“Story” is one of those words that’s used very frequently within the church, and it can carry a wide variety of connotations and meanings in Christian contexts. Often people’s “story” may refer to their testimony—how it was that they repented of their sins, and accepted Christ as their personal savior. At a later point in one’s Christian walk, a story might entail a description of their calling/vocation, or how it is they sensed God leading them into a particular field of service. People who preach think in terms of stories frequently, and are constantly on the lookout for new and more creative narratives, knowing that research has shown repeatedly that stories are the most effective means to illustrate sermon points, and are often the only salient details that people remember after a message. In the missions context, stories and story-telling are a vital means of bringing the Gospel message to peoples in other cultures, especially those which are primarily oral, rather than literate. If we are thinking in terms of Biblical exegesis, stories/parables are a preferred teaching method used by Jesus.
On an even broader level though, the concept of the story is critical to understanding the very foundation for the Judeo-Christian worldview. Christianity, like its parent faith Judaism, is a historical religion. In his excellent survey, The World’s Religions, religious historian Huston Smith writes about the historicity of Christianity, and how this distinguishes it from other religious philosophies. In Hinduism…the world of sense experience is regarded as ‘maya’, illusion; the religious man therefore seeks release from the wheel of life in order that his individuality may fade out into the World-Soul, Brahma. Greek philosophers looked upon the world as a natural process which, like the rotation of the seasons, always follows the same rational scheme. The philosopher, however, could soar above the recurring cycles of history by fixing his mind upon the unchanging absolute which belongs to the eternal order. Both of these views are vastly different from the Biblical claim that God is found within the limitations of the world of change and struggle, and especially that He reveals Himself in events which are unique, particular, and unrepeatable. For the Bible, history is neither ‘maya’ nor a circular process of nature; it is the arena of God’s purposeful activity…Christianity is founded not on abstract principles but in concrete events, actual historical happenings.”
So when I talk about a “life verse” as a Christian, the term is not merely a nice religious euphemism, but should be understood quite literally. The Bible after all is the Living Word of God. The real genius of Christianity for me, which separates it from all other faiths is the idea that at its center is a living figure—the risen, reigning Lord Jesus! So while we can talk about Christianity as sharing the deep historical roots of Judaism, that history is never a dry, dead or far-distant narrative, but rather one that is very much current, and relevant, because Christ is alive, and present in the hearts of millions of believers. Our life verse then is a passage in Scripture which we don’t simply admire for its ethical content, or linguistic beauty, but one which we know to be true, based on our own living experiences! Life verses can and should be reminders that for every powerful and miraculous work of God recounted in Scripture, the Lord is at work in an equal and similar fashion today amongst those who are His children. Most amazing of all—life verses are those places in which we enter into the Biblical narrative! Because the Word of God is alive, we continually discover how our contemporary experiences mirror and reflect the lessons and truths recorded in Scripture. As we encounter these connection points, reading the Bible ceases to be a mere mental or literary exercise, and becomes a way to verify how God is at work in one’s own life! No other mere work of literature could ever have this kind of effect on the heart. Not even when we read the greatest writers; Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Dickens…take your pick— do we find ourselves becoming part of the story. Only with the Divinely–inspired Word of God can this happen! In my next post, I will share two of my life verses, outlining not only my intrinsic connection with them, but how I have seen them personally fulfilled in my own walk with the Lord.