Many Christians struggle with their own testimonies. Our stories are boring, uninteresting, and mundane—or so it often seems to us. Who would listen to us even if we did share?
What often qualifies as “interesting” is the sort of thing someone would write (and read) a book about: ex-felons, ex-addicts, ex-something-or-others. We are all sinners saved by grace, and yet, as unclean and broken as we may be, many of us haven’t gone a day in our lives not knowing about God. Often we describe our testimonies in terms of reshaping or renewing our current faith: we are reminded of the sin we have, or convicted of the sin we didn’t see, and now we can return to the gospel we’ve known all our lives. It isn’t so much a 180° change as a couple of degrees at a time.
We’re suckers for big and loud stories—look at the film industry for evidence—and so we tend to write off anything that doesn’t fit that pattern. We don’t volunteer to tell people we grew up in the church and asked Jesus into our hearts as soon as we learned to speak. Who would find that story anything but boring?
The solution isn’t to seek a more powerful testimony—let’s not sin that grace may abound—but to expand our understanding of what constitutes a beautiful testimony. We can describe those who grew up in the church as spared from the horrors of the criminal life, but this story feels empty. The negation isn’t nearly so powerful as the positive expression: we are saved from the damnation we earned by the great grace of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Of course we desire to be remembered, to be seen as moving examples of the grace God can provide. The examples trumpeted stand out in the wide course of history, especially those saved through harrowing circumstances: Paul’s persecution of Christians, Augustine’s many sexual sins, right on up to the teenage-atheist-turned-30-something-Christian C. S. Lewis. We see that great Christians of the past have often come from broken places.
No Ordinary Christians
This emphasis on dramatic testimonies can be harmful, though, despite the intention to inspire us. While these testimonies can encourage us to look and see the greatness of God, we tend to only see God’s grace manifest in those who have been saved from what appears to be much. If we took for our role models “ordinary” Christians—local pastors and elders, our parents and professors, our peers—perhaps we’d be more capable of seeing God’s explicit and awesome grace in our “ordinary” lives.
I don’t recommend removing the historical “greats” from our studies, nor should we discount the explosive testimonies we so often hear. Rather, we ought to broaden our understanding of what makes for a compelling story of grace.
Every Christian has a redemption story. Whether you are saved from cocaine addiction or a prideful heart, from deep in a prison cell or the comfort of your suburban home, your story is filled with grace. If we can’t see the beauty of a redemption story, the problem isn’t with the story: the problem is with us.
After all, every story of redemption is one so powerful that Christ died to fulfill it.