"When we meet Christ and accept His Gospel, life changes and we are driven to communicate our experiences to others. …the Church needs genuine witnesses: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others."Saint John Paul II, World Youth Day (Toronto, 2002)
Today, more than ever, youth and families are longing for witnesses. People who have experienced Christ in their life and who live in a way that is transformed by that experience. I was reflecting on the scripture passage about a host of witnesses and applying that to my life (Hebrew 12:1). I thought about values and beliefs that I hold dear and the people that I saw who showed me their meaning through their lives. Family members, friends, colleagues, and role models make up this community of believers who shared how God was in their life and demonstrated their belief by living a life transformed.
Sometimes, I feel hesitant to witness about my faith because I worry about turning people off, being preachy, or being associated with people who are strident and harsh in the way that they share their faith by condemning others. In these moments, I strive to remember the simple truth of what witnessing is all about. It isn't forced. It isn't complex. Witnessing is embodying the values I hold in my actions and pointing to the one who shows me the way.
"This is the essence of witnessing: simply sharing your personal experiences regarding the Lord. In a courtroom, a witness is not expected to argue the case, prove the truth, or press for a verdict. That is the job for attorneys. Witnesses simply report what has happened…You may not be a biblical scholar, but you are the authority of your life. And it's hard to argue with personal experience."Rick Warren, A Purpose Driven Life, Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2002, 2011, 2012, page 288
Here are some key points about being a witness:
Share the story of God in your life. Witnessing is about telling the story, not about convincing or teaching. We've experienced God's presence, God's mercy, and God's assistance in little ways and in big ways. We witness to everyday faith by sharing glimpses of these experiences.
Your life is your witness. The primary way you witness to your faith is the way you live your life. Youth have heard a lot about faith; they yearn to see faithful living in action. What does it look like to be a person of faith, hope, conviction, and joy? How do we show that we trust God and that we see purpose in our lives that is part of God's plan?
Be true to your values. Little things (and big things) matter. Youth may not always be listening, but they are always watching. Our authenticity is our witness: we strive to be faithful in the way we treat others, the way we treat those with whom we minister, the way we handle challenges and successes, and the way we rely on God. Youth notice kindness and integrity.
Sometimes our witness is subtle and sometimes we are called to be bold. We can witness in subtle ways by connecting our faith in God in conversations, in the environment in the classroom, or referring to prayer. There are occasions when the context of the conversation and the relationship may invite a bolder response such as sharing a story of how we experienced God in a personal challenge, or by offering to pray with or for a young person.