I felt my pulse quicken as it began. A pastor invited any who were so inclined to stand and offer a two-or-three-sentence testimony about how they had seen God working in their lives over the past year. I nervously pulled out my notepad. Was anyone going to testify? If they did, would they answer the question that was asked? Or would some of them begin to become sermons? I wondered who was going to testify-- honestly, I expected that all would be in the older generation--members who had often done this in their younger years. What I saw brought me great joy.
Four women and four men testified and their ages were from the early twenties to the eighties. They all were brief and spoke directly about what God had done. One man praised the Lord for a cancer-free year. Another spoke of God’s faithfulness in a family situation. Every single one was edifying and encouraging. The atmosphere was electric. We sat in holy awe, waiting for what was going to happen next.
I was also surprised by the ethnic backgrounds. My church is mostly white. Yet three speakers were African- American, one was Israeli, another was Haitian, and only three were Caucasian. Giving time for testifying allowed everyone to hear a variety of voices we might not otherwise have heard.
On that morning, the congregation was not just hearing stories, we were being spiritually shaped.
Seeing the previous year from the perspective of others gave us a new lens in our spiritual glasses.
My husband, John, and I found we were seeing things in a new way when we were expecting our first child back in 2007. We had been married for five years. I remember walking around the mall with him—his wide eyes looking all around. He blurted out in disbelief: “There are kids everywhere!” Now there was not an unusual infestation of children on this particular occasion. But we were different. We were expecting our own first child and suddenly we noticed children everywhere. The awareness of the child I was carrying prompted a new outward awareness.
God continually manifests himself in our lives, but we don’t always see that. In order for us to testify to God’s influence in our lives we must first be aware of him. In order to have eyes to see, we need to be in a state of perpetual “advent”—always expecting, hoping, and looking for the presence of God. Indeed, advent is more than simply waiting. This term implies a rich, cultivated hope that God is active and moving in our world. Perpetual advent means we are always seeking out and hoping for the sanctifying presence of God. What is more, God’s activity in the world is available to us. He forms us further into the image of Christ, altering our thinking and our actions so that the children of God more closely resemble their heavenly father. The idea of perpetual advent does not mean that there are times when God is not with us, rather, there are times in our lives when we are ready to be more susceptible to his presence.
MOST OF US WILL LIVE IN A MORE EXPECTANT, ADVENT-LIKE STATE IN HIGHLY CONCENTRATED TIMES LIKE A MISSION TRIP OR A SPIRITUAL RETREAT.
We expect or at least hope that some kind of experience with God will take place. Youth pastors often instruct their teenagers to be on the lookout for God during these experiences. They are more susceptible to what we might call “God-sightings.” On a typical Sunday morning, if a church does allow time for people to testify, it is often after these kinds of experiences. It is not so uncommon for teenagers to return from a trip and share about building homes in Mexico or their week away at youth camp. This is great, but if these are the only times testimonies are called for, aren’t we implying that these are the only times that God speaks into our world?
WE MUST LIVE IN THE CONVICTION THAT GOD CAN AND DOES REGULARLY BREAK INTO OUR LIVES AND OUR NORMAL ROUTINES.
But what if we return home from mission trips with the expectation that God might still be at work in our everyday lives? What if a teenager left youth camp with the belief that he will still encounter the presence of God in his hometown? If we want to keep this advent-like state in our day-to-day lives, we are charged to live in the conviction that God can and does regularly break into our lives and our normal routines. We can create space for testifying after summer camp, yes, but also on a Wednesday evening in the middle of March. God is as active at home as he is on mission trips, and we are compelled to give space to hear about it on a more regular basis. When we model to our congregations our assumption that God is active in our children’s lives and in our own lives, we help form a hopeful expectation giving them eyes to see God at work. We call attention to God breaking into our humanity.
JOHN WESLEY’S LAST WORDS WERE, “THE BEST OF ALL IS, GOD IS WITH US.”
Indeed he is. God is active. God wants to be known. When we testify to this reality, it further forms us, and also develops the advent expectation in our whole faith community. “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us” (1 John 1:2).
Adapted from Saying is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Development, Intervarsity Press, 2015.