While you are listening to my testimony, I hope that your attention will be fixed on what Yahweh God has done. In giving a testimony, my fear is that the attention may be focused on the person giving the testimony and not on God Himself. If you are merely fascinated with the experiences in themselves, that would be to miss the point. But if what God has done in my life moves you to say to yourself, “If God can do that for him, He can also do it for me,” then you are listening to my testimony in the right way.
Many people, after reading of Paul’s experiences in the Bible, say to themselves, “Only great men like the apostle Paul can experience God so abundantly. God would never do for me what He had done for Paul.” If that were so, it would be pointless to read the Bible because none of it would apply to us directly. The Bible would be nothing more than a compilation of historical accounts of great men like Paul and Elijah. But James says that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). Yet this same Elijah was one of the greatest of the prophets. Yahweh answered his prayer on Mount Carmel by sending down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:38). Has it ever occurred to you that God might want you to do the same? After all, Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.
Long before that incident on Mount Carmel, Elijah had already declared that there was to be no rain in Israel for a few years (1 Kings 17:1). This was an act of judgment against Israel for rebelling against Yahweh God. Sure enough God held back the rain for three and a half years until that memorable day on Mount Carmel when Elijah prayed for rain to come down (1 Kings 18:1,45). God used one man—a man who shared our nature and even our weaknesses—to bring Israel back to Himself. If you pray as Elijah did, God can use you just as powerfully. In this generation, we desperately need people who know how to walk with God and through whom God can do mighty things.
A Testimony ~ not an autobiography
Before I go on with my testimony, please allow me to point out that this is not meant to be an autobiography. An autobiography is the life story of a particular person, and that person is the center of the story, so details about the place and date of his birth, his family background, his education, his achievements, and details of other events, fill the story. But a testimony is totally different: it testifies to God and what He has done, so He (not the speaker) is the center of all that is said. This means that a testimony and a biography are totally different in character: one has God as its center and the other has man as the center. It may be possible to try to make an autobiography more God-centered, but then it will probably become a kind of mixture of testimony and autobiography. My point in saying all this is that in giving this testimony my aim is that I will only serve as a mirror, so that when you look at the mirror you will see the glory of the Lord and not the mirror.
When you look at the Gospels you will see that they are not biography in the proper sense of the word but a testimony to what God was doing in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself. It is in fact not even possible to write a biography of Christ because even the date of his birth is not mentioned in the Gospels; there is also no mention of his childhood, nor any details of his life before the age of about 30, with the one exception of a spiritually important incident when he was 12 years old. The Gospels report only on the final three years of his earthly ministry, and a large proportion of the Gospels is concerned to report the events of the last week which led up to his death and resurrection. Why is this so? It is because it was God who was mightily at work through Christ to accomplish His plan for man’s eternal salvation. Through the Scriptures we learn that God through Christ (Colossians 1:16) brought creation into being, and that this was accomplished in six days (Genesis 1); and from the Scriptures we also learn that He brought mankind’s redemption into being through Christ in those final six days of Christ’s earthly ministry. The Gospel of John mentions that six days before the Passover, Jesus was anointed at Bethany by Mary in preparation for his burial (John 12:1-3,7); and Christ himself was the Passover Lamb, as the apostle Paul has said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1Corinthians 5:7).
There is a second thing I wish to make clear: It is my aim that in my testimony, there must be no exaggerations. That is a principle by which I work. If I cannot recall something very accurately, I would rather not talk about it because I might misrepresent or even exaggerate it. Some people who hear the testimonies think, “Wow, these things are too amazing; perhaps they are exaggerated.” I assure you, and as the Lord is my witness, I exaggerated nothing, because an exaggeration is, in a certain important sense, a lie. It is not true. You have made the thing bigger than what it really is, and that is a falsification. Now, you will notice again the same principle in the Gospels: there is no exaggeration. Often a very important thing is said just as though in passing:
As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (Luke 7:12-15).
The actual event of raising a person from the dead is reported in four short verses! You cannot report such an amazing event in a shorter and less dramatic way than that. Would a modern news reporter write like that? Anybody familiar with literature will say, “You have to polish the story up; describe the details more fully, make it more interesting, more sensational.” Many preachers do that to this story; they may not be exaggerating (it is hard to make a resurrection more significant than it already is!); they just want to make a nicer story out of the short Gospel report. But the point to notice is that the Gospels themselves don’t do that, and I will try to follow the Gospel in this respect also, though I may not always be successful in this because we all tend to get carried away by the remembrance of remarkable events. But we must under no circumstances add in anything that was not originally there. Any kind of falsehood is displeasing to our holy God.
We are all called to be witnesses
Another thing I would like to say is that what I am doing through giving my testimony is simply witnessing. Witnessing is something that every Christian can do and every Christian should do. You may or may not be able to preach. That doesn’t matter. You can witness, and you must witness. So don’t say to yourself, “Oh, he is the one who does all the witnessing.” No, no. I am just setting an example for you to follow because (I emphasize this point again) every Christian can witness and must witness. What is a witness? A witness is somebody who has seen something or experienced something and tells you what he or she has seen or experienced. Now, if you are a true Christian, you must have experienced God in some way or other. How did you become a Christian if God hadn’t changed your life? If He had changed your life, you would have experienced something important: you experienced the miracle of being changed. And if you have been changed, then that is what you can witness to. You can say, “I was like this before, and now the Lord has made me into a new person. I didn’t suddenly change for some unknown reason; God did something in my life, and this is what I want to tell you about.”
A Witness has First-hand Experience
A witness is somebody who has first-hand experience. For example, witnesses are called when a case is tried in a court of law. The witness has to be someone who has first-hand knowledge of that particular case. In the same way, anyone who has had first-hand experience of God can be a witness. If you only have second-hand faith (that is a faith built on someone else’s faith) you cannot witness. “My friend believes, so I believe because he believes; he got baptized, so I got baptized with him.” That is second-hand faith. When people do not have first-hand experience of God, then they have nothing to witness about Him.
This point is very important. If every Christian were witnessing for Him, the church would be growing. I have often said that you should make it your minimum aim to witness to one person a year—to bring one person to church per year. How many Sundays are there in a year? Fifty-two or fifty-three Sundays, depending on the year, right? If in 52 Sundays you can’t bring one person to church, then what is the problem with your faith? But if every member in the church brought one person to the church, what happens to that church in one year? It would have 100% growth. The church would have doubled in one year. Did your church double in size this year? Yes? Probably not. Then somebody is not witnessing, perhaps most people in the church are not witnessing. Maybe you tried to witness but nobody wanted to listen; perhaps your witness carried no punch, no quality, no weight. Nobody wants to listen to it. Well, then you had better take a good look at your Christian life and say, “Is there something wrong with me? What is happening here?”
In the Bible, the Christian is called “saint”. Very few believers today would dare to think of themselves as saints or as holy. Yet we see in Revelation 14:12 that the saints are the witnesses for Jesus. In other words, if you are a true Christian, you are a witness for Jesus. Are you a witness for Jesus or not? So, I don’t just want to give you my testimony and you say, “This guy has a lot of unusual experiences.” That is not very important. What is important is whether I can motivate you to do the same thing I am doing. Now, you may not have known the Lord for quite so long. You may not have many experiences to recount. How does it matter? If you have one experience to recount, keep recounting it until you have two experiences to recount. And when you have two experiences, you keep on telling everybody about the two experiences until you get three. And then your story gets longer and longer, you have more and more to testify to the Lord about and bring glory to Him.
In order to be a witness we must live a victorious life in Christ
But more importantly, this is what I would like to share with you: most Christians don’t live victoriously, and did you know that testifying for Jesus is a way to live victoriously? Did you realize that? You can see that in Revelation 12:11, “They overcame him (the devil, v.9) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” How did they overcome the evil one? Through two things: The blood of Jesus and their testimony for Jesus. Many people know about relying on the blood of Jesus, but that is not quite enough. That is only one thing. The other is witnessing for Jesus. They overcame the evil one by telling everybody about their experience of Jesus and the way Jesus has changed their lives. Now, go and tell people about that. Go out there and keep witnessing to the Lord and you are going to discover that you have victory. Maybe that is why the church is so full of defeated Christians, and why the church never grows; people don’t witness for the Lord and so they are defeated and wallow in their defeat.
The importance of witnessing compared to preaching
Is preaching easy or difficult? Preaching and teaching is relatively easy if it is just a matter of repeating knowledge that you have learned. In this connection, there is something available in North America which I find quite astonishing: I received some literature from a publisher that guaranteed that if I paid them a certain amount every month, they would provide me with a message to preach every Sunday. I find it hard to believe that something like this can exist in the churches. I began to realize that there must be thousands of pastors who are receiving this kind of literature from this kind of publisher, and they are preaching messages that they did not prepare, but are simply repeating something written by someone else. So on Sunday they just repeat a message that was received through the post! There should not be anything very difficult about that.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with repeating a good message if it truly meets the needs of a particular church at a particular time. But if preaching or teaching is nothing more than repetition of knowledge, then it is something merely of the head not of the heart. When I preach, I preach from the heart. That is why it burns me out; I pour my life out through it. I don’t preach from the head only. If anyone thinks that what I preach are intellectual messages, they don’t understand my preaching. I preach from the heart or I don’t preach at all. When you preach like this you will find that it drains your strength. If you can preach five messages and don’t feel tired, you’ve got a problem: You must be preaching from the wrong place, certainly not from the heart.
Preaching can be just a matter of repeating knowledge or theory, but witnessing has to be a matter of life—something you have truly experienced. If you haven’t experienced it, you can’t witness to it; but you can preach on the things which you have never experienced. You can, for example, talk about dying with Christ and rising with Christ until your mouth is dry, but you may not have experienced these yourself. In other words, you don’t have to experience these things in order to preach them, but you have to experience those things if you are going to be a true witness. So again, I encourage you to witness. If you don’t know how to preach, don’t worry about it, but witness in order to be victorious in Christ.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church