Why We Should Practice Telling the Story

I’m studying 1 and 2 Samuel right now and Samuel gives a farewell speech to the Israelites in chapter 12. Samuel briefly rehearses the history of Israel and he recalls- well, you can go read it. Chapter 12, 1 Samuel. You got it.

What grabs my attention is how often the Israelites tell this story. God brought His people out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. This is told over and over. The Psalm recount the stories of God creating the world, God rescuing His people, God providing in the midst of no sustenance.

Maybe it was because they didn’t have paper and books and iPhones to read from. Maybe it was that storytelling burned deep in the hearts of a few of those humans and they didn’t have Evernote files saved to the cloud. They couldn’t stay up too late typing notes on their Macs.

The people were unfaithful. They doubted. They complained. They turned aside to other gods. They forgot. They did hideous things that broke God’s law. God sought to bring the people to judgment. He wanted the people to come back to Him.

Maybe the people retold some of these stories because we all like skeletons in the closet. Maybe the story of other people’s brokenness makes our own brokenness feel less significant.

But God was always faithful. Because of that the people were called to be faithful. God was loving and gracious. Because of that the people were called to respond with love to His love. God dwelt with the people; they were supposed to identify as His own by their lifestyle.

Maybe if we actually remembered the story, it would change how we live our story. After all, each story is just one tiny reflection of the true story. Any act of love is just a little glimmer of Love. The only true storyline has been acted out on the grandest stage before all eternity and yet it trickles down into every single story that has existed, even if we only see how badly it can be twisted.

We might have a book now. But do we know the story? Do we remember the story? Do we tell it to ourselves often when nights are dark and the sounds from the underbrush surrounding our path are threatening? Do we walk in the story when we’re not sure that the story is true? When it seems that the wildest mystery of the universe would be that some part of this narrative actually come true?

We rehearse the story because it gives us our footing. If God has never changed, then the God that spoke and made everything we see, made you and me too. The God that desired to live in community with his created beings still holds out that opportunity.

If God has created and redeemed- If God has performed miracles and always shown up- If God has provided and sustained and rescued His people for all of time- If God, then maybe God will be that today as well. Of course He will; He says He is the same. But we have to remember; we have to wait. He have to hold on while He’s working.

Maybe we practice telling the story. We tell it over and over, learning to tell it better each time. We tell it until it is engraved deep into our soul. We tell it until it whispers under the story of our own that is unfolding before us. We tell it until its truth guides our path.

God created a good world and planted His image bearers there to rule together for Him. A snake, an enemy of God and humans, appeared. One creature, deceived, fell. Another disobeyed and fell. Chaos broke in. Sin ruled. An enemy wanted to usurp the throne. God promises redemption. Humans, made to live in His presence, are now in exile in enemy territory.

The enemy rules with a harsh hand. Violence and hatred sweep through the human heart and hand. Humans want to scale to God’s place. God brings them down. In the midst of it all, God calls a human. One human who will bless all humans. One woman who will bear a child. That family, in the midst of brokenness and miracles, grows and grows until their multitude threatens the foreign land they inhabit. Enslaved, they cry out to God who again sends one human. One human, flanked by two sibling leaders, go to carry the people from the land of Egypt.

Miracles matched by opposition end in either death or life, take your pick. Rescue appears through a path of no escape and then the people complain. And complain and serve briefly and then complain some more. God covenants Himself to them, just as He did to Abraham, and sets up spaces, guidelines for their flourishing and holiness. Standards for how to be close to Him. That never seems to be their first priority though.

Over and over a human appears, bring victory and rescue, reclaiming the people to God- is this the promised one? Then that human falls, often terribly. Maiming and diminishing God’s image in others, ignoring God’s first claim to his heart and actions. The people cycle through rebellion and repentance until they don’t repent. They just keep rebelling.

Prophets appear, calling out to the people, reminding them of God’s love, foretelling God’s justice, proclaiming a promise that will last beyond anything they can do. The chosen ones are dissolved throughout the lands of conquerors. The promise sits, seemingly forgotten, through hundreds of years of silent heavens.

Then word comes. The Word will appear, arriving in the unnoticed and unremarkable. A unmarried, pregnant teen women. Shepherds on a hillside. A young couple on the run with a baby. The powerful attack. The worldly wise are ignorant. The religious become inflamed. The Son of Man has come to walk among humanity, to be what humanity could not be. He comes to live as the perfect human and die for the sins of the world.

His first words usher in the kingdom. He spreads hope and love and healing. He enrages people who think they are right and welcomes those who know they are wrong. He sees God on the surface of every tree, every wave of the sea, every face. It’s all His reflection. Then He dies, condemned unworthily, hated by authorities, almost alone but for John and a handful of women.

Again, the story seems dead. It has come crashing down with a thunder more deafening than any of the disappointments of the past. But instead of hundreds of years of silence, after three days, women appear at the tomb. The body is gone. Death has lost. Sin has been defeated. For He was the Messiah and He has passed through death and back to life. The impossible has happened; the remarkable will be the everyday story of the kingdom.

He ascends to His throne, leaving behind His followers to continue His work, gifting them His presence, promising His life if they will surrender their own.

And that is the story we walk in. The culmination still lies ahead when every power has been defeated, when death is no more. One day, every enemy will be vanquished, tears will be wiped away. And in the meantime, we journey, we fight. We grow more like Him as we battle and persevere. He soothes our cries and is present in our fears. He changes our hearts to be like His own. He intercedes for us with the Father. His blood covers every transgression and iniquity and we are welcomed into fellowship.

One day, justice will reign over the earth. All will be put to right. God will deal with His enemies. All the broken things in ourselves will finally be healed.

One day, we will worship, unhindered, with every other part of creation. We will reign with Him for eternity. He will dwell with us and we will be His people.

This is the story that we are living. This is the future we anticipate. Walk in it.