If you have spent any amount of time in an evangelical church setting, you will be familiar with the practice of hearing and sharing one’s personal testimony: during a church service or within a small group, or even one-on-one, a committed believer shares his or her story of choosing to follow Christ. Testimonies vary in length and shock value, but each story is a powerful testament to the power of the Gospel and the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.
Although I have shared my personal testimony many times, my story never had much of a structure, so I was intrigued by the one suggested in a class we attended at our new church. Our task was to craft a 3-word testimony using the following parameters:
FIRST WORD = What were you like before you surrendered your life to Jesus as your Savior?
SECOND WORD = How did you come to understand the gospel and surrender your life to Jesus?
THIRD WORD = What change has occurred since surrendering your life to Jesus?
My three words came instantly, but after jotting them down I began to second guess my choices. My words lacked continuity and pizzazz. They were not united by a cute mnemonic or theme. In choosing one adjective, one noun, and one verb, I hadn’t even managed to settle on a consistent part of speech.
Somehow, my three instinctive words managed to be both boring AND messy.
I stuck with them.
I could have come up with words that were more clever or memorable, but they would not have been true to my testimony. My faith journey is not unlike the words themselves: ordinary, occasionally inconsistent, but still mine.
FIRST WORD: YOUNG
I cannot remember a time when Jesus was not part of my life. I was raised in a Christian home by parents who took me to church, who read the Bible with me and taught me that I was made by God, on purpose and for a purpose. I always knew I was loved by my Creator and that I would pursue a lifelong relationship with Him. I am sure I prayed “the sinner’s prayer” a number of times, and I always meant it. There is not a day in my memory when my heart (if not my actions) was fully surrendered to Him.
There have been times that I wished my “conversion” story was more sensational, that I had some wild past from which I was redeemed and that would inspire others to respond with their own decisions to follow Christ. I have come to recognize that this lack of a wild story is a gift. I have never had to experience a single moment without Jesus walking beside me. He captured my heart before I knew it needed capturing, and He hasn’t let go. The drama of my testimony lies in the generations that came before me as God was working in the lives of my parents and grandparents, paving the path for my own easy decision to surrender. A lack of fireworks in my story allows God to receive all the glory of my testimony as it points His authorship; I am but a small player in the story He is telling in my life.
SECOND WORD: CAMP
The simple faith of my youth was solidified in summers spent at church camp. It was there that I grew in my knowledge of the Lord and fell more deeply in love with Him. In the summer of 1994, at the age of 10, I sat in an amphitheater along with hundreds of other kids. A musician strummed his acoustic guitar to the tune of Our God Is an Awesome God. Smoke from a crackling bonfire swirled through the trees and into the diamond-studded sky. I was certain that God was present in that moment, and I accepted His gentle nudge to go public with my faith.
Later that summer, back at our home church “down the mountain,” I stood alongside our camp speaker in the chilled water of our church baptismal. With our large congregation as witnesses, I stumbled through a profession of faith and was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—buried with Christ and raised to walk in a new life. I mark that day, August 28 (today), as my personal “Christian birthday.” Each year on this day I spend some time with the Lord, thanking Him for His presence in my life, before that day and since.
THIRD WORD: ABIDING
I have continued to walk with the Lord in the twenty-nine years since my baptism. At times my faith has wavered, but God has remained faithful. He has kept me close through my occasional doubts and bouts of “talking the talk” more than I “walked the walk.” As I have abided in Christ, my relationship with Him has flourished—sometimes slowly, sometimes (often following a period of painful pruning) in spurts. He has met me in Scripture and deepened my passion for His Word. I have felt His nearness in my prayers, and seen Him in my children, and yearned for more of Him in every part of my life.
Each morning offers new opportunities to choose the Lord who has already chosen me. As I abide and grow I become less and less impressed with myself and the role I play in this testimony, and more enamored by—and grateful—to Him.
Heavenly Father, thank you for this testimony that is mine and mine alone. Forgive me for bemoaning its ordinariness. You are a Holy, Good, and Sovereign God and YOU DO NOT MAKE MISTAKES. Thank you for crafting the exact testimony I needed to surrender to your calling and spend this lifetime and eternity with you.