From fearful to fearless

the Rev. Mike Hesse

Acts 1:8 states, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” I wonder what the apostle Peter felt as he heard these words from the Lord as the resurrected Jesus prepared to ascend to heaven.

Peter, a tough-as-nails fisherman, his brother, Andrew, and two sons of Zebedee, James and John, had left their fishing businesses to follow Jesus three years before.

Peter reveled in the ministry of the man he had come to believe was the long-awaited Messiah. All his joy had evaporated the night Jesus had been arrested. After bragging that he would never forsake his Lord, his courage had melted in the chaos of the arrest, subsequent trial and crucifixion.

Initially, he had fled into the night. Sneaking into the courtyard of the high priest where Jesus was being tried for blasphemy, Peter had been confronted and accused, on three separate occasions, of being his follower. Each time he had denied it.

After being raised from the dead, the Lord had forgiven him. That had to have lifted a great weight of guilt from his shoulders.

He was told to be a witness in the midst of a world that had just put the Messiah to death!

Peter was a simple fisherman from the northern part of Israel. He had no training in the Scriptures, which would enable him to hold his own in a confrontation with the religious authorities. He didn’t come from priestly stock. He was not wealthy. He had no large crowd of followers. He wasn’t even old enough to command the respect Jewish culture accorded its elders.

You and I are inheritors of Jesus’ charge to be witnesses. In the face of such a challenge, have you, like Peter, ever doubted your ability to be effective? Have those fears made you fearful about sharing your faith? Statistics reveal that, for many of us, the answer is, “Yes.”

You see, 75-90 percent of people are brought to the faith through a friend or family member. The problem is — only 5 percent of us believers have ever led anyone to Jesus.

Our fear is well-founded. The world, the flesh and the devil are bigger than we are, stronger than we are and meaner than we are.

Most Christians are not seminary trained. They are not particularly eloquent speaking in front of a crowd. They really will pay a price of lost friends, mocking strangers, business setbacks and sometimes worse if they live out their faith.

The Good News is that Jesus never intended us to win the faith by means of our own strength and knowledge. That is why he preceded his charge to witness with a promise, as stated in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

Ten days later that promise came to pass when the Spirit was poured out on the apostles and a number of other followers of Jesus who had gathered together for prayer. Now they would never be alone. Now, through the Spirit, they would be given every gift they would need to be faithful and effective witnesses to what they had experienced. Peter bolted out of that room and testified with such power that 3,000 people were converted — and the Good News began to spread.

The same Holy Spirit who empowered those first Christians still fills every believer today. By the grace of God, we have all sorts of tools at our disposal, but none is more effective than simply sharing with our friends and neighbors the love that we have received from Jesus. We need to look for opportunities to share with them what the Lord has done in our lives.

And because we are speaking about what we have personally experienced, we don’t have to be theological whiz kids, or be silver-tongued, or have money or power. We just need to honestly share the ups and downs of our journey in the faith with Jesus by our side. There will be folks who, having watched what the Lord has done in our lives, will want what we have. Then we can introduce them to the Lord who has changed our lives, and watch as he changes theirs.

The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and living in Destin.