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?”

The Right Stuff!

The right tools sure can make a job easier!  Imagine trying to cut your grass with scissors?!  Or your hair with a chain saw?!  Without the right tools – at best you can end up frustrated, at worse, a bloody mess!

It’s the same way when discipling.  Proverbs 25:11 states, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” ~  is that ever true for a tool aptly given!

One friend was struggling in her prayer life – when I shared how I use index cards on a ring to record prayer requests and then take them with me when I’m walking and praying, she got so excited!!!  You wouldn’t believe the life this simple idea has breathed into her praying!

Another tool that’s really been enhancing my prayer life is the ACTS acronym.  Each night before bed I pull out a composition notebook and spend time in Adoration writing down what comes to mind as I remember who the Lord is and praise Him for this!  Then I spend time Confessing my sins.  It’s amazing how much better I sleep when I’ve taken time to agree with God about the ways I’ve blown it and how much more I appreciate Him after coming face to face with how much He’s forgiven me.  Does that ever flow naturally into Thanksgiving, which really helps fight against focusing on what I don’t have.   And then I share what’s on my heart with the Lord through Supplication.  Over and over I’m amazed at how He answers these requests.  Having a written record where I see Him in action doing this certainly does add to my joy!  Now I could pray before nodding off without this, but I find this tool really stretches me and helps me pray in ways I might not naturally.

One big difference between someone who has been discipling women for thirty years versus someone who has just started is the size of her toolbox!  In Matthew 13:52 we’re told  “And He said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Can those treasures ever be of great value!  There is so much we can learn from others!  In fact, that’s one of the things I love about summer training programs – or any place where people who love to disciple gather together – it’s such a great opportunity to swap tools and discover new treasures the Lord has given to someone else!  Can this ever save you time and keep you from having to re-invent the wheel!

But tools can be dangerous too.

Just as you can’t do everything with a hammer – there is not one tool that is good for everything or everybody!

Sometimes we can get so excited when we see the difference a tool is making in someone’s life we think everyone should be using this.  But note that word “aptly” in Proverbs 25:11.  “Apt” means “suitable or appropriate for the circumstances.”

Don’t become tool dependent, thinking “this worked in the past, of course it’s the best for now!”  Instead, make certain you are always depending on the Lord!  Only He truly knows what is suitable or appropriate for any given circumstance or person – and remember His ways aren’t our ways!

And don’t let the enemy deceive you into thinking you don’t have what it takes if there’s barely anything in your toolbox!

A discipler following Jesus with a tiny toolbox, is infinitely better off than someone with a loaded toolbox who depends solely on her tools!

You see, there really is just one tool that’s vital – the Word of God!  From this one treasure the Lord can give you any number of ideas for ways of creatively applying it!

When one of my friends went to Africa, he found the tools that worked in America weren’t as effective over there ~ and He had a HUGE tool box!  So what did He do?  He went to the Lord and using His Word discovered new ways of ministering to those the Lord brought into His life!

Even seasoned disciplers sometimes need to start from scratch!

So what does it look like to have the right stuff?  If you have Jesus and His Word you’re good to go!

But don’t dis the tools – seek to keep adding to your toolbox all you can – for when you use them as Jesus directs they can be an amazing help!  Just never rely on them instead of Him!