My Spiritual Testament

When we talk about our faith, we are not merely expressing our beliefs; we are coming more fully and clearly to believe. In short, we are always talking ourselves into being Christian.” Thomas G. Long. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian.

NOTE: You will find that the content of many writing activities in this “Life Sentences” course overlaps. That is to be expected since in one way or another the activities all focus on your life. However, this writing activity—“My Spiritual Testament”—relates with special closeness to the one entitled “My Faith Journey.” You might think of them as two windows providing views of the same scene, yet with distinct angles of vision. 

You may wish to preview both activities and then decide which one best suits for you as a starting point. You can do one or the other, with significant benefit from either. If you have the energy, you also can do one and then the other, with the potential of later weaving together your two responses.


Just what is a “testament”?

We hear the word in the familiar phrase “last will and testament.” Does “testament” mean your end-of-life intentions for those who will inherit what you’ve left behind? Yes, in part. As a legal term, “testament” refers to one’s disposition of material goods. At one time a “Will” referred to real property (e.g. house, land, buildings) and a “Testament” referred to personal property (e.g. clothes, furniture, vehicles, money, stocks, bonds). 

The two terms now are used interchangeably, but the old characterization of “Testament” as pertaining to movable goods helps us to think about a Spiritual Testament. Essentially, it refers to our take-aways. After years of experience and ongoing spiritual growth and maturation, what might we have to pass on to others? What legacy might we wish to bequeath to those we leave behind?

As is often the case when we seek a perspective on a word’s meaning, it helps to know more about the word’s origin. The word “testament” has a particularly interesting history. It starts with the root word “test,” one that many of us may associate with classroom learning. Originally, a test was the container used in the ancient refinement of precious metals. The dross was separated and discarded, leaving the behind the purified material. 

A testament, then, is a document or proof that something has been tested and found to be valuable. Our spiritual testament is a credo or statement of belief that derives from experiences that have tested us. You may recall, perhaps, the words of a beautiful aria in Handel’s Messiah: “But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire”  (Malachi 3: 2). In a spiritual testament, we may bear witness that the fire of God’s judgment has not annihilated us; it has chastened and refined us.

The word “testament” has another interesting meaning, also deriving from its early usage. Among early Christians, it was used to describe a covenant between God and humankind, a translation of the Greek word diathēkē (‘covenant’).  Thus, we have the “Old Testament,” reflecting the Mosaic covenant and the “New Testament,” reflecting the Christian one. So , writing a spiritual testament can be a way for us to renew our covenant with God. When we give voice to our Testament, we open ourselves to Eternity and to the Kingdom of God which Jesus said is within us.

At this point, you might debate whether to create a Spiritual Testament or to describe your Faith Journey. Even if you choose to do both, one or the other may suit you better as the starting point.  Here are a few comparative observations:

  • “My Spiritual Testament” is more of an explanation (expository writing), including ideas, beliefs and more direct statements.  “My Faith Journey” is more of a story (narrative writing), including incidents, encounters, experiences and feelings.
  • The scope of a Spiritual Testament tends to be limited, grounded in the present; that of a Faith Journey is broader, spanning all or a longer portion of your life.
  • The Spiritual Testament inclines toward brevity; the Faith Journey can unfold at considerable length.
  • The Spiritual Testament is more contemporary, focused on your views in the here-and-now; the Faith Journey is more historical, offering a chronicle of past growth and development.
  • The Spiritual Testament may be more public, sharing with others your creeds and beliefs; the Faith Journey is often more private, a personal record for your own review.


If you choose to create a spiritual testament, the goal would be to create a statement (one-to-ten pages in length) describing your current beliefs or the creeds that you hold. 


First of all, it is for yourself. Formulating a testament at this stage of life can help you clarify your spiritual thoughts and feelings. It is a way to reflect on how you have experienced God’s presence in your life and then articulate the essentials of your belief. Thomas G. Long, a professor of preaching, describes it as “talking ourselves into being Christian.” “…Saying things out loud,” he writes, “is part of how we come to believe. We talk our way toward belief, talk our way from tentative belief through doubt to firmer belief, talk our way toward believing more fully, more clearly, and more deeply.”

Your Spiritual Testament also may be shared with others—family members, church friends or any one else with whom you discuss matters of faith. You might even give a copy to your pastor or church historian, as a way of speaking to younger and future participants in your faith community.  It can be your way of providing “road signs” and “guideposts” for those who—like the ancient Israelites on the way home from exile—need direction from others who have gone before them (Jeremiah 31: 21).


A testament of faith can take many forms e.g. letter, conversation, speech, sermon, last lecture, etc.). and you are welcome to be as creative as you like. You might think of your writing as:

  • a Letter, jotting down your thoughts and memories as they come. 
  • a Conversation, interacting with a friend or acquaintance who is asking you specific questions. 
  • a Speech, structuring your thoughts as you would when preparing to lead a t worship service.
  • an Essay, explaining the nature of your spiritual views 

At this point, you may feel ready to begin, ready to articulate for yourself and possibly for others a sense of your covenant with God, however you understand and relate to that which is transcendent or immanent in your life. You feel ready to share your “spiritual” take-aways, a description of the ideas and beliefs that give your life meaning and purpose.  

If you would like more guidance, on the other hand, you may consider any of the options below, which may serve as a springboard to your writing.

Option A: A Well-Versed Reflection

Take time to recall scripture verses or passages that over the years have been meaningful to you. 

Locate these passages and reread them several times. 

Then explain how these particular words have helped to guide and define your thinking.

For myself, the list certainly would include Luke 2: 52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom, stature and favour with God and man” (KJV). 

  • When I think and write about this verse, I note the importance it held for me as a classroom instructor. Essentially, it reflected my “teaching philosophy,” our need for balance among four key dimensions of life—our mental growth, our physical development, our spiritual and social relationships. 
  • In retirement I have led several times a study in healthy aging. I soon learned that in the late 1940’s, the World Health Organization expanded the definition of health; it came to refer not only to the absence of illness or physical abnormality, but also to include mental and social-emotional well being. In more recent years, spirituality has been added to that list. The gospel writer Luke was also a trained physician and centuries ago, he recognized the four primary dimensions of health—wisdom, stature, and favour with God and man.
  • As a writer, I also am mindful of Dr. Luke’s skillful use of this verse as a transition in his gospel story. In this verse, made up of just a dozen words, he spans the passage of about eighteen years in the life of Jesus. He sets a good model for me when I struggle to condense my account of events in my own life.

Reflecting on the individual verses or passages is a rewarding activity in itself. If you reflect on three or more, you might see a connecting thread that will give your testament even greater unity. 

Option B: Your Spiritual Beliefs: 

The New Testament commentator William Barclay wrote a memoir entitled Testament of Faith. In one of the key chapters, entitled “I Believe,” Barclay describes his main spiritual beliefs and how they were formed. 

Barclay’s beliefs include such statements as:

  • “I believe in God—and I believe in God the Creator—and I believe in the loveliness of the world” (42).
  • “…I believe in the love of God. I do not believe that God’s love is a sloppy and sentimental attitude to us” (43).
  • “…I believe that pain and suffering are never the will of God for his children” (44).
  • “…I believe in prayer. But over the years of life I have learned certain things about prayer, things which it is essential to remember” (46). 

Barclay continues through the chapter, identifying his main beliefs and elaborating his perspectives on each one, concluding with his belief in home, marriage and family.

Another writer, Frederick Buechner, says in his conclusion of his spiritual memoir Now & Then: “…there are some things I would be willing to bet maybe even my life on.” (108-109) These include:

  1. “That life is grace….the givenness of it, the fathomlessness of it, the endless possibilities of its becoming transparent to something extraordinary beyond itself…”
  2. “That if we really had our eyes open, we would see that all moments are key moments.”
  3. “That he who does not love remains in death.”
  4. “That Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwells among us full of grace and truth.”  
  5. And that “here and there even in our world, and now and then even in ourselves, we catch glimpses of a New Creation, which, fleeting as those glimpses are apt to be, give us hope both for this life and for whatever life may await us later on.”

We sometimes summarize important matters with the phrase “When push comes to shove…” or “Make a long story short…” Thinking of your present life in such a summary spirit:

  • What beliefs would you describe in such a chapter?
  • How were these beliefs formed (or confirmed) in your life?
  • On what things might you be willing to bet even your life?

Option C: Your Spiritual Health

The World Health Organization expanded the definition of good health in 1947 to include not just physical but also mental and social-emotional well-being. Significantly, the spiritual dimension was not included, in part because there was little consensus on what was meant by “spirituality” and what diagnostic indicators might accompany it. 

Dr. Christina Puchalski is a practicing physician and a professor of medicine at George Washington University.  She has helped the W.H.O. to include spirituality in its dimension of health and worked with conferences of doctors to develop a consensus definition: “Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” 

Physicians like Dr. Puchalski have limited time available in their interactions with patients, so their questions are succinct and to the point:

  • Are there spiritual beliefs that help you cope with stress or difficult times? 
  • What gives your life meaning?
  • Is spirituality important in your life? 
  • What influence does it have on how you take care of yourself? 
  • Are there any particular decisions regarding your health that might be affected by these beliefs?
  • Are you part of a spiritual or religious community?

With more time available the attending physician or a spiritual caregiver on the intake team might do a more detailed assessment. These questions, developed with great consideration, might guide any of us as we write our Spiritual Testament.

(Spiritual history)

1. Describe the religious  / spiritual tradition that you grew up in?

2. How did your family express its spiritual beliefs?

3. How important was spirituality to your family?

4. What experiences or practices stand out to you from your years living with your family?

5. What made these experiences special?

6. How have they influenced your later life?

7. How have you changed or matured from those experiences?

(Current spirituality)

8. How would you describe your current spiritual or religious orientation?

9. What things do you believe that give meaning to your life?

10. Is your spirituality a personal strength ? If so, how?


11. What aspects of your spiritual life give you pleasure?

12. What role does your spirituality play in handling life’s sorrows?

13. …in enhancing life’s joys?

14. …in coping with life’s pain?

15. How does your spirituality give you hope for the future?

16. What do you wish to accomplish in the future?


17. Are there particular spiritual rituals or practices which help you deal with life’s obstacles?

18. What is your level of involvement in the faith-based community?

19. How are they supportive?

20. Are there spiritually encouraging individuals you maintain contact with?


21. What are your current religious / spiritual beliefs?

22. What are they based on?

23. What beliefs do you find particularly meaningful?

24. What does your faith say about personal trials?

25. How does this belief help you overcome obstacles?

26. How do your beliefs affect your health practices?


27. Describe your relationship with your higher power?

28. What has been your experience of the higher power?

29. How does your higher power communicate with you?

30. How have these experiences encouraged you?

31. Have there been times of deep spiritual intimacy?

32. How does your relationship help you face life challenges?

33. How would your higher power describe you?


34. How do you determine right and wrong?

35. What are your key values?

36. How does your spirituality help you deal with guilt?

37. What role does forgiveness play in your life?


38.To what extent do you experience flashes of creative insight, premonitions or spiritual insight?

39. Have these insights been a strength in your life? If so, how?

Option D: Your Global Testament of Faith

In our spiritual quest, we seek the truth. Yet in our global times, we encounter many ways that humankind has construed ultimate truth. As we travel, and as we meet immigrants to our own communities, we encounter devout people of other faith traditions: e.g. Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and others.  

Even within our Christian faith, we have broad diversity in our approaches to worship and belief.  

Every religion has a spectrum of belief and practice.

  • e.g. Christianity may appear quite different when described by a Catholic, Protestant, or  Greek Orthodox believer.

How do you feel about the religious practices of other faith traditions?

How do you feel about the diversity within the Christian faith community? 

Is such diversity a detriment or something that makes us richer and wiser?

Traditionally, responses to such questions embrace one of three basic positions:

  1. Exclusive Position: My faith is the only true one (all the others are false)
  2. Inclusive Position: There may be some truth in all or many other religions, but mine is the truest
  3. Pluralist Position: All religious traditions are pathways to God; mine is simply the one that is most meaningful or most familiar or best suited for me.
  • Do you find one of these positions expresses your own response? 
  • Do you perhaps find yourself somewhere between one position and another? 
  • What leads to you this response? 

Dr. Kirby Godsey is a Baptist professor and theologian, the former president of Mercer University, and the author of Is God a Christian?: Creating a Community of Conversation.

Dr. Godsey advocates that ordinary people like us need to engage in conversations with people of other religious persuasions in order to live with respect, civility and earnest understanding. 

  • Specifically, he recommends that we seek to know the story of the faith of the other person—its origin, expansion, external challenges and internal divisions; its sacred literature; its sacred places; and the holy moments in its history. 
  • He also commends for our discussion vital questions that matter: 
    • Why is there pain and suffering?  
    • What is beyond our present life (afterlife)? 
    • How do we find love / compassion?  
    • Where do we find the pathway of hope?
    • How then shall we live?

As you think about such a conversation with a person of another religious tradition, how would you characterize the story of your faith and how would you answer the vital questions that matter? Your responses clearly will be a Spiritual Testament.

May you recall readily, record fully, and reflect meaningfully.