I grew up in a church tradition that put a strong emphasis on personal witnessing of Christ. You never knew when the Lord might “call upon you” to “give your personal testimony.” There was not much clarity about what that meant, or how to accomplish it. I will say that our Sunday evening church services were dedicated to singing hymns and “giving testimony,” which seemed to me to be a bunch of people standing up to give a list of things they were apparently grateful for in what seemed to me to be a very dour manner.
As a result of these instructions and modeling, I recognized that my own “personal witness” was not very compelling. If I didn’t find laundry lists of how the Lord had met me very compelling myself, why would some non-Christian? Come to think of it, didn’t everyone get “met” in these ways? To top it off, the sense of “being ready at any time” to give my testimony made me feel as though there could be a heavenly pass/fail pop quiz at any moment and gave me an anxiety when hanging around unbelievers.
This has been slowly changing for me in a couple of ways. The first is that I’m truly grateful to the Lord for what he has done for me. Gratitude expressed in humility begets joy. Suddenly when I talk about “what the Lord has done” it’s neither abstract nor passionless–it’s personal and filled with joy. When that happens, our personal testimony is compelling because it doesn’t just tell you about Jesus–he inhabits our testimony, and that is truly Good News.
The other change is that I’m realizing how compelling Jesus really is! Earlier in the week I was reading the story of Zacchaeus. From what little we know, Zacchaeus had only heard about Jesus, but from what little he’d heard, Zacchaeus had to see him! So this self-important, wealthy, prominent and yes, probably hated tax collector, knew nobody was going to let him to the front of the line to catch a glimpse–so he climbed a tree. Imagine his surprise when Jesus stops, calls him out by name and tells him he is hosting the Son of Man that afternoon! Then, hearing all the snide comments being made, Zacchaeus gives half of his wealth away, and offers restitution to any he has cheated. This response to Jesus is Zacchaeus’ salvation. (Read Luke 19:1-10 for the full story.)
Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about our testimony, even when we’re being challenged by people who are hostile to him (see Luke 21:13-15). What he wants is for us to live our lives seeking after him. Our response to him is our testimony, but it is giving that testimony in a way that is filled with Jesus’ presence that makes it the Good News.