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Testimonies. Whether you enjoy speaking in front of others or it fills you with dread, at some point or other we all end up having to give one in our Christian walk. You might even find yourself sharing in a one-on-one situation with another individual rather than a large crowd.
But have you ever been in the following situation?
You’ve experienced difficulty or hardship for a long period of time. Maybe you’ve been in a wilderness for what feels like an eternity. Eventually, after months or years of prayer, a light seems to appear through a crack in the darkness. It seems that God is finally beginning to work in your life and your situation has changed.
Others around you are encouraged by this turnaround and exhort you to give your testimony on how God worked in your life. How he provided this new job for you, new relationship or new life growing inside you. Because you believe in God’s power and goodness, you want to tell others about it. Tell how, by trusting him enough, being thankful, finally looking at things in a different way, things were different this time and you had your breakthrough.
So you give your testimony, and everyone who hears is encouraged by it. “Praise God” they say. “That’s an amazing testimony. God is good.”
But not long after – perhaps a few weeks later or even the following week – they tell you how much they appreciated you being so vulnerable and sharing all of that. Then they ask you how it’s all going.
And coldly you tell them: “It’s not.”
Confused, they press the issue. Why do you look so sad when God has just worked in your life so powerfully?
And awkwardly, you tell them that you lost this job. Or this relationship ended. Or the life growing inside you has come to an end.
Feeling somewhat embarrassed, they tell you they’re sorry to hear that. Sometimes they won’t know what else to say and will leave you alone. Other times, they might try to offer advice: “Maybe God knew you wouldn’t be happy there. Maybe he had other plans for you.” Perhaps they try to quote you Jeremiah 29:11, which is one of the most used and most frequently misinterpreted “life verses” in the Bible in these situations.
Anything to try to find the silver lining in this dark cloud.
But it doesn’t help.
Maybe it is many months or years before you see another breakthrough. It takes you a while to get back to that place of trust or thankfulness in all circumstances.
And then you have another apparent breakthrough. This time though, you’re more cautious about sharing. But someone once again encourages you to share your testimony. They tell you that you can’t remain cynical throughout your life and that maybe things will be different this time when you share.
So reluctantly you share once again.
And then it’s the same cycle. Shortly afterwards, your testimony comes undone. Everything falls apart. You begin to feel like a laughing stock. It almost feels as if you’ve jinxed yourself by sharing too quickly when things weren’t established enough.
You may ask God: Why did you put this job or relationship in my path only to rip it away? It seems all too sudden and over too quickly. How could you tease me with the promise of something, only to pull it away at the last second? It almost feels cruel.
Maybe you wonder: when will you ever be able to feel that the ball isn’t about to drop suddenly every time you find even a little bit of happiness? Perhaps you are now unable to enjoy anything because you’re always afraid that it will be short lived and won’t last at all. You dread that the moment you begin to enjoy something it will be torn away from you.
I have felt precisely these same thoughts and feelings in many areas of life. It becomes easy to never want to share your testimony ever again.
How do you remain optimistic during these times when life throws you a curveball? In other words, as the baseball idiom suggests, life puts a spin on the ball that causes it to curve or deviate from the normal straight path just when we think things are working out.
How can you continue to share your testimony when it feels so short-lived? And how can you keep from feeling discouraged? After all, what you shared with others no longer holds true, even though it was true at the time. It may no longer be able to be used as an example of how God worked in your life.
HERE ARE 7 THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN YOU LIFE THROWS YOU A CURVEBALL.
1. Remember you’re not alone but in good Biblical company
When life takes a wrong turn after you share your testimony, it’s easy to think this only ever happens to you. Maybe you question whether you did something wrong that God had to take it away from you again. Did you somehow fail your probation period?
On top of that, you can feel like you’ve let other people down who were encouraged in their faith because of your testimony. You can start to feel guilty that you’re even feeling this way.
Take courage however that you are not alone, and that you’re not the only person to feel this way.
There are many figures in the Bible who have experienced exactly the same thing as you. These people were considered great people of faith.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father or many nations. He told him to look up at the stars, and that as countless as they were, this would be how many descendants God would give him.
Abraham found this difficult to believe. Both he and his wife were very old and past the age of childbearing.
Yet within a year of the angels visiting Sarah, she gave birth to a son whom she named Isaac. Both Abraham and Sarah loved him dearly as he grew up into a young man. It’s quite conceivable that both of them would’ve sung God’s praises on how he gave them a miracle at their age. They had been barren for so long, but now God had worked in their lives. It’s natural they would’ve told others as a testimony to God’s goodness and faithfulness.
However, in Genesis 22, one day God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son on an altar.
Abraham would doubtless have been extremely confused and wondering if he had heard God correctly. How could God, who had specifically provided this miracle son for them, now be taking him away?
And what would other people say who had heard his testimony before on how God had brought Isaac into their lives? What kind of humiliation or shame would they face?
The same happened with Joseph in the book of Genesis. After God gave him prophetic dreams, his brothers sold him into slavery to the Egyptians. However, he became a servant in Potiphar’s household and managed to become something of a success. Unfortunately, this was short-lived. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him into having an affair with her. When he refused, she accused him of rape and Joseph was thrown into prison. However, Genesis 39:21 tells us that God was with Joseph. He allowed him to find favour with the jailer so that he was put in charge of all the other prisoners.
Later on, Joseph’s prophetic ability to interpret dreams came in use when he offered an interpretation for both the Pharoah’s chief baker and wine bearer. Although Joseph asked the wine bearer to remember him, he was forgotten in prison for a further two years.
Both Abraham and Joseph had the rug pulled out from under them so to speak. They had a taste of God’s goodness and favour for a while but then it was taken or threatened to be taken from them.
Both remained faithful despite all of this. They trusted God even when they couldn’t see any way ahead and did not curse him or lose their hope.
2. Realise that God wants us to seek him and not his gifts
When we lose all hope after these things have been taken away from us, it can reveal the state of our hearts. We may have been seeking after God’s gifts rather than after the giver himself.
God doesn’t want these things to become idols in our lives.
This is similar to the test Abraham had to face. Sometimes Christians try to explain the reason for God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was to test him, to see if he would obey. But this was not simply an arbitrary demand. Also, since God is all-knowing, he would possess that knowledge of whether Abraham would ultimately obey or not.
There are two main reasons why God made this particular request of Abraham. First of all, Abram (as he was originally known) came from the land of Canaan where other religions around him regularly sacrificed things to their gods, including their own children. The Lord God wanted Abraham to see that He was not like these other gods.
Second and more importantly, if there was any test, it was for Abraham himself to see that Isaac was not an idol in his own life. The very child of the promise could easily have been elevated to something far more.
As Tim Keller writes in his book Counterfeit gods:
“The years of agonized waiting had taken their toll, as any couple struggling with infertility can attest. The nearly endless delays refined Abraham’s faith, which was crucially important. However, the years of infertility had also had another effect. No man had ever longed for a son more than Abraham. He had given up everything else to wait for this. When his son came, he felt, then his community would finally see he hadn’t been a fool to give up everything to trust God’s word… But the question now was—had he been waiting and sacrificing for God, or for the boy? Was God just a means to an end? To whom was Abraham ultimately giving his heart? … Had he learned to trust God alone, to love God for himself, not just for what he could get out of God? No, not yet.
Keller describes an idol as something we can’t live without. This can be something that is perfectly legitimate and good in its own right such as the desire to be married, have children, a career, health etc. However, when it is becomes more important to us than God and fills our hearts and thoughts more than God, then this thing has become first place in our lives. A counterfeit god is anything that becomes so essential to our life that, if this were to be taken away from us, we would think that life is not worth living.
Keller writes that Isaac had become everything to Abraham. When God calls him to sacrifice Isaac, he doesn’t merely refer to him by his name. Instead, Genesis 22:2 he tells Abraham to “take your son, your only son, whom you love.”
“Abraham’s affection had become adoration. Previously, Abraham’s meaning in life had been dependent on God’s word. Now it was becoming dependent on Isaac’s love and well-being. The center of Abraham’s life was shifting. God was not saying you cannot love your son, but that you must not turn a loved one into a counterfeit god. If anyone puts a child in the place of the true God, it creates an idolatrous love that will smother the child and strangle the relationship.”
It was only when Abraham was willing to go through with the sacrifice that God was able to say in Genesis 22:12 “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Tim Keller points out two things. First, we should not interpret the word “fear” as “being afraid” of God, but rather a wholehearted commitment to God that inspires awe and wonder. And second, we shouldn’t conclude that verse 12 means that God was trying to determine whether Abraham loved him or not. God, being omniscient means that he is all-knowing and all-seeing. He already knows the state of each person’s heart. Instead, what God was doing here was putting Abraham through the furnace to ensure that his love would “come forth as pure gold.”
If God had not worked in this particular way in Abraham’s life, Abraham would have come to love his son more than anything else in the world, if that were not the case already. Isaac would’ve become an idol for Abraham, and the source of his identity, security and joy. He could not have been the spiritual father of many nations even if he were the physical father. As long as Abraham never had to face that ultimate test of knowing for himself whether he would choose God over his son, he would not be able to see that his love was becoming idolatrous. God was therefore doing something in Abraham’s heart.
“Abraham’s agonizing walk into the mountains was therefore the final stage of a long journey in which God was turning him from an average man into one of the greatest figures in history.”
God may also be doing something in your life too. Turning you from an average man or woman into a something much more. But this transformation also involves a transformation in your heart. God may be using your difficult situation to achieve this so that we are firmly rooted in him.
When we have been longing for something in our lives to happen, it can begin to consume our every thought and our entire prayer life. We begin to seek God not for himself but for what he can give us.
If we finally get that thing – whether it’s a relationship, job, child – we can begin to think “Now I can finally be happy. Now someone will finally recognise me as significant. Now people will finally take me seriously.” Without realising, we may have made this thing into an idol in our own life.
When forced to choose between this thing or God, what will be our response? Will we feel like our life has no meaning again if it is taken away?
There’s a line in the evocative lyrics of the Coldplay song Viva La Vida which says:
“One minute I held the key – next the walls were closed on me, and I discovered that my castles stand upon pillars of salt, pillars of sand.”
Sometimes our situation can feel exactly like that. For one minute, we hold the key when we enjoy the fruit of answered prayer and feel like things are finally looking up. The next moment we are outside of these walls and no longer have access.
It is in these times that we discover whether our castles are built on sand or whether they’re built on a firmer foundation – the rock of Christ.
3. Realise we can’t always see the bigger picture
Sometimes it might seem as if we’re going one step forwards and 5 steps back in our life. As soon as we think we’re finally beginning to make progress, any of that progress seems to be quickly undone. Then we find that we’re further away from our dreams or goals than when we first started.
Instead of a continuous upwards movement or period of growth, sometimes we seem to be getting worse in what we’re able to achieve. On top of that, others start to perceive us as being incapable of doing certain things. This only compounds the problem even further for us.
The Rubik’s Cube is a good example of how God can seem to take us forward only to bring us backwards. In its classic form, the puzzle is a 3x3x3 cube made up of six different colours: white, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. After the colours have been jumbled up, the aim of the puzzle is to reorganise the cube so that each side is a single colour again.
When solving the cube, sometimes in order to put everything into order in the end, you have to temporarily move things out of order. To someone with no idea where you’re going, it can look like you’re manoeuvring the pieces out of order even when you’re seemingly close to finishing. It could seem as if you’re moving contrary to the intended outcome.
However, for someone who knows how to do the cube, you have the spatial intelligence to see where everything is supposed to fit. You know how the algorithm is supposed to work. This means you can see ahead of time where things need to go, and where you need to move them to reach your end goal.
This can give you an insight into the way God can work in the life of a believer too. Sometimes, like the Rubik’s Cube, we don’t have that overall omniscient knowledge that God possesses. When God moves things out of place in our lives temporarily, we can’t always appreciate that he has a plan for us and that it may be leading eventually to greater order for us.
Actress Janine Turner, who has had small parts in various Hollywood movies or TV shows such as Cliffhanger or Friday Night Lights, faced one rejection after another and couldn’t find work within the industry. She began drinking to dull the pain and cope with this barren period of her life.
Eventually however, she turned to God and came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. She shared the following in her testimony:
“When I look back at all the journeys that I’ve been through in my life, I realize that so often I just saw the threads and I could just see this and I never saw the blanket. God sees the whole tapestry. God sees eternity in perspective. God sees my whole life in perspective.”
We can’t always see the bigger picture from our own limited perspective. It’s true it may not offer much comfort in our time of grief, and I would be the last one to make light of such a situation. But we need to trust that God sees things that we cannot see.
4. Understand that some good can still come out of your brief experience
Alfred Lord Tennyson once said:
“’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”
There are many times however when this doesn’t feel true. Sometimes it feels as if it would’ve been better never to have loved, or never to have gained a breakthrough than to have gained one and then lost it promptly afterwards. You may question: “what was the point of it all?”
In the 1990 film drama “Awakenings”, the late Robin Williams plays Malcolm Sayer, a physician at a Bronx hospital in New York City. He works with catatonic patients who have survived the 1917-28 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica. After attending a conference on an experimental drug normally used for treating Parkinson’s disease, Sayer experiments with his own catatonic patients and is successful in “awakening” them from their catatonic state.
One of his patients is Leonard Lowe, played by Robert De Niro. When he wakes up and discovers new-found freedom, he takes pleasure in the little things in life which people normally take for granted. Things such as taking walks, looking at things, being able to be around others. However, both Lowe and the other patients’ newly awakened state is short lived and they eventually return to their catatonic state.
Sometimes our temporary emerging from a state of decay or slumber can feel exactly like this movie. We awaken and experience life and hope once again. However, when it fades away or is snatched from our grasp, it is easy to become cynical. We can believe that it would’ve been better not to have emerged at all than to have emerged and gained a brief hope, only to return there once again.
In the film however, although Sayer acknowledges that the awakening was short-lived, he observes that there was another kind of awakening that occurred. Everyone experienced an awakening for life – learning to live and appreciate it. Sayer, for example, found the courage to overcome his shyness and ask a nurse out for coffee after having avoided that kind of situation earlier. Other nurses also now treated the catatonic patients with more care and respect as people, rather than as zombies.
In a similar way, some good can have come out of our brief experience where we were enjoying success. If we gained employment again, it could have helped us to develop new skills or put us in contact with certain people, even if our work was only temporary. In a relationship, even if short-lived, it could have helped us to see the kinds of people we can relate to and those we can’t. It may have even been only a stepping stone to something else later on down the line.
As mentioned above, we can’t always see how God is working in our lives and how he may have used the experience. We can’t always see the bigger picture and how God may use each experience in a particular way to shape us into the person he intends us to be.
5. Don’t allow the experience to make you bitter or doubt God’s goodness
When God seemingly throws a spanner in the works, it’s easy to become bitter and resentful towards him. We can begin to doubt God’s goodness and whether he really loves us. Over time, our resentment can build up and we no longer are able to trust him.
This is exactly what the devil wants. He is the accuser and deceiver. If we don’t take our thoughts captive but allow them to fester, it will eat away at our relationship with God. We will eventually become estranged towards him and may find it difficult to pray, let alone praise him.
In addition, we can become cynical about life and never excited about anything anymore. When something good does happen, we will be waiting for the other shoe to drop and expecting the worse.
And sometimes, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
26 I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
Like Job, we can find ourselves with no peace and unable to rest in God’s goodness or to even receive his grace.
We may also become reluctant to ever share our testimony with others. Either we’ll feel that the moment we share it, God will reverse it. Or alternatively, we can’t honestly stand up there in front of others and proclaim God’s goodness when we aren’t sure of it ourselves.
I have been through this exact same process myself.
Once we begin to doubt God’s goodness and are constantly looking over our shoulder, this allows our hearts to grow cold towards him.
We can counter this by doing the following:
6. Keep praising God even when you don’t feel like it.
Praise and worship has power behind it. We may not always feel like praising God, especially when life is not going our way at all. However there are several good reasons we should do so anyway, despite our feelings. I’ve gone into more depth about it here.
One important reason is that when we praise God, our words function as speech acts. This is when certain words do more than merely communicate information but actually change a situation.
When we praise God, we agree with truths about him and speak these out in faith. It gives us a different perspective of the situation from God’s point of view.
This is what both Job and Habakkuk did in spite of their difficult circumstances:
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Consciously choosing to be thankful and praise God in every circumstance – including our difficult circumstances – has the effect of boosting our own faith. As we assent to the truths of scripture, this helps us to focus on his character and his goodness and to avoid becoming cynical about life.
This leads onto the last point.
7. Use discretion when you share your testimony, but don’t give up telling others
Here are some practical steps you can take in sharing information.
In all things we should exercise discretion and wisdom on how much to share with others. We also need to be careful with the types of people with whom we choose to share this information. Only share in a group or with an individual you trust and who understand your journey. Not everyone will have the maturity or the integrity to see things in the right way, especially if life does throw you a curveball later on.
If someone asks you to share your testimony in church in front of the whole congregation, then pray carefully over whether it is the right thing to do at the moment. Don’t rush to share your testimony either, especially if you have been praying about your difficult situation for a long time.
Sometimes, without realising, our testimonies can become a subtle way of boasting. We can have the temptation to want to do that as soon as it seems that God answered our prayers. It can make us feel good because of all the attention we receive. When it looks like God is working in your life, people seem to give you more respect. You must be a mighty man or woman of God if he is doing these kinds of things.
We need to question our motives for sharing. Is it to tell of God’s goodness, or simply because we’re trying to let others know that we’re “okay” or acceptable now by the world’s standards? Do we want a fantastic testimony like everyone else seems to have and are therefore seeking validation in other people’s eyes? Are we simply wanting others to know that we now have a relationship or a job or a child and are finally worthy of significance? If so, we may be making these things (including our own reputation) into idols without knowing.
The real test is when nothing seems to be happening. Or when we share our testimonies but then life throws us a curveball and our previous situation has a “relapse”. Can we still proclaim God’s goodness in spite of our circumstances?
Can we still speak it out as an act of faith like Habakkuk did in Habakkuk 3:17-19 even when the fig tree doesn’t bud or the olive crop fails?
As Isaiah 40:8 says:
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
The grass may wither. Our situations around us may crumble but God’s word still stands.
Our proclamation of God’s goodness shouldn’t depend on whether it seems he is doing anything in our life or not. It should depend on the truth of scripture and its everlasting value.
When life throws us a curveball – and inevitably it will – we need to trust in God’s goodness and wisdom. We also need to continue to declare these truths even in our darkest moments. As we put God first in our lives we can ask him to search our hearts to see if we have allowed any of these things to become idols. In this way, we can gain the right perspective again.
We may never know the answers this side of heaven for why certain things happened in the way they did. And all the explanations in the world may prove fruitless when we are grieving a loss.
If you are a friend or family member supporting someone else going through this type of situation, the best thing you can do is to offer them your support and pray for them without trying to provide rationalisations for why things happened.
People might say they want our empathy – i.e., they want us to feel what they feel. However, this is actually a word which is often substituted for “sympathy”, which has lost some of its original meaning. The Greek word “sumpathesai”, from where we get the word sympathise means “to suffer with”. This is a much richer meaning. When we sympathise with someone, we actually suffer with them too rather than simply giving them a pat on the back. This is more meaningful than simply being able to emphathise.
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Finally, have you had any experiences where you’ve given your testimony but then God seems to roll back on your miracle? How do you deal with it? And do you find any of these suggestions useful?
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.