It is a familiar story, one often told during a conversion testimony. Someone came to know Jesus because of a brother, sister, friend, neighbour, etc. Sometimes the Christian, a friend or a family member, makes a deliberate effort to bring the unbeliever to church or some Christian event. Then there are those occasions where an acquaintance watching a believer’s response to life, sees a marked difference between the believer’s response and the usual response of the world. Curious to know why comes to know Jesus. Oftentimes I wonder, just how conscious that believer was of being watched.
Parents and Christians in a non-Christian home should expect to be watched. However, it seems that if the people around you know you are a Christian, be it your colleagues at work or school, your neighbours or even people you barely know, they will watch you to see if you are really living the faith you profess. In some cases, they have heard or witnessed not so great stories of “what people who go to church” are like, so you may have to face being viewed with suspicion. That said Jesus said His followers are “the salt of the earth…and the light of the world”. Light and salt are both perceptible, so it should come as no surprise that you are being watched.
The question that confronts me then is: if I am being watched, what are people seeing? In Matthew 13, Jesus explains the parable of the Sower to His disciple after giving it to a wider audience. The parable consisted of 4 categories of seeds. Those that fell on the path, those that fell into rocky places with little soil, those that fell on thorns and those that fell good soil. Jesus goes on to explain that the seeds that fell on the path are like a person who hears that word of God and doesn’t understand it. The devil comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart. The second is someone who hears and receives the word of God with joy but hasn’t got a firm foundation, and so falls away as soon as trials come (and they will come John 16:33). The third category is for those who hear the word of God but bear no fruit because they care more about other things, they are essentially doing the opposite of Matthew 6:33. The final category is for those who hear and understand the word of God. They take it on board and it becomes a lamp for their feet [Psalm 119:105] and they go on to bear fruit.
I wonder which of these categories the people watching me would put me in. When I leave church on Sunday, do I allow God’s word to renew my mind [Romans 12:2] and dictate the way I live or do I go back to my old self forgetting what I have just heard? Is my growth as a Christian observable? Am I so concerned with the things of this world like my career, money, appearance, image, etc that God’s world becomes secondary? What do I spend my time talking or thinking about? We generally think and talk about the things most important to us. So, what would our friends and family say I spend the most time talking about? How do I deal with difficult situations or people and face the trials of life? Being a Christian doesn’t exempt one from life, Christians have bad days, face disappointments, fall sick, experience the death of a loved one, etc. However, what should be different is our response if our lives are bearing fruit.
I also find that there is a war between the Christian way of life and the prevailing culture. In Matthew 5, Jesus challenges the prevailing culture too. Very few of us will be forced by a soldier to carry their gear a mile, but how do you respond when someone cuts across you in traffic for instance? If you are married, how do you treat your spouse, and if you have kids, how do they see you behave at home? What do your neighbours see, would they be able to tell that you are a follower of Jesus? Can your colleagues or friends attest that your ‘yes’ means yes and your ‘no’ means no? The message of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the prevailing culture but if the way we live as Christians, isn’t counter-cultural, then what message are we giving the world? Ask yourself, if a candid camera was to follow you through life, would your life draw people to God?
Whenever I have heard the parable of the Sower, I have assumed that I was in the last category, bearing fruit. However, today, I am reminded of the attributes of a Spirit-led life in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As I hold these up against my own life, I must confess that I fall short. Those watching me may struggle to see these attributes. I think of my son seeing my road rage, I wonder what I am teaching him about patience or gentleness? Or when job cuts are rumoured at work, do I exhibit the peace that says ‘my God will take care of me’? How about if the new guy at the coffee shop messes up my order, is my response kind? How much peace, joy or self-control do I visibly exhibit under pressure from work or home? Am I able to smile through my problems and still make myself available to be of service to orders? Are my responses to these everyday situations Christ-like? I could cut myself some slack and say, “I am only human” but God’s work in my life is aimed at perfecting me to be more like Jesus, and He faultlessly modelled all those attributes. He calls me to hold myself to His standard, thankfully, He makes His grace available for me knowing I will falter.
Living the Christian life isn’t easy. However, we are not alone. We have the promised Holy Spirit to guide us and God’s grace to help us do what would be impossible for us otherwise. Furthermore, we are also called to support each other through life. If we allow the Holy Spirit, He will show us how to be salt and light. Lastly, as children of God, how we carry the family name really matters because not only does it speak volumes about our faith and the God we worship, the people around us are also watching. The difference between how an unbeliever faces a situation without God and how we, as Christians living what we profess, face the same situation could be the reason that unbeliever becomes a follower of Jesus.