testify, brother*

keyhole crossLast night at Bible Study**, someone brought up the topic of giving personal testimonies.  Again.

After a childhood of summercamp and round-the-campfire starlit testimonies, I am highly skeptical of the personal testimony.  The practice of standing up and speaking to one’s personal journey from darkness to light always reeked, to me, of self-congratulation and “God-has-been-so-good-to-me-and-you-can’t-beat-my-story”.

I googled “campfire testimonies” and came across a daunting collection of videos on Godtube, as well as church retreat itineraries with time allotments for testimony sharing.  I used to dread this kind of thing at youth group events and summercamp.  I felt inadequate, lacking a transformative story that involved a) sunsets and deep canyons, b) near-death experiences, and c) complete, unequivocal assurance that I knew exactly what God wanted for the rest of my life.

But one of our Bible Study members has been harping for testimony time, both in our weekly study and in the church service, and she elaborated on her reasoning last night:

  • Testimonies are a way for us to learn from the suffering and experience of others, without having to go through near-death experiences ourselves.
  • Testimonies speak to God’s greatness, if recounted in such a way as to NOT seem like they are speaking to an individual’s greatness.
  • Testimonies are something to learn from.  As my Bible Study mate explained, she still struggles as a new Christian to learn that her priorities are 1) God, 2) her husband, and 3) herself.  She admitted that too often numbers 2 and 3 are reversed, and she struggles to be a better wife who also serves God.  She wants to hear from Christians who are doing a better job of juggling the priorities of God, others, and self, and she wants to learn from the testimonies of people who have made progress on sorting that out.

I can understand these reasons.  I can also, perhaps, listen with slightly more open ears the next time I am being eaten by mosquitoes around a campfire while listening to someone talk about their “Road to Damascus” moment.  And I could not roll my eyes when someone yearns for testimonies during the church service.

Lesson learned.

* (and sister)

** I hadn’t read the whole chapter and was feeling sheepish.  Damn you, Google Books and your access restrictions.

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