God’s Problem and His Solution

The Problem
God had a problem. Having created human beings to multiply throughout the habitable areas of the earth, He now wanted to communicate with them. But, although they were all created on the same basic pattern, every one of them was a unique person. Their bodies, personalities, emotional makeups and cultural environments made them all different from each other.

How could He tell them about Himself, His expectations of them and His love for them? Clear logical statements would speak to some types of people but would turn off other groups. Lists of do’s and don’ts would be understood by some, but would be rejected by others.

God’s Solution
In His divine wisdom He gave mankind the Bible, a Book that is packed with stories of real people. Stories are the universal language: they speak to everyone. Narratives telling the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of situations are informative. But when they are told in a story form that has a Beginning in which someone has a problem, a Middle describing their struggles, and an End telling of the solution, they will captivate any audience.

Some preachers and teachers try to make the Bible what it is not. It is not a handy-dandy Manual for Life. The books of Proverbs and James come the closest, but even these are mainly a collection of miscellaneous observations and pieces of advice. Although there are many clear commands and explicit instruction for certain situations, the Bible is not the Help tab on Life’s computer. We cannot click it and expect a drop menu of prompts to follow for specific directions in every possible situation. Instead, God gave us a Book of stories about people, their successes, their failures, their loves and their hates. As we see ourselves in these situations, we can learn from them.

The Psychology
The best speakers and writers do not use stories to illustrate a point already made. They use the stories to carry the point. They tell a story and let hearers come to their own conclusion. There are psychologically sound reasons for doing this. People tend to mentally argue against points made by speakers, pastors, or teachers. People tend to reject plainly stated advertisements, advice, and even moral lessons. But people never argue against conclusions they have come to by themselves—conclusions they have come to by listening to a story. Check out Jesus—the master story-teller—and His parables for examples.

Grandpa's Stories

Grandpa’s Stories

A Story
A dozen years ago, when our eight grandchildren were still in grade school, I published two 50,000-word story books and gave them each a set. They were filled with stories that I had written for them during several years of Sunday afternoon story-letters to the grandkids. By the way, the heroes and heroines of these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to my grandchildren. As they read the stories, our grandchildren soaked up solid biblical concepts such as the value of relationships, initiative, work, honesty, teamwork, having fun, and eating ice cream.

We not only learn from other people’s stories; we can tell our own. Everyone has a story. All of us, especially if we are followers of Jesus, can think back to things He did for us, problems He helped us solve, prayers He answered, and troubles He guided us through. I call these experiences God-stories, since we start with a problem and God provides the solution in the end.

I continue to teach and lead workshops for people who want to learn how to write their own God-stories to leave as a legacy for the children and grandchildren—a solidly biblical thing to do.

Another Story
I phoned our daughter one day, many years ago, and our four-year-old granddaughter answered.
“Hi Savannah,” I said, “this is grandpa.”
There was a period of silence as she wondered which of her two grandpas she was talking to, then she asked,
“Are you the Grandpa who tells us stories?”

Yes! Oh yes!
“The Grandpa who tells us stories” has been my sub-title ever since.

Here’s hoping that you too will be remembered for the God-stories you tell.

Great Stories, Jack, But Are They True?

Recently I was the keynote speaker at a church mission conference where, during my three speeches I brought out my points by telling 25 personal stories. All of these stories were true, having happened in my life. All, except one.

The last meeting was an international dinner featuring a buffet with foods from every continent. Many of the guests were dressed in costumes native to countries where they had been born or had worked. The person introducing me jokingly asked why Jo and I had not dressed in the native costume of the Canela people of Brazil among whom we had worked for decades.

Jack Being Dressed in Canela Native Costume

“When we returned to Canada from Brazil,” I told the audience, “we were invited to dress in native Canela costume to attend an international dinner much like this one. Using plenty of body paint we got ourselves ready, and drove to the banquet. Fortunately it was a nice warm day. We had to park some distance from the church and were walking along the sidewalk when a passing RCMP patrol car suddenly pulled up alongside of us, two policemen jumped out, covered us with blankets, and arrested us for indecent exposure.”

This story was a lie from beginning to end and, after my audience had stopped laughing, I confessed. But what about the other 24 stories I told during that conference? Were they lies too? Or did I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

No, they weren’t lies. But they weren’t the whole truth either. To tell the whole truth is nearly impossible and would totally spoil the story.

Just think about it. What if a dozen microphones and cameras were to record every sound and angle of a two-minute memorable event in my life from start to finish? When you viewed all that footage, surely you would know the 100% truth about that event. No, you would not!

Cameras and microphones might show the date and the time, but they don’t record what I smelled, or tasted, or how warm I was, or how I was feeling physically. Nor would there be any record of what I was thinking, how I was feeling emotionally, what I remembered of similar incidents in the past, or what I resolved to do from now on. Yet aren’t these mental and emotional aspects often the most important part of a story? What was the final impact of the event on my life? No video can show that.

Yet, I can tell you the story of that same two-minute event in such a way that you will end up feeling the same emotions I was feeling, come to the same conclusion as I came to, and may even allow the lesson to impact you in the same way it impacted me.

I would not have described every possible second of the two-minute event, nor quoted every single word accurately. I would have left out many, many facts. Had I left them in they would have diluted the story and left you bored with all the true, but irrelevant detail.

Jesus did the same thing when He told His stories. Mark 4:3-8 records a 35-second story of the farmer who scattered seed on four different types of soil. Jesus did not tell the whole truth. He left out scores of facts: The farmer’s name, his age, his experience, what he was wearing, his marital and family status, the size of the field, the time of day, the amount of seed, the exact kind of seed, the species of birds that ate the seed, where the path led to, etc. All facts, all true, but He left them all out because they were irrelevant to the point of His story.

I want to be a good storyteller. That’s why, like Jesus, I never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.