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.
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 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.
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.
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.