Tell Them a Story

Do you remember the enchantment of stories as a child? Pleading for another book to be read, for another story to be told, a new tale spun?

When was the last time you told a story to a child, watching her eyes sparkle with delight, grow wide in horror, crinkle in confusion, watching her entire form become absorbed in the words coming from your lips?

Do you remember the novels that sparked laughter and tears, forcing you to hide your giggles or your sniffles in public, the novels which opened a new world, introduced you to new friends who became so dear to you that you were saddened to reach the last page, the last word, and close the cover to leave them behind?

Have you ever noticed the storytellers become the life of the party, animatedly recounting a tale, arms gesticulating, eyes dancing, the intonation of their voice captivating a room?

Oh the power of a story. Propositional truths can lodge in our heads, memorized and accepted, but stories—they sink down into our hearts, activating our imaginations, bringing conviction that cannot be expressed using facts and bullet points.

Why then do we try to move past them? We take Old Testament stories and turn them into morals and character principles. We take Jesus’ parables and crack the mysterious shell to distill them into a clear, applicable truth. We always want to know “what the story means;” we want to shake off the metaphor. We forget that there is power not only in what a story is about—but also in the story itself.

Sally Lloyd-Jones, the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible, speaks to this poignantly:

One Sunday, not long ago, I was reading the story of “Daniel and the Scary Sleepover” from The Jesus Storybook Bible to some 6 year olds during a Sunday school lesson. One little girl in particular was sitting so close to me she was almost in my lap. Her face was bright and eager as she listened to the story, utterly captivated. She could hardly keep on the ground and kept kneeling up to get closer to the story.

At the end of the story there were no other teachers around and I panicked and went into automatic pilot and heard myself — to my horror — asking, “And so what can we learn from Daniel about how God wants us to live?”

And as I said those words it was as if I had literally laid a huge load on that little girl. Like I broke some spell. She crumpled right in front of me, physically slumping and bowing her head. I will never forget it.

It is a picture of what happens to a child when we turn a story into a moral lesson.

When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing — it’s about God, and what he has done!

When we tie up the story in a nice neat, little package, and answer all the questions, we leave no room for mystery. Or discovery. We leave no room for the child. No room for God.

When we say, “Now what that story is all about is…”, or “The point of that story is…” we are in fact totally missing the point. The power of the story isn’t in summing it up, or drilling it down, or reducing it into an abstract idea.

Because the power of the story isn’t in the lesson.

The power of the story is the story.

-Sally Lloyd-Jones, “Teach Children the Bible Isn’t About Them,”

We are a storied people who serve a storying God. We are a piece of the grand, global, all-history-inclusive tale he has been spinning from the creation of time. We know him through stories, through the accounts of how he has worked in the world, through the metaphors he uses to help us understand. We see him at work through the stories of our lives and the lives of our neighbors, our culture, our global family. He does not reach to us through propositions, principles, and doctrine. He reaches us through a Story, inviting us into a Story.

Our best witness to the world is not in abstract principles and a transactional presentation of a tract-like gospel. Our best witness is in the stories he has entrusted to us—the stories of his word, the stories of our lives.

May we not be content with a faith of detached facts and doctrinal jargon. May we be bearers of the story that is lived, adventurous, beautiful, transforming, winsome, and utterly captivating. May we be tellers of His Story.