Eleven years ago, a youth pastor said a phrase to me that has completely changed the way I view things. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever had one story, one phrase, one moment completely change your perspective?
I grew up in a small church that still sang hymns from the hymnal and had a choir in robes behind the pulpit. Growing up, faith felt like a lot of work and rules designed to make people think you were “good”. The better people thought you were, the harder it was to be human – to ask for help and let people know where you were hurting or struggling. It all added up to fake smiles on pretty faces.
When I went to college, I started at a new church and grace was everywhere!
All were welcome. There was no story too gross for God or that church. It was beautiful and authentic. It was real and alive. I was all in.
Knowing I did not have to be pretty enough or put together enough was a huge relief and removed the last barrier in my heart.
I went from believing intellectually in God to believing personally in God. The missing piece had always been Grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
I had always seen salvation as John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I wrongly interpreted this to mean I had to be good enough for God. The truth is, I can never be good enough to earn my salvation which is why Jesus had to take my place.
Most often I find that Christians err on the side of perfection rather than progressive sanctification. We walk the straight and narrow, afraid to be fully known rather than being honest, gritty, and embracing the grace given on the cross.
Testimonies, for example, expose the very depth of God’s love for us. They are to be a humbling thing for us – glorifying God and sharing what He has ransomed you and I from.
Sadly, in many cases, they glorify the self rather than the Saviour and even sadder still, I recently encountered a church where testimonies were a tool used to glorify the programing of the church with little emphasis on the power of Jesus. Somewhere along the way testimonies have become a source of pride.
In my family church and many “old school” churches, the “best” testimony to have is a “pretty” one. A story about being saved as a child and living a “good” life, which I would say looks most like the life led by the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
My church in college was so grace-filled that the opposite happened. Grimy, dark testimonies became coveted, and the people saved at a young age almost felt envious of them.
I once heard someone say, “I wish I had a more compelling testimony,” as her one started with “I accepted Jesus as my Saviour at 7 years old”.
I was shocked. There were things in my testimony I still could not say out loud.
I gently reminded her that her story was just as compelling as mine, and she had the privilege of experiencing the fullness of God for more years than I had, and she did not carry the shame that Satan had used to keep me stuck.
In an effort to avoid falling into the prideful trap of testimony glory, I decided to never give mine publicly. But God said “no”.
Eleven years ago, I was co-leading a middle school girls’ bible study. They were already working through a book about challenges a teenager would encounter when I joined the leadership team.
At the end of the book study, we (the leaders) were to give our testimonies. I prayed, “what would you have me share with these girls, God?” I thought I would share the importance of not letting a boy dictate your path so early in life. Instead, God told me to share the one thing I still could not say out loud.
I, of course, said “No, thank you. Let’s pick something else. Mean girls, drugs, giving yourself time to figure out what you want to be – anything, I’ll talk about anything but that.” And God said, “No, I want you to talk about that.” It was the first time HIS conviction had flooded my heart and mind so strongly that I was almost sick to my stomach.
I decided that before I shared such a painful reality with these sweet innocent girls, I should talk to my co-leader and the youth pastor.
I told them how insistent I felt God had been about sharing the root of my testimony and not just the fruits. It may have been the first time I ever shared the whole story.
Nathaniel, the youth pastor, took my hands in his and said, “Sarah, you are focusing on the wrong part of the story.” Instantly, I felt the weight of shame lift.
God loves me so much that He humbled Himself, put on flesh, lived a perfect life, and willing died at the hands of the people He came to save. He bore the wrath meant for me – completely separated from the Father – so that I could be completely reconciled to the Father. That is the part of the story we should focus on.
Dear Friend, do you feel your testimony lacks compelling detail? Or that God cannot use you for big things because you were just a kid when you were saved and have lived a relatively boring life? Or do you feel that your past is so gross, so dark, so far off the beaten path that God could not use such an ugly story to change hearts?
Jesus hung on the cross for all of us, the battered, the bruised and the unblemished. It is easy to get stuck in the past or to find some weird pride in it, but your past is the reason for the cross.
Somewhere in everyone’s testimony, whether you are the older brother or the prodigal son, God shows up.
Every testimony is compelling because Jesus shed as much blood in taking on your sin, as much as He did taking on mine.
He ransomed you from the well-earned and much deserved judgment and wrath, and He would do it all over again if it meant He got to spend eternity with you.
What part of your story are you focused on? If you are a believer, are you letting your past keep you from seeing who you really are in Jesus: a sinner in need and a new creation by His blood?
If you are a skeptic or maybe ambivalent towards God, are you missing the point, and expecting it to look different or waiting on it to be like you think it should?
Do not miss what God is doing or what He is saying, because you are focused on the wrong part of your story. It’s something I remind myself in every valley and on every mountain top in my life.
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