Do We Want to Pray for Boldness?

April 25, 2013

Had an interesting experience last night. I, along with three others, was asked to give feedback to a seminary intern on a sermon he is going to deliver at our church in a couple of weeks. The text was Acts 4:23-31:

23After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them [which was ‘not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus’]24When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 25it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:
      ‘Why did the Gentiles rage
             and the peoples imagine vain things?
26         The kings of the earth took their stand,
                       and the rulers have gathered together
                                   against the Lord and against his Messiah.’
27For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  31When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.  

The 12-minute sermon was a noble exposition, from a Lutheran point of view, and typical of seminarians stuck in their books without a lot of real-world ministry experience. In the discussion that followed, it became clear that the student was having a hard time connecting with the passage. What struck me was his admission that he has never felt uncomfortable or intimidated about sharing his faith. He also admitted that he had always been in a “faith bubble” at home and in seminary, such that the concept of persecution was incomprehensible to him. He had basically spent his life among people who shared his religious assumptions. I get that. He has never really had an occasion to need or to ask for boldness in his Christian witness.

I’ve been thinking about this interchange, and wonder how many Presbyterians would identify with the cocooned existence of this seminary student. While the world rages and wrings its hands in the face of natural disaster, acts of terrorism, and politically motivated genocide, church people find safety and comfort in their faith communities. They mourn from a distance, but have—perhaps subliminally—avoided close-to-home encounters with those who might resist the gospel of Jesus Christ. That resistance may be the result of religious allergy or indifference or maybe even active rejection of Christianity. Nevertheless, where I live, 93% of the population do not attach themselves to a spiritually hospitable environment, and church people rarely seek them out for wholesome and perhaps informative interaction.

If one were to change that and intentionally rub elbows with the spiritually resistant, it wouldn’t take long to recognize one’s need for the Holy Spirit’s power to witness boldly. It takes a lot of guts to bring up the subject, or nowadays even to pray in Jesus’ name in a public setting. A couple years ago, I had Thanksgiving dinner with a couple—one of whom was a Methodist seminarian—who actually said, “Oh, we don’t say grace at meals” [not even on Thanksgiving!] and then began to parody Christian pietism with jokes about praying in Jesus’ name. It was a most disgusting display, but instructive of the world in which we live  and the necessity of breaking down barriers. Just being there required boldness. Just picking up the pieces of a derailed conversation required an inner confidence relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The surprising thing that came up in the feedback discussion was the reticence of my companions to even want to pray for boldness. Another pastor suggested that boldness was a red-flag word for many in our church family. I can only imagine why: who wants “to boldly go where no one has gone before” (as in Star Trek)? Scary! Risky! Dangerous! Unexplored territory! But God’s will!

God calls the Christian living in a hostile world to be bold about the faith that saves and sustains us! When we embrace that call and appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit given to us, then we will begin to see some things happen, for the glory of God, the demonstration of the Kingdom, and the proclamation of the gospel. I can only hope that as my seminarian friend does his full-time internship next year, he finds himself plunged into situations where he needs and wants to pray for boldness. In the meantime, I am asking God for the courage to bring up Jesus with my gym/Peet’s friends when appropriate and helpful, as this is the setting where God has installed me to represent him.



5 Responses to “Do We Want to Pray for Boldness?”

  1. Susan Adkins Says:

    Mary, I am reading a book by Paul Louis Metzger called “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths.” It is about relational-incarnational apologetics. In addition to his take on witnessing to diverse groups in our society, Metzger has interesting things to say about Marriage in terms of the relationship of Christ the bridegroom and the church His bride. I think you would find it interesting and perhaps helpful.

  2. I agree that many faithful Presbyterians live in a “faith bubble” – an 80-year-old elder told me once that he’d never witnessed his faith because “everyone he knew” was Christian. And my most challenging faith conversations have come from other believers – preachers who think it is okay to swear in a sermon when preaching to college students; seminary students who scoff at memorizing Scripture as just a “party trick”; and colleagues who claim we worship the Bible and insist there are many valid ways to God. Yes, praying for boldness can seem daunting at first, but it has always surprised me how much people want to talk about faith – just reading a Bible is often a conversation-starter at a lunch counter or coffee shop. I think there will be many more opportunities presented in the future, when even many people inside the “faith bubble” are functional unbelievers.

  3. Linda Lee, mukilteo Says:

    I have heard several people say we cannot or should not use scripture as our reason for positions and faith in the public square. It is also getting hard to use scripture in the larger
    Setting of the PCUSA. This is a great hinderance to the Holy Spirit’s work in giving boldness through evangelism and teaching or sharing with others.
    It takes boldness and discernment
    to know when,and if we should give Scriptural evidence for the hope of the gospel. But it is dissapointing to be told by other Christians we shouldn’t use Bible references.

  4. emd5542 Says:

    Dear Mary, I love your posts as I love your theology, your Bible scholarship and your pastoring efforts toward a wayward flock. Most of the time my only response is “Amen” so additional words might be superfluous. Sometimes I tap “like” and sometimes I share on Face Book. I always read them and am grateful for God’s work in you.

  5. John E Says:

    Pope Francis is reported to have said that he prefers a wounded church to a sick church. A wounded church bears wounds when it takes risks for the Gospel. A sick church does not.

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