1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Personally, I have to admit that I am not always prepared, or even hopeful.
I have seen many suggested outlines for writing out your faith story, or "testimony." A couple weeks ago the speaker at our Sunday morning worship gathering gave a message on it. He said we should be prepared with several different-length versions, so we can be prepared whether it's an "elevator speech", we're sharing with someone on an airplane, or building an extended relationship over time. Then at our small group last Thursday night we actually took the time to sit down and write our story out, and then share with the group if we so desired. Jane and I both did.
I found it interesting when we shared that after I gave my story, and then Jane hers, there were things I'd completely forgotten about my own. I guess that proves the importance of needing to "always" be prepared, and the need to go over it from time to time.
I have used several different formats, but I liked the suggestion the speaker at church gave. He said to think of our faith story in terms of:
- our unique upbringing
- our unique sins & mistakes
- our unique God event or encounter
- our unique personality & passions
- and whether it was an event or a process
I grew up in a "good" home, but not necessarily a "churchy" home. We went to church now and then, but that's about it. My parents were always concerned with helping their fellow man though. The biggest issue I had growing up - which I felt did make me quite unique - was that my dad was the high school principal in the small town we lived in. I was well aware of how most people felt about the "principal's kid" and always felt like an outsider because of it.
I tried to fit in with others and get them to like me - through sports, music, and whatever I thought would work - and eventually I became fairly rebellious as a teenager and into my late twenties. I partied quite a bit to try to be accepted, as well as to deaden the pain of thinking people didn't like me or want me around.
I can remember as a high-school kid actually claiming to be an atheist. However, I also read through the Bible at the same time. I was always a very "down" and "blue" teenager. After high school, Jane and I dated for awhile, and we soon got married. We partied even more, but she eventually tired of the lifestyle and, after having the kids, she returned to church. I was skeptical, but intrigued. I finally gave in, and became quite excited to finally be accepted by a group of people, as well as learning they weren't as uppity as I had suspected.
It was around this time - I was 26 or 28 years old - that our son developed some breathing problems. One night he had to be life-flighted to Peoria because they thought he was going to stop breathing. Jane and I weren't aware of this until some time later, but we both surrendered our lives to Jesus on that night. I finally realized life was beyond my control, I didn't have the answers, and I needed help. So I gave Jesus control of my life and asked him to guide me and help me.
We really began to grow in our faith, and then a couple asked us to be in a home Bible Study. They very wisely decided to hold it at OUR house (knowing we might back out otherwise)! We soon learned about God's love for us, and things started to make so much more sense. We became passionate about our faith. Eventually I felt called to go to seminary, so we sold our house and most of our possessions, and moved the family to Ohio for me to get a degree in religious studies and a pastoral ministry certification. Those were some of the best times of our life because we felt so close to God and like we'd finally found our life purpose.
I suppose my unique personality and passions come out of those growing-up years when I felt unloved. To finally realize that God might actually LIKE me (much less love me) was life-changing. So I have always had a heart for people who are either turned off by the church, or feel turned away - ie. those who like Jesus, but don't feel accepted in the traditional church or the "norms" of society.
While I had a somewhat dramatic "conversion" from my old way of life to one of being a follower of Jesus, I also recognize it is a process that I am still very much wading through. I still struggle with feelings of rejection and alone-ness, as well as the temptation to want to fit in with others (being a people-pleaser). It is an almost daily challenge to surrender my fears and desires to those that God has for me (the truths of God). However, I have seen first-hand how having faith in Jesus can bring about the inner peace I have always been striving for. Some days I have a harder time seeing it than others, but I thank God for loving me and not giving up. My hope is that through the glimpses of God's Kingdom I encounter now, someday that will be a full-time reality.