Our pastors have been preaching a series of sermons (actually multiple series of sermons) to help our congregation learn to be responsive to God's call in our lives and to help us bear fruit in the community. Our church is growing -- today Pastor David said we've had 90 new people become involved in our church in the last year -- and we are experiencing some growing pains. But the growth has been because of good things, not just a drive for numbers. People are coming to faith and bringing their friends and family and coworkers. This is exciting, as well as a little scary, as we look for ways to minister effectively.
Today's sermon was about the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 16-20). It occured to me that, though I talk about my faith here, I've never been very systematic about it. I'll be honest and admit that I've never been very bold about sharing the Gospel. I try to live my faith, and I think most people around me know I'm a Christian, but I've never been comfortable with the methods of evangelism I was taught years ago -- methods which involved walking up to total strangers or knocking on doors and handing out tracts and asking people if they've ever accepted Christ. But in the sermon today, Pastor David emphasized the importance of knowing your testimony and being able to share it when the opportunity arises. And I decided that, though most of the people who read this are Christians, maybe I should write my testimony and post it here. So here goes.
First of all, I'll warn you, it's not a dramatic testimony. I remember sitting around the campfire as a kid at church camp and hearing testimonies that would curl your hair -- testimonies about deliverance from sex, drugs and rock'n'roll and lots of other bad (but exciting) stuff. I lived a sheltered life and for a long time I didn't think I even had much of a testimony. But, boring life or not, God was at work. That's one of the great things about God, he loves me even though I'm boring. I was raised in a Christian family -- my father was a minister and my mom stayed at home, but she also spent a lot of time doing church work. I accepted Christ and was baptized when I was 10 years old. We had a revival meeting that week and the preacher painted a vivid picture of Christ on the cross -- I realized my need for salvation and went forward one night. The next evening, my dad baptized me. I figured I was set for eternity. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
In the years since, I've begun to learn what it means to walk with Christ. Among those things I've learned is that I'm a sinner saved by grace. Sure I knew that on some level when I was baptized, but I didn't really think I was a sinner. I was a good kid. And I pretty much stayed a good kid, at least on the outside. All the rebellion was on the inside, and it took me a long time to realize how that was just as much sin as if I'd rebelled in some of the more obvious ways. And then it took me a long time to understand that God still forgives me and loves me, even though I don't deserve it. I've learned that being resistant to grace is a pride issue. To accept grace, to accept that God has wiped the slate clean for me, is to accept that I have no power to be good enough on my own; that if I keep trying to be good enough on my own, I'll only make a mess of things. It means giving up myself. But it also means I have help, because that's what God has promised.
I've been in Bible studies with people who really struggle with how God is at work in the world -- why do prayers go unanswered, how can a good and loving God allow some of the horrible things that happen, is God really at work in our lives? And I don't know how to answer those questions, because I ask them, too. But I know that the world is not as it is meant to be and I believe that in his time God will right the wrongs. In the meantime, I have seen how he is at work, at least in my life. I've experienced some long dry spells in my faith, times when I didn't really feel God's presence, though I continued to go to church and tried to be faithful. I didn't see a lot of answer to prayer -- at least not the answers I wanted. I struggled with depression and feelings of worthlessness. But I can see now how God was at work, teaching me and molding me and I was never left alone. I think my experience helps me understand when other people are going through such times, and maybe I can be an encouragement.
And maybe this is what my testimony really is -- that God does not leave you alone. He probably won't give you everything you want, and he probably won't take away your problems, and he'll let you suffer the consequences of your sin, but he is there. Part of learning that was learning to trust God, to give him my burdens and quit trying to carry them on my own -- all my worries about money, my fears of failure, my struggles with obedience and self-discipline, my self-righteous and judgmental nature -- I can't deal with any of these things on my own. But now I understand I don't have to. I've also learned to see the blessings in each day and to be thankful.
God told the ancient Israelites to pile up rocks at places where he had done something significant. That way, when they were walking along with their children and the kids would ask, "What's that pile of rocks for?" the fathers could say, "This is where God brought us through the Jordan River on dry land," or "This where God gave us the victory." These places are called ebenezers (that's what the word refers to in the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" -- it says "here I raise my ebenezer"). I haven't piled up stones around town or at every place along US 36 where I've had car trouble and the right person came along to help, but in my memory I can look back and see the places where God was at work, even if I didn't recognize it at the time.
And now, when I feel discouraged or anxious, I know where to turn and it doesn't take me so long to do it. I know I can trust God to be at work and that whatever the circumstances, I am not alone.