that statement is evidence that the whole thing is a concocted lie put together to deceive the court. There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” witness. It’s impossible to improve what you’ve witnessed without exaggerating or outright lying while on the stand.
A witness is asked to do one thing and one thing ONLY; tell the court what you witnessed. Don’t tell the court what you think or what your theory is as to what happened. Don’t even give your opinion as to whether or not the guy on trial is innocent or guilty. What did you actually see?
If you saw the defendant drive by your house in a red convertible at around 2:15 am, THAT IS ALL YOU CAN SAY. The court is not interested in where you think he went or where you think he was coming from. All they want to know is what you saw! If you were up at 2:00 am reading the Bible, or if you were up looking at pornography matters NOT. If you had showered or if you stank to high heavens when you saw this, matters NOT. Tell the court what you saw. THAT and only that is what makes a “good” witness. A good witness is also someone who doesn’t exaggerate or embellish what they saw in an effort to make the story more exciting. Truthfulness about what was actually witnessed is what makes a “good witness.”
I think Christians feel nervous about witnessing because they’ve been taught that they have to include a bunch of information that they read about or learned, but didn’t actually see. We feel like we’re reading someone else's script. It feels unnatural because it is unnatural. It’s unnatural because it’s not our true testimony.
You’re not commanded to be a witness for Christ. You’re commanded to tell what you’ve witnessed, AND NOTHING MORE! For most Christians, I am finding that if they told “the truth and nothing but the truth,” their time on the witness stand would last little more than a few minutes. I honestly don’t say that to shame anyone. In fact, I don’t think it’s their fault. Unfortunately, because so many of us have been taught to sell the story to the courts as though it came from us, we find ourselves getting so twisted and spun around that we can’t distinguish the difference between what we memorized and what we actually witnessed. Our actual experience gets buried beneath a mountain of scripts and screenplays we’ve spent a lifetime studying and rehearsing.
I’ll never forget watching the OJ case on television many years ago. I quit my job a few weeks before the court case began, so I was glued to my television every day from the beginning to the end. I think I learned more about being a witness and giving a testimony by watching that court case then I did after more than twenty years of being a Christian.
What amazed me most, was how the D.A. was able to string together a bunch of seemingly insignificant testimonies and form an accurate timeline and picture of what happened. Each witness who testified, told only what they witnessed. One guy looked out his window late at night and saw a white Ford Bronco speed past his house and disappear into the night. That was all he witnessed. That was all he told. He didn’t explain the whole story of the murders and try to convince the jury that OJ was guilty or innocent. He just told what he witnessed. Another guy saw a dark figure run across OJ Simpson’s lawn and enter through the back of OJ’s house. The second witness told only what he saw and nothing more.
There was a couple who found Nicole Simpson’s dog wandering aimlessly through the neighborhood. They said he was nervous and agitated. Their testimony was only about the dog and what they witnessed. They offered no opinion on what might have happened that night. They weren’t qualified to. They were good witnesses because they told the court exactly what they witnessed. They told the truth, and nothing but the truth.
One by one, the different witnesses approached the stand and testified. Slowly, but surely, the entire picture of what happened came together. Amazingly, there were some people who’s testimony didn’t seem to have anything to do with the murders whatsoever. Some people testified about the handling of blood after it was collected. Others testified about police procedures in collecting and protecting evidence. Another person testified about whether or not actors in movies get to keep the clothes they wore in the film. There were multiple witnesses that came from hundreds of unique perspectives. No two stories looked or sounded alike, yet together - they all pointed to the truth.
It is not a witness's job to convince the jury of anything at all. It’s a witness's job to tell only what they witnessed. If Christians could get this concept, I believe an explosion of freedom that they’ve never known would rock their spiritual worlds. Contrary to popular belief, I have found that Christians don’t have a problem witnessing at all. When something happens in their life between them and God, they immediately run around like giddy school-girls telling everyone who will listen. People don’t have a problem testifying about what they’ve actually experienced. It’s human nature to tell everyone around you when something exciting happens in your life. Even Jesus couldn’t get people to keep their mouths shut after they encountered Him. He told them over and over not to tell anyone what had happened to them, and every single time they ran around and blabbed it to the world. When people actually experience something, they can’t help themselves. They have to tell everyone they know!
Christians have a problem with reading a script that someone else wrote and trying to make it look like it’s their testimony.
If people could just get this concept I truly believe they wouldn’t be so hard on themselves for not performing up to standards. Some people’s testimony is nothing more than, “He showed me that He loves me today,” or “He’s showing me how my mother felt when I said what I said to her,” or “Today, God finally explained something to me that I’ve been asking about for months.” Our testimonies will be random snippets of intimate encounters that we’ve experienced with God. There may never be two incidents that look alike, or that compare with other people’s snippets. Remember, it’s not our job to form anything out of what we witness. It’s not our job to convince anyone of anything based on what we’ve witnessed. It’s only our job to be truthful about it and trust in the D.A. (God) to put the pieces together and reveal the true picture.
Many Christians feel that being a “good witness” means that they have to embellish their personal moments with the Father when relating the story with others. We exaggerate about what happened in an attempt to make it sound more spiritual and exciting. Rather than tell it like it is, I find that many people are afraid to admit how unspiritual some of their moments with God really are. They give their testimonies a full body make-over, and after awhile, even they can’t remember which version of the story is true.
If we understood this concept, we wouldn’t even be tempted to compare what we’ve witnessed with what someone else has witnessed. The two have nothing to do with one another. How much sense would it make if OJ Simpson’s limo driver started competing with the couple who found the dog wandering the neighborhood, because he liked their testimony better than his? Ridiculous isn’t even the word for it. It would be outright stupid.
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