One of the things that people often find boring, ordinary and run-of-the-mill is Christian testimonies. I don’t mean they find testimonies in general boring, but they have a certain kind in mind that they find a bit dull. Usually, they mean the ones that start ‘I grew up in a Christian family and became a believer when I was quite young.’
That is basically my story. I am a third-generation Christian. My grandparents were believers, my parents are believers, I (and all my siblings) also became believers. I didn’t become a believer when I had grown up. I trusted in Jesus when I was really very young. My testimony, from birth to new birth, is about 6-years (and I can’t even remember the first 3 or 4 of them because I was too little). I have basically always believed in God, always gone to church and came to believe in Jesus for myself before I could even use a knife and fork properly.
What people often want to hear in a testimony is a bit of drama. Tell us about how you wrecked your life and how everything was dreadful. Tell us what a broken urchin you were. Then warm our hearts with how God saved a proper wretch from the fire. Help us really feel that we have a proper “trophy of grace” with your story.
Well, I can’t do that because that didn’t happen. I don’t have a hard luck story to tell you. Whilst we had the occasional bit of time being actually poor, it really was occasional. Most the time we were fine. I always had a roof over my head, two parents at home who loved me and taught me the Bible, and a church that did what you might hope a church would do. There was no great hardship and no element of being so wayward that people wonder how the Lord could save one such as a me. I became a believer because I had Christian parents when I was little and I am still a believer today. That is about it.
Obviously I still sinned, that’s inevitable. And if you read the book of Judges, some people sin pretty dramatically and yet still belong to the Lord. But even the worst bits of sin are not the life-time, life-changing stuff that many people want to hear from a really gripping testimony. I was not a former paramilitary man (like my friend), I was not a raging drug addict, I was never homeless, I didn’t have a string of bad relationships or childhood traumas to share, I don’t have any “colour” particularly to add. My story is as ordinary as it gets.
But I think people who want something more miss the point. If you can’t recognise that this sort of ordinary story is as a much an example of a “trophy of grace” as anyone with a hard-bitten background, then you have failed to understand the reality of sin. Not everybody in my wider family is a believer, which tells you something about the wide-reaching effects of sin and its hold over people who – many would assume – are in the best possible position to believe. Nor does the “exciting story” view leave any room for the fact that not one of us – even those of us from third, fourth or more generation believing families – cannot believe unless the Father himself draws us. It doesn’t matter if you are the child of the pastor of the world’s most successful (and faithful) church or an unbelieving Atheist who hates anything to do with Christianity. Unless the Spirit is at work, neither can do anything to make themselves believers.
Here, then, is the point. You cannot show me a single believer who was not hostile to God, bound for destruction and had no ability to save themselves. You cannot show me a single believer who is not a trophy of grace. Everybody is an unlikely convert. Nobody will believe by nature and nobody will move one iota closer to faith unless God has determined to call them. Which is to say, there are no boring testimonies. Every single believer represents the unlikely, undeserved, unexpected work of a God who has graciously moved to save a sinner from death.
Sure, I might not have a harrowing backstory. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t sin plenty as a believer in ways of which I am ashamed. Nor does the desire for an interesting story do very much for people we force to dwell in the history of their sin and brokenness. If Jesus has saved them from such things, why on earth would we force them to continue re-living the guilt and shame of what Jesus has rescued them from? It is neither helpful nor kind.
I suspect the desire for “interesting” testimonies is driven by a rather unpleasant impulse. It may be an ungodly fascination with other people’s sin, a pharisaism that says ‘thank God I wasn’t like that’ and thinks more highly of ourselves than it ought. Jesus saved them, wow! Glad he didn’t have to do quite so much to save me! Except, he did, didn’t he? He had to die for you just as much as he had to die for anyone else, regardless of what their background or story might be. You may not have to live with the effects of certain sinful behaviours from the past, but such an attitude exemplifies a sinful attitude that you might be living with today!
In the end, there are no boring testimonies. Every story represents someone God has chosen to save despite what that person deserves. No one has a story that is ordinary. Every testimony represents the supernatural intervention of a God who could have rightly and justly chosen to send us to destruction for our sin against him. We all have sin that we have to live with from our past too. Either sin from before we were believers with lasting consequences or the shame of sin after we became believers when we, frankly, should have known better. Every story represents a trophy of grace, snatched from the fire. None of us deserve to be there and none of us did any of it ourselves.
Whatever your story, praise God that he has chosen to save you – an unlikely convert – regardless of what your background and testimony happens to be. It took a supernatural act of God for you to trust in Jesus and it continues to take his supernatural intervention to keep you. And what story is more interesting than that?