Sharing Our Stories
By Matt Richard
Some of you from the “old days” might remember having “testimony time” at church. Some used to think that “testimony time” was simply an excuse for the pastor to not have to think of anything to say, and take a break; but, as a young Christian, I came to enjoy testimony time. It was refreshing to know that God could not only speak through someone OTHER than the pastor, but also that God worked in the lives of regular people.
We never had an official “testimony time” in the last place I served, but I will never forget a Sunday when a lady took it upon herself to stand up during morning announcements, and give one anyway.
Regina had been a member of our church for a long time, but usually did not attend. She suffered from bipolar disorder, and struggled to be consistent at much of anything. I could tell she was in rare form when she showed up during Sunday school, speaking loudly, laughing hysterically, and reminiscing about years gone by. When she stood up during the announcement time, it did not seem too unusual. We had always been a laid back, casual church where everyone felt free to interject things and share about events; however, this was not a normal interjection.
Regina arose with tears in her eyes, confessing that she had “back-slidden” into alcohol and drug use again. She began to list individual sins that this lifestyle had led her to commit, and how she needed to “get right with the Lord.” The truth was, this was not a surprise to most of the people present, of course; it was not comfortable to hear about it – especially as she seemed like she was not going to quit talking anytime soon!
In an effort to alleviate the discomfort (and to provide her some encouragement), a deacon stood up, walked over to her, and placing his hand tenderly on her shoulder, he announced he would like to lift her up in prayer. Regina quit talking, and allowed him to do so.
After a heartfelt, sincere, and well-spoken prayer, the deacon went back to his seat. Regina, however, did not sit down. She said, even more emotional following this moment, that she was thankful for the prayer, but that she was not finished sharing and still had to tell us some things. She continued for about three to four minutes before finally sitting down and allowing us to go on with our service.
To me, Regina is an example of the reason that we are hesitant to have “testimony time,” AND the need to have them anyway. She is an example of why we need to find some way to foster the communal sharing of what God is doing in our lives with one another. You see, Regina’s story is not just her story. Chances are, it is also someone else’s story, maybe even the story of one who is reading this. It is the story of someone that you know. It is the general story of every character in the Bible that struggled to live a life pleasing to God, but also experienced God’s grace and forgiveness in the midst of community. We do not share our story to make others uncomfortable, or even to get them to empathize with us; we do it because it opens ourselves and others to what God is doing in our midst. We do it because it forces us to be honest with God.
One couple in our church testify that after experiencing two tours in Iraq, their son came home suffering from severe PTSD. It literally felt like he was not the same person to them, as a result of all he experienced. He was angry, hurt, and full of accusations toward everyone. While all of us would certainly understand how such an experience could have this kind of negative effect, it is not something we would desire for a loved one, or even something we would want to experience with them. For this couple, however, it was facing up to the severity of the situation, and being honest with God and others about exactly what they wanted God to do that gave them a unique vantage point to see the Holy Spirit at work.
Luke 18:35-43 became an important scripture to them during this time. In this passage, a blind beggar continually calls out for Jesus to have mercy on him. Rather than immediately healing him, Jesus does something peculiar. He stopped, had the man brought to him, and pointedly asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 41). Seeing God’s desire for us to approach him honestly with our desperate wants and needs, their prayer became “we want our son back!” This prayer was eventually answered, but not without a difficult and earnest realization of their family’s need for God to intervene in their lives.
What is distinctive about this blind beggar who Jesus saw fit to restore? Not much. Luke portrays Jesus as being the distinct one in this, and every human encounter in his Gospel. It is Luke who uniquely tells the story about Jesus in the synagogue when he was 12, questioning and teaching the adult teachers with authority, as his parents search cluelessly for him. It is also Luke who portrays Jesus in the Synagogue, reading publicly from the scroll of Isaiah, and proclaiming to all when he is finished that the prophecy he just read has been fulfilled by his presence and ministry among them.
Luke wants us to know that the unique one in all of our stories is Jesus, and if for no other reason, they are worth telling because of him. Our churches must be more intentional in fostering and facilitating this, even in a day when “testimony time” seems to have lost its appeal.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common