Ad Clerum on Testimony
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:11)
There is something disarmingly powerful about a personal testimony. Trial lawyers know that having one or more eyewitnesses can easily make or break a court case and yet when it comes to matters of faith, we often find ourselves hesitant when it comes to “sharing our testimony.” It really isn’t that complex or difficult...it is simply saying publicly what we know to be true or have personally experienced...and yet we still find ourselves hesitant.
During our time at Virginia Seminary, students were encouraged to volunteer to design and lead “experimental liturgy” in the seminary chapel one Friday each month. As a rather brash first-year student, I decided to do just that and organized a small group of my classmates to lead a morning service. It was of a more contemporary, charismatic flavor than was the regular morning liturgy, but it seemed to be well received by the student body – although some of the faculty were less than impressed. My homily proved to be controversial for at least one professor; she objected to my use of personal testimony on the grounds that I had “trivialized the Gospel.” My story had involved an answered prayer that had been a source of great personal encouragement during a time of family crisis.
While I recognize that it is possible to treat God as nothing more than a good luck charm, I am convinced that God is just as interested in the details of our personal lives as in the creation and oversight of the entire cosmos. Jesus makes this point with his assertion that even sparrows are within the Father’s care: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”(Matthew 10:29–30)
The scriptures are full of personal testimonies. Perhaps the most memorable example is that of the apostle Paul, whose dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus is retold three times in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9:1–19, 22:6–21 and 26:12–18). His testimony sets a wonderful templat efor all of us. It is brief – just over 400 words, or about three minutes long. It is full of corroborating details...we know the road on which he was travelling and the names of the people who witnessed the events and even the comments they made. It is also unsparing in describing Paul’s callous behavior before his conversion and the dramatic change that he underwent.
Over the years I have heard many such testimonies. For example, Chris, a member of our congregation in Lafayette, Louisiana, was a highly gifted teacher with a number of academic credentials, but his gifts did not seem to serve him well at home. He had already separated from his first wife and children, and now the same patterns were starting with his second wife. One day as he was walking across his school campus, he decided to go into the chapel. It was a very traditional building with a large cross and Corpus of Christ on the front wall. He had looked at it hundreds of times, but this day he saw it with new eyes.
Chris was suddenly struck by the thought that it was his arrogance, his pride – his sins that had nailed Christ to the Cross. He began to weep. He began to sob and wail so loud that he temporarily lost his voice. As he knelt there he resolved to start afresh – to recommit his life, his marriage, and his teaching career to Christ. After a while he left the chapel to go back to his classroom, but he did so as a new man. Sometime later I talked with both Chris and his wife and they both acknowledged that something remarkable and supernatural had happened in that chapel – Chris had been born anew!
In my own family we have had a number of remarkable testimonies. When we first moved from England in 1967, we made our home in Darien, Connecticut. Our closest family members were two second cousins in Canada. My career was very time consuming and Angela was kept busy and somewhat isolated caring for our three small children. Although she had grown up in the church, her relationship with God was somewhat distant and, at times, she felt desperately alone. One day, she saw what seemed to be a sinister face peering through the dining room window. Terrified, she cried out to God, “If you are real, Jesus, please show yourself!” To her great delight the face changed, and it was replaced by a strangely familiar face that filled her with peace. The following Sunday at morning worship she noticed that the bulletin cover had a depiction of the Christ figure carved in stone, and it was the very same face! Encouraged by this remarkable turn of events, she found herself greatly comforted by the knowledge that God had heard her cries. Her loneliness never returned.
Our daughter Rachel has had many such encounters. One time we were flying out of Phoenix, Arizona, on a regional jet, and the final escalator down to the plane was very narrow. We were pulling our wheeled carry-on bags behind us but Rachel failed to adjust to the narrowness of the escalator and her bag became stuck at the top and pulled her down. As she fell, the metal teeth dug into the backs of her legs. Shocked and in pain, she cried out. By now Angela and I were at the bottom of the escalator and could see what was happening – we begged to her to pull herself up before she reached the bottom. She did so just in time. As we stood in front of the plane door with both of Rachel’s legs gashed and all of us in shock, we prayed for wisdom and healing for Rachel. Should we get on the plane or go get help? We decided to go forward. Angela and Rachel were seated on the opposite side of the plane from me, one row forward, and I watched her intently. She was very pale but seemed to be looking out of the window and talking to someone. She appeared comforted and no longer in pain. Afterwards she told me that she had seen someone in white robes, outside of her window, who had told her that Jesus would heal her. When we arrived at our destination there were no marks on her legs – she had indeed been healed!
One of the marks of the early church and also of many of the revivals that the church has experienced has been the resurgence of personal testimonies. They often stretch our minds and have no simple, rational explanations, but they remind us that we serve a living God who does not operate within the narrow confines of our rather limited minds!
To God be the glory – great things He has done – and still does!