I picked up a book about four years ago with the intriguing title, How to Talk About Jesus Without Freaking Out. I just about always freak out when it comes to sharing my faith, which is silly, I know, because it is all the Holy Spirit and not me -- or it would be the Holy Spirit and not me if only I could let go. Letting go is not one of my specialties. I am a clinger -- clinging to fear like a hairy-footed gecko clings to birchy bark. Anyway, what a seemingly good book for me.
So I read the book, and I still have a hard time talking about Jesus without freaking out. But that is not the subject of this post. You see, the main thing I remember about reading that book was that the authors wrote that every believer should have a five-minute testimony prepared to share with anyone at any given moment. That idea completely baffled me. First of all, my road to faith was such a long and winding one -- not something easily condensed into a convenient five-minute time period. Secondly, it seems counter-productive to have your deepest revelation of the soul turned into some kind of rehearsed, salesman-slick soundbite. Lastly, it just seemed preposterous that I would ever be in the kind of situation where such a recital would be appropriate. Brow-beating, head-hunting, soul-counting Christianity repels me on every level; and, though I would willingly, thankfully share my faith with anyone who ever asked or even at an appropriate turn in a conversation (all the while "freaking out" on the inside), I simply cannot justify accosting innocent by-standers with religious rhetoric when they may simply wish to read a book on the airplane, organize their coupons in line at the grocery store, or listen to music at the bus stop.
I would submit to you that the five-minute testimony is a myth. Can anyone who is able to condense the enrapturing of their soul by the Most High in five minutes or less have a faith that is more than skin-deep? It is the same kind of skepticism that I have about revival festivals. We had Luis Palau up here a few years ago for a three-day festival in a local park. After the event, the local Christian newspaper reported that over three thousand people were "saved" and gave their lives to Christ at the festival. Now, perhaps some of these folks had been wrestling with the Lord and their faith -- building up their trust and breaking down their pride -- over the course of time, and their surrender simply culminated at the festival. But, when people are mass-preached to, when their reaction is overwhelmingly emotional, when the altar calls pulsate repeatedly in their ears, when you factor in the unspoken but present peer pressure that prevails in such highly charged settings -- well, I just wonder how many of those people are still even trying to walk with the Lord three years later.
Or, maybe I am completely off-base here. Maybe my journey of faith was the unusual one. I've been thinking about that journey quite a bit lately, since I celebrated my tenth year as a new creation in Christ this past September. I have always said (at least since 1998) that I experienced two conversions. The first was a conversion of my mind. That came in 1995 after three years of reading the Word and becoming absolutely convinced that God is indeed real, that Jesus is His Son and the Messiah, that I'd better get it right with Him, that I couldn't do it on my own, that I needed to fall upon grace. The second was a conversion of my heart. This came when my mother died, and I experienced a miracle that solidified my faith forever. After I experienced my "first" conversion, I knew the truth -- I understood my sin, His holiness, and my need for redemption. After I experienced my "second" conversion, I really knew the truth -- so much more deeply than I had known it before. After that night in November, when my mother was on the brink of death, I had a glimpse of something so powerful and mysterious and frightening and true -- this crashing crescendo of unfathomable love breaking through the barriers of the human, the finite, the fallen to lift the burdens and the brokenness and bring restoration, rest, and that all-surpassing peace.
One thing I've been reflecting on over the past few months is Jesus' teaching on counting the costs of taking up the cross (Luke 14). I wonder if I ever counted the costs. I wonder if I've ever even experienced any of the costs -- I mean, like most Americans, I have a pretty comfy life. If I haven't, have I really taken up the cross? That is one thing that bothers me about the tally-sheet approach to harvesting the white fields. When people simply respond emotionally to the Gospel, when they kneel at the altar after a moving sermon, when they "pray the sinner's prayer" the first time they've been inside a church in twenty years, have they counted the cost of the cross? Point of Grace sings a song that has some lyrics that really annoy me (though, in general, I do enjoy PoG): "But for me to live as Christ -- that would be no sacrifice -- I freely give Him all my life." Shouldn't there be sacrifice in true discipleship? We are supposed to be dead to self in order to be alive in Christ. Can anyone give up their lives as glibly as the song suggests? Well, I sure can't, and I struggle with that every single day.
I hope, I pray, I do believe that when the floods come up, my house will be built on the Rock. I want with all my heart to bear the trials that are coming without one faltering of faith, one stumbling of trust. For, I do believe that those trials are coming, and I too may soon not have a pillow on which to lay my head at night or the luxury of shopping at will for the things my family needs. I too will see my family hungry, torn, sick, as are so many who are persecuted for righteousness sake -- Oh, that these things would not be! But, they most likely will be before my time on earth is out. Have I counted the costs? How about the guy who raised his hand during the last altar call? I just fear that so many will lose their fledgling faith when the Refiner's fire touches them. "An emotional religion will tumble at our feet when we're made to stand and fight." That's from Amy Grant's song, "Too Late." Or, as Keith Green put it in his wonderful way: On Monday, will you still feel as good as you do tonight [at the Christian concert]? If I went by my feelings every Monday, man, I'd drop dead. It is so easy, when the sky is blue, when the weather's fine, when the food's good, and when the fellowship is sweet, you feel like you could get through anything, any kind of tribulation, any kind of terror, any kind of attack. But it is the end of the race that God is looking forward to. Will you end as you have started?
I can also understand why so many people get annoyed with proselytizing Christians. As Difster pointed out, too many of us use clumsy, demeaning, condescending, false, slick, vile, un-Christlike methods when sharing our faith or even simply conversing with others. There is a lot that is working against God in this world, I'm sure He doesn't need Christians adding to it. Don't televangelists make you sick? How about those nasty little Chick publications that well-meaning (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here) folks leave in public restrooms and telephone booths? Why do we need to hide behind slogans and bumper stickers and WWJD bracelets? Why do we try our hardest to bring people into the fold, and then not equip them to deal with the assaults that the Enemy immediately launches? Why do we smother them with so much coaxing and fear-mongering and trite expressions that they cannot hear the truth above the roar? Why do we encourage people to come to Christ without allowing them time to count the costs? Why do we want the quick-fix conversion and not the long-term fellowship?
I think often of the Christians I knew before I became a believer. Fortunately, they were a wonderful sprinkling of faithful souls, Providentially placed at crucial moments of my life, who never bore down on me and lived lives through which Christ's love shone (though I didn't attribute that to Him at the time, I know now the reason for their goodness). I see in them this thread that was woven since before time began that tied my heart to the Lord's and claimed me as His own -- though I, of course, was unaware of it. Not one of them ever tried to lead me through the "sinner's prayer." Not one of them told me that I was going to Hell. Not one of them did anything that would turn me off to Christ. What a wonderful work they did for His kingdom! Of course, I'm so ornery that I would have immediately been turned off to anything that smacked of propaganda. Just by living lives that shined with His grace, they became important stepping-stones on my walk toward faith. If I ever see any of them again, I will fall down on my knees, weeping with gratitude for them and their ability to communicate God's great love. If I could be that kind of example of Him to only one person on this earth, I would have fulfilled one of my dearest hopes. That is one reason that I believe I have been blessed with so many friendships with non-believers. A thousand little shots of grace to the heart -- done in the spirit of giving and love -- can make a greater impact than one great thud against the head of religiosity and doctrine -- done in the spirit of adding another scalped soul to your believer's belt.
What made me post on this subject was Serena's fascinating entry on her blog Derech Shalom, wherein she has begun what I must assume is a multi-part recording of her testimony. This woman of inspiring faith, whose gracious nature shines through in every carefully considered word she writes, must have an incredible story to share, and her honesty in this first part speaks to a woman who feels no need to hide behind false pretense or imagined righteousness. I would encourage you all to read it, and I'm sure most of you already have. I know that Billy D. has been exploring his path a bit on his blog too. I want more! So, here's an open-ended "meme" for all you bloggers who read this: If you are a Christian, I'd love to read your testimony. If your blog is linked from mine, then know that I visit it every day. I'll bet none of you can condense it into five minutes!