Give Me a “J” Chapter-6

Part 2

The Conversation

Chapter 6

Your Story

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom He has redeemed from the hand of
the enemy.
—Psalm 107:2

When I was seven, in 1947, my family moved to a small farm near Oak Grove, Louisiana. One Sunday our pastor, Brother Dewey Mercer, announced that a brush-arbor revival was going to break out the following week. An evangelist from Texas would be the preacher. Something in me stirred. I was only seven, but I knew I was a sinner. “All have sinned,” I remembered from Romans 5:12 (KJV).

We arrived for the first night of the revival to find a makeshift church set up in the parking lot. We sat under a roof of boards, tree limbs, and brush held in place by a dozen slim poles, each topped by a naked light bulb. The preaching came fast and forceful, ending with a call from the evangelist for sinners to step to the pulpit and be saved.

I started to go forward, but my mother grabbed me by the shirt. “You’re cutting up, son,” she said. She wouldn’t let me go. And I couldn’t blame her. I had wiggled all through the service, but it was the wiggling of impatience and excitement rather than that of boredom or inattention. No one had ever been more anxious to get up and be counted for Christ, but I couldn’t convince my mother to let me.

On the ride home I asked Mom, “Why wouldn’t you let me go up to the front with the others?”

“Why did you want to go?”

“I wanted to be saved!”

“We’ll be back tomorrow night, and the same fellow will be preaching.”

“But I want to be saved tonight!”

Dad, who had been unresponsive up till this point, suddenly screeched our truck to a halt in the middle of the road. He shifted into reverse, backed up, and wheeled toward the brush arbor. I knew that ribbon of road was leading me straight to Christ. I had always loved Jesus and wanted to live for Him. But on this night, for the first time, I felt lost and separated from Jesus. I was aware of my need and immediately wanted Jesus in my life forever.

Brother Mercer and the evangelist were still in the parking lot when we returned. After Dad talked to them, the two preachers came over to me. “All you have to do, son, is ask Jesus into your heart,” the evangelist said. “Accept Him as your Savior and know that He died on the cross for you. Then you can be saved, right here, right at this moment.” “I’m ready.”

We knelt and I repeated each line of the brief prayer offered by the evangelist. “Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. I ask Jesus to come into my heart and live in my life forever. Make my home heaven. Thank You, Jesus.”

My sin washed away, I went to sleep that night knowing that Jesus was my best friend and that He always would be. And He always has been.

That period of about an hour or so was the only time in my life when I have ever felt lost and separated from Jesus. I have had the privilege of living with Jesus all my life.

Making Life with Jesus Personal
You have just read my testimony, my story of coming to Jesus. I started sharing it with others the very day after I accepted Christ. I told my friends and even my dad—who had not yet fully committed his life to Jesus—about how I had been changed by God.

I’ve been telling the same testimony ever since. You might not think that the testimony of a seven year old praying with an evangelist at church would have much of an impact. But that hasn’t stopped me from sharing it with effect with all kinds of people, including gatherings of Hell’s Angels and terrorists. Why? Because it’s the truth; and the truth always has power.

It isn’t the length of the story or your storytelling
ability that matters most; it is your
honesty about your experience with Jesus.

Let me strongly encourage you, when you are sharing Jesus with an unbeliever, to tell your own story of coming to Jesus. Sometimes you might go into considerable detail about coming to know Jesus and about your life with Him.

Other times, you might be far less circumstantial. It isn’t the length of the story or your storytelling ability that matters most; it is your honesty about your experience with Jesus.

Sometimes, in a brief encounter with an unbeliever, I have offered nothing more in the way of a testimony than words like “I have experienced Jesus, and you can too.” And I have found that saying even as little as that can grab people’s attention. For example, I have been sharing Jesus in Europe, where for many the Christian faith is just an archaic set of traditions, and when I say that I have a personal relationship with God Almighty, people will stop and say, “Really?!”

When I simply say that I talk with God in prayer, people of other religions are often amazed. Many Muslims, for example, believe that God quit speaking with people after Muhammad died. And many Jews connect the idea of talking with God only with the elders of their faith, such as Abraham and Moses. So the idea that I have a personal relationship with God and talk to Him brings them up short. They are ready to listen to what I have to share about Jesus.

Should you fail to share your personal testimony, unbelievers might think that what you are saying about Jesus is merely a philosophy or a theory. But you want them to know that following Jesus is personal and that it is life changing. You can do that by telling what following Him has meant to you.

Next to your testimony of who Jesus is (we’ll be getting to that in the next chapter), the most powerful thing you can share with people is your own personal testimony of knowing Christ.

We Cannot but Speak
Offering a testimony about one’s own experience with Jesus is not just good advice; it is a biblical pattern.

Indeed, it seems that when people met Jesus during His time on earth, they couldn’t stop talking about Him. The same should hold true for us when we have met Him, for our experience of Him is just as real even though it has not occurred face to face. “We also believe and therefore speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13).

The Gospels are full of stories about people encountering Jesus. Those are stories that were passed around for years until they were recorded by one or more of the Gospel writers. Clearly those events had a big impact on the people involved, and since then they have had a big impact on all of us who have heard or read them. Several times the Gospels explicitly tell of people sharing with others about Jesus.

The woman whom Jesus met at a well in Samaria ran back to her village and started talking about Jesus with everyone she could find. What was the result? “Many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did’” (John 4:39).

On another occasion, after Jesus had healed a man who had been blind from birth, religious officials expressed their disdain for Jesus because they didn’t know where He was from. The newly sighted man boldly stated, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes!” Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. “If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John9:30-33).

When Jesus cast demons out of a man in the region known as the Decapolis, the man wanted to go with Jesus. “However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’ And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled” (Mark 5:19-20).

The book of Acts records the story of the conversion of Saul—later called Paul the apostle—no fewer than three times (Acts 9:1-19; 22:1-21; 26:1-23). Two of these are actually accounts of Paul himself sharing the story with others. At critical moments in his life (when on the verge of being mobbed in the temple and when standing trial before a national leader), he chose to recount his story of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus.

When Peter and John were ordered to cease preaching about Jesus, they retorted, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). May that be our attitude, too!

Testifying Is for Everyone
As we saw in the biblical examples, sharing with others about one’s experience with Jesus is for everyone: new believers and mature believers, men and women, the educated and the uneducated, people who have led a relatively moral life and people who have been exceptionally sinful—everyone who has been saved through grace!

Even a brand-new convert can give a testimony, just like the woman at the well, the newly sighted man, and the former demoniac.

Immediately after leading someone to Christ, I often will say something to this person like “Tell your friend here what you have just done” or “Go home right away and share with your husband what has happened to you.” Often the new believer has so much enthusiasm that his or her testimony is powerful, even though the new believer may at this point know little about the Bible or about following Jesus.

The experience of sharing with others also solidifies in new believers the salvation that has occurred in their lives. These persons have now gone public with their experience. Others will be watching to see whether they follow through by sticking with Jesus and submitting to making changes in their lives.

New followers of Christ should always be encouraged to share about Jesus right from the start; they should never be disqualified from offering their testimony. On the other hand, people will sometimes try to disqualify themselves, saying, “I can’t witness for Jesus. I’ve got so much sin in my life right now.” Sadly, there is some truth to this.

The power of God doesn’t work in a life of sin. When we are living in sin, we have His chastening upon us, not His anointing. Certainly God, in His goodness, might sometimes choose to use a testimony from someone who is living with sin. But my experience is that He will not consistently bless the testifying of a believer who is not striving to walk with Him.

To take up His cross and follow Him means
to obey Him by sharing God’s love
in a needy world.

The solution to all this is not to give up on sharing Jesus but instead to get things right with God. God has provided the process of repentance, forgiveness, and reformation to enable us to clear our relationship with Him and move out once again in speaking of Him. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). To deny ourselves means to turn from the sins that we delight in. To take up His cross and follow Him means to obey Him by sharing God’s love in a needy world.

To Tell the Truth
When I share Jesus with individuals or groups (such as the Hell’s Angels and terrorists I mentioned earlier), I could embellish my testimony to make it seem more dramatic. I could describe myself as being older than seven years when I was saved, with a hardened nature and a long history of committing terrible sins. I could say that my salvation shook me mightily, instantly changing my character as from night to day, instead of being the peaceful experience it actually was. I could embellish, but that would be wrong, not to mention counterproductive. We should always tell the simple truth when sharing our testimony with others. The truth is powerful; lying is weak.

I have known people who smoked a little pot before coming to Christ, and as they have told their testimony, their drug use gets worse and worse until you would believe they had been addicted to heroin. Likewise, someone who had a brush with the law, after telling the story again and again, might leave the impression that he was a brutal criminal who did hard time in jail.

Don’t be ashamed of your testimony, however
tame it might seem to you.

People who embellish this way might get the reaction of “Wow!” from others that they are looking for. But that doesn’t mean they are having anymore impact on them for Christ’s cause. And I have observed that, over time, they tend to fall away from Christ themselves because they are living a lie.

Don’t be ashamed of your testimony, however tame it might seem to you. Just tell it truthfully and naturally. When you embellish your testimony, you lose its power because it is not real in your heart. So just let your testimony be your testimony—that’s all you need. Even if you do have a dramatic testimony, don’t dwell on its worldly aspects. There’s no need to go into graphic detail about your former sin; a general statement about it is sufficient. For instance, no one needs to know any details about your former sexual promiscuity. We don’t need to know how much money you made selling drugs. We just need to know that you admit to being a sinner who was saved by the mercy of God.

Now, there may be some exceptions. For example, when a former prostitute is sharing Jesus with prostitutes, she most likely will choose to let them know that she used to be where they are. But even in a situation like this, the purpose remains glorifying Christ, not glorifying sin.

A lot of the problems with embellishing testimonies come in when people don’t plan ahead of time what they are going to say. They wing it and then they get carried away. That’s why I encourage you to write down your testimony in advance. Prayerfully decide what to include in your testimony, every detail true to the facts.

Actually, I recommend that you prepare three versions of your testimony: short, medium, and long.

Let’s say you are talking with a stranger on the street, and you think you may have very little time to discuss Jesus with this person. In that case, you may want to share your testimony in just a minute or two. That’s your short version.

Your medium-length version may come in handy in a situation such as when you are having lunch with a friend who is an unbeliever. Here you might want to give your testimony in five minutes or so, offering some more background and details.

Finally, you may have a chance to have an extended conversation with an unbeliever. For example, you may be on a plane trip overseas, and you and your seatmate have nothing better to do than to talk for hours. Here you will be free to give the full-length version of your testimony, explaining exactly what happened when you were saved and what your life with Jesus has been like.

After writing down the three versions of your testimony, practice sharing them with a friend. Get his or her feedback, then practice some more until you feel comfortable sharing each version. The next step is simply to get out there and share your testimony with someone who needs Jesus. This is the best “practice” of all!

Attracted or Repelled
My wife, Denise, came to Christ when she was crying in a London park, on the brink of despair, and an African lady came up to see if she was okay and then told her how she could know Jesus. In a nutshell, that’s her testimony. But she also has an anti-testimony—a story of how believers failed to bring her to Christ.

Years earlier, when Denise was studying in Cambridge, she stepped into the room of a fellow student and saw a Bible by her bed. The other young woman became embarrassed and tried to hide the Bible. But Denise was truly interested in this book, so she kept asking about it. The timid follower of Christ admitted that she studied the Bible but said she didn’t want to talk about it.

On another occasion, a work colleague shared about a Bible study that she was hosting at her home and said that the group would be meeting soon. But when Denise asked if she could attend, the woman said, “Oh, it is only for Christians.” Denise was crushed and never did join that group of Christians. She went on to conduct her own spiritual search, resorting to the New Age, the occult, and other falsehoods that began a destructive pattern in her life.

The young college student and the work colleague did many things wrong when they had prime opportunities to share Jesus with Denise. For one thing, their attitude was all wrong. When we are sharing Jesus, we should project an image of love for others as well as excitement about their coming to know Jesus.

When you are sharing Jesus, smile. Be positive. Laugh with others. Be friendly and show an interest. Let your face shine with joy. And as you act this way around non-believers, they will be drawn to you and—more importantly—to Christ. There is power in passion, and we want the glory of God to come through in our lives.

The fact is, people can sense from your disposition what your relationship with God is like. Your attitude will either be attractive, drawing others toward Jesus, or it will be repulsive, pushing them away. And more than that, people will remember what impression you leave.

I’ve known unbelievers who have said such things as “You know, my roommate in college talked to me about Jesus. He was a great guy, too; treated me well.” This unbeliever did not get saved back in college, but his experience was a positive one and so he remained open to hearing more about Jesus. That’s what can happen when we are loving and gracious toward people.

On the other hand, I have known people who somewhere along the line met followers of Jesus who were grim or prideful or condemning. As a result, they became closed to any mention of Jesus. Getting them to consider His claims further is uphill work.

May we always be people who help others open up more to Jesus.

Now, I realize that no matter how friendly and winsome our attitude is some people will reject Christ. After all, the cross of Christ is a “stumbling block” or “foolishness” to many (1 Corinthians 1:23). But we should always strive to see that, if offense is taken, it is because of the cross and not because of us.

As I have carried a cross around the world, many have come up to me with belligerent attitudes. But that’s okay—that’s the “offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11). I try to joke and laugh with them and get them to talk with me about Jesus, for then I might be able to help them see what the cross can really mean to them.

Even when unbelievers choose not to receive Jesus, so long as our presentation is a positive one, it gives them hope. As they see our sincerity, they become convinced that at least we believe in Jesus. Maybe, they think, they ought to give Him another chance. They are on the road to trusting in God’s Son.

This is the power of a personal testimony when it is truthful and loving. It helps people to see that our lives have been changed by Jesus and that theirs can be too. It opens them up to our sharing with them how they can come to know Jesus for themselves—and then have their own testimony of Jesus.

Begin sharing your personal testimony today!
Questions to Consider
• What points should you cover in the long, medium,
and short versions of your testimony?
• When you are giving your testimony, how can
you make your manner more appealing?
• What unbeliever will be the first person you give
your testimony to?