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Sharing Your Testimony: The Conversion Story

10 Apr

Over this last month, we’ve taken the time to explore “What it Really Means” to give a testimony, taken a look at both “One Liners” (short testimonies to God’s character and value in our lives) and “Deeper Dialogues”, and addressed the fears which must be overcome if we’re to effectively “Get the Ball Rolling”.  While it’s true that most of the time our testimonies will be spontaneous, every now and then we’ll encounter a situation that calls for a prepared testimony.  It may be in an evening church service or over coffee with a friend, but you can guarantee that at some point, someone is going to ask you to explain exactly how you came to faith in Christ and why you continue to walk in His paths.  And when this happens, you don’t wants to find yourself staring blankly into space!  Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a closer look at what goes into preparing a testimony and share some tips that will help you ensure that yours accurately and concisely reflects God’s work in your own life.

So why should we bother to prepare a formal testimony?  Well, to begin with, if you’ve already anticipated a question, you’re less likely to be caught off guard by it.  None of us like to be put on the spot, especially when it comes to issues as personal as those which surround our deepest beliefs and convictions.  If you have already taken the time to prepare your testimony, you probably won’t find yourself muttering a string of meaningless mumble jumble as you try to craft one under pressure.

Secondly, a prepared testimony helps to ensure that you don’t stumble around with useless details while everyone else is waiting for you to get to the point!  You may not have much time to share, so you want to make the best use of it that you can.  Most people only have a three minute attention span, so unless you’re a particularly riveting speaker, you’ll want to limit what you say to those facts (and only those facts) which clearly convey the message.

Remember that not every Christian has had the same experiences, so your testimony will probably sound a bit different from everyone else’s.  That’s O.K.  God uses each of us to reach different people.  That said, there are four basic types of testimony and we’ll be addressing the first of these (How You Came to Know Christ) this week.

To be entirely honest, conversion stories tend to be easier to tell if you were saved as a teen or adult, since in many ways such accounts resemble the before and after pictures on a TV makeover show.  (Those of us who were privileged to encounter Christ at an early age, often have very little memory of what life was like before that encounter, so the preparation of this type of testimony may be difficult, if not impossible.)  One of the primary features of such a story is an element of empathy for how a lost person feels.  It’s important to note that there is a big difference between “sympathy” (being with someone in their trials) and “empathy” (having gone through those trials yourself) and people tend to make a more genuine connection with those who understand their struggles from the inside than with those who think that they comprehend from without!

Generally, this type of testimony highlights three points:

1.  What life was like before you knew Christ?  How did you feel about the world around you?  How did you relate to your co-workers, family, and friends?  How did you view yourself?  Were you lonely and depressed?  Smug and overconfident?  Caught somewhere between?  What things did you turn to in order to fix the problems you encountered?  Did they seem to work?

2.  How did God intervene?  At what point did you realize that the way you were living just wasn’t working?  How did God drive the point home?  What events or thoughts effected your decision to seek Him… or did it seem that He was the One seeking you?

3.  What is life like now?  How has knowing God changed your perspective on the people and events which influenced your life before you knew him?  How have your relationships changed?  How are your thoughts and goals different from before?  What new desires have developed within you since you handed your life over to Him?

These questions are just seeds – a place to start as you consider God’s influence on and activity within your life.  You may not be able to answer each of them, but I’m willing to bet that at least a few will get your thought processes rolling.  Let the Spirit guide you as you begin to formalize you testimony, then (if you’re feeling bold), share your story in the comment box below!

Before we wrap, one final word of caution: While this particular formula is quite common, it’s important to note that it only works if God takes center stage throughout the story.  Like the Apostle Paul, we don’t want to focus our testimony upon all the gory details of the “bad life” we lived before we encountered Jesus or even upon the many “good” things that we have done since, but upon the transforming power of Christ.  Make sure that what you say keeps the focus on what God has done for you, not what you have done for or against God!  Christianity is about Christ being formed in us and about His power to effect that same transformation in others.  Everything else is peripheral.

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Sharing Your Testimony: Getting the Ball Rolling

3 Apr

This month, we’ve been exploring the fine art of sharing a testimony.  In “What it Really Means”, we discussed the difference between presenting listeners with a laundry list of our sins and giving a Biblical testimony (one that tells others about God’s character and value in our lives).  In “One Liners” and “Deeper Dialogues”, we examined some short (and not so short) ways to put our thoughts about our Redeemer into words.  But before we take the plunge into the subject of offering a prepared testimony (as opposed to the spontaneous ones that we’ve discussed so far), we need to take a moment to discuss how to overcome the fear which often accompanies our attempts to bring God into the conversation.

Perhaps the biggest reason for such fear is that sharing about God’s place in our lives often feels a bit awkward and unnatural.  After all, we live in a society in which sharing our faith with anyone can be perceived as a hard core attempt at winning converts.  Something which we were never commanded to do!  (Don’t believe me?  Check out Matthew 28:19-20 and note the words “preach” and “teach” – the one comes before conversion, the other after.  It is the Holy Spirit Who works in hearts, the command to us is to work with hearts!)

So how do you share your faith (let alone your testimony) without looking like someone who is trying to earn a Heavenly merit badge?  To begin with, it’s always easier to share stories about someone you know well than about someone who is only an acquaintance.  Start by getting to know God, not just as the One Who saved you, but as a close personal friend.  Make the time to read your Bible, pray, memorize scripture, and spend time with other Christians who know Him better than you do!  As you get to know Him more intimately, you’ll become more confident in your relationship (and your knowledge!) and talking about Him will begin to come as naturally as conversation about your dearest family and friends.

The second key to alleviating our awkwardness is practice.  Start by sharing your testimony with other Believers. They already have a relationship with Jesus and they know about the power He has to change lives. Practice telling them about what God is teaching you and how He is growing you in your walk with Him. You’ll be encouraging them and building up your own nerve all at the same time.

Thirdly, whatever you say, don’t forget to be honest.  It’s okay to admit that God has been dealing with your bad temper or has been helping you learn to be a more respectful wife/husband/child/employee/student.  Believe it or not, most people admire honesty and can quickly detect when someone’s “perfect life” is a sham whose only purpose is to sell them something.  Your struggles give you a connection with the reality that the rest of humanity experiences.  Your relationship with God gives you a new perspective on that reality.

When you make it a regular habit to spend time with God and to share His workings with others, something amazing and inexplicable will begin to happen: your tongue will slip.  You’ll find yourself accidentally giving testimony at the oddest times and in the most unusual places!  It’s like a teenager and her first love – she’ll talk about him even when she doesn’t realize that’s what she’s doing!  You’ll do the same.  And people will ask you why.

Sharing Your Testimony: Deeper Dialogues

27 Mar

Over the last two weeks, we’ve examined “What it Really Means” to give a testimony and taken a look at some simple ways to share the truth about God’s place in our lives through the use of “One Liners”.  This week, we’ll be going a bit deeper as we take a look at one of the most prominent New Testament testimonies and discuss how it can serve as a model for telling our own “God Stories”.  But don’t worry, just because this model is lengthier doesn’t mean that our palms should start sweating!

Remember that we defined a “testimony” as “a statement concerning the character of a person or value of a thing”.  Under this new definition, the simple statement “God is Good” (a declaration concerning God’s character) becomes a testimony and suddenly, bearing witness begins to feel so simple that even the most fearful can do it with ease.

More importantly, encompassed within this definition is the realization that you don’t necessarily have to share the entire salvation message in order to give an effective testimony.  (As a matter of fact, in most cases, you probably won’t.) The purpose of a testimony is not to push your faith on anyone, but to provide them with a reason to ask questions about your beliefs.  It might not happen right away, but I can assure you that eventually someone will say to you something along the lines of, “You sure seem to give God a lot of credit.  What do you believe?”

At this point, we can look to the Apostle Paul (who never seems to have been without an opportunity to share his testimony) for some guidance.  In Acts 26:1-19 we read:

“Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”

This is it. The Sunday night meetinghouse testimony complete with invitation.  It’s the one that makes us quake in our boots and search frantically for the nearest exit.  Yet the Apostle Paul made it clear that giving such a presentation was an honor.  And we should too.

So what can we learn from the Apostle’s message? To begin with, Paul recognized that his audience had a limited attention span, so he kept it brief.  In a mere nine verses, he shared the story of his life before his encounter with Christ and, from a Jewish point of view, it’s clear that he was a pretty decent fellow!  He is straight forward and honest about his actions, but he doesn’t wander off into the gory details. His purpose is to explain that he was opposed to Christ and those who followed Him, not to share a litany of sins.  Likewise, we should limit our own testimonies about life before Christ to the “highlights” (the facts without which our “God Story” wouldn’t make much sense) and cut everything else from the agenda.  Our focus should be on God’s character and His value in our lives, not upon our own foibles and failures.

Secondly, the Apostle is clear in his presentation.  He has chosen his words wisely and presents only the essentials of the Gospel, i.e., those things which must be believed if one is to inherit eternal life.  He doesn’t delve into the nature of the Trinity or discuss the relative merits of predestination or free will.  And neither should we.  These are great topics for theologians and make for some excellent debate among ourselves, but our ability to comprehend them doesn’t have an effect on our eternal destination… so leave them for another time!

Thirdly, notice that Paul concludes by discussing his reaction to these saving truths: he has remained faithful to the call.  While he doesn’t dive into all of the details of his life as a Believer, we know that he has changed: he is no longer the man that he was.  And neither are we.  Christ has changed us and He offers the same change to others.  Now that’s a testimony!

The New Testament, of course, contains many others.  From the lengthy Salvation testimonies of Paul (Acts 9:1-13; 13:15-16, 26-31; 26:1-19) to the shorter declarations of those whom Jesus touched (John 5:10-13; 9:13-15); From apologetically oriented discourses (Acts 17:22-24; Philippians 3:4-10) to simple statements of faith (John 1:35-41; 3:1,2; 4:28,39; Acts 21:18,19), there is no lack of a model for us to build upon.  Read a few examples, then take a shot at writing your own.  If you’re feeling really bold, try sharing it in the comment box below.  There isn’t any word limit, so you can say as much or as little as you like!

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