What’s your story? It certainly is a topic that on occasion comes up in conversation, during an interview, and in other venues. For most of us, sharing some of our story is in the context of safe, non-threatening situations. But what of the rising pressure against believers sharing their faith worldwide, even here in the United States? When given an opportunity to stand up and speak up amidst the pressure to shut up, how might you respond? How do you respond?
The Apostle Paul was often thrust into dangerous, emotion-filled, tumultuous moments in time where he gave witness under immense pressure. He is a tremendous example of grace under pressure amidst the swirl of chaos and pandemonium that can characterize gospel opposition.
I find it quite fascinating that Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, includes Paul giving testimony on no less than four separate challenging occasions in Acts 22-26:
- Acts 22 – He addresses a Jewish mob in Jerusalem.
- Acts 23 – He addresses the Sanhedrin also in Jerusalem.
- Acts 24 – He gives a defense before Felix, Governor of Judea, in Caesarea.
- Acts 25 & 26 – He testifies before King Agrippa, also in Caesarea.
There is much we could discuss and meditate upon, and I commend you to study these chapters and discover some principles and personal applications on your own. For our purposes, I offer one principle to ponder from each of these four testimonies, beginning in this entry with: contextualize your story.
Contextualize Your Story (Acts 21:27-22:24)
The setting – Paul arrives in Jerusalem in Acts 21. By this time, his reputation has preceded him. Upon being recognized at the temple, an angry mob sought his harm (v. 27-31). After being taken from the mob and interrogated by the Roman commander, Paul is given permission to address the same mob that has murder on its mind – his murder (v.32-40)!
In giving testimony of God’s grace in his life, Paul provides his audience context:
“I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.” (Acts 22:3-6)
Once a murderer of those following Jesus as Messiah and Lord, Paul now is willing to lay down his life for Jesus (Acts 21:13). This stark contrast of ‘how he got here from there’ is powerful.
Paul establishes his Jewish pedigree and training to this Jewish audience, and in doing so, identifies with them. In sharing his persecution of believers, he also connects with the mob, who is persecuting him.
The Apostle Paul in essence is saying, “I know how you feel. I felt the same way.” Soon enough he’ll add in so many words, “But I found out Y’shua (Jesus) is Messiah and Lord.” [Acts 22:6-21]
Everybody has a past. What is your BC (‘before Christ’) experience? Communicate those elements and experiences that shaped your ‘God paradigm.’ This is important because everybody has one – it may atheistic, agnostic, or religious in some fashion.
The context of where you came from will bring into sharp relief the difference the Lord has made in your life. For the gospel is transformative, and that transformation is personal. As Jesus stated, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
For example, when speaking with a Jewish person, I share from my Jewish background:
I grew up in a reform Jewish household, a liberal Jewish religious expression. Our family was more culturally and socially Jewish than religiously and spiritually. Yet I received religious training, including becoming Bar Mitzvah (a ceremonial right of passage when a Jewish boy becomes a man) and always believed in God.
When I came to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord in 1987, I was transformed!
In sharing with an individual or audience, I will sometimes state: “How is possible that this Jewish man (speaking of myself), who for the first 23 years of his life, usually uttered the name of Jesus only in vain – now for the last 28 years call Him Messiah, Savior, Lord, and God?”
Transformation, the difference Jesus has made in our life is the difference we want to share. Before I came to faith, I walked in fear, without direction, and without hope. Now I experience abundant love, joy, and peace that transcend my circumstances, which frankly, at times, are quite painful.
And you? What shaped your God-paradigm growing up? How did you get here from there? Who were you before you trusted in Jesus and what difference has He made in your life? Providing context authenticates and personalizes your story.
What aspect of your audience’s God-paradigm can you relate to and connect with? Listening and learning about them plays a critical role in facilitating your effort.
As you have faith-based conversations with people, ask the Lord to give you wisdom and actively listen, so you can speak directly into their reality.
As the Lord provides opportunity to give testimony, whether in a friendly or hostile environment, be ready to contextualize your story and speak into your audience’s reality – for the glory of Jesus and benefit of your audience!
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”