I don’t remember wincing when I heard the word testimony until I was in college. At my home church we would occasionally have someone “offer their testimony,” as we called it, but to be honest, I don’t remember much about these presentations. They would take place during a worship service. Someone would stand and tell their personal story of faith. Everyone would listen politely. I must not have been listening too closely or I would remember more!
My freshman year in college our Baptist Student Union sponsored a presentation by a speaker who was famous at the time, at least among campus Christians. The fellow was going to give us his testimony, the advertising poster announced, and the outline of his presentation was: I. My life without God (addiction); II. How Jesus found me; III. My life now. A standard Christian testimony outline. The thing was, in 30 minutes he must have quoted 50 verses of scripture. And dropped the names of more scholars than I could count. As I listened I felt intimidated by the guy’s intelligence, his knowledge of the Bible and his conviction that one’s faith must be footnoted. Extensively. I remember my nineteen-year-old response was, “I could never do that.” (Aside—years later Buddy Shurden would teach me what the famous preacher James Denney once observed, “You cannot convince people at the same time that you are clever and that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.” But that’s another discussion.)
After that evening I began to wince whenever “testimony” was mentioned. After all, my story wasn’t juicy enough, I didn’t know the Bible well enough, I hadn’t read enough to back up my opinion with scholarly evidence, so I hoped to goodness no one would ask for my testimony.
Until one day a wise pastor pointed me to the story in John 9 about a blind man who Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Jesus’ enemies then tried to make him Exhibit A proving that Jesus was a sinner who in no way, shape or form came from God.
The formerly blind man offers his testimony a couple of times. In verse 11,
He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
And in verse 25 he exclaims
“One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
“Who did this?” Jesus’ enemies demanded to know. “How is it you are not blind any longer?” The fellow responds, “I’m not going to get into a theological debate with you. I’m not qualified for that. All I can tell you is this morning I was blind, now I can see.”
Here’s a testimony that doesn’t make people wince. “I used to be that way. Jesus found me. Now I am this way.” It’s a pretty good outline for you and me. “You are the world’s number one authority on our own life,” the pastor explained to me. “And while the Bible is important, it’s your story that people want to hear first.” He advised me, “Let the formerly blind man in John 9 be your model, and don’t ever hesitate to tell someone what Jesus is doing for you.”
Oh, there was one more important thing he told me that day. “Telling your story in a church service to a gathering of people who are already following Jesus isn’t that big a deal. What really matters is when one person you’ve gotten to know asks, ‘Why is it that you seem different?’ What you say next,” he explained, “is a real testimony.”