HOW TO SHARE YOUR PERSONAL TESTIMONY
After Jesus had stilled the storm on the lake, his disciples were amazed and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and
the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). The disciples’ question is answered in the next chapter. A tormented man whom we call the Gerasene demoniac met Jesus at the shore and shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” After Jesus had cast out the legion of demons, the man begged to go with Jesus. “Jesus did not let him, but said, `Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed” (Mark 5:1-20).
The healed demoniac had never attended Sunday school or seminary, but he became a witness by telling what Jesus had done
for him. The apostle Peter instructs the church, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter had in mind an answer to those
who ridicule the Christian faith; but this testimony can also be given in the gathering of believers:
Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. (Psalm 66:16)
Personal testimony is usually one’s own story, but on occasion it can be the story of another. Psalm 23 is not only a favorite psalm but also a testimony:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me Lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In churches that use the sixteenth-century Heidelberg Catechism as a teaching instrument, the catechism’s first question and answer are often memorized and become a personal testimony:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong-body and soul, in life and in death-to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
The Testimonies of Paul and Timothy
The book of Acts tells of a man named Saul who gave approval to Stephen’s death (8:1) and then continued “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (9:1). When Saul traveled to Damascus to persecute believers, he was converted and commissioned to be the apostle to the Gentiles. After Saul began his missionary work, his name was changed to Paul. Twice Acts records Paul’s testimony of how God changed and called him (22:1-21 and 26:2-23). It is apparent that part of Paul’s missionary strategy was to give personal testimony. Paul’s testimony can be divided into three sections:
1. What I was before I became a Christian
2. How I became a Christian
3. The life I’ve lived since becoming a Christian
These divisions may be restated thus:
1. What I was before I met Jesus
2. How I met Jesus
3. What Jesus means to me now
Many believers do not have a dramatic story such as Paul’s to tell. God’s call did not come to them in a sudden blinding vision but in a still, small voice. At first they may have paid little attention, until gradually it became clear to them what God was asking them to do. Such a testimony can be just as effective as Paul’s when told with conviction and integrity. Others grew up in a Christian family and do not remember a time when they did not love Jesus. Still, there may have been times when God was very real to them, when they grew spiritually by leaps and bounds, or when they became certain of the gift of the eternal life. Such people cannot tell a testimony like Paul’s but instead tell one like Timothy, of whom Paul wrote: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). People who identify with Timothy may tell a testimony involving one or more of the following:
* How Jesus became a vital person in my life
* How I became assured of my personal standing with God
* What Jesus means to me now (what significance he has for my life today)
* A critical or decisive moment in my spiritual journey
* A time when God’s love and care were especially real to me.
Whether it is a testimony like Paul’s or like Timothy’s, it should emphasize what God has done through Jesus Christ. What
counts is God’s faithfulness, care, and keeping-not first of all how you tell it. The reason for relating one’s personal spiritual journey is not to tell another person that you are now perfect or no longer have any problems. Rather, it is to tell someone that Jesus Christ is real and alive and that you have personally experienced his power. If later in the conversation you have opportunity to explain the good news, you will do so from the perspective of a person who knows what he or she is talking about.
When to Give a Testimony
In some visits a personal testimony is the only possible witness to the good news. At other times you can combine testimony with gospel explanation. Where the host is critical or skeptical, the personal testimony can be especially effective. People can argue the facts of the Bible or even the reliability of Scripture itself, but they cannot argue with what another person has personally experienced.
Even though personal testimony is sometimes called the first tool of witnessing, it is not the first thing done in a witnessing
situation. The first concern should always be to listen and show genuine friendship. This places the testimony in a proper
context, since it enables the callers to identify in their story with the person they are visiting. If that person has just experienced the upheaval of a move or is lonely or grieving or experiencing some emotional pain, the callers can identify with this in their personal testimony whenever possible.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
* Do write out your first testimony. You will probably never give it exactly as written, but you need to begin by writing it out.
* Do begin with an interesting, attention-getting sentence and close with a hopeful, future-oriented statement.
* Do identify with the person to whom you are giving your testimony.
* Do emphasize that what makes the difference in your life is that Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord.
* Do leave a positive impression.
* Do make your testimony brief (three minutes is about right).
* Do be concrete and specific about what Christ means toyou: emphasize such things as fellowship, love, forgiveness, friendship, new life, new perspectives, and so on.
* Do be honest and realistic; your problems didn’t all go away when you became a Christian. If your conversion was like
Timothy’s, don’t pretend you had a dramatic conversion like Paul’s.
* Do use humor.
On the other hand,
* Avoid cliches or statements that are meaningless to the non-Christian.
* Avoid giving a travelogue that deals with irrelevant events and happenings.
* Avoid vague generalities-use a concrete illustration here and there.
* Avoid statements that reflect negatively on other people, religions, or churches.
* Avoid preaching at people.
* Avoid stereotypes.
* Avoid a frivolous attitude toward the gospel.
* Avoid words that don’t communicate in conversation with someone who is not a Christian: blessing, Christian, saved/unsaved, salvation, deliverance, conversion/converted, praise God, receive Christ, gospel, blood, fellowship, born again, glorious, praise the Lord, amen, and so on.
* Avoid quoting textual references. Say simply, “The Bible says . . .” (not “Paul says . . .”).
Think about These Things
If writing and giving a testimony is a new experience, the following questions will be helpful:
* Will my testimony be patterned after Paul’s dramatic, sudden encounter with Christ or Timothy’s more gradual conversion?
* What are some of the highlights of my spiritual experience?
* What was my attitude toward God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the church when I was a child!
* Did this attitude change when I was a teenager! If so, how? Is my attitude different now! If so, how?
* What did it mean to me to become a communicant member of the church?
* On what am I basing my assurance of eternal life?
* In what ways is spiritual growth evident in my life?
* What is the most significant aspect of my fellowship with God?
* Are there any unconfessed sins in my life that will make it impossible for me to give a clear, forceful testimony?
* Are there any favorite Bible passages that have been meaningful in my, spiritual journey?
* Have I committed the writing of this testimony to God in prayer?