AnOldSinner commented on the meaning and importance of a Christian’s testimony a few weeks ago. One point made in “Unsworn Testimony” is how important the testimony may be to someone hearing it. While one’s testimony is important, the problem as noted in Testimony was that many do not know how to tell their story. However, that is not the only problem. Sharing one’s testimony is often a problem was well.
Anyone reading this has likely experienced the lockjaw that sometimes strikes a believer wanting to share his or her story. If someone has not experienced this personally, most Christians have seen someone struggle in this manner. It is bad enough when one struggles to share his or her story and the other party is receptive. It is even worse when one tries to share his testimony and is attacked for his efforts.
This point was driven home to AnOldSinner a few days ago during a men’s bible study. A small group was discussing the question of sharing one’s faith. The small group leader asked how the members of the group would respond if someone asked them why they believed in God. The ensuing discussion was almost painful to witness.
Some in the group thought the best way to witness was to tell of the experience that led them to believe in God. Others thought that telling the history of their involvement in church and how that led them to God was best. Others talked about the example their parents set for them, and some wanted to quote scripture to support their beliefs.
One point was clear. Whatever their approach, they responded defensively when faced with that question. Some reportedly struggled through their testimony and were uncertain of how it was received. Others had gone on the attack when faced with the challenge of explaining their faith. They lived and died each time by the old adage the best defense is a good offense. While that approach may work in war and football, it does not translate well in evangelism or apologetics. This writer can testify from personal experience that the only thing a scripture attack does is to confirm the doubter’s worst fears.
Why are Christians often defensive when asked to explain their faith? Why is it such a struggle for many Christians to express their feelings about God? Why do Christians often feel attacked when questioned about their faith?
Believers may feel uncomfortable for several reasons. One is that the Christian has doubts. Feeling secure in one’s testimony is difficult, when one has doubts. Another reason is that a believer may feel inadequate to explain why he or she believes. Doubt and fear of inadequacy quickly make one feel defensive. The most likely reason a Christian would feel attacked is that they are under attack.
It is possible for someone to ask about one’s faith innocently. He or she may be a seeker, and may be very well-intentioned. Still, many times, if not most of the times, when someone asks a professed Christian to explain his or her faith, there is an element of attack. The reasons for such an attack are not always clear, but fear and anger are two big reasons people will challenge another’s faith.
Responding to an attack is always difficult. Even a civil and courteous attack can set one back on his or her heels. Unless a Christian is prepared and has practiced a response, he or she will wind up on the defensive. Even when practice and forethought goes into a response, one can end up in a defensive position. This is true whether the attack is physical, emotional or philosophical.
The men’s group discussion touched on above was painful. Even men who felt secure in their faith expressed discomfort and trepidation about sharing their stories. However, one response was very good. To be fair, the person giving the response qualified his story to some degree. He tacitly admitted the only reason he did not go on the defensive or attack was his relationship with the doubter and the “safe” setting in which he found himself. What was his response? He listened.
The Christian did not justify or defend his beliefs. He did not lay out his testimony. He did not pull out his bible. Instead, he asked questions that led the doubter to talk about himself and the reasons behind his question. After three hours of discussion, this Christian knew all about his questioner, and he thought he might have left his doubter thinking about the idea of faith.
Crisis intervention specialists, mediators and negotiators know that communication is the key to success. They also know the most important element of communicating is listening, and guess who needs to do the listening. The one wanting to be understood, needs to do the listening. That means, if a Christian is challenged by a question about his or her faith, the Christian needs to listen to the other party. The Christian needs to follow the example of the man mentioned above. The Christian needs to ask the challenging party to give more information.
When questioned or challenged, most of us want to respond, immediately, if not sooner. That is the worst mistake one can make. The other party is ready for the defense of Christianity. He or she is ready to face the onslaught of Bible verses and Bible pounding. He or she is relishing the chance to point out an inconsistency or appearance of hypocrisy. What he or she is not prepared for is someone who will listen.
AnOldSinner worked with an organization in the past that was dedicated to eliminating discrimination and oppression. The founder, a Jew, worked around the world trying to better the communication between Jews and non-Jews in the middle east. She often told the tale of a lecture she was delivering to an audience in the middle east. In the middle of her remarks, a woman who appeared to be of Arab heritage stood up and interrupted the speech. The woman delivered a tirade of complaints against Israel in particular and Jews in general.
The speaker gave the woman her full attention. The woman finally ran out of things to say, and the speaker thanked her for her comments. She then completed her presentation. While shaking hands after the program, she noticed the Arab woman coming toward her. She was prepared for the worst, until the woman thanked her for listening. The woman said, “You are the first Jew who ever listened to me.”
Listening is important. Making the other person feel heard is important. If one can do that, it is possible to open some form of communication. Unfortunately, trusting God and accepting Jesus Christ as one’s savior does not make one a good listener. If it did, witnessing to a non-believer would be much easier and much more effective. If one can hold his or her tongue long enough, the other party in any verbal conflict will make it clear what is bothering them.
Have you ever wondered why a car salesman always wants you to talk? Have you ever wondered why any time it seems negotiations are bogging down, the salesman starts asking you questions? He or she wants to know what you are thinking. If the salesman can keep you talking, you will share all your fears, objections and limitations. The salesman will know everything needed to help close the deal.
Sharing your testimony is not like selling a car. Getting someone to listen to your testimony is. Some Christians are quick to say that people will listen when God opens or softens their hearts. That is undoubtedly true. The question is, how will He open their hearts. Perhaps He will open a heart by using a good listener. If nothing else, being a good listener will help one avoid appearing defensive or argumentative. Also, it is hard for someone to attack when they are answering questions from someone who is really interested and really listening.
© S. E. Jackson – 2013