In defence of bland testimonies

20 08 2010

I love baptisms. I love the powerfully enacted death-life-buried-raised-exile-exodus drama. You know those funny little travel towels that frequent flyers use? The ones that come the size of a pellet and expand to about 50x their original size when you dip them in water? That’s baptism right there; densely compact metaphor and meaning, the enormous salvation story crammed into a simple symbolic action. Just add water and the story bursts into life; larger than you ever thought possible.

One of the things I enjoy most is hearing people’s stories. Actually, that’s not true. I often enjoy hearing people’s stories. But there is one thing that does irritate me just a little; the ever-growing trend of people feeling the need to downplay their story. Many people consider their testimonies to be boring and hardly worth telling.

Seriously… How many testimonies have you heard at baptism services prefaced with a rather apologetic ‘my story’s not very interesting…’? There seems to be an assumption that unless your early years have been filled with wild promiscuity, mindless violence and perhaps a spell as a drug-mule, the account of how you came to Jesus isn’t really worth telling.

I understand why people think like that; I was raised in a Christian household, never shot anybody and went to church from a young age. But here are four reasons why I believe we should be proud of our ‘bland’ testimonies and not downplay them:

1. Such thinking has a tendency to glamorise the ungodly.

It is stirring to hear stories of people being redeemed from the darkest of lifestyles. But often I fear it is easy to enjoy those stories for the gossip they uncover rather than the grace they reveal. There’s something almost titillating about hearing about people who were engaged in stuff you only see in the movies. When somebody says ‘my testimony is quite boring’ they very often mean that they wish they could spice it up with some tales of dubious escapades.

That is to glamorise the ungodly.

It really is incredible when someone is saved from a life deeply entrenched in sin, but if it leaves us thinking ‘I wish I’d sinned more before I was saved so I could have a better story to tell’ then we’re not far off the wrong thinking Paul addresses in Romans when he writes ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!’ (Romans 6:1-2)

Let’s not blur the lines. Let’s not value ungodliness and devalue godliness. Or as Isaiah puts it, ‘Call evil good and good evil, put darkness for light and light for darkness, put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.’ (Is 5:20)

2. Such thinking fails to recognise and appreciate God’s grace

The truth is that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the fact that any of us can be redeemed is a miracle of grace. What’s more, if you have been born into a Christian family and raised in a good neighbourhood that in itself is a demonstration of God’s grace.

Paul, addressing the Areopagus, said ‘The God who made the world and everything in it […] gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.’ (Acts 17:24-27)

God allots the time and place of your dwelling, which means that having a positive Christian upbringing is God’s gracious provision for you. Don’t despise it, because you could find yourself despising God’s grace. You were put where you were at the plan of the Creator, that you should seek God. He designed and hand-crafted your upbringing in order to bring you to Him.

That’s not boring; that’s immeasurably kind!

3. People need to hear that Christianity is relevant to normal people

It is an oft-cited charge that Christianity is a crutch for the weak or that people whose lives are especially ‘messed up’ are more susceptible to an offer of grace. If there is any hint of truth in this accusation, then it will be significantly undermined by the testimony of someone who has no obvious need for a crutch.

People need to hear that Christianity is not just for the destitute or the needy. The testimony of someone who is strong and independent in worldly terms, but deeply aware of their need for Jesus will speak powerfully to those who doubt that God has anything to offer them.

4.  Telling your testimony is a first step towards preaching the gospel

Many people find it difficult to speak about the gospel with their non-Christian friends, but the fact is that one of the easiest ways to begin is by telling the story of how God has changed you personally. If we are ashamed of our testimony, or fail to see the providence of God at work in our lives then we will struggle to converse with our friends, and ultimately will find it difficult to share the gospel with them.

Many of your friends are likely to be similar to you in some ways and so will be able to relate to certain aspects of your story far more than they would to a dramatic conversion testimony. If we downplay our own experience we risk missing opportunities to evangelise.

So can I implore you to be proud of your testimony. Enjoy telling it. Don’t apologise for it. It is a demonstration of God’s grace and a powerful tool for sharing the Gospel. Whether you were saved on a Damascus Road or in a Sunday School class, God deserves to get the glory and we should never diminish it.

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2 responses

20 08 2010
Matt Hogg

Yes! Yes! YES!

I cannot tell you how much I agree and how many times I have ranted on this!

Love it!

20 08 2010
Phil Duncalfe

Thanks for this Liam. A great post and a great reminder.

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