As grieving parents of a son who is in heaven, my wife and I have seen God take our family’s pain and make beautiful things come from it. He has worked even the worst things in our lives together to create beautiful good. When I tell my son Aiden’s story as an illustration of Scripture, I see people reconciled to God and, in that moment, know why he died. When we illustrate our messages with personal testimony, we establish trust with our listeners, help others understand what the Scripture passage is doing in our immediate context today, and better understand why God allowed or caused the events of our testimonies in the first place. God is in the business of redemption and He can redeem your personal testimonies of heartache, embarrassment, failure, and grief.
You see, you are immersed in illustration material. You experience things great and small each day that resonate and connect with people. Explore the Bible materials include illustration ideas in the Leader Guides, videos, posters, and tool kits, but they do not include your own story as the leader: you must incorporate that.
Stories of how your session’s Scripture has impacted your life turn you into a living and breathing hermeneutic; the thought that connects the Bible’s original historical-cultural context to our modern context today. These stories can be testimonies of triumph, but people connect particularly with raw, authentic, self-effacing stories of how Scripture helped you deal with something overwhelming, how Scripture picked you back up after failure, and how you once walked into a glass door…like I once did. Your listeners can see that you are being honest with them which establishes a degree of trust and that is invaluable. Interesting factoids and anecdotes borrowed from headlines and gleaned from others can form powerful illustrations, but they very rarely have the same effect as a raw and accessible personal story. Such stories illustrate the Scripture point at hand while simultaneously contributing to the relationship factor at work in your group.
Let me illustrate my point about illustrating with personal illustrations with a personal illustration that involves a personal illustration. I was speaking at a conference. As I tried to paint a picture in the crowd’s minds of a rogue planet careening through outer space instead of orbiting a home star, I noticed that they all suddenly found the floor and seat-backs in front of them more interesting than what I was saying. I was losing them. So, suddenly changing tracks, I changed my tenor all together – nearly interrupting myself. “Do you want to hear a story of a time I was on a date in college, forgot my date’s name, and asked her how her last name was pronounced? Turns out, it’s pronounced Smith, ya’ll.” From that point on, every set of eyes in the room stayed with me as we went through Scripture together. Now, I personally find the story of the rogue planet much more interesting; riveting, in fact, but the Scripture at hand was better illustrated for that particular crowd by a story of their speaker’s faux pas.
So, read ahead in your session materials. See what Scripture is coming up in your next sessions and ask the Lord to give you stories to share. Ask Him what pains in your past may be redeemed in part by sharing them during your session. Ask Him what parts of your testimony might help others in your group relate to your personal take on Scripture, respect the culture of authenticity you are trying to start, and reciprocate in an act of fellowship that is marked with honesty. God can use everything in your life from your childhood misadventures to your chance encounters to your conflicts to your grief. What has God allowed you to face that may have been intended partly as illustration material for this weekend’s session?