Summary: If you want your life to be "fixed" so that everything is easy and pleasant, see a shrink. But if you want to be a disciple, come to Jesus!
Lynn Williams is a professor of creative writing at Emory University and she has written a wonderful little short story called, “Personal Testimony.”
Personal Testimony is a story about a 12 year old girl who is the daughter of a fire and brimstone evangelistic preacher from West Texas, who every summer sends his little girl to summer camp. Not just any summer camp, but church camp. Fundamentalist church camp. Which means that during the day it is like any other summer camp – softball, sailing, archery, hiking, swimming – but at night, every night, there is a sweaty “Come to Jesus” sermon by some visiting preacher who seeks to woo children into heaven by scaring them out of hell. Hell is vividly described as a place of fire and brimstone and sulfur and demons and pain and agony.
The unwritten rule of the camp is that at sometime during the week every child will come forward and give his or her life to Christ. And not just that, but each child will give a personal testimony.
The problem is that most of these kids are just ordinary kids who don’t have a great story to tell during a testimony.
That’s where our 12 year old preacher’s daughter comes in because she has figured out a way to make some extra money at camp – as a ghost writer for Jesus. She fabricates personal testimonies for the other campers. For $5 she wrote a personal testimony for a boy named Michael which he delivered tear-stained before the congregation. It was all about how in his old life he was bad – so very bad. He would take the Lord’s name in vain during football practice, but now that he has met Jesus his mouth is as pure as a crystal spring.
Her best work, however, was for a young boy named Tim Bailey, and he was able to say that his life was empty and meaningless until that fatal night, when in a pick up truck accident in Galveston he almost met his death, but Jesus himself took the steering wheel and steered it away from disaster.
Now that one took imagination so she got $25 for that one.
I like that story because it sheds light on a truth about personal testimonies – and that is that in many churches they become so pat, so predictable, so cliché, that they all have the same plot.
“Once my life was in shambles, but I met Christ, and now everything is wonderful!!!”
“I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, then the master of the sea lifted me, and safe am I. I once was blind, but now I see.”
And we love that sort of testimony – predictable, pat, formulas that never change – because we like a religion that is predictable, pat, and based on a formula that never changes. We like it simple.
And we like our faith simple.
We like a predictable God.
We like having a God who fixes things and makes everything nice for us.
But God is not always simple, or predictable. And He rarely “fixes things” for us so that everything is nice and easy.
Have you ever heard someone give a personal testimony by saying, “I was living a pretty good life. Had a nice job, nice family, had a nice home and car. Then Jesus came into my life and messed everything up.”