Testimony, even rephrased as bearing witness, is for court-room dramas and evangelical fundamentalist Christians circles. It shouldn’t be though. Peter tells us to be ready to answer any person who asks us why we believe (1 Peter 3:15). Simply put, giving your testimony is telling your story to answer the question of how God has worked, and continues to work, in your life.
Many Christians, are afraid of the “telling” bit (since speaking in front of people is horrifying). Others fear the “story” thinking that their testimony is boring. Some folk don’t know how to do it and others just do a bad job. This post will teach you how to give your testimony in any situation.
There are plenty of things that can ruin your testimony—a sinful life (1 Cor. 6), hypocrisy, hiding the truth (Matt 5:15), embracing this present world (1 John 2:15) but I’m not talking about that. I’m not even talking about false witnesses. Here, I’m talking about believers making honest mistakes while bearing witness.
For instance, you’ve missed the point if you spent all your time speaking about your life before trusting Christ. Stories about drugs, alcohol, sex, depression, pain, and prison might be part of your past but there is no reason to revel in them in your present. A good tip is to refer to your previous condition and beliefs only if they help relate God’s work in your life. Drop them if they’re only there to make your story interesting.
Also, some folk refer to something that happened which they, in retrospect, assign to God. Yes, God providentially works over all events but don’t confuse those events with God’s voice. Wide-eyed profession of God speaking through your puppy’s sad eyes, or a whispered voice in the wind, come off weird and are usually not helpful. Assign God’s activity to his actual actions; his words to the Word of God.
Lastly, it’s a problem if you never actually say what affected the change in you. The preacher’s message which triggered your trust is never reiterated. The ramification of the Gospel is never explained. No one knows why you’re telling your tale except to say that you have changed. Worst, they don’t even get a chance to be changed themselves!
The point of giving your testimony is to answer a (sometimes unasked) question: what is the reason for your hope in Jesus? Answer that!
First, Think Through Paul’s Testimony
Compare Acts 22 with Acts 26. In Acts 22, Paul is speaking to an angry Jewish crowd who wants him dead (Acts 21) while in Acts 26 we have an intimate audience comprised of a man who is fuzzy on the details of the debate (Acts 25:19, 20), another man who has a deep understanding of what’s been going on (Acts 26:27), and a group of Governors and servants (Acts 26:29,30).
The core of Paul’s story is Acts 9 but the details highlight the nuances of his defense. Note how he talks about his passion in Acts 22 but brings up a lot of theology and history in Acts 26. True, this is a big study in itself; for now, it’s helpful to simply take note of the differences.
Second, Prepare Your Testimony
Don’t wing it. You need to make sure that when you truthfully and honestly tell your story, that you remember the point. You’re not doing stand-up. You’re not telling a story to entertain. Take a lesson from the person who rehearses the facts with his attorney before taking the witness stand: be ready.
Third, Answer Three Testimonial Questions
- Where did God place you? Here is where people sometimes spend too much time getting into lurid details. Remember that we are complex beings—there is no single thread that you must pick up to unwind the pattern of your life. Note how Paul highlighted different aspects of his previous life depending on the audience.
- What did God reveal about himself? This is where you’re laying down the reason for the hope that is within you. It’s going to take time. In some audiences, things can be assumed (look at how Paul assumed certain details) in others not so much.
- What has God done in your life? The point of your witness is not how you went from saved to unsaved. God continues being a sure hope. Look how Paul talks about his commission in Acts 22 and his sufferings in Acts 26. Many Christians forget this part but it is key to bearing witness about what God has done and continues to do. He is currently molding us into the image unto his Son: our testimony should reflect that.
Fourth, Write (And Re-Write) your Testimony
True, you haven’t experienced all of God’s goodness (Phil 3:12). The purpose here is to objectively examine your witness statement. Are you spending too much time on your past? Are you clear on the Gospel? Frankly, writing also helps you figure out how to retell your story in a minute.
When you re-write it, how would you testify to a crowd of elderly believers? What if you were bearing witness to a seven-year-old? How does your testimony read if a 23-year-old unbeliever got his hands on it? What if the listener was an Iranian Muslim? Remember Paul who told the same story but highlighted different details.
Give Your Testimony
It’s sometimes scary to speak in front of an audience but you can bear witness to a couple of folk at a time. It shouldn’t be forced but storytelling is part of who we are. It is why we love storytelling at campfires. Plus, God has made you who were far off part of his family—if you’re 80 or 9, that bears telling. Do it!