Does God actually do anything in your testimony?

by K.W. Leslie, 04 July
TESTIMONY 'tɛst.ə.moʊ.ni noun. Formal evidence or proof of the existence or appearance of something. (Particularly a statement provided in court.)
2. A public statement, or retelling, of a religious conversion or experience.
[Testify 'tɛs.tə.faɪ verb, witness 'wɪt.nəs noun, verb.]

Usually when people talk about a testimony, it’s a formal legal statement, made before attorneys or a judge, of something you personally witnessed. Christian testimonies aren’t so formal. But they are about what we personally witnessed. We saw God do something. We’re sharing that story.

By testimony lots of Christians mean their conversion story: When we first realized we were Christians, or first decided to become Christians. Some of these stories are dramatic, like the heroin addict who’s decided to kill himself with one massive overdose, and then Jesus appeared to him and said, “Don’t,” and now he runs a megachurch. Some of ’em are a bit more mundane, like mine: I was a little kid, and Mom told me about Jesus, and I asked him into my heart… and I never did get to try heroin. Oh well.

But as I keep trying to remind Christians, conversion stories aren’t the only testimonies we have. Certainly shouldn’t be. Certainly aren’t for me. My little-kid conversion story was 40 years ago, and Jesus doesn’t even make a personal appearance. If the only experience I have of Jesus is that story, I suck as a Christian. What’ve I been doing for these past four decades? Knitting?

God has done a lot of things in my life. I have loads of God-stories. Any time I’m sharing Jesus with some pagan, and they wanna know, “But what can God do in my life?” I can always respond, “I don’t know; that’s between you and him. But I can tell you what he’s done in my life.” And out come my God-stories. When he’s told me stuff. When he’s given me prophecies. When he’s had me pray for people to get healed, and they were. When I’ve witnessed him heal other people. My Christianity isn’t just academic; God’s shown up a bunch. And every time he does, I get another testimony.

What’s God done in your life? That’s your testimony.

Now share it!

“Testimonies” without any God in ’em.

When I was first taught about testimonies, I was a member of a cessationist church, meaning it was led by Christians who didn’t believe God does show up and do stuff any longer. All that stuff was for bible times, and it’ll probably happen again in the End Times, but not anymore.

So what’d their “testimonies” look like? They were all conversion stories. Always about, “I used to not believe in Jesus, but now I do. And my life is so much better.”

Bummed me out, because my conversion story was, “Mom told me about Jesus, and I asked him into my heart.” Was my life better? Um… no, it was actually worse. I was a sucky Christian, who only acted like a believer at church, and spent the rest of the time trying to get away with things: Dad’s alcoholism was getting more and more impossible to live with. So since I couldn’t pull off the “My life is so much better” part, I didn’t bother to share my testimony at all.

Other kids would juice up their stories a bunch. Their lives weren’t all that bad before they became Christians. But since dramatic testimonies were more interesting than run-of-the-mill growing-up-Christian stories, they took every little dissatisfaction and blew ’em out like their feathered ’80s hair. Ever casually thought about suicide? Now it became “I was suicidal.” Ever casually thought about sin? Now it was “All my thoughts were sinful.” Ever casually looked at pornography? “I was addicted to porn.” Ever listened to non-Christian music and watched non-Christian movies? “I had a totally ungodly lifestyle.” And so forth.

For our examples, the pastors trotted out people who had the worst pre-Christian lifestyles. Usually of their own making; they preferred sinners, not victims. Sometimes they were visiting pastors. Sometimes not; just some rough-looking guy concealing his tattoos beneath a dress shirt and tie, telling us story after story of all manner of sin and vice. Sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll.

“But now I belong to Jesus,” they’d conclude, “so I don’t do that stuff anymore.”

Sometimes they even looked happy when they said this. Sometimes not, but that’s another rant.

The problem with all these testimonies: God didn’t show up in any of them. (Partly ’cause the church’s cessationist theology wouldn’t permit it if he did show up.) He never made an appearance in these stories, personally telling the sinners, “You need to repent and come to me.” Never healed ’em of disease or addiction. These stories were simply of some wayward soul who realized, “Man, if I don’t clean up my act, I’m screwed,” and took the Jesus route to do it: Did the month of rehab, did the counseling, rejoined society, and nothing in the story which a a Christian would recognize—or a doubter would scoff at—as supernatural.

Yeah, some of these testimonies were no different than a person who decided to join a 12-step program. Or change their life by following a self-help guru. Or embrace the power of positive thinking. No evidence of God’s real, immediate, personal involvement. No God.

So I wouldn’t count these stories as proper Christian testimonies. Because when we read about testimonies in the bible, they’re about what people saw God do. Is 43.12 What Jesus’s followers saw him do. Jn 1.32, 10.25, Ac 4.33 What those who’d encountered Jesus experienced. Jn 4.39, 19.35 If it’s a real testimony about God, he’s gotta be in the story.

God is not an addition to the story, nor something we tack on to make it more spiritual. Just like the legal sense, testimony is about what we saw. If I tell a story about how I said the sinner’s prayer, how I quit sin and cleaned up my life, I could give God all the credit and glory, but I haven’t proven he did squat. I’m like a football player who credits God for my touchdown—and every sports reporter in the room just rolls their eyes, ’cause my athleticism might’ve been impressive, but it was hardly supernatural.

If my so-called “testimonies” don’t make people come away with “Whoa, God is awesome” on the one extreme, “Wow, has he lost his mind,” on the other, I’m doing ’em wrong. Our testimonies need to be about what God’s done, not us; and God needs to have actually done something. If he’s not in the story, don’t tell it.

“But that’s never happened to me.”

What if we’ve never had a supernatural experience like that?

That’s a fair question. Lots of Christians honestly haven’t. Usually because their churches, like the one I went to growing up, are cessationist. Or they claim they do believe miracles happen, or believe miracles can happen… but the problem is they really sorta don’t. They don’t expect them, don’t accept them, and dismiss every miracle story they hear. Show ’em an actual miracle, and they’ll freak out and have a crisis of faith, same as any pagan whose worldview just collapsed.

Others of us never really permitted God to do anything with us. We never sought the supernatural. We actually, actively avoided it. We dodged any church which was “too weird.” Whenever healers and prophets offered to pray for us, we ducked out. Whenever our audible prayers started to sound less like English and more like babbling, we seized control of our tongues immediately and shut that down. The only church ministries we ever got into were purely physical: Cleaning, giving to the needy, activities, social meetings, and never the prayer team. If it was too “spiritual,” it wasn’t for us.

Or we never got involved in such ministries in the first place, ’cause we’re not all that religious. We go to church on Sundays, and say grace over meals, and that’s about it. Otherwise we’ve never tried to follow the Holy Spirit. Still don’t know our bibles. Still fruitless. Still jerks, sometimes. (Or often.)

The stone-cold fact is unless we’re living the lives of active, obedient, devout, God-seeking Christians—or unless God drastically intervenes—we’re just not gonna have these experiences. Nor any testimonies of them.

So if you’ve had no such experiences, the obvious solution is to follow Jesus. Stop evading and start doing. Follow him, and you’ll wind up with an abundance of testimonies.

…Why do we need testimonies again?

Two reasons to have, and share, our testimonies. First and foremost it’s to share Jesus—with fellow Christians, and with pagans. Everybody.

Y’see, everybody doubts. Everybody. No exceptions. Pagans especially, which is why they’re not Christians. But even Christians doubt.

Lots of us pretend we don’t doubt. Sometimes we believe we’re not allowed to; that doubt is bad, or sin. For this reason, we need encouraging: We need fellow Christians—lots of fellow Christians—to stand up and say, “God did this for me.” We need proof of God’s activity. We need to see if we seek God, he’ll actually come through for us. ’Cause he came through for lots of people. Even people we know personally. Even screw-ups we know personally. And if God helped them, God’ll help us. Testimonies are a kick in the pants towards God.

When pagans hear our testimonies, sometimes they’ll doubt. “Yeah, right that happened to you.” Sometimes for good reason: Christians lie. Or exaggerate. Or spread rumors—unsubstantiated, wacky stories of amazing supernatural acts, and once you do a little basic fact-checking, you find they’re bunk. The “cured” person died of cancer; the “rescued” person was actually a character in a movie; the “near-death experience” is riddled with factual errors. This is why we gotta go out of our way to never lie nor exaggerate—and if you’re in the habit of sharing rumors you heard over the internet, stop it immediately. You’re ruining your reliability.

But as pagans get to know us—assuming we have good character—they’ll start to realize we’re not kidding. And not nuts. And if they hang out with us, they might even witness some of these God-experiences right along with us. That’ll convince ’em.

Second reason: Testimonies are for you too. ’Cause when you doubt, as you will, you have your testimonies. You can go back on all the things God’s done for you in the past.

Whenever I have a rotten illness, I remind myself of the times God healed me in the past. He has, you know. I prayed, and chronic pain was gone immediately. I prayed, and nausea vanished. I prayed for others too, and God fixed their eyes, or back pain, or headaches, or whatever else. I’ve watched others pray and God cure. He’s done it before; he can do it again.

But if you haven’t kept track of the times God answered prayer, or if you haven’t prayed for others and watched God respond, or if you haven’t watched faith-healers at work: It’s really easy to have no testimonies, and mire yourself in totally unnecessary (and unwarranted!) despair.

So collect testimonies. Fill your prayer journal with them.

Collect and share.

Once you have a God-experience, you have a testimony.

Make sure it’s a real experience. I’ve seen fake faith healers and fake prophets do a few carnival tricks, and they convince plenty of people God did something. Obviously I don’t share those stories. Don’t share, fr’instance, the story of someone who thinks they’ve been healed, but hasn’t got any physician’s confirmation. I’ve heard a bunch of premature, “I’m standing on God’s promises!” claims which came to absolutely nothing. Or “God cured my friend of his addiction!” but after I spoke to the friend, he confessed, “I’ve relapsed twice since.” Don’t jump on just anything which sounds impressive. Stick only with stuff you know to be true.

If you have doubts about whether you really had a God-experience, don’t make a testimony of it. Likewise don’t take a really small thing—“I had an ache, and I prayed for it, and later that day it was gone”—and claim God’s behind it when it could’ve just cleared up on its own. True, often God fixes things over time. But just as often, God fixes stuff immediately, and those are the stories to share. Exaggerate nothing.

Tell it honestly. Don’t worry about how “biblical” it is, or how much it sounds like other testimonies. If it’s really God, and it’s really true, and it glorifies him, how “biblical” it sounds, doesn’t matter. Every event recorded in the bible was out of the ordinary. Why shouldn’t God’s actions still be out of the ordinary?

Don’t worry about how long the story is. But if you find it bores people, or they usually want you to get to the point already, learn how to summarize. (Or stop sharing it so often.)

Practice your story on fellow Christians. They’ll appreciate hearing how God works in your life. We love testimonies. If you feel up to it, get up front of the church and share it with everyone.

Tell your story till it becomes natural for you to tell it. Just like any other anecdote you’ve told about yourself or your family. Then you’re ready to share it with pagans.

Be on the lookout for future testimonies. Every month or two, you oughta have a new experience, and therefore a new testimony. Your first one is gonna wear out, ’cause all your Christian friends have heard it. (You can still share it with pagans though.) The old audience needs new material. And if you’re following Jesus like you should, he’ll give you plenty of new material. Really, you should have more testimonies than you can keep track of.

How many testimonies should we have? Enough to shock and awe skeptics.

No, seriously. Skeptics can easily push away or ignore a person who has only one testimony. They can nitpick it to death, or blow off any miracle stories as exaggerations or fantasies. But when we have dozens of testimonies—including stuff which happened just last week—they’re entirely unprepared. They honestly won’t know what to do. They never prepared themselves for such a person. All the logical arguments they’ve learned so they can debate you about God: Stories about real-life experiences make these arguments totally useless. Half the time, they’ll make up some excuse to get away from you… and avoid you from then on. You’re too convincing, and they’d rather not believe.

But sometimes one of ’em will start following you around, on the off chance they’ll see something. And if you’re following God, they will.

Got it? Good. Start gathering testimonies!