Once upon a time there was a man named Bill who was drinking himself to death. In spite of his own best efforts and the loving care of his family, no power on earth could separate Bill from the bottle, and he was certain to die.
One day Bill sat at his kitchen table nursing his gin when an old drinking buddy stopped by. Bill could not remember the last time he had seen his friend sober, but there he stood, healthy, confident and happy. Bill later wrote: “here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen table.” Hope took hold as Bill’s friend assured him that God would do the same miracle in his life, if he were willing, that he too could be “raised from the dead.”* Bill stopped drinking that day.
A short time later Bill went to Akron, Ohio on business, and found himself craving a drink. In desperation, he called his wife, who wisely suggested that Bill find another alcoholic to help, just as his friend had done before him. After some searching he found Dr. Bob Smith, a fellow alcoholic who could not get sober. They found kinship in their suffering, founding Alcoholics Anonymous. As CS Lewis said, “Friendship… is born at that moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…’”
And that’s what suffering does: convince me that I am the only one who has ever felt such pain, or the only one who battles a particular sin, or the only one who struggles with a circumstance. And so I am isolated, alone, and convinced I am beyond help. At that moment what I need most is for someone to look me in the eye and tell me he or she understands how I feel, that I am not the only one, that God will help me.
God does the work of change in every heart and life, but He always uses people to carry His message. Case in point: the Gospel itself is a message of hope and healing, shared primarily through testimony: “I once was lost, but now I am found.” It’s a principle of the kingdom that we can use our pain, tragedy and regret to minister to other people. Sharing our experience with God brings strength and hope to those who need it.
“God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” (2 Corinthians 1:4 MSG) This is one way we help bring the kingdom of God into this sin-afflicted world. Reaching out to comfort others as God has comforted me actually makes my suffering count for something. “Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” (2 Corinthians 1:5-6 NKJV) All that is required of me is that I be willing to share my story, honestly and faithfully. In God’s marvelous economy, my pain is not wasted and my comfort grows to cheer another. I am comforted, my friend is comforted, and God gets the glory.
But that’s also the rub: I have to be willing to share, very honestly, what I have been through. This requires no small amount of bravery. If I sugar coat my mistakes, put on a happy face, or pretend that hardship doesn’t hurt, how can anyone see the glory of God at work in my life? If I will not admit I was lost, how can anyone appreciate the miracle that I am found? That experience, strength and hope doesn’t do anybody any good if I keep it to myself. But when I tell you what God has done for me, I get to marvel all over again at His faithful love and His goodness toward me. And honestly, when I am overflowing with gratitude, I just can’t keep my mouth shut.
Gratitude has that effect on people. Bill said, “The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” (Big Book p. 191) The psalmist says, “Behold, I have not restrained my lips… I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness…” (Psalm 40:9-11 ESV)
Obviously, this is different for every person. We need to make careful use of our stories, discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit to know what and when and how to share. The Spirit glorifies God through our testimonies, so the focus stays on Him rather than on us. God uses some people to speak to large audiences and share their struggles publicly, but those people are the exception. Most of us do not (and should not) tell hundreds of people about our bankruptcy or infidelity or dysfunctional family or alcoholism. God never intends for us to expose someone else’s private business, either. Many times the sharing of a personal encounter with God is a private matter between one person prompted by the Spirit and another person whom the Spirit has readied to receive.
Bill offered hope to a hopeless man, witnessing to God’s faithfulness in the midst of alcoholism. Alcoholic Anonymous has followed this principle ever since. We, too, can pray for opportunity to encourage the faith of others by sharing what God has done for us in the midst of trials. “If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there… shine! Keep open house- be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up to God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15 MSG)
Father, we are so grateful for Your mercy and goodness in our lives. Show us how to share our stories:
I will proclaim Your name to my brothers and sisters, Father, for You have done great things for me and I am glad! Unless You had helped me, my soul would have settled into silence.I will always thank You, Father, I will never stop praising You for what You have done. May all who are oppressed listen and be glad! Psalm 22:22 NLT, 126:3, 94:17, 34:1-2
Father, You have established a testimony in your people, and You have commanded that we should make You known to our children, that the generations to come might know You. Then they will arise and declare You to their children, that they may all set their hope on You, not forgetting Your works, but rather keeping Your commands. Psalm 78: 5-7
Thank You God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that You are our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For You give us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Experience shows us that the more we share Christ’s sufferings, the more we are able to give of His encouragement. This means that if I experience trouble, I can pass on to others comfort and spiritual help, for if I have experienced comfort I know how to encourage others to endure patiently the same sorts of troubles I have endured. 2 Corinthians 1: 5-7 Phillips
Father, I understand that what happens to me can actually serve to advance the gospel. Just as the story of Abraham is recorded in Your Word not only for his credit, but also for our benefit, so might our testimonies be useful to You for the benefit of others. May we continue to share our stories because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.”… Everything I have come to know about You, Father, can benefit someone else. Philippians 1:12, Romans 4:23, 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 NLT