The Gift of Story

I was once challenged to write a story that presented the gospel in a creative way.  It was just a random suggested assignment at the end of a Bible study on evangelism.  Was I ever surprised when the Lord used it to bring four friends to Himself!

One time while speaking the Lord prompted me to share a story from my life regarding my own struggle with sin, afterwards I was shocked as woman after woman came up, tears streaming down, exclaiming, “I thought I was the only one!”

Another time after a friend shared the frustration she felt over constantly failing in a spiritual discipline, the Lord brought to mind a story that encouraged my heart years ago and as I shared it with her, it was beautiful to see her perspective shift and peace come.

Shared stories can be a powerful, life-changing gift. Whether they are fictional or personal, simple or complex, they have the ability to hit us straight in the heart.  They can bring conviction, hope, understanding…   Small wonder Jesus used them so profusely in his teaching.

When a lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus could’ve replied, “Whoever God brings into your life.”  But he didn’t.  And good thing too, because there’s a multitude of lessons encased in that one story!  I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve had a quiet time focusing on this story in the past 30 years.  Every single time the Lord teaches me something different.

Stories stick.  Much better than platitudes or propositions.  Much better than a verse or truth told straight out.  When people share stories with me I often find myself reflecting on them.  And it’s amazing how many times the Lord will teach me something through them – though not always right away.  Some stories are like crock pot cooking, stewing inside for a good long while and then out of the blue, yielding something delicious, something of great value in my life.  And are they ever pass-on-able!

But how a story’s told is so important.  And also why!

Best way to kill a story?  Read it in monotone!  Honest!  I love books!  But I think most children’s Bibles never should’ve been written.  It’s too easy for parents to read straight from the page rather than share the stories with their kids in an engaging way!  It’s sad how we can get animated telling the story of finding a great sale at the store, but think we don’t have what it takes to tell Bible stories!

I spent more than five years teaching 2 and 3 year olds in Sunday School.  What a wonderful challenge that was!  You can’t be boring and hold their attention!  ;0)  And it’s amazing how much I learned as I shared these stories with them!  It forced me to consider what was really happening in the story as I basically acted it out – or even better involved them in acting it out!

But you know, even with college students I find sharing stories to be incredibly impactful.  What would you rather hear – someone telling you, “God gives us a wonderful promise in James 1:5 that if we ask for wisdom He’ll give it to us – you should take him up on that sometime.”  Or hearing about a single mom whose two boys were failing school and she had to work till 11 nearly every night just to support her family.  She’d never even learned how to read, but she’d sure seen the value of an education, so when the boys brought home report cards with mostly F’s, she got down on her knees and cried out to the Lord for wisdom, telling him she had no clue what to do, and He gave her an idea…  She told her sons they were no longer allowed to play after school until they’d gone to the library, read a book and wrote a report on it each week… This one idea totally turned her boys lives around – and in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, the woman was Ben Carson’s mom (the famous cardiologist!).

Stories can play a key role when we are discipling someone.  Remember “telling” is one of the least effective teaching methods!  But “telling stories”  can be a whole different matter IF you follow Ephesians 4:29 where we are encouraged to speak “only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Ever been trapped at a party listening to someone go on and on in detail about a story you could care less about?  That’s an example of story not being helpful. We have to be God focused and other focused when we select and tell stories.  Is the Lord prompting you to share?  And if so, for how long and in how much detail?

I love to tell stories!  So I have to be super careful or it can become all about Debbie talking about herself, or Debbie having fun performing!  Or even Debbie wanting people to value or like her.  So when a story comes to mind, I seek to ask first, “Lord is this something you want me to share?”  And then ask Him to help me share it in a way that honors Him and encourages the other person.  And as I’m sharing I try to watch the other person for clues, are they bored?  Overwhelmed?  Uncomfortable?  In truth, I don’t always get it right!  And I’m sure there are times those I meet with are thinking, “Here she goes again!”

But when the Lord is prompting me to share a story, well, that’s when I most experience the beauty of Proverbs 25:11, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver!”

As you have opportunity, study the stories of Jesus, noting how and when He uses them.  He really is the perfect story teller!

And next time you’re praying about what to do when you meet with someone why not ask, “Lord, is there a story you’d have me share?”

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