Thursday, October 01, 2015

Jesus Believed in the Power of Story

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 15 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 3 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (RT Book Reviews). Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take walks and spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.

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Next month, I'll be speaking to a group of ladies, some who may be big fans of my books (others might be hearing about me for the first time). I'm told they'll want to hear all about my journey to publication, including how I transitioned from being a fulltime pastor for 25 years to writing novels fulltime. And, I guess, some other interesting things I might want to share.

As I gathered my thoughts on what some of those "other interesting things" might be, I found myself dwelling on the Power of Story. How it is that well-told stories can exert a powerful influence on us and sometimes get us to see and understand things that we might otherwise never see. There's something especially magnetic and stimulating when a certain truth or principal is illustrated by a good story. Our minds can often grasp the point at the logic level. We may be able to understand it as a concept and even begin to think of it a little more deeply. But something much more powerful happens when that same logical point is woven into and drawn out through a story. The lights come on in a more profound way. 

The story amplifies the concept or truth in such a way that we can actually see why it matters or how it could or should affect the way we think and live. I suspect right now some who are reading this are wishing I would illustrate what I'm saying with a story. 

Okay, here's one.

Bored Crowd
When I was a pastor, a good part of by job was to preach and teach people from God's Word. During my message, I could always tell when people needed a story. I'd begin to share various thoughts and truths, maybe read some Scripture and begin to explain what I had just read. Then I would look out at the faces of those listening and notice...I was starting to lose about half of them. Their eyebrows would arch high on their forehead, they'd begin blinking their eyes too much or too slowly, and some of their heads would even begin to bobble.

Seeing this, two words would instantly come to mind: "Story Time."

I'd come out from behind the pulpit and start telling them a story, usually something that illustrated the points I had been making. Suddenly, everyone was paying attention again. They'd sit up straight in their chairs, their eyes would light up. They'd smile and laugh. And they were mine once again. At least for a little while. Until it was Story Time again.

But you know, this story-time strategy didn't originate with me. Jesus was a firm believer in the Power of Story. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus told stories all the time. We call them Parables. There are 33 in all, some of them told in 2 or 3 different gospels. It's even likely these are only a fraction of the Parables Jesus told, because Matthew tells us: "Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables." (Matt 13:34, NLT) 

Before Jesus told the now-famous Parable of the Good Samaritan, He and a religious leader were discussing what was necessary to receive eternal life. At first, the discussion used the language of truth and logic until the man correctly answers a question about the importance of loving his neighbor. Then the man asks Jesus this question: "And who is my neighbor?" Instead of answering the question with more reason or logic, Jesus tells us a wonderful story. 

The man asked, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denari and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Why did Jesus tell a story here? Because the story amplifies the spiritual truth in a far more profound and powerful way.

So...those of us who have chosen to communicate to others through the Power of Story are in pretty good company, if you ask me (and we should never feel ashamed when we do). Speaking of Story (and of shameless plugs), if you're in the mood for some nice Christmas ones, here are four I've written. 


Tamara Leigh said...

Great post, Dan! Thank you for starting off my writing day beautifully.