“Chosen and precious” refers to the one chosen for us and precious in God’s eyes. But now, because of the Resurrection, that phrase includes us. We are chosen and precious in Christ. A consequence of being chosen is that God is at work in our lives in good times and in difficult times. This service is perfect for celebrating the faith stories of the congregation. In the previous series, we spoke about the power of testimony. Perhaps this is a practice that should become a regular feature of worship.
Let’s be clear, testimony isn’t the same thing as sharing prayer concerns, nor is it necessarily about how people came to faith. Of course, it could be that, but more useful are the stories of how God is at work in the life of the disciple in training. The ability to discern God at work in our lives is a part of growth in grace, which is why we need to practice this discernment in the body on a regular basis. While spontaneous testimony can be fruitful, it runs too many risks to be a regular practice. It is better to have individuals rehearse their testimony with the pastor or worship leader to keep it focused on the question at hand. The guiding question might be as general as, “How is God working in your life right now?” or as specific as, “How was God helping you through your illness, or grief, or tragedy?”
The key is to set boundaries, to stay focused on the question, and to limit the time. This is not done as a way to confine the Holy Spirit, but to keep the subject before the congregation. This is a teaching moment as well as an opportunity to get to know one disciple’s journey better. Some communities might choose to video-record the testimony in order to control the time and keep the wandering to a minimum.
Be aware, though, you might be opening a door to the movement of the Spirit in the life of the congregation. You might find more and more people wanting to come and tell their stories. You will certainly find many who want to hear more; it could become the most popular part of worship. Hearing one another’s stories is compelling. This is why the psalms are so powerful; they come from the rawness of human experience and still find their way to praise (see Preaching Notes).
The text chosen for this series is Psalm 66:8-20. It is also found in The United Methodist Hymnal (790). Use the litany with the sung response if you can. It adds that experience of joy to the reading. Let the congregation share the reading of the scripture this week. There is honesty in these words, as you usually find in the psalms, that will connect with many as a witness to the struggles in their own lives. Let the people have a voice and find that voice. Although they are reading ancient words, they are telling their own stories. It is a story that doesn’t end in suffering, but in praise.
It is important that we find our way to praise in the “Chosen and Precious” series. We are not elevating the individual to become an object of worship. We are entering into the lives of the individuals in the community to help find the way to the praise of God. No matter how deeply you share in the struggles of those who are willing to speak, there needs to be hope that rises to the fore. There needs to be joy that results from the confident awareness that God is present, even in the darkest times.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.