Monday, November 5, 2018

Our Story, History, and His Story

“What’s your story?” Has anyone ever asked you that? Because each of us has a story. In fact, as my late friend Dave Stoddard used to say, there’s always a “story behind the story.” That’s one of the things that make every one of us so interesting and intriguing. 

Some would like to pigeon-hole us into convenient little categories, assigning one-size-fits-all labels. But in reality, we’re complex individuals with stories behind our stories – sometimes exhilarating, sometimes tragic, and usually somewhere in between. Many of us have spent moments in our lives wondering, “Who am I?” However, we rarely encounter people that ask us, “Who are you?” and are genuinely interested in hearing our answer.

We all have a unique story to tell one another.
For believers, it's also God's story.
The panhandler we spot on the street? He has a story. The nurse in the hospital’s intensive care unit? She has a story. The executive speaking animatedly into the smartphone at the coffee shop? Single parents wrangling toddlers filled with energy? The placard-carrying protester? They all have their own unique stories.

Our stories are imbedded in history – our personal history: backgrounds, key events, experiences good and bad, values and beliefs that have combined to shape us into the individuals we have become and are still becoming.

Within the family of faith we often celebrate stories of lives intersecting with a Person, Jesus Christ, who oversees a lifelong process of transforming us into what 2 Corinthians 5:17 calls “new creations.” We call these stories “testimonies,” and for well over 30 years I’ve had the privilege of writing many of them in the form of articles and even books.

Time after time, these have given me opportunities to see God in a way different from what I’ve seen in my own life. They’ve expanded my understanding of Him, appreciating how He’s worked in the lives of other people. Their stories – their histories – are actually His story in them.

Like a captivating novel, these real-life stories don’t end with an opening chapter. They become personal testimonies that grow and develop with the passage of years, even each passing day. And like a novel we can’t put down, His story in each of us includes twists and turns we never envisioned.

But our stories, our testimonies, aren’t precious gems for hiding away. They’re intended to be used and shared. They’re beneficial in many ways, including these three:

Personal edification. The faith journey isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Reflecting back on our lives with Jesus a year or two, or more, we can perceive some of what the Lord has been doing over that time. Like watching a plant grow one day at a time, spiritual growth usually is indiscernible from one moment to the next. But comparing where we were years ago with where we are today reminds us of God’s faithfulness in our lives, how He has provided and intervened for us at crucial moments.

In its entirety, 2 Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” This “newness” isn’t instantly complete, but the result of God changing us a little at a time. That’s so one day we will experience the promise of 1 John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Mutual encouragement. When we hear from one another what the Lord has been doing in our lives, it gives new understanding of who He is, how He works, and why our faith in Him is more than a wish or a hope-so – a confident, unwavering assurance of His presence and transforming power. I think of many friends whose stories inspired me as I learned about God’s work in lives very different from mine.

In his second letter, the apostle Peter mentioned another apostle, Paul, who couldn’t resist telling what Jesus had done for him: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him” (2 Peter 3:15). Another passage admonishes, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:23-24).

Our experience. One of the great things about a personal testimony is that it’s irrefutable. People may disagree with our theology, or spiritual practices and traditions. But our testimonies – God’s story in us – come from what we know firsthand, our personal experience. In my own life, being made a “new creation” has included dispelling much of the anger, anxiety, selfishness and other flaws that ruled my life for many years. I’m still being “transformed by the renewing of [my] mind” as Romans 12:2 states, but today I’m quite different from the person I used to be.

And this we long to share with others. As yet another apostle, John, wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life…. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us…” (1 John 1:1-5).

Through our testimonies, we can share God’s story with others whenever the opportunities present themselves. Then we can be “ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

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