5 Secrets to a Bolder Life

Most of us would probably like to be bolder. We read the biblical stories of David and Goliath, or of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or of the apostles in Acts, and we think, “It’s great that they had such boldness, but how can get that kind of fearless heart?”

One of the common strategies for boldness in our society is to visualize frightening situations, imagining them without all of the possible negative outcomes. I found this on a website about overcoming fear: “Imagine your fear as something very large: a monster, an animal, whatever. Have your fear say some of the things that go through your head when you start to feel afraid. As your fear is talking, shrink it down into something smaller than you. Then get back at your fear: yell at it; make faces at it; kick it around; put it in a cage. Do whatever it takes to make your fear seem small and less threatening.”

So is that it? Do we just re-cast our fears so that they don’t seem as threatening? This can work for some folks, but it has a limit—because no matter how much we imagine our fears as small and cuddly, there always is a possibility that our fears might come true. So for visualization to be successful, this kind of courage needs to be slightly delusional.

There has to be a better way. And in fact, the believers in Acts 4 show us five secrets to a bolder life:

1. They believed in God’s sovereignty in their trial.

In Acts 4:24, in the midst of intense opposition, the believers prayed, “Sovereign Lord . . . truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus [Pilate and the religious leaders] . . . to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:24, 28). They recognized that what evil men had intended to work against God’s plan actually worked for God’s plan. So even though their persecution may have felt overwhelming, they trusted that God was working through it.

What if we believed that God had the same sort of purpose in our pain? What if our first thought in a problem was, “God, you are going to use this problem to accomplish your purposes”? Wouldn’t that change our perspective? If we saw things the way the first believers did, we would recognize that faith in God during our problems is more important than God fixing our problems.

2. They knew the Scriptures.

Check out the prayer in Acts 4:24–30: the first thing out their mouths was a reference to an Old Testament Scripture (Psalm 2). They knew what to pray in that situation because they were claiming one of God’s promises. The Bible is a book full of promises, and I want to know them so well that when life cuts me, I bleed the promises of God’s Word.

As Eugene Peterson says, “True prayer is not just talking to God; it is answering God. God has already spoken in his Word. Prayer is just a response to what he has said.”

3. They were in awe of the greatest hero.

In Acts 5, Peter stands up before the rulers once again, saying, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus . . . God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30–31). The word for “leader” there (archegos) is a rare one in Scripture, but it’s the same term that the Greeks used for Hercules. An archegos was a champion, a hero.

Peter calls Jesus a hero, but he’s a completely different hero than Hercules. Jesus is the sort of hero who uses his power not to defeat enemies, but to die in weakness to save them. And that view of Jesus fundamentally changed how the believers saw themselves. If Jesus not only risked his life, but actually gave it to save them, shouldn’t they at least risk their lives so that others could be saved?

4. They possessed a generous spirit.

Believing the gospel makes you both generous and bold. In fact, the boldness of the believers in Acts 4 is really just an extension of their generosity of life (cf. Acts 4:32–37). They gave of their possessions freely because they saw their inheritance in Christ as their most valuable gift.

So when being faithful to the message meant physical suffering, they were willing to do it, because they had grown used to being radically generous. If we are willing to be generous in certain areas (with finances) but not in others (by sharing the gospel), we do not understand the gospel and we do not possess a truly generous spirit.

5. They were filled repeatedly by the Holy Spirit.

In response to the believers’ prayer, God filled them with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit actually came in so powerfully that he shook the place where they were meeting. Because God’s Spirit came on them with power instead of judgment, the more the place was shaken, the less the Christians were. The more they were shaken by the Holy Spirit, the less they were shaken by the power of their enemies.

These apostles needed fillings of the Spirit like this often. And if the apostles—guys like Peter and John, who had seen the resurrected Jesus—needed frequent fillings with the Holy Spirit, don’t you think we need them too? This is where life-giving courage comes from, but so many of us have never even asked for God’s Spirit to move in our lives.

The same Spirit that emboldened Peter and John is ours for the asking—so ask! God stands ready to give: ask him for the boldness you need!

Evangelize? I’d Rather Not

Over the years, I’ve heard my fair share of excuses for why people don’t proclaim the word of God to others (and, to be honest: I’ve made my fair share as well.) Maybe you feel like evangelism is just not your thing—it’s not your gift, you don’t know much Scripture, you are not an extrovert, and you aren’t good with confrontation.

Let’s look at some of the common reasons people don’t share their faith:

“I don’t have what it takes.”

If you are a believer, you have the Spirit of God: you have what it takes. Jesus said that the Spirit of God in you gives you more potential than John the Baptist, who was, in his estimation, the greatest prophet who ever lived: the Spirit has come upon you, Jesus said, to do “greater things” than even he did himself. So yes, you have what it takes. The ability lies not in your personality but the Spirit residing in your heart.

“It’s not my gift.”

It is true that some believers have been given particular gift for evangelism (cf. Eph 4:11). But a spiritual gift given to a few should not eclipse an assignment given to all. A spiritual gift is usually a special ability in an assignment given to all believers. For example, those believers who have the gifts of “service,” “generosity,” or “faith” are not the only ones who should serve, share their stuff, or believe God. Some Christians are given an extraordinary ability in those things, but they are the responsibility of all believers.

The same is true of evangelism. While some have been given a special effectiveness in bringing others to Jesus, the Spirit comes upon all of us to testify.

“I witness with my life.”

The sentiment behind this one is that we demonstrate the love and generosity of the gospel by our lifestyle. That is all well and good, but the gospel is an announcement about what Jesus did to save people, not a presentation of what a good person you are. Sharing that announcement requires words. Trying to share the gospel without using words is like watching a newscast with the sound turned off. I may realize that the newscaster is excited, but I don’t know why.

A generous, humble, gracious, sacrificial, holy life can be a wonderful complement to the proclaimed gospel, but it can never substitute for it.

“I don’t have time.”

We are busy people, that is for sure. Perhaps you say, “When would I possibly have time to go out and ‘evangelize’? I get up, go to work… after work, I come home, try to play a little with my kids, maybe watch a little television, and go to bed. Then I get up and do the whole thing over again. I feel like I’m barely surviving in life with the time I have.”

I understand this. I really do. I feel like my life is helplessly busy sometimes. But I have a friend who often says: “Oh, you’re busy? Jesus was busy, too. But he was busy with people.” Jesus lived his life with people, discipling them along the way. That’s how the Great Commission is supposed to work. It’s not an addition to your life, but an essential component of all of it. The Spirit fills you to testify as you go.

“Talking to other people about Jesus makes me feel weird.”

Of course it does. I’ve heard evangelism defined as “two nervous people talking to each other.” But here’s the thing: is the message important enough for a little awkwardness?

I heard a story several years ago about a man who was driving his car down an interstate outside of Los Angeles very late one evening. A significant earthquake rumbled through the region and the man immediately pulled his car over to the side of the road to wait it out. The earthquake was pretty severe, but over after a few seconds. So, the man pulled his car back onto the road, and took a left to cross a bridge over a river. As he was driving across, he suddenly noticed the taillights of the car in front of him just disappear. He stopped his car, got out and realized that a section of the bridge had fallen out during the earthquake. The car in front of him had driven into the chasm, at full speed, plunging nearly 75 feet into the water below.

The man turned around, and realized that several more cars were headed toward the break. He began to wave his arms frantically. But people driving across a bridge outside of Los Angeles at 3 a.m. are not likely to stop for what looks like a crazy person on the side of the road. He watched as 4 cars drove right past and plunged to their deaths below.

Then he looked and saw a large bus coming toward the break. He made up his mind that if that bus went off the bridge, it would have to take him with it. So he stood in the path and waved his arms to get the bus to stop. The bus honked its horn and flashed its lights, but the man would not move. The bus driver got out, saw the danger, and angled the bus so no more cars would go over.

What would you have done if you had been that the one to see the break in the bridge? You probably would have done just what that man did—passionately pleaded with people to stop. Would you care that other people watching thought you had lost your mind? Of course not. What you know and see makes their ridicule insignificant.

If you find yourself lacking in motivation to share with others, ask yourself: do you really believe the message? If you do, you know that sharing the message is worth the awkwardness. It’s worth anything.download java games

CHURCH MULTIPLICATION THE RIGHT WAY

How grateful I am for the church that gathered around me when I first became a believer.  I was young (13 years old), biblically illiterate (I did not own a Bible), and anxious (I did not know the “church lingo” or the Sunday school answers)—but I was certain that God had worked a miracle in my life.  I did not know enough to use the word “calling,” but I also knew that God was somehow calling me to give my life for Him.  The believers that made up that church invited me into that Christian family, loved me, prayed for me, and gave me opportunities for ministry.

What they did not do was systematically teach me so I would be a disciple of Jesus.  To be sure, my pastor preached the inerrant Word, and my Sunday school teachers taught the scriptures. They challenged me continually to tell others about Jesus. I would not be where I am today had that congregation not grounded me in the truth of the Word.

Nevertheless, they had no plan in place to lead me intentionally through Christian discipleship so I would know how to study the Word, fight temptation, evangelize non-believers, and reproduce Christian faith in others. I was a baby believer receiving too little food for growth.

What my church did wrongly was view evangelism and discipleship as separate components of the Great Commission. Surely, evangelism and discipleship are not the same, but nor are they so distinct that one can exist without the other in a healthy church.  We are to baptize and teach new believers (Matt. 28:18-20). To do only one of these tasks is to attempt to fly a plane with a missing wing. My church had the evangelism wing in place, but not the discipleship wing.

Like so many other congregations, my church assumed my faithful attendance would automatically result in Christian growth. Instead, what resulted was a struggling young believer who wanted to grow, but who was too embarrassed to admit his struggles.  I longed for someone to guide me, but I did not know where to turn.  “I’m the only one struggling,” I thought, and I chose not to bother other believers who seemingly had their act together.

To make matters worse, the church too soon gave me a leadership position teaching a Sunday school class.  Frankly, I was leading before I was ready to lead. I was a baby teaching babies.

Multiply that story by millions of believers, and you have the state of the church in North America: believers who are undiscipled . . . followers of Jesus who have not learned how to follow . . . Christians who fail more often than not . . . church leaders who are not spiritually ready to lead . . . members who are susceptible to every wind of doctrine, but who still claim spiritual superiority.  We are multiplying mediocrity rather than life-giving, self-sacrificing Christians.

Now, multiply that story by millions of believers around the world, and you sense the state of much of the global church.  Without question, many churches around the world are rightly focused on the entirety of the Great Commission task, and I praise God for those congregations.  At the same time, though, there are other churches that lack the depth of discipleship necessary for lasting reproduction.  The result is congregations that quickly depart from biblical moorings to follow the current fad or the latest “teacher” with the most money to give.

This blog, though, is not intended to be pessimistic.  In fact, I see signs of a shifting emphasis that can result in healthier churches in the long run.

First, the young generation rising to leadership in our churches is well aware of the problem, and they intend to move the church in the right direction.  As church planters through the North American Mission Board or young pastors leading established churches, they are committed to leading life-transforming churches. They want to correct the errors of my generation.

In fact, if I have a concern about this young generation, it is that they will so focus on fixing the discipleship problem that they will lose focus on evangelizing the lost. To  “fix” the church before we evangelize is to guarantee a lack of evangelism.  On the other hand, healthy discipleship must necessarily result in passionate evangelists; if not, “discipleship” is nothing more than imparting information, and the church is nothing more than a classroom.  It is again to fly the plane with one wing missing.

Nevertheless, I trust these young leaders will learn the necessity of both wings of the plane.

Second, I hear missionaries echoing the cry for discipleship that follows evangelism.  I have been meeting recently with International Mission Board leaders around the world who are developing strong discipleship strategies. They are teaching basic doctrine, calling new believers to holiness, and grounding believers in the Word of God, even while maintaining an uncompromised commitment to reaching the unreached through church planting.

I have seen missionary-produced discipleship strategies that are more intense, more developed, and more deeply biblical than anything I have seen in the States.  These missionaries are striving to get it right as they engage the darkness of a lost world. God is using them to produce healthy believers who are determined to lead healthy churches. Not all missions strategies lead in that direction, of course, but I am seeing incredible signs of hope around the world.

So, must we multiply believers through evangelism? Without question.  If we do not evangelize, the world dies lost.

Must we multiply churches through church planting?  Absolutely.  We will never reach North America and the world unless we plant more healthy churches – many of them.

Must we multiply the right way, holding together Great Commission evangelism and discipleship?  We must, lest we produce baby believers who do not grow and young churches that do not last.