Renewing Our Worship: Testimony

Just like in church, we need to start with a song —

All the colors of the rainbow
All of voices of the wind
Every dream that reaches out
That reaches out to find where love begins
Every word of every story
Every star in every sky
Every corner of creation lives to testify

For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
I’ll be a witness in the silences when words are not enough
With every breath I take I will give thanks to God above
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love

You can read the rest of the lyrics here. And here’s a marvelous a cappella version from the Quail Springs congregation.

A very long time ago, back when woolly mammoths roamed the earth, I was in college at David Lipscomb College, in Nashville. We were required to attend chapel every day, and most of the chapel services were entirely forgettable.

However, one day a young administrator, only recently graduated himself, spoke to the assembled students. He urged us to be evangelistic. Indeed, he said, we should all “witness” for Jesus.

The next day, he spoke again, and this time he was much more subdued. He apologized for suggesting that we should be witnesses for Jesus. After all, Jesus had long ago ascended to heaven, and we could hardly be witnesses of something we’d not seen ourselves.

We could tell he didn’t really mean it, and so we figured the college’s leadership had demanded that he apologize.

But, of course, the argument that we aren’t really witnesses is absurd beyond words. I mean, it assumes that God is entirely inactive in my life and so my knowledge of his work can only come from the testimony of others long dead. The argument thus requires that we be deists — that is, that we deny the present, visible activity of God. And, sadly enough, some in the Churches of Christ are indeed functional deists. That is, they deny that the Trinity has been active in this world since the First Century.

Fortunately, these men are very much in the minority, so much so that the use of “witness” and “testimony” no longer require an apology — although they do still raise eyebrows among my generation.

Nonetheless, because of our history of flirting with functional deism, we are not in the habit of having members “testify,” as is common in many evangelical churches. And so it’s important that we overcome our past and allow our members to share what God has done in their presence. After all, one reason God acts is to give us encouragement — which just has to be shared.

I have the pleasure and honor of knowing former Alabama head coach Gene Stallings and his late son, John Mark. John Mark was born with Down’s Syndrome, and Coach Stallings admits how difficult it was for him to adjust when John Mark was born. After all, Coach Stallings had already had two girls and was looking forward to having a son — an athlete to follow in his footsteps.

In Surprised by the Voice of God, by Jack Deere, Coach Stallings recounts how his attitude was changed. One night he heard a noise coming from Johnny’s room.

I immediately went to check on him. When I opened the door, I discovered not one, but two boys sitting in Johnny’s crib. They were playing a game known only to them and squealing with laughter. The other baby turned to me, looked into my eyes with a piercing glance, and then suddenlyl disappeared.

To this day, I believe with all my heart that God allowed me to momentarily see Johnny’s guardian angel to encourage me for the years that lay ahead.

Since that day, Coach Stallings came to accept and adore his son, and out that adoration grew a tremendous ministry of support for children with Down’s syndrome and for their parents. The good that Coach Stallings and John Mark have done is incalculable.

Not everyone has a story — a testimony — this powerful, but many do. God is actually quite well and quite alive among his people today, and many people have remarkably powerful stories to share. And there’s just no reason to deny the congregation these testimonies in the assembly — and every reason to encourage one another with the power of God made manifest.

There are lots of ways to do it. Some members can very capably stand before the congregation and tell their story. Others will prefer to write it out and have the preacher read it. Some will do best on a videotape — especially if the church has multiple services.

The important thing is that we create an atmosphere of trust — faith — in which we are prepared to believe that God still moves among us in mysterious ways.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

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7 Responses

  1. Great post, and a great idea, Jay. I would love to see this done in our congregations, but I’m afraid the whole atmosphere will have to change considerably in most churches before that can happen. A worthy goal to shoot for, anyway.

  2. Yesterday, elder/minister Alan Robertson preached a sobering message in the series “Learning to hate What God Hates” enititled “Wicked Imaginations”. After the sermon a young man gave his testimony of his struggle with pornography and how God had delivered him from that terrible trap. He received a standing ovation and God was praised.

    Hardly anything is more powerful than one’s personal story of God’s work in them.

    Royce

  3. I would love it if the Judds came led worship at our church! Another song called Love is the only house big enough for all the pain in the world by Martina Mcbride is very similar.

  4. The atmosphere doesn’t have to change all that much. I mean, if the preacher tells how God made a difference in his as part of the sermon, it’s a great, moving sermon. And I’ve heard some powerful ones.

    If the guy leading communion does the same, it’s a great meditation.

    If someone stands up to tell about God in his life at some other time, well, that’s sin. If a woman does, it’s apostasy.

    So just have the man giving testimony do so as part of the communion meditation.

    Or in response to the invitation —

    The first testimony I heard at my church was a long time ago. A young man was injured in a car wreck while passing through town. He spent many weeks in the local hospital, and the church pitched in and visited him and helped his family through the ordeal. Months later, after he’d recovered from his serious injuries, he came forward at the end of the sermon and asked to speak to the church. Who could say no?

    He not only thanked the church for its help, he told how God had worked through his injury and through members of the church to turn his life around and strengthen his faith despite his misfortune. It was dramatic beyond words. Men and women were in tears. And since then, testimony has not been controversial for us.

    We still don’t do it enough, but when we do, God moves powerfully among us.

  5. Martina in concert, singing Love’s the Only House —

    Marvelous!

  6. I get emails (and this is a good one) —

    Jay,

    Just finished your post on testifying. Because many of your correspondents seem so much more learned than I, I write you in email rather than in your comments section. You always have my permission to use anything of value which I write in any way you deem helpful.

    You really pushed a button with the testifying topic. I read somewhere that it was a shame that the devil had stolen that word from us and given it to the Baptists. How sad that so many of us believe this!

    Once my eyes were opened to the fact that God really lived in me in the form of His Spirit, I began to look for, and to see so clearly, evidence of His exquisite presence in more ways than I could have dreamed possible. (Hence my love for Ephesians 3:20.)

    Perhaps it was He who gave me the idea to open the Sisters’ class each week with the question, “How has God worked in your life this week?” It took a while, but gradually the Sisters and I began to recognize things that were happening for which there appeared to be no other explanation than Divine attention.

    There are no words to convey to you the excitement of that time of discovery among we women. (And a lovely side effect is that, once one has discovered that marvelous working, there is no going back to one’s former perspective.)

    I could speak for literally hours on the blessings of that discovery. God became more real and personal to us than we could have imagined. Being by nature (and nurture) an exceptionally positive-thinking person, I have become aware of an extraordinary number of God’s fingerprints on my life.

    One of the Sisters has asked me more than once why things always happen to me. The only answer I can come up with is that I continually look for blessings, and God knows I will recognize them ~ and tell everybody! And He does not disappoint.

    Could anything be more exciting than witnessing the Power of Creation working personally in your life? That thought is never far from my mind. I have witnessed the transforming power of the Holy Spirit up close and personal ~ in myself and many others!

    It is my firm conviction that, as faithful believers, we should feel compelled within ourselves to tell the stories of His work in our lives. My personal list of reasons for this is as follows: It is scriptural.

    How many times did God urge the Israelites and others to tell of what He had done for them? How many times do you think Paul gave testimony to what had happened to him? Also, when I hear myself tell of His working in my life, it reminds me ~ and strengthens my faith with each telling.

    And when you hear my stories (for that is what they are) and you know me to be truthful, your faith is strengthened and you will believe that He will work in your life as well. And in the telling, we deflect attention from ourselves and our own pitiful efforts ~ and glorify the One to whom the honor is due.

    It grieves me deeply that the leadership in my own church does not have the same view. I have actually heard a couple of the elders deride the very use of the word “testify”.

    I will spare you the rest of my sermon on the subject. Suffice it to say, I am glad you addressed the topic and will pray that your words will touch open minds and hearts ~ or open them as the need may be.

    Pat

    PS — I enjoyed the music you included!

  7. I just edited the main post to add a link to this marvelous a cappella version of “Testify” from the Quail Springs congregation: http://www.quailchurch.com/files/Download/1076url.mp3

    Enjoy!

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