With great fear and trembling, I accepted the invitation to speak in a breakout session at the Love Life California pro-life conference. The topic for our session was sidewalk outreach. The conference was a huge event with polished, well-known speakers. I knew it would be by several magnitudes the largest crowd to whom I had ever spoken. I have been a sidewalk counselor for nine years and know that subject well with immense passion for its importance. Still, I was very nervous. I spent a great deal of time in the Word, praying specifically that God would remove my self-consciousness and replace it with God-consciousness.
Recently, I have spoken to small groups many times in my role of training new sidewalk missionaries. I had even been invited recently to speak at an important conference to people who filled a ballroom. At that conference, when I walked to the podium to speak, every molecule of H2O was sucked instantly out of my body, especially my mouth. My mouth was so dry that my lips were glued to my gums and I could not swallow, contacts suctioned to my eyeballs, and my smile with those thin glued lips must have been frightening. I honestly don’t know how I was able to speak at all. Somehow I managed, and the talk was well-received. However, I now had an added fear to my already significant fear of public speaking. Unimaginable dry mouth.
Nonetheless, I knew God was telling me to go to the California Conference and do my utmost for His highest. My co-presenter, Daniel, and I were escorted to the speaking venue the day before our talk. We would do a sound and equipment check for our slide presentation.
I gasped as we turned the corner to an outdoor arena where there was a giant stage and huge screen. Rows and rows and rows of white chairs covered the enormous lawn. At least a thousand. Maybe a million. I climbed the stairs to the stage and the terror that had been held at bay was desperately trying to seep though the cracks in my frail armor of confidence.
You cannot possibly do this.
God can do this. God-consciousness, not self-consciousness. When I am weak, He is strong.
The terror subsided but who knew what the next day would bring? I told Daniel to be sure to remind me to bring water to the podium. Maybe a heart defibrillator as well…
I was shocked to find I slept that night with little thought of the speech the next day. The following morning, we were so busy helping with the conference registration and manning our ministry table that I didn’t think much about the ordeal that lay ahead. Ten minutes before the speech, I dashed over to the outdoor arena. A few people were already seated. Two water bottles were on the podium where Daniel was setting up his computer. I climbed the stairs to the stage. As other people began trickling in, Daniel asked, “How are you feeling?”
“I am excited,” I said, surprised that I meant it. My heart was beating a little faster than usual…but it was with faithful expectation. It was NOT fear. I could not believe it. As the minutes to start time ticked away, the seats began to fill. Instead of terror, I scanned the faces with delight. LOOK at all these people eager to learn about sidewalk ministry!!!
At the moment the clock struck the 10:00 start time, the seats were nearly filled. There were several hundred people there. At least 600, maybe more. Why was I not fainting? How could I be feeling nothing but joy? I could not WAIT to tell them what was so precious to my heart!
We began our session. I rarely looked at my notes, I held my mic and walked away from the podium. I believe Daniel and I presented better than we ever have in our smaller training sessions. It was effortless. And I kept looking out across the crowd with inexplicable peace and happiness.
It was possibly the most in-tune-with-the-moment I had ever felt. I knew this was walking in the spirit, surrendered to His will, His power, and His strength. To be fully conscious of God and not thinking of all my inadequacies. No dry mouth, no trembling, no stumbling for words.
After the speech, many people lined up at the stage edge to talk to us and ask us questions. As the crowd trickled away, a young man came to me. With halting words, he told me, “I really want to do this. I want to be a sidewalk counselor. But I will just tell you. I can’t get over my self -consciousness. I have struggled with it my whole life.” He looked close to tears.
How like God to send this young man with this fear to ME.
“Let me tell you my story,” I said. “I am very shy. Always have been. I am an introvert. I am terrified of public speaking and when I took this job, told my boss I would only take it if he understood I would NEVER speak in front of large groups of people, or a church, or God forbid, a conference. Is that the person you saw today?”
“No,” he said.
“If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit indwells us. He will guide us, empower us, and give us the words we need when we need them. The Bible says when we are weak, He is strong. I will tell you what I prayed all week before doing this conference. I prayed that God would remove my self-consciousness and replace it with God-consciousness. I recommend you think about those words, and maybe consider praying that same prayer.” We talked a while longer. He thanked me and walked away.
Every conference attendee was given a commitment card with a list of five action items, including sidewalk ministry. If God had convicted their heart to commit to doing one of the ministry areas targeted in the conference, the attendees were instructed to check that box and return the card to our Love Life booth on their way out.
I was manning the booth as people streamed out. My responsibility was to collect the commitment cards and answer any questions. It was incredibly gratifying to see that most people handed me a commitment card. Gradually, the crowd dispersed. Then I saw the young man who had spoken to me approaching the booth. He smiled and handed me his card. I glanced at it.
“Sidewalk outreach” was check-marked.
There were amazing speakers all day. I heard riveting stories. The optimism, call to action, encouragement, and conviction of the magnetic speakers overwhelmed me. In the midst of all that glorious, worshipful day, one moment stands out most clearly in my heart: the young man surrendering, at least for that moment, his self-consciousness to God-consciousness.
“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” - 1 Corinthians 2:3-5