When I first started getting more involved in my church, and, in particular, first started getting more involved in missions and spending time with the youth, a topic that came up time and time again was personal testimonies. I would hear a lot of people talk about needing to be able to share the story of how you came into a relationship with Jesus and what has happened in your life as a result of that relationship. If possible, to compare and contrast the before and the after.
To be honest, I'm not sure I ever really got it. I have shared at least the outline of my personal testimony here before. It is an intensely personal thing and while incredibly important to me, I wasn't really sure what difference it would make to someone else. I viewed the act of sharing the personal experience as more important than what was actually said - opening myself and letting someone see something raw and undistorted by the "spin" I may put on things so people hear what I want them to hear (or so I don't reveal my true self). That I got. The idea of making yourself so vulnerable to someone else can really change the relationship. But, as I said, I didn't think the actual details were all that significant.
Recently, however, I am beginning to change my position on this. I have been making my way through the book of Acts and reading about Paul repeatedly sharing his testimony. Now, in fairness, Paul has a pretty dramatic testimony since it involves his transformation from Saul (who went out to round up early Christians) to Paul (who was sent by the Lord to spread the Word) during his conversation with God on the road to Damascus. Acts 9:1-19. But what is important to me is not that his testimony is so much more dramatic than most, but that he shared that testimony at seemingly every opportunity. He shared it in multiple prisons, he shared it in multiple cities, he shared it with commoners and he shared it with kings. He used it as a way to reach people that, for whatever reason, were not being reached in other ways.
Thinking about it made me look back to the reports of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man in Gerasenes. As soon as Jesus stepped ashore, he is met by this man who had not worn clothes or lived in a house for a long time. He lived in the tombs and had repeatedly been driven into solitary places. When Jesus asked his name, he replied "Legion," because many demons had gone into him. Luke 8:30. After Jesus had cast out the demons, the people from the town and the countryside came to see what had happened. Seeing that the person was dressed and "in his right mind", they could have had all sorts of reactions. They could have celebrated or been in awe of Jesus' power. At the very least you would expect that they would be impressed and invite Jesus to stay with them and to speak with them.
But that was not their reaction at all. The Bible tells us that they were afraid. Luke 8:35. Rather than asking Jesus to stay, "all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear." Luke 8:37 (NIV) Jesus left, as they requested, but he did not give up on trying to reach the people there. Although the man he had healed begged Jesus to go with him, Jesus sent him home, instructing him to "tell how much God has done for you." Luke 8:39 (NIV) And, he did just that - he "told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." Luke 8:39 (NIV) Jesus sent him to share his testimony to reach the people in that region that were too afraid to listen to Jesus himself.
I know that there are many other places in the Bible where the Good News is spread by the sharing of personal testimonies. These are just two examples that came to mind today. But they really have me rethinking this whole idea of the importance of being prepared to share your testimony. Although I suspect that there are few of us that can tell stories of having our demons cast into pigs to fall off of a cliff, or of being blinded for three days after having a conversation with God in the middle of the road, I think that all Christians have something to share. Even people that are just starting down this road and just getting their feet wet or just starting to get to know Christ have something that led them to that point. Being prepared to share that with others when the opportunity or need arises is important. I'm not comfortable at all with forcing the conversation or with sitting down with friends and neighbors and saying "let me tell you about why I am a Christian." But, I have been in a lot of unexpected situations where someone asks me about my beliefs or asks me about why I do certain things I do. At those times, I am always happy to be ready to share my testimony - be it the short version or the long version. And, I have found that sometimes this leads to the next step - with them asking additional questions and me being able to share more and more. In those situations, maybe I am reaching them in a way that going to a sermon, or picking up the Bible, wouldn't.