Last Sunday my buddy filled in for our pastor. Like me, my friend is an apologist and has a great passion for showing people reasons that they can believe that the good news of Jesus Christ is true. His morning sermon discussed Christian boldness. He highlighted the fact that scripture promises that Christians will be persecuted for what they believe, because it is an offensive message. He also pointed out that we are commanded to deliver the news to the unsaved. He showed where scripture teaches that if we pray for boldness, the Holy Spirit will give it to us. We just need to pray, get over our fears of being offensive, and be a witness; but in a way that is gentle and loving. You can listen to the message here.
What stood out to me in this message was his focus on boldness and praying for it. What I'm going to present today is not a critique of what my friend said, but an important addendum for those who take what he said seriously. These people sincerely desire to be bolder and do pray for it, but do not feel bolder right away. I'm going to start out with my own personal experience with this desire and request.
My Story of Boldness
As many of my readers know, several years ago I went through a major crisis of faith. There were many factors that played into it. One of the big ones was unanswered prayers (in general), but a passion with boldness was one of those prayers. Many who knew me back then, knew that I was passionate about Jesus Christ, but my boldness to proclaim it in public was extremely low. I wasn't afraid of offending people, but afraid that I would not be able to answer questions to help guide towards what I thought was true. Unfortunately, when I prayed for boldness, I had the idea that one morning I would wake up and feel bold- I'd be ready to go publicly proclaim the Gospel and would not feel any fear.
That never came. Because of the fact that I lacked that boldness (coupled with other things already going through my mind), I began to question whether or not I was saved or if the Holy Spirit or God even existed. There were many other prayers that I put before God, that never seemed to be answered. The fact that God seemed hidden during this time took its toll on my faith. Over time, I drifted further away, until I really decided to start investigating what I believed. I began to establish what I believed and reasons why I believed what I believed. On many occasions, I had to jettison beliefs that I had as a child that I found to be faulty. One of those just happened to be that God would make me wake up one morning with some foreign character trait (boldness, in my case). I had to understand that God was not a vending machine, and my prayers are not coins for the vending machine.
Don't Ask If You Don't Really Want It
I have three points here for consideration. First, we have to understand that God builds character over time. He does not just give it to you. I can't tell you how many times that I have seen something that was broken and joked that the broken part "gives it character." That is exactly what God does to us. He builds our character by breaking us down. He allows many uncomfortable things to happen, so that our character is made more like His. In my case, He built my boldness by giving me exactly what I needed- reasons to believe; and how I needed to obtain them- by painful doubt and lots of investigation. I prayed for a new character trait, and God is giving it to me. I prayed for it over ten years ago, and today I'm still not at the level that I would like to be. So, I don't anticipate the challenges to stop coming until God is done with me. But I know that He will give it to me at a rate that I can handle...not too quickly, not too slowly.
Result #1 of Investigation: Boldness
This brings me to the second point that I want to make. We can't be afraid to dig deep for knowledge of our God and our worldview, as a whole. There is an incredible amount of confidence and boldness that comes from knowing what you believe to be true and why you believe that to be true. We have to be willing to exercise our minds with philosophy, theology, and apologetics. We don't have to know or have an answer to everything, but if we can be prepared to answer some of the most common challenges to Christianity, it can give us a boldness that we have never experienced before.
Result #2 of Investigation: Doubt...but more Investigation
My third point is related to the reason that we investigate and the results of investigation- doubt. As I mentioned above, doubt is what really triggered my investigation. Everyone must be merciful and gracious to those who are doubting- we never know what God is currently accomplishing in their lives. I remember that when I was really young, I was afraid to express or even acknowledge any doubt that I had, because I was told that the presence of doubt indicated that I didn't truly believe and was not actually saved...sometimes I wonder how far I could be if that had not taken place...but then again, I wonder if I would be aware of such a thing to warn others of its dangers, if it had not taken place.
What is so exciting today is that as I investigate more, if I am challenged, and that challenge makes me think or even reconsider a position, I thank God for the challenge. Why? Because it leads to more investigation, brings me more truth of God's character and His created world, and gives me more answers that I can provide to someone who asks- all leading to more boldness.
Result #3 of Investigation: Love That Leads to Boldness
Today, even though I'm not as bold as I'd like to be, I know that my confidence in the truth of Christianity is much higher. That higher level of confidence allows the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be even more understood and appreciated in my life. The love that God has for me becomes that much more experienced. That love that I have experienced is a love that I want others to experience for themselves. That is why I am so passionate and bold about telling my brothers and sisters of the importance of philosophy, theology, and apologetics and to not be afraid to challenge their own views. That love also compels me to reach the unsaved. I know that God did not give me all this just to use for myself or just for other members of the Body of Christ, it is to be used to build the Kingdom. I have to deliver what has been given to me. I want to deliver what has been given to me. I don't have to cram it down their throats, I just give it in love. What if they reject my message or my arguments?
Result of Rejection: Investigation
If they reject it, I don't need to become less bold for the next person. Their rejection does not mean that what I say is wrong. It certainly doesn't hurt to find out why they reject and investigate the reason for the rejection. It could be that we are presenting an inconsistent part of our view. No big deal. That is part of our on-going investigation. If we find something wrong in what we believe, we can change our beliefs to reflect reality. We can be more bold because we have investigated and understand how one can arrive at that truth. We might also find out that the person is rejecting our message not for a rational, but an emotional, reason. This calls, not for intellectual investigation, but a display of love...the love that was shown to us first in Christ. You see; we are back to investigation which builds our character and brings us closer to God.
When we sincerely pray for boldness, we are in for a ride: intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Taking part in philosophy, theology, and apologetics is not always easy to experience or watch someone else experience. But we can't be afraid of struggling through difficult concepts and allowing others to struggle through them too. The results are stronger members of the Body of Christ who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, possess a boldness to carry the Truth to the world that is unparalleled by anything we could do on our own.