What’s the Story with Stories?
I am writing today’s post from my parents’ house where they have a beautiful fish pond. Listening to the water run into the pond from the stream that feeds it certainly isn’t a bad way to start the morning.
Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at Pathway two-nine, part of the twentysomething young-adult ministry at Crossroads Community Church. Their topic for the summer is “The Summer of Stories” as in people sharing their stories with the group, which I did last night. As I prepared for this time and thought about the story of my life, it made me ponder why we love them so much. What is it about a story that draws people in? Why is there a whole section in the bookstore dedicated to the happenings of people’s lives? If you think about it, most of what we watch, read and listen to is stories. Whether it is our favorite movie or book, true or fictional, stories tend to captivate us. There is something about a story that is powerful and resonates with us in a way that almost nothing else can. I think this is something that is important for us to understand and something that God certainly knows and has used to create change over the course of history.
When trying to understand the reason behind something, I think it is always helpful to go to the source. In the case of stories, I would argue this is God. All you have to do is turn to the first page of the Bible to begin understanding why. Instead of just saying He created the earth, God tells us the whole story of the earth’s creation and his observations along the way- “and God saw that it was good”. God explains how we came into existence and his plan for, as the Bible says, that which he created in his own image. If we turn to Genesis 3, we read the story of the day we decided to walk away from our Creator and try things our own way. Instead of leaving us to wonder why there is so much pain and suffering in the world, God shows us where sin began and the byproduct of it. However, because he loves us so much, God didn’t leave us there. Beginning at the end of Chapter 3 of Genesis and continuing throughout the Bible, God tells the story of his redemption and restoration plan for the world. All throughout the Old Testament of the Bible we can read about the ways God showed his people how much he loved them. Then, as the greatest demonstration of His love, in the New Testament God reveals the solution to our brokenness, Jesus and his death of the Cross. From there we can read about the advancement of His kingdom and the hope that is found in Christ. In many ways, the Bible is the ultimate love story; the love of a father for His creations.
Jesus understood the power of story as well when he was on earth. All throughout the Gospels we can read stories, called parables, created by Jesus to help people understand who God really is. Not only that, but Jesus told his followers to use his story to change the world. In Acts 1:8 Jesus instructs his followers to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth or, in other words, to tell the story of his life as a way of changing the lives of others. Notice, it wasn’t the life lessons that Jesus said would change the world, but the true story of the Savior who came to the earth to redeem our lives. This is not to say that the life lessons aren’t important, but without The Story they are just words on page. The truth of this is demonstrated just a few chapters later when the disciples begin to proclaim Jesus’ story and thousands of people begin to follow Christ. Even later in history, it wasn’t necessarily the words of the Christ Followers that caused people to ask who this Jesus really was, but the stories of their lives and the incredible compassion and love they showed when no one else would. I believe this is still true today.
What’s the story with stories? I believe the reason stories are so powerful and God used them – and still does – to communicate his truths to us, is that in many ways our lives are stories. What I mean is we can relate better to something when we can put ourselves, if even just to a small degree, in the picture. Think about the creation of the earth. Because God made us in His image, we are creative and made to create so when we read the story God creating the world we can relate it to times we have made something in our lives, even if it was on a much smaller scale. The story of Adam and Eve turning their back on God looks a lot like the times I did the same thing to my parents. We have lived through the consequences of acting contrary to the way things were supposed to be (touched the stove when it was hot, anyone?) and, therefore, can put ourselves in the story. Even with God’s redemption of our lives through Christ, we are better able to grasp the extent of God’s love because we can relate to the life and death of Jesus. Imagine if story was removed from all of these truths in the Bible. How much harder would it be to believe them?
This is why I believe the story of our lives and all that God has done for us is so important. When we tell our stories, people can put themselves in our place and relate to the experiences we have had. This not only allows us to connect on a different level, but gives people who are struggling hope that they are not alone and that things can be different. Your story may be different from someone else, but that does not mean it is not powerful. God gave us a story for a reason so, as hard as it can be at times, it is important that we share it because He just might use it to change someone’s life. This has certainly been my experience so far in Nicaragua. The more willing I am to share my life, the more open the people with whom I am sharing are to what I have to say. Despite the fact that we grew up in completely different worlds, we are able to relate because we all have a story. The great thing is the story isn’t over and I am excited to see what God has planned for the rest of my time in Nicaragua.
I hope you are equally excited about the story God is writing through your life. Get out there and share it!
– James Belt