Friday, November 27, 2009

Balanced Testimonies

I started to entitle this post Negative Testimonies, but decided that would be undermining the point I hoped to present.

For years I have experienced some frustration and disappointment when I hear people attempting to give God the glory when something good happened to them. The reason for my negative thoughts? Not because I don't like to hear people thanking God for what he has done for them, but because there are many more people who are believers and who have not experienced the same thing.

Here's an example: Say there's a car accident and only some survived and some died. The survivors might be heard to say, "God was with me, and I lived." That kind of statement bothers me. Are we to think that God was not with the ones who died? Hmm...

Another example: Say a woman's husband leaves her and she prays he will return. He does return and she says that God blessed her and had her husband return. Are we to think that a woman whose husband leaves and she prays and he doesn't return that God was not as good to her as He was to the other woman?

Final example: Say a child is ill. The parents pray and the child is healed. God is good. He healed their child. Another couple has an ill child, they are strong believers, they pray and their child dies. Are we to think that God heard one prayer and blessed and heard the other prayers and didn't bless?

These examples and the resulting attempt to give God the glory sometimes seem to me to do more damage than good. Here's what I mean.

What about in the first example having two people speak about the same experience, one about being a survivor and one about losing a loved one. Cannot both say God is good? Cannot both say God blessed them? Isn't that the God we serve?

Here's what I think is the best biblical example: Peter and James were in jail in the book of Acts. Peter was miraculously released. James was beheaded. The story told in Sunday School and in sermons seems to always be about Peter. But, what about James?

Another biblical example: Peter preached on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 souls were saved. God blessed! A few chapters over Stephen preached, maybe much the same sermon, and he was stoned to death by the religious leaders. Did God bless Stephen? Or...what?

What do we do with these two examples?

And a final point I want to make is the entire chapter in Hebrews 11. This chapter is commonly what is called the Hall of Faith Heroes. The summary towards the end of this chapter in the version, The Message, reads: We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless––the world didn't deserve them!––making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world. Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised.

So, now what? I think it's great to give God the glory when someone is healed, when someone survives, when someone returns. But wouldn't it be more biblical, more realistic, more accurate, to always have examples of both types when giving God the glory.

When we have someone passionately speak how God has blessed her because her husband returned, wouldn't it be real and honoring to God to have someone just as passionately speak about how good God is good and has blessed her and that her husband didn't return? Same thing with surviving and with healing.

Doesn't the unbalanced type of testimonies of hearing only positive and good things that have happened leave listening people thinking, well God didn't do that for me so He must not love me as much or He would have blessed me like that. My child died. Where was God? My husband divorced me and married a younger woman. Didn't God hear my prayers? Doesn't God love me?

We should always remember and speak of the balanced teachings in scripture. Where did we get that only good things and blessings happen to those whom God loves and cares for. Terribly misleading and wrong teaching. Would we have as many followers and as large churches if we preached balanced truth? Probably not, but we would have true, God-honoring believers, who really make a difference.

Thoughts to ponder. My opinion only.


Cathy_H said...

As always really good stuff...

Anonymous said...


I found your blog by way of Becky Dietz. I'm one of those people who struggle with some of the testimonies I hear. My husband, Brian, was killed in a car wreck. His best friend in the passenger seat survived with very minimal injuries. The first year after his death they sent me a Christmas letter. It stung when I read it because it went on and on about how God had protected his friend. I love God, trust God,know God and serve God...yet, reading that letter brought confusion and hurt at a level I had never experienced before. As silly as this may sound, it felt like they won and I lost....if God protected him (as they went on and on about in the Christmas letter), why didn't he protect Brian? I know there are many people who didn't get their prayers answered who feel the same way when they hear or read of someone who had their prayers answered in a way that fit with their own desires. Your post puts into words a lonely and often silent struggle. God has been good to me and I still trust Him...even though something beyond my control happened to my family.

Thanks for showing me examples of this in the Bible...I will be studying these passages more carefully.

Shelly McClellan Melia

Marcy Faye Hallden said...

I also found your blog via Becky--I'm Ricky Griffin's daughter--if you even know him. I know exactly what you are saying. We have struggled with infertility--so to hear someone say that God blessed them with children--and what, He hasn't blessed us? I still choose to believe and trust in God's goodness and faithfulness, and I know in His goodness, He has plans to give us a full, rich life--with or without children!

Mary Burleson said...

Hey, Cathy, thanks for commenting.

Shelly, Thank you so much for posting your comments. You so verified what I'm talking about. I remember when you lost your husband. How terrible, how tragic. And now to hear about your experience with the Christmas letter. YES! That's exactly what I'm talking about. In people's zeal to thank God and give Him the glory, they sometimes aren't aware of what they're really doing to some other people, perhaps doing the exact opposite of what they intended. I'm glad you are a strong believer and know the truth. I sometimes end my talks on this with questions like, Do you think God loved Peter more than he did James? Or Peter more than he did Stephen? Usually they're stumped. That then provides the opportunity for more discussion. Again, thanks for sharing. You inspire me.

Marcy, also thank you for sharing. It's encouraging to have people speak up about what our so-called wonderful testimonies of what God is doing really does to the body of Christ. We're wrongly creating a "Santa Claus" theology, just ask God and look what He did for me and He'll do the same for you. Not true. Wrong theology. The point of my post is that every testimonial service should have both kinds, for every negative a positive, but more important, for every positive a negative. That would make all types of testimonies a positive because the speakers would be showing how God is love and God is good in all circumstances. Real truth and a great reality check, thus bringing glory and honor to God no matter what happens to us on this earth.

I love the verse that says He's preparing for us a better place. "You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them." I love Hebrews 11.

Becky Dietz said...

Mary, Thank you for this post! I can't tell you the number of people I've talked with who lost faith when God didn't answer their prayers the way He did for others. And isn't it interesting how we conveniently skip over the end of Hebrews 11? We all love hearing the happy endings, but there is no happy ending in that chapter. Maybe you need to compile a book about the Not-So-Happy-Endings-But-Still-Faith!

Rex Ray said...

You proved again that women can see just as great as truths as anyone.

At 72, I broke my pelvis fifty feet from where my father broke his as the same age.
My doctor told me in one year’s time I’d died three times if I was the ‘average’ person.
Was I even lucky to be born since my father had twenty-seven car wrecks before being married, and a month before birth, mama was unconscious on a road after daddy had a choice of a head-on-collision or a one-way bridge because of no brakes?

Many times when I’ve heard, “If God hadn’t have been with me, I’d died in a car wreck” or such and such; I’d think, ‘If God was with you, you wouldn’t have had the car wreck.’

Once in my life I had the thought to act like a race-car driver while driving on the shoulder at night to let a car pass while meeting traffic.
I scared myself when I ‘whipped’ hard as soon as I was passed; missing the car about three feet.
In a split second, I saw the back of a high school boy in the middle of the shoulder.


I asked my pastor and he said, “Sometimes, just sometimes, God intervenes as he did with Abraham’s first son dying in the desert.”

On the other hand, man’s ways are not God’s ways. We look at death as bad, but maybe at times, God looks at death as rewards.

Who had happiness sooner, James/Stephen or Peter? "For me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (Philippians 1:21 NLT)

Did God know if some marriages had ‘lasted’, the outcome would have been worse?

Mary, thanks again, and I might add, you’re son has stolen my heart, and I know you and Paul ‘raised him right’.

Aussie John said...


Thank you for a very perceptive article which deserves a much wider audience.

I've got to say that in some of my darkest times (usually orchestrated by my "brethren")I have found God blessing me.

Anonymous said...

Mary, there is a quote at the front of chapter 5 in THE SHACK by Marilynn Robinson, THE DEATH OF ADAM, that is worth repeating here. "We routinely disqualify testimony that would plead for extenuation. That is we are so persuaded of the rightness of our judgment as to invalidate evidence that does not confirm us in it. Nothing that deserves to be called truth could ever be arrived at by such means." And is there ever a need for TRUTH! I must learn that God works on both sides of life, and does it well!!! Marjory Brown

Here I Dwell said...

Your post made me think of a recent experience with my oldest son which is along the same lines as your frustration. Ninth grade Caleb recently told me about his former small group leader who went to a Slavic country this summer because "God told him to go". He was going to work with alchoholic guys on the street and planned on staying for a couple of years as "led by God". He was back in less than one month after experiencing the extreme discomfort. He now was saying that it was "God's will" for him to be in Colorado. Caleb's comment to me was: "Dad, next he is going to say that God wants him to get an XBox". I was very impressed with Caleb's reality thinking.

Merry Christmas to you and Paul!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mary. I've thought some of these things myself. It helps to hear you say them. :)