When Your Friends Function As Enemies
It happened more than once; I found myself telling people the thrill of being on a witnessing campaign: how it’s like an athletic event—it stretches a person’s spiritual muscles. I described how, just when you’re feeling defeated by unkind words, hot weather, the tedium of performing the same function over and over, that’s when the Almighty reaches down to encourage you in ways that not only lift you, but skyrocket you upward. Sometimes, it’s a person who says, “I’ve been looking for this kind of answer all my life!” or “I didn’t know there was anybody else like me—a Jew who believes in Jesus,” or “How soon could you come and tell me more?” Now, admittedly those responses are few and far between. But God always seems to send them when you need them most.
I’ve seen many of these people, mostly young people, respond with enthusiasm and choose to undergo the hardship of a campaign in order to experience it for themselves.
Other times, I have seen these red-hot, capable, potential campaigners back away. They seldom tell me the reason they decided not to go. But quite often I know why.
You see, every believer has a support system. Hopefully, it’s a church; frequently, it’s a church and a family. The best is a church, a family, and some very close friends.
But now and then, a support system not only fails to support, but actually discourages: “You’re going to waste your summer on street corners, handing out pamphlets? You don’t need a college education for that!” (Actually we’ve had doctors and lawyers on these campaigns, and they never indicated that they thought themselves overqualified for the task.)
Then there are those who discourage by saying things like: “You don’t win people to the Lord by annoying them with literature they don’t want.” Well, of course you don’t win people by annoying them. Frankly, most people are not annoyed, nor are they overjoyed, because someone handed them a piece of literature. It’s only literature. But some people do want the pamphlets. And some people are waiting for the message.
Then there are those who have “heard things” about Jews for Jesus. As the founder, I would say that Jews for Jesus has one of the worst reputations that I’ve ever heard of as far as a Christian ministry is concerned. But that is not due to things that we’ve said or done, nor is it based on our policies. You see, Jews for Jesus has organized opposition. There’s no welcoming committee of rabbis that is eager for us to tell Jews about Jesus.
Frankly, this very fact has probably made Jews for Jesus to be one of the most principled agencies among Christian missions. Maybe you’ve experienced that in your workplace or neighborhood; the understanding that your faith has people waiting and watching to see if you’ll make a false step. And maybe you’ve even had a friend who, having heard a bad rumor about you, never checked to find out whether or not it was actually true.
This kind of discouragement is not unique to Jews for Jesus. It’s common for anyone doing any kind of forthright witnessing. It’s easy to disdain difficult things as ineffective and unnecessary.
But when believers discourage or disparage such kinds of ministry they are discounting the fact that Jesus did most of His teaching, recruiting, admonishing and inviting in public places. He was not reluctant to say to a group of strangers, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He was not stymied by what people might consider good or polite manners. And He was not being cruel when He squelched Peter by saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” Jesus knew that Peter only wanted to protect and defend his Lord. But I rather suspect that His words were intended to shock Peter into understanding that He could take care of Himself in all situations.
Well, maybe you and I can’t take care of ourselves in all situations, but we do have a God who can take care of us. We need to explain to those who would be our friends that we need their encouragement to do the right thing, the courageous thing, the self-denying thing in order to be the kind of people God wants us to be.