On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:9-11)
I don't know Nayara Goncalves. But I'd be willing to make a small wager that she believes in Jesus' promise that the Holy Spirit will speak through his disciples.
When a man tried to rob the Pompano Beach, Florida, cell phone store where she works last month, he wound up leaving without taking any money. But it wasn't because twenty-year-old Nayara told him that she'd call the police, or that the store had security cameras. It was because she talked to him about Jesus.
The store's surveillance cameras captured the conversation. The man pulled a gun on Nayara and asked for all the money in the register. As he did so, he admitted that he hated to do it and he told Nayara not to be afraid. “I'm not,” she says on the video as she moves toward the register. “I'm just going to talk to you about the Jesus I have.”
“May God bless you for that,” the gunman responds.
“Jesus got something way better for you,” Nayara told him. “I don't know what you are going through, but all of us are going through a hard time right now.” The man told Nayara that he was a Christian, and they chatted for a moment about one of the ministers at a church they had both attended. He told her would be evicted if he didn't come up with $300 for rent, but eventually Nayara talked him out of robbing the store.
“Jesus helps you, he can change your life,” she told him. And she gave him some good advice: “Go back to church. Find a job. Get real friends in church. Talk to a pastor, they can pray for you. You don't need to do this, Jesus is coming soon.”
Nayara said she started to cry after the man left. “I realized what had just happened, what could have happened if God wasn't here with me,” she explained.
If someone points a gun at you and demands money, I think it's generally a good idea to go ahead and give it to him. But it's hard to argue with what happened in that cell phone store in Pompano Beach. Nayara has no doubt at all what happened. “I believe it was the Holy Spirit of God that really made me want to tell him about Jesus,” she later told ABC News. “I would never be able to do that myself. I would never think that God could use me the way that he did.”
Jesus told his first disciples that they'd be in situations like the one Nayara found herself in: standing before someone with power over them and fearing for their lives. And he told them not to waste a moment preparing talking points or outlining a sermon. “Open your mouth, and say whatever is given to you at the time,” he told them. That's the kind of advice that would have made their lawyers cringe, if they'd had lawyers. But it also made them witnesses.
“It's not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit,” he told them.
I wish we could believe that, just as surely as Jesus makes us witnesses for him, he gives us the ability. If we believed that, I think we'd talk ourselves out of fewer opportunities to speak up for Jesus. We'd speak about him more freely: about what he means to us, about the ways he has lifted us up and give us hope, about his power and his grace and his mercy, even about his coming. We'd tell people that they don't have to be alone and desperate, don't have to hate themselves and others, and don't have to live with their shame and guilt and fear any longer. We'd speak freely and fearlessly, believing that when we opened our mouths about Jesus the words that came out would be just the words God wanted spoken, right then. We wouldn't worry about whether we could remember that one particular verse, or had all of our theological ducks in a row. We'd speak, and believe that the Holy Spirit was just using our voices.
The gunman in Nayara's store wouldn't likely have been willing to sit still long enough for a Bible study. She couldn't have possibly been prepared in advance for that encounter. And maybe that's why God did such a powerful thing there. She didn't know what to say, so she opened her mouth and spoke about Jesus. She didn't know how to say it, so she opened her mouth and believed that the Holy Spirit would get the words right.
In Nayara's case, the gunman seemed to have responded to the Spirit's words that she spoke. That's not always the case, is it? And maybe that's our real fear: that if we don't say it just right, people will reject our message and reject us. And so we keep quiet, when we know good and well that the Holy Spirit is trying to pry our mouths open and our tongues loose.
But we're not called to be effective, are we? Jesus didn't promise his first disciples that those governors and kings would believe them, and he doesn't promise us that we'll be believed. And, in fact, rejection is par for the course for followers of Jesus – after all, people rejected him, didn't they? The point in speaking isn't necessarily to convince. It's to witness to the truth. It's to tell people about our risen Lord, who has overcome sin and death and is coming back to put the world right. We want people to believe, and we do our best to convince. But in the end, we're only called to speak. Convincing is ultimately the work of God.
So don't be afraid to open your mouth and speak about Jesus. Don't worry too much about what you'll say, and how you'll say it. But when you feel that you need to speak up for Christ, don't ever suppress that urge. Open your mouth, and trust that the words will come. And that they'll be just the ones God wants you to speak.
I think you'll be surprised at how God can use you, too.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.