As well as telling our own stories we need to learn to listen to one another, and to the stories of the people around us.
Everyone has a story, and that story can always be connected in some way to God’s story. I got talking recently with a young woman in a coffee shop who told me something of the story of her life – how she had been let down by her parents, how her children had been placed in the custody of her previous partner, how her life was boring and empty. She was a classic case of someone who needed to be connected to the story of God – to a story of love and a story of rescue.
Jesus often listened to peoples stories, and then responded to their issues with a story of his own. Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)…
A lawyer came to test Jesus, and asked him, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
What is the story here? What can we guess about this man? We are not told much about him, but from his occupation and his question we can discern something about his story. As he was a lawyer we can guess he was used to being right – at least in his own eyes – and that he had a well developed sense of his own self-sufficiency. From his question we can guess that he had a certain sense of superiority – he was here to test the orthodoxy and logic of this upstart builder from Nazareth.
We can guess that this man was low on love.
Jesus doesn’t respond to this man with arguments of fact or logic. Instead he tells a story – a story that will force the lawyer to a logical conclusion, even though it is not the conclusion he wants to reach, and that will expose his need to step into the story of God’s love and rescue.
“Which of these three – the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan – was a neighbour to the wounded man?”
“The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said, “You go, and do likewise.”
The woman I talked to in the coffee shop didn’t suddenly fall on her knees in repentance and gratitude to Jesus. There is no record that the lawyer was converted by Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan. But it is by listening to other peoples stories that we can begin to tell stories of our own about the goodness and greatness of God, and by these stories draw others closer to God.
There is a real skill in story telling, and a real skill in listening. I am often not very good at either. Often I think, “This is how I should have told the story” the day after I have been listening to someone! But as a community of God’s people we can together learn to listen and to tell. The evidence of our lives will tell its own story, even if at times our ears and our mouths fail us.
We need to make space for people to tell their stories, and to disciple one another by connecting the story of the gospel to our own experiences. For every story we have to tell there is a gospel application: You’ve had a tough week; you’re struggling with an addiction; you’ve suffered abuse; you feel let down – how does a story of love connect with this? How does a story of rescue offer you a way through?
And as we listen to the stories told in our town we will begin to work out how we can apply the gospel to our neighbours. As we listen we will ask questions: What is that people are talking about? What concerns do they have? What are their hopes and ambitions? Where do they get their sense of identity? And we will find that the gospel offers the best answers to all these questions.
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