Sunday, January 14, 2007

Forgive My Witness

Today I surfed to a delightful article on the application of the guarantee that the work of the Gospel has been done. The article’s title is Musing on the Reformation. In this article the dear lady shares some wonderful accounts of opportunities for witnessing to this Gospel, opportunities that she enjoyed and utilized by the Spirit’s leading. The article is a delightful read.

After reading this article I find myself moved to address a very familiar statement of concern that this dear lady expressed. It is a statement that I have often heard in my own heart, a statement that I hear often from my beloved bride, and have often heard from other dear saints who carry an earnest desire to be effective in telling the good news of the Gospel to hurting friends and family. The statement was expressed in the article once as: “Sharing this with my husband that evening, I was “kicking” myself because I hadn’t thought to offer . . .”

A second time she says: “After he left, once again, I realized my short coming of not using the opportunities that our Lord gives me to the fullest potential. I should have offered him my newest catechism. Once again I prayed asking God’s forgiveness and another opportunity according to His good and gracious will.”

Isn’t it interesting that a person who is reaching out in love to another person with the only pure and holy love available in the world should speak of kicking herself and asking God’s forgiveness? This shows this woman’s sincerity in acknowledging her own great need for the precious Gospel of Christ crucified. It also demonstrates the depth of her love for those she encounters in her daily life.

Yet this tendency among Christians to kick themselves for not witnessing more effectively can also show a lack of understanding at a very important level. I know, because as I said above, I have heard this in my own heart many times and have heard it from many other dear saints as well.

Naturally, as our dear Lord teaches in the “Our Father,” we are to confess all sins as our own so that we may hear God’s absolution and be set free to live by His grace. We are to count our efforts, all of our efforts, even our most noble efforts, as unworthy of any praise whatsoever. We are entirely correct when we fall to our knees both in private and in public confession of our sins, saying, “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, . . .”

Yet the God to whom we rightly confess our poor, miserable condition does not want us to remain on our knees. He does not want us to go through life kicking ourselves. Rather, He commands us to hear His holy absolution and to rise to our feet and to live in the confidence that His absolution provides. This is walking by faith. This is living a life of grace and this is the purest witness to the grace of God in Christ.

Our gracious God has provided Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar to confirm us in His grace, mercy, and peace. Moreover, as we come to the waters of regeneration and to the Supper of forgiveness and life and God’s Holy Communion, we witness to the true faith that God works for us and in us. This is assuming, of course, that we do so where these are not in some way compromised. If we find ourselves in a setting where we know that God’s means of grace are being compromised, then we need to change the setting. Otherwise we do indeed bring judgment both upon ourselves and upon any who observe and follow our false witness.

Now, returning to the matter of our daily seeking and utilizing opportunities for speaking the Gospel with friends and family, in what ways do we fall short? Do we fall short when the Holy Spirit causes us to recognize such opportunities and we act upon His leading? Do we fall short when we share what we have been taught from the Holy Scriptures? Do we fall short when we listen to the other person and respond with the compassion and love and concern that flow from our heart?

If the timing was right for sharing the point or resource that we later kick ourselves for not thinking of, would not the Holy Spirit have caused us to think of it then? This is assuming, of course, that we are actually following the Holy Spirit’s leading and not acting on our own volition. But why should we kick ourselves when after the witnessing opportunity ends we continue lovingly contemplating what else may be done in the name of Jesus? Is this really something that our gracious Father in heaven would have us count as sin so that we ask forgiveness?

I suggest that the thing for which we need forgiveness is that we forget whose work the Gospel is. When we begin to imagine that the Gospel is our work, then we begin to imagine that we have failed in our sharing. But when we trust that the Gospel is God’s work, we rejoice that He uses us in every small way, even in the ways which we do not observe.

When we truly count the Gospel as God’s work, I believe that we will continue to seek witnessing opportunities with ever growing excitement. When we think of additional things to say or do, rather than kicking ourselves we will give thanks to God for the gift of the new idea and pray for the opportunity to share the idea. Moreover, rather than imagining that we are the only ones that God can use to reach the people to whom we witness, we will remember: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:7)

Lutherans are generally very fond of saying Sola Deo Gloria, “Only to God the Glory,” yet we can be very resistant to permitting it to be so. This, more often than not, is our shortcoming.

The Gospel is GOOD NEWS! It is God’s Good News to us. Sharing in it and proclaiming it to others should not feel like a burden. It is a joyous thing. It is a wondrous thing. It is God’s thing.

Thank you to Sandy Hartman for her article Musing on the Reformation and for the delightful accounts of the Gospel at work in her life. May such Gospel joy belong to all of God’s saints.

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