The Power and Simplicity of Personal Story

By: Diane Chandler
Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Just before receiving Christ into my heart as Lord and Savior, I was traveling around the U.S. visiting friends and family. In Houston while visiting my uncle, I happened to meet one of his neighbors, who was a passionate follower of Jesus Christ.  

What I most appreciated during our times together was her sharing of how she awakened to the love of God for her personally and the amazing work of God’s grace in her life.  She was forever transformed.  Her personal story attracted me to Jesus.  It was clear that Jesus’ had imprinted her spirit with His.

The apostle, Paul, knew something of this kind of grace and the transformational power of God.  At the conclusion of his third missionary journey and upon returning to Jerusalem, Paul encountered such opposition that he was dragged out of the temple and beaten. Just before soldiers took him to a barracks, Paul turned to his opponents and shared – of all things – his story of how Jesus sequestered him on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:1-21).

Later when Paul appeared before King Agrippa, you would think that he would have waxed eloquent in his own defense.  But no ~ he again conveys the simplicity of his story, recounting how God appeared to him on the Damascus Road and appointed him as a servant and witness (Acts 26:12-19).  He then declared to King Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven (vs. 19).

In his book Experiences of God, German systematic theologian Jürgen Moltmann (born 1926) addressed this question in the introductory chapter:  “Why Am I a Christian?” To answer the question, one would think he would present a convincing theological treatise reflecting his biblical brilliance.  But no!  He shares his personal story of how Christ progressively drew him to Himself. This prolific thinker and scholar, who has impacted the theological world like few others in the 20th-21st centuries, recalls his salvation story.  And his theology was greatly impacted by his personal narrative, particularly his theology of hope. His book In the End – The Beginning: The Life of Hope offers another glimpse of the dramatic events leading up to his salvation.

Moltmann conveys how his world “fell to pieces” after he was taken prisoner by the British in 1945 and subsequently moved from camp to camp in Belgium, Scotland and England. In a Belgian camp, Moltmann observed how other prisoners who lost hope collapsed internally. With the fragility of his own life hanging in the balance of this “dark night of the soul,” Moltmann could later write, ““Because I believe that I owe my survival to these experiences, I cannot even say I found God there.  But I do know in my heart that it was there that he found me, and that I would otherwise have been lost” (Experiences of God, p. 9).

He could reminisce about that ominous night in July of 1943 when his home town of Hamburg was bombed by the British. While serving in the German air force auxiliary, the bomb that destroyed the school friend standing next to him left him unscathed (In the End – The Beginning, p. 33).  He painfully asked two gripping questions: (1) “God, where are you?,” and (2) “Why am I still alive and not dead like the rest?”(p. 34).

In his struggle to understand theodicy, God’s goodness and omnipotence in the midst of evil and suffering, an army chaplain gave Moltmann a Bible.  Finding solace in Jesus’ words when He hung on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46), Moltmann knew that he had found the courage to live.  

When was the last time you shared your story related to the goodness of God? Could it be that the simplicity of sharing your personal story and perhaps giving someone a Bible might change the course of his or her life forever?

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Diane Chandler
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6 Responses to “The Power and Simplicity of Personal Story”

  1. Andrea Dankone-Barna says:

    According to the word we hold the testimony of Jesus which is the spirit of prophecy. As we release our own testimony, our history in the Spirit, which is actually His story, God releases the spirit of prophecy calling forth a similar breakthrough, manifestation of blessing, encounter.

    NAS Revelation 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

    Our lives are His epistles, the stories of His life, written by the Spirit of the living God on the tablets of our hearts.

    NKJ 2 Corinthians 3:3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

    Maybe this is how our names are written in the book of life. Our lives are epistles, letters, little chapters in the great book of His Life which is written, transpires, and can be read in all creation, but especially in the life His Church which is His body, throughout all the ages.

    NKJ Philippians 4:3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.

    NKJ Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

    Everyone likes stories. It is much easier for us to grasp concepts, truth, receive revelation in real stories. We can relate to stories easier than to dry concepts, because they are human, they are personal. Something from heart to heart.

    When we share our testimonies people read part of the book of Life, of who God is. It is a great honor but also a huge responsibility to be a “revelation of Jesus.” Our life in Him, our testimony is an encounter with God to those who don’t know Him yet (at all or in certain aspects of Him). And every encounter with God brings to light what’s hidden in the heart of those observing (often we don’t have to say anything just “be”) or listening. The greater is the revelation the greater is the responsibility of the response of those who receive it. We have to listen to and follow the Holy Spirit carefully, in love. I want my testimony to be a blessing for others although sometimes it is inevitable that it will become a stumbling block to some.

  2. Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

    Andrea, your reply causes me to consider Rev. 12:11, where Paul writing to the seven churches and the Church for all ages spoke about how to overcome the accuser of our brothers, which was namely the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.

    The power of our own testimony (or narratives) captures the grand metanarrative of God’s story at work in those who believe. As you suggest, precepts and principles are best illustrated with stories. And the personal nature of stories (and a changed life) is something that people are so eager to hear.

    When God opens up such opportuntities, we are aware that this kind of sharing of personal story/testimony of personal transformation has great power, as it is the power of God unto salvation that is the source of deep spiritual change.

    I’m reminded of what Paul told Timothy: “…and for this we labor and strive, that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” Our testimony brings fresh life to the hope of the living God who is within us. And extending that hope to others is the power of the gospel.

    Oh, that we walk through the doors of opportunity to share our stories when He opens these doors. Lives may be eternally changed.

  3. Melissa Gibby says:

    Dr. Chandler,

    My husband and I recently had a conversation with a good friend about this very thing. The question I would ask you is whether we as a body of believers are at a place where we are ready to hear those stories? By that I mean are we creating an environment that allows others to be authentic about their journey and relationship with the Lord? I don’t say this to criticize the Church, but I wonder sometimes if we are really ready to hear where people are walking or have walked in order for the sufficient grace and perfect strength of Jesus to be made manifest in their lives. Unfortunately, I think sometimes we would rather others “sanctify” their stories than tell the truth because we are afraid to hear the “real deal.” Our (the church’s) story is perhaps one of the most compelling and powerful tools for drawing others into relationship with God and my prayer is that as a Church we allow people the freedom to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

      Melissa,

      You raise thoughtful and important questions related to appropriateness of a leader sharing personal information. When a leader shares authentically, he/she has to keep in mind certain considerations~

      (1) Will my authentic sharing of personal information glorify God or become a self-purging/confessional of sin?

      (2) Is the timing for this sharing appropriate?

      (3) Is the Holy Spirit leading me to share this information? Has He released me to share?

      (4) Will the body of believers be edified because of conveying personal information? Will the truth fracture the body or serve to heal the body?

      I have witnessed personal disclosing of information to a large group that was inappropriate. It seemed that the speaker had not come through the healing needed to be a a whole place of humility and brokenness, but was rather in the midst of it. I’ve also seen where a ministry leader had to stand before his/her ministry colleagues or followers and admit to immorality, illegal activity, or breach of decency. Consider how David responded to Nathan’s true accusation with confession and repentance.

      Your question regarding creating a culture of authenticity is discerning. Leaders have a great opportunity to set a positive tone for this to occur by sharing appropriately and not judging others, all the while upholding in word and deed standards of holiness and decency.

      So these four questions above may be a good rule of thumb for all of us when considering if we are to share, especially related to ministry leaders.

      • Melissa Gibby says:

        Dr. Chandler,

        You are absolutely correct when you say there is an appropriate time and place for sharing the intimate and personal details of our lives. Doing so in a manner that both draws attention to and glorifies God requires sensitivity to people and the voice of the Holy Spirit. You have outlined some excellent criteria for determining when/whether it is appropriate to “share.” I guess this is an area I have felt challenged in with regards to creating a “safe place” for those I serve as a leader. While I know your original post seemed to really zero in on personal testimonies as a means of drawing others the Christ, perhaps I have felt the need to examine my own heart with regards to allowing others the freedom to be honest without fear of judgment or retaliation. There is a very delicate balance that must be maintained here to, as you have said, “uphold in word and deed standards of holiness and decency.” I think my point is that it is in the weak places of our lives that Christ’s strength is most evident and we ought not be ashamed to let Him be glorified in those places by being (appropriately) authentic and transparent about where He has met us.

  4. Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

    Melissa,

    Every leader has areas of weaknesses, brokenness, and blind spots. And your point that strength is made perfect in weakness cannot be underscored more fully.

    Having a victory in a particular area of our lives brings God glory and encourages others that they too can overcome areas of struggle by the grace and power of God.

    Your point that we ought not to be ashamed to give God the glory in these areas is none other than the power of the Spirit that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 3:18. We all reflect the Lord’s glory as “…we are being transformed into His likeness with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” It is interesting that Paul begins this statement by referencing our having “unveiled faces” and opening ourselves up to the work and power of the Holy Spirit ~ the only one who can truly change us.

    You raise another point related to not being ashamed to share, but rather share in order to glorify the Lord. Shame is a powerful human force that keeps sin hidden and us fearful of how others will view us. With leaders being more in the spotlight, shame can tunnel us into deeper and darker places where the light and freedom of honesty are difficult to penetrate. Being courageous to bring these places to God (and trusted others) is certainly a starting place.

    And as you emphasize, doing so to give God glory has a powerful transforming effect upon others. Creating a culture of authenticity is contagious.

    Anecdotally, authenticity has not only been a subject of classroom teaching (i.e., the book Authenticity in Teaching: http://www.josseybass.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0787994030.html) but also a topic of leadership (i.e., the book Authentic Leadership: http://www.amazon.com/Authentic-Leadership-Rediscovering-Secrets-Creating/dp/0787969133#noop).

    Wisdom is the quality that we all need to navigate the path. Thank you, Melissa, for your thoughtful and timely comments.

    as well as leadership.