Stories: our secret weapon
I was reading the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth this morning. It's full of extraordinary things. There's an angel appearing from nowhere. An old couple conceiving a miracle child. A man struck dumb and then suddenly getting his voice back. And then I noticed these verses: 'All the neighbours were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.' (Luke 1:65-66).
Wow! Everyone was talking about what had happened. Not just the people in the family, or the neighbours, or even just the people in their little town. Everyone 'throughout the hill country of Judea'. And when they heard the story, they recognised that God was at work.
Because stories are powerful, much more powerful than we sometimes realise. Throughout the Bible, we hear the Jews going back to the great stories of their history: creation, Abraham, David, the Exodus . And even today, Jews recall and rejoice in the stories; they keep them alive and use them to remind themselves of who they are and who God is. When we know the stories of God, they remind us of the truth and reality of God when we maybe can't see or feel him ourselves.
And it's important that we share these great stories of God from the Bible with our children, as well as the stories of Jesus and the early church. They tell us so much about who God is and what he has done, and how he longs to draw us into his love. But there are other stories we need to hear too. I grew up in the 1970s reading ‘Stories of Faith and Fame’. I read about pioneering missionaries who risked everything in the great adventure of following Jesus. I saw how because they offered Jesus everything, peoples and nations were transformed through the simple truth of the gospel. And those stories changed me. They fuelled my desire and conviction that I wanted to share the gospel too.
But I heard other stories too. I heard stories from people in my church about their experiences of God. I remember when I was just four or five years old hearing the story of an old lady in our church. She was very distressed because she had to go into hospital but had no 'respectable' nightdress to take with her. But miraculously, the next day a new nightie had arrived in the post, a gift to her from a God who cared about something so small. When I was a teenager, some family friends were told that their unborn grandchild would be severely disabled. As he prayed for this child, the grandfather caught a picture from God that he was the master clockmaker who would repair the baby in the womb. Imagine our delight when the friends rang up to tell us that God had been faithful, and the baby had been born perfect!
And then there were the small stories of my parents’ faith. My mother, a teacher, praying daily for a girl in her class who was so difficult to like and discovering that over the year she had come to love the child. My father, choosing to leave his job rather than lie, putting his trust in the God who would provide for our family.
These stories shaped me, gave me truth to hang on to when I wasn’t sure, and as a young adult, prevented an easy slide into the godless culture I was immersed in.
Stories are so important. They shape our understanding of how the world works, of how God is busy and active and faithful. They provide a reminder of the truth when all is dim around us. They show us what is possible and what is true. And it’s not just the big stories that work. We also need to hear the little stories of God in the everyday so we learn what an ordinary life with our extraordinary God looks like.
So share and celebrate your God stories. Give your children access to the great stories of the Bible and the great stories of our faith. Share with them the ordinary everyday stories of God and us. Create a culture of storytelling in your home and in your church. It will change your kids, and you!