Grant us boldness
In a culture that values conformity over truth, we desperately need the boldness that God alone can give
Miss N was tearful again after the service. The men at work had teased her once more because she was still unmarried at 30 years old. So, she was unhappy, unwilling to go to her job on Monday. My wife Glenda encouraged her firmly but warmly, “Oh stop crying and tell them the gospel!” This was a new idea for N and so she did. The next Sunday, two young men came with her to church. After they’d been coming for a month, one went to a church closer to his home while the other stopped coming. Her boss, who had also been in on the teasing, started reading the Bible daily. Apparently, he was having difficulties with his marriage (perhaps the irony of teasing her for being unmarried was lost on him). Later, a young PhD student from her workplace also started to attend church and help out at our evangelistic events in the temporary housing sites for tsunami evacuees. Soon he believed and was baptised. All this because one young woman dried her tears and started boldly telling the gospel.
She reminds me of the young Israelite slave girl captured by the Syrians who overcame her suffering and boldly declared to Naaman’s wife, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3 ESV). Later, Daniel and his friends in Babylon boldly stood for God despite the danger, and God worked in King Nebuchadnezzar, who himself believed. Who can fail to be impressed by the boldness of the prophets who daily risked persecution and death by proclaiming the message the Lord had given them?
In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus always spoke boldly. He never balanced boldness with love or wisdom; he was perfect in both. His enemies recognised that boldness was one of his chief distinguishing marks (Mark 12:14). The crowd heard him gladly because of his authority and boldness (Mark 12:37). When he sent the Holy Spirit into his fearful disciples, they became bold (Acts 2). In Acts 4, Peter and John had been hauled before the Sanhedrin for preaching the gospel, and they boldly refused to stop. Afraid of the crowd, the priests threatened them and let them go. But they gathered the church together and prayed for boldness and for signs and wonders. God answered with an earth tremor and by filling the disciples with the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to speak the gospel boldly.
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:29–31).
They prayed for boldness. This prayer is notable for three reasons.
- While they had been harassed and threatened, the apostles had not been severely persecuted or beaten, but they still prayed for boldness.
- They had been bold up to this point. From Pentecost, they had spoken boldly and there is no hint of timidity, slackening of zeal, or compromise. In this very story, their enemies judged them to be bold (Acts 4:13). Even in the apostles’ own judgement, they had been bold because they actually pray “to continue to speak your word with all boldness”. The word “continue” indicates that they are praying for something they already have.
- They prayed with great intensity and marshalled impressive biblical arguments. The urgency of their prayer is remarkable.
So why did they pray for boldness when they already had it and had yet to be severely persecuted? Why did they pray with such intensity? The answer is that boldness is critically important.
They also asked God to do miracles of grace. We do too, whenever we pray for someone to be born again. The apostles saw the connection between miracles and boldness, whereas we often miss it. They must tell the gospel boldly, “while” (which connects the two petitions in verses 29 and 30) God does miracles in the world around them, according to his own timing and pleasure. They did not ask God to save people without also praying for grace to tell the gospel. To pray for revival without praying for boldness for ourselves and his church is unbiblical and a little presumptuous. The disciples saw the connection between those two prayers. Do we?
We need to pray for boldness. The disciples intensely prayed for boldness when they already had it, whereas we do not pray for it despite not having it. Something is wrong. We must pray for boldness individually and as churches, like the apostles did. It is a desperate need.
What is boldness?
It is intimidating to be told to be bold. Moses felt intimidated when the Lord told him to go to Egypt to save the Israelites. So, the Lord promised “But I will be with you,” (Ex. 3:12) and later, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex. 4:12). Boldness is not man-made courage. Gospel boldness may resemble courage to an outsider, but it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit shown only by Christians. It is closely related to our joy. The Holy Spirit gives gospel boldness to his church to present Christ to the world clearly, fully, winsomely, and passionately. It is never rude or self-centred. It is not intimidating to pray for what God has promised.
The problem with Japan
Japanese are taught from a young age that group harmony is a value to be sought and maintained at all costs. Disagreement and going against the prevailing opinion are regarded as evils. Although this is slowly changing, children are not reared to regard truth as an absolute value nor truth-telling as a virtue. A well-known Japanese proverb says, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.” And of course there were the centuries of tight social control by feudal and military governments, which made your reputation among your neighbours a matter of life or death. So, moral cowardice is acceptable in Japanese culture.
The problem with each of us
But it is not just Japanese culture; we also are cowards by nature and find it very easy to fit into the culture in the wrong way. However, the Holy Spirit will not allow us to. Let us pray that we will model boldness and encourage Japanese believers to pray like the apostles (Acts 4:29–30).
Finally, Christ died for a loving and boldly witnessing church. That is his crowning glory. Calvin said, “Jesus Christ must be preached as is fitting, and men must not proceed to bury him anymore, for seeing he is risen in glory, he will have the sound of his gospel ring out loud and clear, without any dissimulation.”1
So, you too—dry your eyes, cheer up, and tell the gospel!
1. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), Sermon on Ephesians 6:19-24, 695.
For more on God-given boldness, see the ebook Gospel Boldness; Mission, Evangelism and Prayer by Rod Thomas, which is available for free at http://rodthomas.drivehq.com/mission/Gospel_Boldness.html
Or email Rod at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have difficulty with the download.