Soul Surgery: Part 3
Part 3 of a 9-part series by Pastor Alan Redpath given over the course of 1959.
The Strategy Of Our Witness
Though one may know that there are impediments in personal witness, people resent the man or woman who walks right into their lives and talks about this most sacred subject. Call it “defenses” if you like, and hint that this may screen some moral failure (though that may be a very vulgar and unworthy imputation) the fact remains that people dislike it when we do it. In any case, it is bad strategy to antagonize someone you want to win. There must be some technique about the personal testimony. The ordinary disciple eager to spread abroad the fame of the Lord must move from theory to instruction. Therefore, may I offer several simply suggestions concerning strategy.
1. Live at the center of yourself. Fail here, and you have nothing to give. Fail here, and if you go on talking about Jesus you will give the sweetest thing on Earth and in heaven a bad name. To talk about Christ when He is plainly contradicted by your life is a wound to His body. But live at the center, guard your periods of quiet with God and all your work is made easy; you will not constantly have to try to make contact with others, people will often make contact with you. One of the finest fruits of living near the center yourself is the uncommon discernment you will have of other people’s need.
2. Don’t try to do people good: love them. He who tries to do people good stands knocking at the door, but he who loves finds the door open. You know yourselves how much you resent being stalked by someone intent to do you good. Who is he anyway, you think, to imagine that he can do me any good? Perhaps I could do him some good! Ah! But you know very few people can resist genuine Christian love. Love people with supernatural love, the love which does not run along lines of mere affinity, but loves even where it cannot like. This is a gift, of course, and a gift from God. It is His indwelling spirit given in answer to constant prayer.
3. Develop skill in making contact. There are many ways of making contact, and doing a kindness is one of them. But as a Christian you can not simply serve to get people to think as Christians think, and if you cannot do a kindness, you can ask one. That is how the Lord began dealing with the woman of Samaria. He did not give her a lecture on morality. He established contact by saying, “Would you mind giving me a drink?” When he met Zacchaeus, He did not address him on the sin of covetousness, He invited Himself to lunch. There are many ways of making contacts and skill grows with practice.
4. Discover the person’s real need. One of our senior chaplains in the last war submitted all those under his command to a number of grueling tests. One of them was that he would take his watch out of his pocket and say, “Imagine you have a dying man here who has two minutes of consciousness before he passes out. Let me hear what you would say in that two minutes.” When the moments we have to witness to others are so brief and fleeting and may never be renewed, a word of testimony is perhaps all we can give. But when people open their hearts to us and really invite our help, it is important that we pierce to the very center of their need. However, this may not be easy as they may deliberately seek to conceal it, or they may be honestly unaware of it.
It is very common in human nature to complain about circumstances and frustration and avoid talking about personal sin. The fact is we must learn to strip away every disguise of the real trouble. There is usually little doubt when it is found in the white light of God’s holiness, and sin becomes something of which we are conscious. It was not Jesus who talked about sin at the table of Zacchaeus, it was Zacchaeus himself—uninvited he babbled about his sin. Things hid from the world for half a lifetime poured out from his mouth. He knew that he was really wrong when he faced Christ, and men do still. Our work is almost finished when they have come face to face with Him. They only need our help to get their real problem exposed.
5. Speak naturally. Too much conversation about religion is conducted in the language of Canaan. Theology, like other technical studies has its own technical terms and they cannot always be avoided. Exactness demands them as they are demanded on occasion from a doctor or an engineer. But when the personal worker is saying a good word for Christ he would do well to avoid technical terms. Warm, persuasive and natural speech is best.
I remember my friend Dr. Sangster who lived in air raid shelters during the war telling of hearing a conversation between one of his own personal workers and a tramp blown into a shelter by the blast of an explosion. She said to him, “You know it must be ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to all the promises of God. I suspect that you are still living under the old dispensation. I am not sure that you even understand the difference between natural and effective faith. I wish you could experience the mighty outpourings of the Spirit. You do realize, don’t you, that all your righteousness is as filthy rags, etc., etc.”…The tramp said very little. When she was finally talked out, she left him saying something about interceding for him at the Throne of Grace. He found himself again and just said, as he picked up his poverty stricken belongings and walked out into the darkness of a London air raid, “O-key-doke.” Two worlds had met for a few moments but they had never really touched each other. Her speech had gone over his head.
6. Speak about the Lord Jesus and not about yourself. It would startle some of us if we knew how much of our testimony was about ourselves. Sometimes there is a touch of spiritual pride in it. “I was this, I am now that.” “I did this, I now do that.” It is done, of course, in an attempt to illustrate the difference which Christ has made, but talk of self should be the undertone and all the stress should be about the Lord.
If you were to go to Westminster Abbey and see the Poets’ Corner, you would note an interesting memorial to John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost. It runs like this: “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1737, this bust of the author of Paradise Lostwas placed there by William Benson, etc., one of the two auditors of the imprest to His Majesty King George II, formerly Surveyor General of the works to His Majesty, King George I. Rysbrack was the statuary who cut it.” When I first looked at that I read it two or three times and said, “What on Earth is this all about? Who is it about?” Then I got it: it is all about William Benson. He placed the memorial as a device to get his own unimportant name noticed. Milton is merely the excuse—the stress falls on Benson. He had discovered a new way of blowing his own miserable trumpet. He was using the name of a puritan poet to parade himself before the public eye. He got into Westminster Abbey, but not by his own distinction, for he had none, but by using the name of a very great man. That little artifice has come to my mind many times as I have thought about the preaching ministry, and when I have often wanted to cry out aloud, “less of self and more of Him.”
7. Avoid controversy. The devices men use to escape the challenge of Christ are legion, and argument is a common one. If they can get the conversation away from the sensitive area of their personal failings into theological issues, they are only too keen to do it. The profound doctrine of the Holy Trinity is much more attractive to them than the Ten Commandments. The deity of our Lord is exhilarating to think about as far as they are concerned, but you must keep away from controversy on occasions like this. A plain statement of your convictions on the disputed point is usually enough. The conversation can be brought again with gentle firmness to the area where it is likely to be most effective. You must show people that Christ can deal with the particular problem of their own life. Theological controversy will be sterile; an honest facing of personal need will lead to victory.
8. Bring people to a decision. Decision is conversion. It is an act of the human will and not an act of God. It is not, however, to be despised. It is a great thing to get people to lay themselves open to Christ, to invite Him to come in, to ask His help and to dedicate all they have and are.
An act of decision for Christ is not itself an inflooding of God’s spirit that may tarry awhile, but it is a great event, nevertheless, on one’s spiritual pilgrimage. Most Christians date their real growth in Christ from that hour.
As a small boy, perhaps a little afraid of my own father, I sometimes hesitated to ask him the things I dearly wished, and confided my hopes to my mother instead. Practically always she used to say, “Ask him.” She knew the character of my father’s heart better than I did, and she believed in the direct approach. I remembered that advice through the years both in my dealings with God and with others. When foolish hesitations and fears have hampered my speaking to the Lord and to others, I’ve remembered that word, “Ask Him.” So I would seek to ask God for men, and men for God. Times without number fearful souls have often admitted that they were just waiting to be asked. I dread to think how many people I have failed in that way.
9. Teach people how to be quiet with God. Listening to the Lord is still a mystery to many who claim to be in the Christian life. They think it is all a metaphor. But we need to learn how to get beyond knowing about God to knowing God personally. The secret of discipline of prayer and Bible study, which is so rich that after half a lifetime there is still much to know, is at the same time so simple that it has been given away in half an hour. Without this discipline they will miss their way. No spiritual life worth mentioning can be maintained without much secret intercourse. The saints of every communion are one in this, for love and prayer are the keynote. The people who are looking for some “new” secret of spiritual growth are quite foolish, for if it is a new secret, how can we explain the old saints? Love and prayer are the way.
What words these are: Love: that means more will than feeling. Prayer: more adoration than asking. We can but whet the appetite of a new disciple to put him on the right road. If we do that we have done our work as a personal evangelist.
Few tasks to which a pastor gives himself are more rewarding than the hours spent in his study when he makes it a clinic for souls. How they come, the sin stained; the inferior; the proud; the resentful; the perverted; the obsessed; the prayerless; the selfish; the divorcee; the lonely; the unbelieving; the hypocrite. The Lord Jesus is the answer to them all.
But this is no pastoral monopoly. God will aid and equip any man for this service even though the range of his usefulness will vary with the natural gift he possesses, and on which the Holy Spirit chooses to work. The privilege and challenge of personal evangelism are open to everybody, and the resources are the same for all.