Faithful Gospel Witness is Difficult: Here are 3 Steps to Take in Seasons of Discouragement
I’ve experienced my share of low points in talking to people about Christ.
When I was 6 or 7 years old, I told my neighbor that he needed to get “saved”. My presentation skills were weak at that age, so he completely missed the fact that I was talking about spiritual salvation, not physical salvation. He mentioned something about falling off a cliff. It was confusing. It didn’t end well.
As a teenager, I knocked on someone’s door and spent over an hour talking to them about the Bible and the gospel. I should have figured out in 5 minutes that the conversation was going nowhere. All he wanted to do was argue the significance of obscure references to the Kenites. It was a complete waste of time.
After college, I took my co-worker to Mimi’s Café for his birthday, and after we finished eating, I pulled out my Bible and shared the gospel with him. He listened very quietly to everything I said and then awkwardly announced that he had to be somewhere.
These are just a sampling of the low points that I’ve experienced in evangelism. And I’ll be honest, these are the ones that don’t make me look that bad. In these examples, I at least tried to witness to these people.
My most embarrassing low points did not happen because I didn’t say something exactly right. They happened because I didn’t say anything at all.
They happened because I was too caught up with my life, my schedule, my family, and my stuff to see the people that God was bringing into my life who needed to hear about Christ.
Laziness, indifference, fear – these are the things that most often keep us from being the witness that I need to be.
God has given us the mission of reaching the world with the gospel. But this mission is not without its disappointments.
At times, you will get discouraged. Maybe because you poured your heart out to someone who refused to listen. Or maybe because you were so caught up with yourself that you didn’t even see them.
If you’ve ever felt this discouragement in the task of evangelism, you are not alone. Even the Apostle Paul went through low points like this.
In Acts 18, Paul lands in the city of Corinth. In Corinth, he gets a job as a tentmaker, works during the week, and does ministry on the Sabbath in the temple. Essentially, he was part-time in gospel ministry.
Many people come to faith in Christ through his ministry in the city. But despite all of of these victories, Paul becomes fearful and discouraged.
Maybe he was worn out from essentially working two jobs for all of that time.
Maybe he was fighting personal spiritual battles that wearied him.
Maybe there were other factors that we don’t even know about.
Whatever the reason, Paul reaches a low point in his ministry.
He needed to learn that he was not alone in that discouragement. And maybe you need to learn the same lesson.
So what happens when Paul reaches his low point? God meets him there.
This is what God does. For all of us. He meets us at our lowest points and gives us exactly what we need.
Listen closely to God’s encouragement to Paul. It may just be the encouragement you need to hear.
In Acts 18:9, God speaks to Paul and He tells him: “Don’t be afraid.”
You say, “Well, that sounds like a rough place to start. You can’t just tell someone not to be afraid. It doesn’t work that way.”
And you’re right. You can’t just walk up to someone who’s scared and say, “Stop being afraid! Now!”
But that’s not what God is doing here. The command not to be afraid is not an isolated command. It’s connected to everything that comes after it.
God is saying, “You will not be afraid if you do these things.”
So what are those things? This is the encouragement we need.
In his study on Acts 18:9-11, Tim Keller points out three simple steps that God asks us to take in the middle of discouragement.
When we are discouraged and fearful, the first think we need to do is keep on speaking. Don’t be silent.
This is an act of the will. Despite your fears and your doubts and your worry, just keep opening your mouth. Just keep sharing the gospel.
This is what faith does. Faith obeys, even if it goes against how we feel or what we see.
Many times, we stop witnessing for emotional reasons.
- “It’s not working.”
- “I don’t feel like doing it.”
- “I’m afraid of what people will say.”
- “I think I’m doing it wrong.”
These are all emotional excuses.
But God has given us the command to “Go and be witnesses.” We may have doubts, fears, and worries, but we can always obey that command.
So when you are discouraged, you can start by doing something. Just keep speaking. Continue to be faithful in your witness.
Here was God’s reminder to Paul: “I am with you. No one will hurt you.”
There are two things there that all of us have a tendency to forget.
This is really the foundation for the command to keep speaking.
“Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking.” Why? “Because I am with you.”
That’s the connection. Don’t just speak out. Speak out remembering and meditating on the fact that God is with you. His faithfulness to you is not based on your performance. It’s based on His lovingkindness, His mercy, and His holiness.
God is with you. This is the promise that He gives to all of His children.
So you can go out on this mission with the confidence that you will never truly be alone.
In Acts 18:10, God goes on to tell Paul that no one will hurt him.
You say, “Now hold on. That was true for Paul, but that can’t be true for all of us.”
You’re right. This is not a universal promise for everyone. Some people are incredibly faithful in their witness, and they are persecuted for it. Some are even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul received a specific promise of protection. We don’t have that promise.
But this is what’s important. Underneath that promise of protection was a much bigger promise. It was a promise of sovereign control.
God’s protection is an extension of His sovereignty. If He is not in control, He can’t promise protection. But because He is in control, we can trust Him no matter what the circumstances.
We don’t have the promise that God will preserve our lives, but we do have the promise that nothing will happen to us that is outside His plan.
In the last phrase of verse 10, God tells Paul that there are many people in the city of Corinth that He is going to save.
This is the most remarkable part of God’s encouragement to Paul. He tells Paul not to look at Corinth as a city full of enemies, but a city full of friends.
Paul doesn’t know these people yet. But God is faithfully calling them to Himself.
God wants Paul to see a city filled with potential and future children of God.
Paul looked at a wicked city, and he felt fear rise in his heart.
God tells him to look at needy city, and feel hope rise in its place.
Is that how you look at your city? Do you see a city where God is at work?
Remember, God’s mission will not fail. There may be setbacks and disappointments. We are not always as faithful or effective as we’d like to be.
But we know the end of the story.
We don’t have the promise that every person we talk to will be saved, but we do have the promise that at the end of this age, there will be a great host of people saved from every tribe, nation, people, and tongue.
You have the confidence that there are people in your city that God will save.
Are you discouraged in the task of reaching people with the gospel? Then receive the encouragement that God has for you.
Do something: keep speaking the truth in love.
Remember something: your faithful, sovereign God is with you.
And see something: that God is at work in the hearts of people around you.