*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.

When I was a very young pastor, the Lord used an unlikely person to teach me a valuable lesson. I pray I never forget it. That Sunday morning I preached the sermon of my life, having prepared and presented a theological treatise that would make John Calvin proud—or so I thought. While I planned diligently, chose a “deep” topic, and even threw in a few Greek and Hebrew terms, I was (in retrospect) a little too pleased with my presentation and myself that morning. I just knew that my wonderful speech would inspire the congregants. 

And I thought they needed inspiration. They were a little too rural for my taste. Although the church of 800 members resided in an upper middle class community in West Knoxville, Tennessee, it remained true to its informal roots. Much to my chagrin, their worship was unordered: hymns were chosen randomly as the names of each were called aloud by the attendees. Testimony time in that church could break out at a moment’s notice and would occasionally serve as the primary focus of the service. Sometimes, in fact, I was unable to deliver my intricately prepared sermon as the service took on a life all its own. Those times left me feeling as if my seminary education was a waste. 

On this particular Sunday, however, things went smoothly; I was brilliant! As I left the dais and moved to the altar area, I just knew that I had “wowed” them. I asked, as was my custom, if anyone had anything else they would like to add to the day’s message. I secretly hoped that there would be silence so that I could move on to the closing prayer and dismissal. Much to my shock, Mrs. Jones raised her hand and began to shuffle to the front of the auditorium.  

Mrs. Jones had been a member of our church for over sixty years. Though widowed, she never missed a worship service and always sat in the same place. Mrs. Jones would say “hi” or “good morning” but little else, and she certainly never testified. I was surprised to find myself gripped with fear and even a little resentment as she slowly made her way down the aisle. She was about to take the focus off of “my” sermon. Could it be that she’d noticed my pride? Was she about to call me out in front of the whole church? 

The usually restless group (who always seemed to run home after church as if they had roasts in the oven) was hushed in silent respect at the sight of Mrs. Jones tottering towards the front. I didn’t breathe as she slowly grabbed the microphone from my hand and paused. Here stood the lady whom everyone turned to for prayer. Here stood a servant who didn’t have to be the center of attention to teach that her faith was genuine and powerful. 

Faintly, her breath stirred through the PA system as she clutched the mike. When she spoke, it was in a whisper: “I love Jesus.”  

That was it. Nothing more.  

I was absolutely stunned and overwhelmed as her shaking hand returned the microphone to mine. As she shuffled back to her pew, tears flowed from every eye in the house—including my own. Thankfully, I was at a complete loss for words. There was nothing of value that I could add. Mrs. Jones’ words were so true that everyone was touched by the divine simplicity of her faith. I was reminded of the marvelous truth that we find in First John 5:10, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” “I love Jesus,” was her testimony. It should be that of every believer.  

Mrs. Jones’ is still the greatest sermon I have heard. I was devastated yet consumed by its profound beauty. No Greek or Hebrew words. No theological jargon. No alliteration or three points and a poem to capture listeners’ attention. Mrs. Jones needed no seminary training. She had all she needed: Jesus and her love for Him. Paul’s words in First Corinthians 1:17-21 ring true:  

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 

I’ll always thank God for the role Mrs. Jones played in my life.  She reminds me that our testimony, no matter how simple, should confirm the indwelling presence of Christ. Her genuine words of faith powerfully reflected a life submitted to her Savior. I especially think of her when I read Paul’s words: “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you” (1 Corinthians 1:4-6).