Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of the Covenant Courier, and has been modified slightly for a general audience.
Storytelling is en vogue right now. You hear about it on the radio with NPR’s Storycorps and The Moth storytelling show. Business literature is awash with books helping you tell your “brand story” or share your company’s story. There are even people who market themselves as “Storytelling Consultants,” who promise to help your organization better tell its story. And of course, here in Cincinnati, we have wonderful storytelling events, like Cincy Stories, which invite people in the community to share their personal stories of triumph and tragedy, loss and learning, goofiness and growth.
As Christians, we are people of stories. The Bible is chock full of stories (of course it also contains law, prophetic oracles, persuasive letters, proverbial riddles, poetry of all kinds, and ancient philosophy – but these are topics for another time). These stories excite the imagination and teach us about God’s ways. Who doesn’t feel excitement at the story of David facing Goliath? In fact David’s whole story is an epic tale that we could rank alongside the Illiad, the Aeneid, and Beowulf as one of the great masterpieces of ancient literature.
But on the smaller scale, we’re individuals with our own story. Each of us has not just one story, but a whole library of stories of how God has been at work in our lives. And I don’t just mean the single story of how we came to know Christ as our savior, but also the ongoing stories of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives on a daily basis. When we take time to reflect on the events of our lives, we cannot help but see the hand of God’s Providence working in the background as an actor in our personal stories.
Our stories are the most valuable ministry resources we have. We can use our stories to encourage, to challenge, and to give hope. Think of the woman at the well in John 4. She goes to her village and tells everyone the story of her encounter with Jesus – then everyone comes out to meet Jesus for themselves. Or think of Mary Magdalene and her special encounter with Jesus after they discovered the tomb was empty (John 20) – she told the disciples her story, bearing witness to the resurrection.
When Peter exhorts us “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do so with gentleness and respect,” (I Peter 3:15), he’s telling us to be prepared to tell our stories of faith. Have you thought about your stories? I challenge you to take some time this week and prayerfully consider the stories of God at work in your life.
Here’s a little 4 part exercise to help you get started:
- List three powerful or memorable moments from your own life
Here are some ideas to help you if you feel stuck:
- A turning point where a decision had to be made
- A mentor who showed you powerful insights
- A challenging time you had to face
- A time when you had to confront someone or something
- An event that shaped your thinking/believing
- An accomplishment that was particularly challenging/rewarding
- Looking back on those events, where was God present?
Here are some general ways God moves (if you are having a hard time seeing God’s hand in those past moments):
- Direct encouragement (through audible voices, visionary experiences, strong impressions, calling scripture to mind, feelings of comfort, presence, joy)
- Providential provision (guiding people and resources to us at just the right moment and enlightening our minds to the provision)
- Challenge and conviction (a deep inner sense of penitence, need to change, need to act)
- Connectedness (strengthening our feelings of connection with other people and with God)
- Insight and Discernment (having a sense of clarity and peace about the state of things or course of action)
- Acceptance, Adoption, Forgiveness (Internally experiencing the application of Christ’s saving work to our hearts)
- What was the result, the change, the action, or the difference that God made in your life in this moment?
- What scriptures does this moment call to mind?
Finally, once you’ve written out a story or two in your journal, then share it with someone. Find a friend from church and tell them a story of how God worked in your life (You have an easy intro – you can just say “I just read this article about telling our personal stories. The writer challenged me to share a story with someone, so, can I share with you one of mine?”). Once we start practicing sharing our stories with one another, it becomes much easier to share our stories with people outside the church. As a side benefit, when you share your story, it will strengthen the faith of the person listening.
So I encourage you all to think about your stories, and share them with one another!
Soli Deo Gloria