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I Love to Tell the Story

In May of 2003 Barbara Dahlgren delivered a Church-Life presentation about sharing her testimony. She included some key principles to help others in developing and sharing their own testimonies. Following is Barbara's presentation.

Many of you know that each year around February I go to a Christian Writers’ Conference near San Francisco. They usually have one well-known author, who speaks to everyone, then we break out into smaller groups and all go to various workshops or classes that we are interested in. About 5 years ago I was at one of these conferences. I didn’t know anyone there so I was sitting, contently listening to the main speaker when he said, “Now I want everyone to pair up with someone you don’t know and tell them your story about how you came to know God and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.”

Well, I paired up with a lady who told me a beautiful story about how she came to know Christ but I couldn’t focus on it because I just kept thinking, “What am I going to say? What am I going to say?” I could tell her when I first read the Plain Truth Magazine or first heard the radio program or first heard the telecast or was visited by a minister of the Worldwide Church of God or was first invited to come to church but the truth was that none of these stories even mentioned the name of Jesus Christ. These were stories of how I came to be involved with a church denomination. And although there is nothing wrong with that, the greatest story is how we come to the realization that we need Jesus Christ to be involved in our lives.

To be honest, I don’t even know what I said to this lady. It was obvious I was not ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within me. (1 Peter 3:15) I do remember that this lady hadn’t even heard of our magazine, denomination, or telecast. I just kept babbling and fortunately we ran out of time. Then the speaker said something that really smote me in my heart. He said, “Now if you don’t have a story to tell that should tell you something about your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

That bothered me..... a lot. Did I love God? Yes! Had I repented of my sins? Yes! Did I believe Jesus died for my sins? Yes! Did I believe God was actively involved in my life? Yes! Was I a different person after Jesus came into my life? Yes!

Well, if all of this was true, where was my story? I didn’t seem to have one. That bothered me....a lot, so I started praying and asking God to help me develop a story to share with others. I asked Him to bring back to memory the events in my life that He used to draw me to Him. Well it’s taken me quite a few years but I think I have one now and I’d like to share it with you.

“When I was a senior in high school we moved. I had been with the same group of friends since first grade so it was pretty devastating for me. I went from being involved in everything to not being involved in anything at the new school. I had no friends and we lived too far away to for me to be involved in any activities. It was obvious that it was going to be a long, hard year, not the great year I had always envisioned my senior year to be. My mother had been attending a church for several years but my dad and I never went. Every year in the fall they had a weeklong church convention/festival they attended. For 5 years she had asked dad and me if we wanted to go and for 5 years we said, ‘No.’ I was always far too involved in school activities to take a week off. However this year when she asked, I was so miserable that I said, ‘Yes!’ Anything had to be better than what I was going through, even going to church.

Going to that church festival really impacted my life. I had never seen such happy people. They had a love for God and a love for each other that I had never experienced before. Some of the people were camping that year and I remember some got rained out but their attitudes were still one of jubilation and praising God. I didn’t know what they had but I wanted it. It was also obvious to me that I had done some things in my life I wasn’t too proud of and had done my best to drive my folks insane and I just felt like I needed a change in my life and that I was incapable of producing that change myself.

On the way home I was sitting in the back seat of the car with my eyes closed, praying. I hadn’t done a lot of praying before so I didn’t really know what to say so I just asked God to give me the kind of love those people had. I asked Him to forgive me for every rotten thing I’d done and help me to make changes in my life. Was I immediately a different person after that prayer? No. But I know God heard that prayer because He’s taken me on a spiritual journey ever since. There are many other stories to share about that journey but I wanted to share with you when I first felt the presence of God in my life. When I realized that Jesus died for my sins and I, too, could have God’s love in my life.”

Mine is not a very dynamic story. It wasn’t like I was struck blind on the road to Damascus or literally killed anyone, physically anyway. Although there were a few people I had wished dead, I’m sure. Not all stories are dramatic but that doesn’t make them any less valuable.

You may have noticed that I deliberately left certain phrases out of my story that the average person would not be able to identify with. That doesn’t mean that the Feast, or the Plain Truth Magazine, or World Tomorrow telecast might not be a valuable part of my story but those things are not my focus. I prayed specifically asking God to help me discover my story and that the focus be on Him and Jesus Christ. So when I tell my story to others I use the word church convention because that is something all people can identify with.

We all have stories to tell. We have what I like to call spiritual journey stories or spiritual renewal stories. These are things that have happened to us where we have learned a lesson or deepened understanding that we can pass on to others. Perhaps they reflect an answered prayer or an intervention. These are important stories and we should share them with others. God does so much for us and it brings Him honor and glory when we share what He’s done for us with others. But it seems the most difficult story to share is how God came to be a vital part of our lives, how we came to recognize our need for Jesus.

Why is that story so important? It’s important because that story begins the spiritual journey. Most people we come in contact with know us as a person who has a relationship with God. In fact they probably can’t imagine us without God in our lives. But that is where most of them are, without God. When we tell them our stories about how we were once without God, it gives them something they can identify with. Or maybe you were a person who always felt you had God in your life but you came to a place where you realized you were still a sinner and needed the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Whatever your story is, it brings honor to God. There was much rejoicing in heaven when this story took place in your life. (Luke 15:7,10) And God will use it to His glory by putting someone in your path that you can share it with. Someone He will place before you that can identify with what you have to say.

Some of us attended the satellite transmission here at church a few months ago about Becoming a Contagious Christian. They suggested you ask yourself these questions in developing your story.

1. Where were you spiritually before receiving Christ and how did that affect you, your feelings, attitudes, actions, and relationships?
2. What caused you to begin considering God or Christ as a solution to your needs?
3. What realization did you come to that finally motivated you to receive Christ?
4. Specifically, how did you receive Christ?
5. How did your life begin to change after you trusted Christ?
6. What other benefits have you experienced since becoming a Christian?

I also have a few additional suggestions that I found helpful.

1. Pray about it. Ask God to help you develop a story you can share with others. Ask God to bring back to mind, to your memory some of the events that He used to bring you close to Him.

2. Realize that your story is unique to you. It’s between you and God so to speak. God deals with all of us as individuals and that’s the wonder of it all. We all learn the same lessons but He does it in a way designed specifically for each one of us. Therefore your story may not be the same as someone else.
a. Maybe you were raised in a church environment and you can’t ever remember God not being a part of your life.
b. Maybe you were raised in a church environment and ran like crazy away from it when you got the chance.
c. Maybe you were an atheist.
d. Maybe you got baptized just because you thought you should and it was years later before you felt you came to know Christ.
e. Maybe you were young when you realized your need for Christ.
f. Maybe you were older.
It doesn’t matter. There are no right or wrong answers. You have been brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ and your story is unique to you.

3. Let your story come from your heart. It may not be as dynamic as other stories but it is just as beautiful if it has God and Jesus as the focus.

4. Help others develop their stories and let them help you. At church we are in a protected environment and we all love each other. We can start by bouncing our stories around with each other and helping each other refine them a bit. I’ll tell you a secret. You know, the deacons and elders need help in finding their stories, too. So if they start to use spiritual phrases to describe how they came to know Christ like
a. “I was lost but now I’m found,” ask them “How did you know you were lost?” “How did you know you were found?”
b. Or when they say, or “I was blind but now I see,” ask them “How did you know you were blind? What do you see now that you didn’t see before?”
Spiritual phrases are poetic and wonderful but our stories won’t mean much if the average person can’t identify with them.

5. Give yourself some time. It may take a while. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t gel in your mind immediately. As we all know God doesn’t always choose to work instantly. Continue to pray about it, think about it, pray some more.

Once we have a story to tell it will be easier to fulfill our mission statement, which is to share the love of God and guide people into a committed relationship with Jesus Christ. And remember God will put someone in your path that you can share your story with, a person that can identify with you have to share.

Let’s all rise because we’re going to sing I Love to Tell the Story one more time. As we sing this song maybe we can be thinking about our story. My prayer is that we will all come to the place where we Love to Tell the Story of Jesus and His Love.

 

 

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