A little hope for ’bad’ Christians trying to be good examples

Becca Garvin

"Here we go again...right back where I started. Maybe worse. How did I even get here? I should have expected it. I’m sure everyone else expected it. They probably think my relationship with God is all talk. How could anyone possibly see Jesus in me?”

My thoughts frequently throw shame-ridden punches, and these are some of the strongest. It’s always worse when we can’t find tangible evidence to refute them, isn’t it?

It’s even worse when I know others’ thoughts line up with my own disappointment. I think back to playing sports in high school: image was everything. If you got caught doing something that tainted the image of the team or the coach, you were in big trouble. Or that time in college when I got caught doing something my sorority leaders deemed a negative representation, so they kicked me out.

When it comes to Christianity, representing my team and the coach — the church and God — can be terrifying. Bible passages instruct followers of Jesus to be the “light of the world.” But the idea of putting my guaranteed-to-be-imperfect life in the spotlight seems to be, well, a pretty bad idea. Whether you call it evangelism, witnessing, sharing your testimony, or telling others about Jesus, God can’t possibly want a backslider like me representing His team. I constantly find myself feeling inadequate to put on the jersey. It’s safer to stand on the sidelines and silently cheer on the people who seem to have it all together.

This mindset leaks into our idea of who God is and our relationship with Him. When we mess up, we feel that shame of having let the team down and wanting to avoid the coach at all costs until the dust has settled and the pain isn’t so raw.

How are we supposed to be a light for anyone else when we can’t walk without tripping up ourselves?

How are we supposed to be a light for anyone else when we can’t even see well enough to walk without tripping up ourselves?

This question results in two fears I’ve wrestled with:

  • The fear that because I mess up, other people won’t see Jesus working in and through me.
  • The fear that Jesus isn’t working in and through me after all — maybe He’s just as disappointed as everyone else.

But you see, we often overlook the critical foundation of the commission to shine as a Christ-like example. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

“Whoever follows me ... will have the light of life.”

Our job is not to create the light; our job is to carry the light.

Jesus is the light, so the way we shine in this world is by letting Him shine through us. We are merely vessels of His love, grace, and power.

I have messed up more often than not, but God has taught me many things about this topic over the years. I have let people down, and there have been many times I felt I let God down. Thankfully God doesn’t depend on me, or you, to be who He is. There is no such thing as letting Him down because we do not hold Him up. It’s the other way around.

Guidelines For Imperfect Witnessing

Reality: You can’t make everyone happy, but that’s OK.

God doesn’t want our efforts to be spent trying not to disappoint people. His ability to work through each of us does not depend on the opinions of others. He wants to redirect our focus because when we look to Him for assurance we see how little people’s thoughts matter compared to what He is doing (1 John 1:9, Romans 8:1).

Good News: God doesn’t need us to be perfect.

In fact, God specializes in dealing with imperfections. The Apostle Paul wrote, “We have this treasure [the Gospel of Jesus] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Truth: God works through broken people.

In fact, the Bible tells us that He is strongest where we are weakest and encourages us not to be ashamed of our shortcomings (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Caution: Know your limits.

Let’s be smart about where we take your own brokenness. If the bar is where you seem to mess up the most, there are ways to reach that colleague other than buying shots. Jesus meets people where they are, but He invites them somewhere else (James 4:7, Proverbs 6:27).

Encouragement: You are not big enough to mess up God’s plan.

God doesn’t need us, but He wants to work through us. He always has been and always will be bigger than any of our mistakes or good deeds (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Relief: It isn’t our job to to change other people.

Our job is to share; God is the only one who can change hearts (John 14:6).

Instead of being an overwhelming task, this command to shine the light of the Gospel is first an invitation to step into the light of Jesus ourselves. We are filled with it personally and share the overflow with others. We shine when He shines.

“A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

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