Dr. Paul Brand was speaking to a medical college in India on the words of Jesus: “Let your light so shine before men that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father.” In front of the lectern was an oil lamp, with its cotton wick burning from the shallow dish of oil. As he preached, the lamp ran out of oil, the wick burned dry, and the smoke made him cough. He immediately used the opportunity.
“Some of us here are like this wick,” he said. “We’re trying to shine for the glory of God, but we stink. That’s what happens when we use ourselves as the fuel of our witness rather than the Holy Spirit.
“Wicks can last indefinitely, burning brightly and without irritating smoke, if the fuel, the Holy Spirit, is in constant supply.”
The wick of our own life story can be a powerful light to someone else’s life if the Holy Spirit is our fuel. That’s the way it was with the Apostle Paul’s life story. Paul tells that story before King Agrippa in Acts 26. Listen for God’s word to you….
Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and began to defend himself:
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg of you to listen to me patiently.
“All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
“Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.
“With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
While he was making this defense, Festus exclaimed, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. Indeed the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Then the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those who had been seated with them; and as they were leaving, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.”
There are several things I think we can learn from Paul’s story which will enable us to tell our own story well. First, we need to be prepared to share our story with others. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Paul did not share the story of his relationship with Jesus uninvited. He was invited to tell his story by King Agrippa. You may think that no one will ever ask you about your faith in Christ, but it is not true. If Jesus is living in you, if you are a “Christ-in” person, then others will be curious about what makes you different.
I remember a time when I was in college and I walked into one of my classes and sat down. The girl sitting next to me said, “Why are you so happy all the time?” To which I responded, “Wouldn’t you like to know?” And she said, “As a matter of fact, I would like to know.” And I said, “Go out for dinner with me and I will tell you!” Mind you, this was long before I met Becky. To make a long story short, we did go out to dinner and I shared with that young woman how Jesus was the one who made me happy. Sometimes our opportunity to share our story comes when we least expect it, so we need to be prepared.
Second, when sharing our story, we need to be patient. You may remember from Acts 24:27, “When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.” So Paul spent two years in prison before he had the opportunity to share his testimony again before an official of the Roman government. But I doubt that Paul sat around doing nothing during those two years. I imagine he spent a good bit of time in prayer, and perhaps some of his “prison letters” were written from Caesarea. Certainly, Paul spent those two years in prison thinking through what he wanted to say, should he ever have another opportunity to share his story of faith in Christ.
We too need to be patient. Sometimes we can go for long periods without any opportunity to share our faith, then suddenly another opportunity will come along; God will bring someone into our lives and we need to be ready to speak “a word in season”.
Once there was a prison warden who asked a man on death row what he would like to eat for his last meal. The prisoner said, “I would like to have a large watermelon.”
The warden replied, “You’ve got to be kidding! This is December. Watermelons have not even been planted, let alone harvested.” The prisoner said, “That’s alright. I don’t mind waiting.”
Sometimes we would rather wait than face the inevitable. But for Paul I imagine it was hard to wait in that Caesarean prison in Herod’s palace, not knowing for certain what his future held. I’m sure Paul learned through that circumstance to have greater patience than he ever had before.
A third thing we can learn from Paul’s example is to be polite. Notice what Paul’s attitude was when he shared his story with King Agrippa. Paul was polite, he addressed Agrippa with respect. He honored Agrippa by recognizing Agrippa’s familiarity with the Jewish religion and customs.
I’ll be honest. Some professing Christians can be very obnoxious in the way that they seek to share their faith with others. And that’s just wrong. God doesn’t call us to be obnoxious. God wants us to honor and respect all people, because every human being is made in the image of God. Paul recognized this, and that is probably one reason why he was so polite in speaking to King Agrippa.
Fourth, we should be passionate as we talk to others about our Savior. There was a note of passion in all that Paul said. Paul “begged” Agrippa to listen to him. Now, that doesn’t mean that Paul got down on his hands and knees, but the note of pleading is woven throughout his speech. He was concerned for Agrippa’s welfare and his relationship with God. Paul couldn’t let things go at just relating the facts about Christ without also communicating his passion for Christ, and his compassion for Agrippa who was without Christ.
Fifth, we need to be plain and honest in the telling of our story. The Apostle Paul told the story of his life very plainly and honestly. He didn’t embellish it in any way. He began by telling Agrippa that he had grown up as a very religious Jew.
The story is told of a guy named Sam who survived the great flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when a dam broke and took hundreds of lives. He spent the rest of his life telling the story of how he escaped. When the Lord took him to heaven at the age of 95, he was ready to go home. St. Peter met him at the entrance.
“Sam, as a newcomer, you can have anything you ask for — one time!” St. Peter said.
Sam only wanted to tell everyone about his flood experience. St. Peter told him he could have the chance to share his story in the prayer meeting that night. But just as Sam was getting up to speak to an audience of millions, St. Peter whispered in his ear, “Just remember that Noah is sitting in the front row.”
It’s important to be plain when telling our story. The guy in the front row may have a better story than ours!
We need to be patient, be polite, be passionate, be plain in the way that we communicate our story. We also need to be present. In other words, we need to put our story in the present tense. Paul told Agrippa, “I have had God’s help to this very day.”
When we tell others how our life changed when we came to faith we should not leave our story in the past tense. We need to get comfortable with telling others how Christ is continuing to change our lives in the present. This will make what we share more meaningful and more accessible to the person hearing our story. As Sam Shoemaker once asked: “Is your Christianity ancient history or current events?”
While we are putting our story in the present tense, we need to be personal as well. Remember that our story is not a static thing. Paul communicated his Christian experience in different ways to different people. Paul adapted the telling of his story to address and appeal to people in a personal way. In Acts 22:12 when Paul was defending himself before a Jewish audience he emphasized the role of Ananias, a devout observer of the law, in his conversion.
Being personal also means not being afraid to share what has been wrong in our lives and how Christ has put it right. Many years ago, there was a well-known preacher named Brownlow North. He was a man who, in his younger years, had led a bit of a rough life. One day, just before he was to preach in a church in Aberdeen, Scotland, Brownlow North received a piece of correspondence. The author of the note told him that he had evidence of some shameful thing North had done many years before. The letter went on to say that he was planning to interrupt the church service and tell the whole congregation of the disgraceful act if North went ahead and preached there.
Do you know what Brownlow North did? He took that letter with him to church and he read it to the assembly. Then he proceeded to tell the group exactly what he had done, which the author of the note had threatened to reveal. He confessed that the charge against him was true but that Jesus Christ had changed his life and that Jesus could do the same thing for each person assembled there.
We should never be afraid to get personal like Brownlow North did. With Christ as our Savior we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose.
We also need to remember that the telling of our story is not complete until we have asked for our hearer’s response. In communicating Christ to others, we must always be pointed. Once again, this is not a matter of being obnoxious; it’s a matter of asking for the order. What would you think of a waiter or waitress in a restaurant who never asked you for your order? Not much, right? We need to learn to not be afraid to ask people for their spiritual order. We need to come to the point of asking others what their response to Jesus is. This is what Paul did with Agrippa, and doing this can turn our story from being a monologue into a wonderful dialogue about faith.
Finally, we need to be prayerful in all our encounters with those outside the church, especially as we share with them about our relationship with Christ. At the end of his address to King Agrippa, Paul hinted at the life of prayer which lay behind the sharing of his story. Paul said, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” Any other prisoner might have prayed for his captors that they would become what he was “with these chains”. Instead, Paul indicated that he was praying for the conversion of all those who would hear his story. He wanted them to connect their story with God’s story.
A missionary in India was once teaching the Bible to a group of Hindu ladies. Halfway through the lesson, one of the women got up and walked out. A short time later, she came back and listened more intently than ever. At the close of the hour the leader inquired, “Why did you leave the meeting? Weren’t you interested?”
“O yes,” the Hindu lady replied. “I was so impressed with what you had to say about Christ that I went out to ask your carriage driver whether you really lived the way you talked. When he said you did, I hurried back so I wouldn’t miss out on anything.”
Don’t underestimate the power of your own life story to lead people to Jesus. Many people are searching for a faith that works. When they see that faith in Christ is working in your life, that may be just the ticket that leads others to faith in him.