The Bible is not just a book of stories, of course, but it does use the story form as a way of communicating the good news. Jesus told stories about people in real life situations, and because he was always alert to the needs of others, these stories always held some particular truth for those he was talking to.
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. (Matthew 13:34)
In fact, Jesus seldom spoke to people at all without telling a story. He knew that they desperately needed to have personal knowledge of certain truths, and that parables were by far the most effective way to communicate these truths. For him, gospel-telling and story-telling were inextricably bound together. What we need to do today is to tell God’s story, and our story and simply show how the two intersect.
Come and listen… let me tell you what he has done for me. (Psalm 66:16)
Getting the Story Straight
Jesus heals a man born blind. Afterwards, the man is brought before the Pharisees who are endeavouring to find fault with Jesus; but the cured man says:
Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see. (John 9:25)
At the very least, you, too, can say, ‘one thing I do know...’ let’s tell our story and not pretend to have all the answers when we don’t. It is important to recognize the following:
For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:20)
The background to this verse is that Peter and John have been brought before the Sanhedrin, who commanded the apostles ‘not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus’ (Acts 4:18). And the disciples basically reply, ‘We can’t help it!’
We also see this pattern in the life of the apostle Paul. On one occasion he was brought before King Herod and Paul gave a personal testimony of what God had done in his life (Acts 26:1-29).
In his impassioned account, Paul speaks both like a witness and a lawyer. There is a big difference between the two: a lawyer pleads the case for others, taking all the facts and pressing for a decision in order to get a judgment of ‘yes’ or ‘no’; a witness, is ‘a person who testifies to events or facts within their own knowledge’. In other words, ‘this is what I know’.
An evangelist is like a lawyer, and although God has not called all of us to be ‘lawyers’ for him he has called us ALL to be ‘witnesses’—‘this is what I know’. And nobody is a better authority on what happened to you than you!
Putting First Things First
One thing our story will depend on is knowing the Lord and experiencing his presence in our lives.
When John Wesley was asked, ‘Why do people seem to be so drawn to you, almost like a magnet?’ He replied, ‘when you set yourself on fire, people just love to come and see you burn.’ This is true ‘overflow evangelism’; not just a programme, but also a passion.
Four Parts To Our Personal Story
While there are obviously variations, everyone’s story breaks down into four areas.
- My life before I became a Christian.
- How I realized I needed Jesus Christ.
- How I committed my life to Christ.
- What it means to me now.
Part 1: My Life Before I Was a Christian
I can’t remember the day I was born, but I was, because there seems to be evidence to suggest it! And, for me, there was definitely a part of my life which took place before I became a Christian. For others, too, who were not Christians earlier in life, the question is this: how would we describe our attitudes, behaviour and feelings before we became Christians?
On the other hand, you may feel you have always known the Lord. But I would suggest that for many people, if not all, there has nevertheless been a point—Christian upbringing or no Christian upbringing—even if it was very early in life, when you ‘twigged’: a moment when you said something like, ‘ Yes, this means something, and I want to take it on board!’
In fact, it is not whether or not we have had a conversion experience that counts in proving that we are Christians. What counts is evidence to show we are now in a relationship with Jesus. So if you were brought up in the Christian faith the question is this: how would you sum up the early period of your Christian understanding?
Part 2: How I Realized I Needed Jesus Christ
For those who were not Christians, why did you become a Christian? What was your story? And what precisely was the reason that you turned to Jesus at that specific time in your story? Was it because of the truth you suddenly understood about him? Or because of his forgiveness and healing? Or his comfort from loneliness? His promise of new hope, new life?
And for those already brought up as Christians, what made you realize that what you were born into and brought up to believe was really true, and you really believed it?
One of the most powerful tools we have in helping others, is to enable them to understand why we, living in the 21st century have committed our lives to someone who was born 2,000 years ago! We need to communicate something about why this commitment took place, and that it is to a living person, who is eternal. We have become Christians because of who Jesus is, and what he did on our behalf by dying on a cross.
Part 3: How I Committed My Life To Jesus
Where and how did you enter into a relationship with Jesus? Was it gradual? Or was it at a specific place and time? Were any steps taken in entering this relationship for you? Were you on your own? Was it at a meeting? How and when did the connection happen?
Part 4: What It Means To Me Now
What difference has it made to you becoming a Christian? What are the benefits? How has it affected your attitudes, emotions, and actions? From your experience of being a Christian why would you encourage others to become a Christian?
Personal experience is not just a last resort when we are stuck for argument. It is a very powerful and practical back up for all we are saying. It shows that this is not just theory, this is real, this works. It has practical effects in everyday life.
You will make, as I do, many mistakes. But let us have a humble boldness and trust in the living God and we will not go far wrong if we take for ourselves God’s words to Paul in Acts:
Do not be afraid, keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you. (Acts 18:9)