“Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.” ― Eugene H. Peterson
We all love stories. If it isn’t our favorite book, movie, or tv show captivating our attention, it’s a humorous anecdote from a friend or co-worker. I’m a pretty strong believer in the idea that good stories captivate us while great stories resonate deeply within us. They move us to engage with the world around us in new ways. A great story can challenge how we perceive the world and how we live in it. The best stories can even help us learn something about ourselves and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
Stories have always helped me understand important concepts in a way that dealing with cold hard facts never could. If a storyteller weaves the point that they are trying to make into a well-crafted story, then I am much more inclined to grasp the point that is being made.
Stories Communicate Truth
Stories have the power to communicate important truths to us. The meaning of abstract concepts like love, friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, evil, justice, and so much more can be conveyed in concrete ways through a story. Definitions are useful in helping us understand these concepts. However, to see loyalty demonstrated when it costs us something is done better in story form. So, when we see Sam follow Frodo in The Lord of The Rings books and movies all the way to Mount Doom (literally carrying him at points), we understand what true friendship, sacrifice, and loyalty look like more clearly than a standard dictionary definition could ever help us grasp.
I’m convinced that this why the Bible contains so much narrative and why Jesus uses parables to convey truths about the Kingdom of God. Jesus could have chosen to explain things in a different format, but He chose to teach in parables because He understood the power of stories.
There is a lesson here for us as well. A huge chunk of the Bible uses narrative to communicate to us. Jesus spends a good deal of his ministry to people sharing parables to communicate truth. How should this impact how we do ministry? Should our story be an important part of how we communicate the Gospel?
Stories Help Communicate The Gospel
My answer to both those questions is yes. Let’s take a look at the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus is at a well in the town called Sychar. The disciples are off looking for food. There is a dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan women. The exchange leads to Jesus verifying that he is indeed the Messiah in verse 26. Then this woman left and went to the townsfolk and the following happens. The woman says in 27, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” After some more dialogue and teaching between Jesus and his disciples, the townsfolk respond in John 4:39-42:
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
The woman’s testimony stirred something in the people of Sychar. The story of her encounter with Jesus encouraged the people in the town to believe in him. They had to meet Jesus for themselves. The woman’s story served as an introduction to Jesus. When they met with Jesus in person their faith was solidified and grounded in him. They knew exactly who he was and that he was indeed the Messiah.
God Uses Stories
Our testimonies can serve the same purpose as the testimony of the women at the well. When we are involved in the lives of friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors; at some point we will have the opportunity to share our story with the folks we rub shoulders with every day. Our story matters because it allows us to share the transformative work of Jesus in our lives. The story about the work of Jesus in our lives can then, in turn, be used to tell others how Jesus can change their lives as well. Our story can be used by the Holy Spirit as a catalyst to help others understand their place in God’s larger story of redemption and reconciliation found in the scriptures between Genesis and Revelation.
Your story has power. The power isn’t in the words, in sentence structure, or even in the telling. Your story is powerful and transformative for others because God can and will use your testimony to draw others to Him. Jesus says in John 6:44a:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
Stories Draw People To God
The Samaritan woman’s testimony at the well drew others to an encounter with Jesus. God can use our stories about Jesus’ work in our lives to draw others to Him. In order for our stories to be used by God, we must first share them with others. That happens best in the context of a relationship. Let us be diligent in building relationships so that our stories might be shared with others and that new stories of transformation, friendship, sacrifice, and neighborly love will be written and become a part of God’s larger story of redemption and reconciliation.