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Out of the Prayer Closet

I have been a Christian since I was 17, and I still do not understand witnessing. I don’t get this whole “sharing your faith” thing. Is it just telling people about Jesus and the Cross? Is it talking about what God has done in my life? Is it showing Jesus’ love through action? Is it all three? So far I have not met one person who can explain it to me clearly.

It was shortly after I was saved that I first heard the term witnessing. The church I went to at the time had a Bible study every Wednesday night, and before study began some of the congregation would share their experiences witnessing. They talked about Jesus to family, friends, co-workers and even complete strangers at 7-Eleven. Many times during Bible study the pastor talked about the Great Commission, and how we are all have a ministry, whether we’re ordained preachers or not. It became apparent that I was no longer allowed to just sit back and enjoy my salvation. I had to let others in on the secret.

At first my “ministry” did not go so well. One morning before class I was hanging out with my friend Anthony. I forgot what we were talking about, but at one point he said the only way to make it through life was to numb oneself. Thinking this would be the perfect opportunity to witness, I said, “You should try praying instead. You’ll be amazed by just how much God loves you.” Anthony just chuckled and said, “You’re talking to a man who does not believe in such things.” After that I pretty much kept the preaching to myself.

I wondered how the people at my church witnessed. For them, talking about Jesus seemed so natural, like breathing. They always said, “The Lord was talking, not me.” I guess I somehow blocked all transmissions from the Holy Spirit.

It has always been easier for me to talk about movies and music than about Jesus. One reason is I’m a pretty private person. I can’t just open up to complete strangers and talk about things that mean so much to me. I have to really get to know some one first before I can talk about my beliefs. Also, I haven’t seen too many hostile discussions about entertainment (except for Marilyn Manson and Michael Moore). I don’t remember hearing about anyone being killed in the name of a movie, or anyone using musical tastes to gain political power. The holy name of God has been tainted for years, so believers don’t really have a good reputation.

A few years ago, I was an active member of a website for recovering cutters called Recover Your Life. On the website’s message board I shared my recovery experience with the other members, reporting both good times and bad. I didn’t want to preach or sound like I was making the other members convert, but I did want to be open about how my faith got me through tough times. So I wrote things like, “Four months since my last cut, thanks to God!” Most of the replies just said, “Way to go! Congratulations!” Slowly I started coming out of the prayer closet and became more open about my faith.

It was a form of witnessing that fit me well. I felt comfortable with just telling others what God has done for me, without the “you should do it, too” or the “burn in hell” part. People don’t seem to like that. Whenever I did mention my faith, I would get one of three replies:

1. Give me a break! You actually believe in all that stuff?

2. Me too!

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3. I don’t believe, but I admire anyone who does. I want to believe, but so much has happened that I can’t.

It’s this last response that makes me think Pascal was right about the God-shaped vacuum in everyone’s heart. From what I’ve seen, everyone’s looking for something to save them. That’s why I think society is so wrapped up with material possessions, romance and bad self-help books. It’s as if everyone has a built-in desire to find a way out of the mess they’re in, but no one knows how to get out of it.

One afternoon I was on Recover Your Life’s message board when a particular post caught me eye. It just said, “I could really use some one to talk to right now.” Fortunately, this person was online at the time, so I sent her an instant message. She (we’ll call her Sasha for now) said the temptation to cut was so strong at that moment that she didn’t know what to do. I told her about a self-soothing technique my then-psychologist taught me; whenever I was triggered, my psychologist told me to do slow alternating foot taps, and it usually worked. Sasha tried it, and then she said she felt much better. We then got to talking about all the things we’ve been through. I told her my faith had helped me a lot of dark moments. She listened and said she believed in God, but that often He felt too far away. I said that I understood, but did not try to make her think otherwise. It was one of those moments where two people could talk openly without, learn from each other, and start a friendship without any agenda or pretense. At the end of our conversation, Sasha said, “Thank you so much.”

I mention this not because I think this is the right way to witness. Like I said earlier, I still don’t fully understand how to share my faith with others. But I do know that when the time is right and the opportunity comes up, God will let me know what to do or say, because it’s all for His glory, not mine. If God wants me to explain the Cross, or share what He has done in my life, or simply give some one a drink of water, He’ll let me know. As long as I’m giving glory to Him, along with learning new things about my faith, I think I’ll do fine.

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