Why I Tell Stories from the Bible (and Why You Should, Too)
- Monday, June 07, 2010
When is the last time you watched Star Wars with a six-year-old? It was today for me. When Star Wars first appeared on movie screens in 1977, I was five; now that my youngest daughter is six, I promised her we could watch it together. Because I've seen the movie uncountable times, I'm having more fun watching her expressions - at times mirthful, sometimes anxious, but always intense.
Why this intensity from a six-year old watching a movie full of now-dated special effects? Because above all else, Star Wars Episode IV is a good story.
Stories are not just for kids. We live in a culture that needs stories. Not only do stories entertain us, but they also encourage us, challenge us, and sometimes even show us how to live. That's why I retell the Bible's stories. Although scripture memory is certainly a wonderful discipline, people need to internalize more than a Bible verse or two. For example, next time you feel God has abandoned you in life's wilderness, remember Israel's exodus from Egypt. Did God lead them into the wilderness? Sure. Were there hardships? Of course. Did the people grumble? A lot. And what else did God do for them during 40 years of wandering? He provided for them miraculously.
Another example: our culture loves five- and ten-year strategic plans, and yet when we don't meet our objectives, we feel like failures. Abraham's calling and wanderings remind us God's call on our lives rarely looks strategic. Feel like God promised you something tremendous, yet never delivered? Remember Abraham's lifetime pursuit of God's promise to him. Hebrews 11 praises Abraham for a life-long pursuit of God's promise, even when God called him to do the unthinkable (Hebrews 11:8-9).
Life is confusing, and following God is hard. Often it doesn't seem to make rational sense. Therefore, we need stories because they help us make sense of the life of faith.
Not only do stories help us understand what it means to be the people of God, but stories are also culturally relevant. Our culture prefers narratives and images to declarative statements. Stories are a two-for-one deal, containing not only plot (narrative), but also a series of images painted with words. These word-images produce pictures that really are worth a thousand words. Better yet, stories provide us with word-images that people will actually hear (see!) and remember.
Getting people to hear and remember large portions of the Bible is no small feat. American Christians are biblically illiterate. Okay, not all American Christians, but the majority of us. George Barna's 2009 end of year summary expresses concern over both biblical illiteracy and the lack of a consistent worldview. He says that although people may know individual scriptures, they lack the context of those scriptures. Biblical storytelling provides context, allowing me to cover multiple chapters in less time than a typical sermon. Stories help correct biblical illiteracy.
Here's a personal example: after hearing me retell several stories from the book of Judges 1 at a children's retreat, my nine-year-old daughter started reading the Bible for herself. The night we got home from the retreat she handed me her Bible and asked "Daddy, show me where the good stories are." I showed her a few places to start reading, and in the two months since, she hasn't stopped reading.
Finally, and most importantly, Jesus was a storyteller. I think this is the best argument of all. Christ-followers need to tell God-honoring stories. Jesus challenged people with stories that taught world-changing truths (read the gospels looking for how Jesus used stories to challenge the status quo). I want to do the same.
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