God Uses Broken Messengers
by James Peel
“…[W]hen they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit."
I was driving to a friend’s house when I noticed a group of people holding picket signs. As I got closer, I realized they were picketing an abortion clinic. Although I’m an ardent pro-life supporter, the signs they held were troubling. Some had bold black and red messages like “Murder happens here!” Others showed gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses.
On my way home, I decided to stop and talk to the picketers. I wanted to try to understand their perspective, but I confess that another motive compelled me to stop. I wanted to ask some tough questions and convince them of my position on protest—that using fierce words and frightening photos was an ineffective method of communication, not to mention an embarrassment to many Christians.
Channeling Marshall McLuhan, I approached two picketers holding provocative signs in hopes that they would understand McLuhan’s maxim “the medium is the message.” After a polite greeting, I expressed my opinion that signs like the ones they were holding would be received as impersonal and judgmental, and, in all likelihood, would inspire anger or being ignored rather than save lives.
I then struck up a conversation with a man holding a sign that simply read, “Pray to end abortion.” After introducing himself, Steve explained that he had wanted to make a difference in the pro-life movement, but, like me, he had become cynical because of the methods and messages used by many picketers. So he, like me, decided to talk to them.
He attended a few pickets, developed relationships with some of the regulars, and became particularly close to a man whose sign read, “Pray to end abortion.” One day when they were picketing, the man asked Steve if he would hold his sign while he went to the restroom. Steve agreed, but instead of holding the sign up, he kept it down at his side. It was during that brief time that a woman pulled over and parked her car. She approached Steve and said, “Do you see that nine-year-old boy in my car? He is alive today because someone like you was holding a sign like that nine years ago.”
Steve said that experience changed his perspective—so much so that now he regularly holds a “Pray to end abortion” sign outside abortion clinics around the country. I was astonished at Steve’s story. As he continued to talk, I sensed that God was trying to teach me something.
“Often times,” Steve explained, “abortion clinics have restraining orders against picketers, so we have to stand farther away than is ideal. One time we had to picket in a driveway about 25 feet from the door of a clinic. This presented a problem, because if clinic visitors were going to stop and talk with us before they entered the clinic, we would have to shout at them to get their attention.”
Many of the picketers did shout, but Steve didn’t. He just held his “Pray to end abortion” sign. He recounted that a man with a booming voice was standing next to him bellowing pro-life messages and Christian clichés at the top of his lungs. He admitted, “I was still cynical—I judged him for having the wrong tone. He sounded angry as he yelled. Later that day,” Steve continued, “a woman walked out of the clinic and headed for the driveway, specifically for the guy who was shouting. She told him, “I could hear you through the walls, and I just couldn't go through with it.”
A life was saved because of a man's shouting.
By this time, my own cynicism was clear, and I saw that God wanted to humble me through this experience. Steve’s stories made me realize that God can do mighty things through broken messengers with broken messages. This truth is both humbling and freeing. While I believe it is important to consider the medium, tone, and timing of the messages we knowingly and unknowingly send to those we want to know the truths of the Gospel, I was reminded that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
I’m not saying that every Christian should picket. Or that we should never picket. Actually, I’m still processing that sidewalk experience. The point is that we may have an opportunity to share the Gospel today. We may be nervous to do so because we think (or know) we’re not the best example of a Christ-follower. Or we may be afraid that we’ll say the wrong thing.
A recent sermon given by Mark Davis at Park Cities Presbyterian Church recounted Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and I was reminded that God uses broken messengers to communicate His truth. After the woman's interaction with Jesus, she hurried to see the very people she was ashamed to be seen by so she could tell them about Jesus, and “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:6).
The humbling and comforting reality is that you and I are just like the woman at the well: broken messengers with a broken message. The Gospel, though, is perfect, and the Holy Spirit will speak through us. “…[W]hen they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).