(Editor's note: This is Part 1 in a two-part article on the value of both sharing our stories and listening to the stories of others. See Part 2 here.)
“This is the story of my life. I am now 24 and I am dying from AIDS. One of my greatest fears is that when I die, no one will come to my burial.”
These are the words of Chantha, a beautiful, 24-year-old Cambodian woman who was sold to a brothel at the age of 13. She has been raped and beaten hundreds of times over the past ten years. And now she is dying of HIV/AIDS.
“This is the story of my life. When I was 24, God rescued me from an 8-year addiction that almost killed me twice. One of my greatest fears is that when I die, I won’t have used my new life and story to the fullest for God’s glory.”
These are my words. I grew up in a beautiful home in Midwestern America. I had little care in the world, except for one ache of self-doubt that started as a pebble and ended up a mountain of regret, shame, and pain. But God. And now I am fully alive.
Two stories. Equally powerful, each with the potential to impact people for good. The first, toward intense compassion and a desire to make the wrong, right. The second, toward hope, that God really does reach down from heaven to save the broken and lost.
We all have a story—our story. As Christians, it is our claim to fame. “Just wait until you hear what God has done for me!” we can begin. “Once upon a time…” And so it starts. Along the narrative line are one or more, “But God!”s and then a conclusion, which proclaims, “God’s work in progress, but on the way to heaven!”
When working in tandem with the Spirit of God, our story is the most powerful tool we have to impact our not-yet-Christian friends for Christ. In her best-seller, Out of the Saltshaker, Becky Pippert explains, “We do not simply give the gospel, we are the gospel.”1 We, ourselves. Not just what we carry, but our very lives.
In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, Paul tells those in Corinth that,
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
We are the gospel and God has given each of us a powerful story that fits into his story-telling, Spirit-guided nature that loves to woo people to himself in unique and creative ways. This is not to say apologetics and systematic theology aren’t important in making a case for Christ. But often we either at best forget, perhaps ignore, or at worst, dismiss the fact that what God has done personally in our lives may be the most effective way he wants to reach into the hearts of people who don’t yet know him.
…is neither a catalogue of spiritual insights nor a collection of moral guidelines and principles. It is a story. As a story, Scripture can be read through the central plot of Creation, Fall, Promise and Restoration—a plot that is in essence the movement from old creation to new creation.2
When we proclaim, “I am a new creation,” do we hit the double-click button and give more details? Why are you a new creation? What exactly has God done in your life? If our living God saw story as so vital that he would dedicate well over half of his holy word using it, then wouldn’t we do well to use our stories in wooing others to himself as well?
We are the gospel. There is a part of me that would like to italicize every word in that sentence separately. we. are. the. gospel. This means that we don’t simply recite scripture passages verbatim to questions of faith. We share our journey, our path from creation to fall to promise to restoration. Like the Apostle Paul, we share our pre- and post-Damascus Road experiences.
So next time you have a conversation with or field a question from a non-Christian friend, will you consider beginning with, “Can I share with you the story of my life?” So that, along with the Apostle Peter, we will passionately exclaim, “For we cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard!” For you never know where the power of story can lead…perhaps toward another person reflecting on his or her own story and God’s part in it…and then another person…and another. Until we have ad infinitum the ongoing story of God.
“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” – Jeremiah 31:33
1. Manley Pippert, Rebecca. 1999. Out of the Saltshaker & into the World. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 98.
2. Katongole, Emmanuel and Chris Rice. 2008. Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 63.