When we are talking about sharing our faith, we often quote the apostle Peter, who wrote “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” (From 1 Peter 3:15). Many people who don’t know the peace and blessings of knowing the love of Jesus Christ have been turned off Him by well-meaning Christians who have been so focussed on the first part of this scripture that they have ignored the second: they have been given the reasons why it’s so good to know Jesus without ever having asked for them. Peter is basically saying that we should always be ready to answer questions about our faith to everyone who asks them. The challenge here, as I see it, is not so much having reasons that answer the questions that people ask, but to give people a reason to ask the questions. If they don’t ask the questions, they aren’t ready for the answers. If the hope that is in us isn’t evident to the people we are with, why should they be asking about it?
The fact is, that we tend to only quote half of the scripture. The full verse is this: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15) Being ready with answers to questions about our faith goes alongside a mindset of holiness (having the Lord God “sanctified” in our hearts) and an attitude of meekness towards others and reverent fear towards the God who has commissioned us with this task.
I am not the greatest living example of these attitudes, but I do have a story of one occasion (there aren’t many…) where I definitely had “sanctified the Lord God in my heart,” and as a result was asked a question about my faith which led to an opportunity to minister to some strangers. I have written about it in “Two Seconds to Midnight,” so if you have read the book you will recognise it. Here’s the extract:
“I sat down to start this chapter on January 4th; my eldest daughter Shelley, her husband and their three children had gone home two days earlier after spending ten days with us. Lisa, our middle daughter, her husband and their two-year-old were also with us for three days over Christmas. So the holiday was noisy and messy, with lots of clearing and washing up, governed very much by the routines of the children and punctuated by the sound of their unwillingness (the older ones anyway) to comply with them. Now I love my family, and Anne loves to be surrounded by them; but I also like to spend time in quiet solitude, reading, writing, birdwatching, doing photography or listening to music. As you can imagine, there is a clash of interests here, and I have to confess that at times in the past I have let my irritation at the level of mayhem in the house when my grandchildren are roaring around get the better of me. So I had really been asking the Lord to help me, and particularly to give me wisdom throughout the day if any tensions or difficulties arose, so that I didn’t get bad-tempered and spoil the atmosphere for everyone else.
In my morning quiet time I had been reading through the gospel of Matthew. About a week earlier I had been struck by Jesus’s words to a would-be follower: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head” (Matthew 8:20). The Holy Spirit showed me that as soon as things got noisy I was looking for somewhere to “rest my head”, but that this wasn’t an option for me any more than it was an option for Jesus. Instead I was to seek His peace, which as we know is “not as the world gives” (John 14:27). This verse became a great support for me in the ensuing days, and when the family had gone Anne remarked how well I had coped with everything, and (although she didn’t specifically use the word) how much more pleasant I had been on this visit than on some previous occasions. God had sent me His word as I spent time with Him reading through Matthew, and it had been living and active through my circumstances, bringing His peace into my spirit when my flesh could find no rest: “Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” (Prov 3:17)
But the story doesn’t end there. Anne had seen some furniture on eBay that was perfect for her plans to do some redecorating in our living room. The complication was that it was in London, and I would need to drive our company van (not my favourite driving experience) down to pick it up – three hours each way. In addition, it became clear that I needed to go immediately. It was the weekend, and I had planned to spend it recovering from the busy week before going back to work on Monday. But after Anne and I had discussed it, I was able to give the whole thing to the Lord, and I had an assurance that it was right to go. I felt a real peace about the trip which dispelled all my anxieties (I drive an automatic and the van is manual; I was worried about driving the big van through London streets; I was worried about getting too tired to drive safely, etc.), and I even started to look forward to it. A total turnaround.
Bear in mind here that I had been reading, thinking and praying about God’s peace for this chapter of the book. The furniture (it was a three-piece suite) was being sold by a Greek family. I spent six months in Greece in my backpacking days before I met Anne and had learnt to speak it fairly competently, so it was a touching point that I was able to say a few words to them in their language. Soon we were sitting down and drinking tea in the kitchen. One of the first things that the man I had been dealing with (I’ll call him John) said was how much more peaceful I seemed than other people. (Interesting, I thought. “My peace I leave you . . .”) We chatted a little more, and soon they were telling me how John’s sister had died suddenly, aged 21, less than two years ago. The mother – I don’t know her name, so I’ll call her Mama – was fighting to hold back tears as she talked. I told them about our baby Miranda who died at ten weeks. I began to feel that this visit was not just about a three-piece suite. Then Mama said something really unexpected. She said, “As soon as you came in, I saw that there was something about you, and I got goose-bumps all down my arm!” John then repeated to Mama what he had said to me earlier about the peace that he saw on me. I explained that what they felt was the presence of the Holy Spirit, and soon I was praying with them, asking the Lord to comfort them in their grief, and that they would know His presence. Then I was on my way home.” (Adapted from Two Seconds to Midnight by Bob Hext, Malcolm Down Publishing)
The chapter goes on to develop other points, but I think this is a helpful real-life example of 1 Peter 3:15 in action. Because I had sought God to put my heart right in an area where I knew my behaviour could easily become ungodly, the light of sanctification that shone in me as I submitted to the word of God also shone out of me onto other people. I’m not aware of any other occasions when the presence of the Holy Spirit on me has given anyone goose-bumps, but one is a start… The point is this: we are called to be light in the darkness, but unless we have our light switched on nobody is going to ask us why we are shining. Being a witness is drawing others into our light; witnessing is shining a torch in their faces.