Many years ago, I served on a statewide volunteer literacy board. Jim (not his real name), a business owner, was also on the board. He was controlling and sometimes rude verging on crude, and I tried to stay out of his way.
However, one day during a break at a meeting, he was quite vocal about his struggles and depression. He eagerly shared with me his fascination with a song by Pink Floyd that likened human existence to a bunch of worms living in can, tromping all over each other in a fight to get to the top and escape the can. He said that image described his life experience perfectly. I was horrified by his dark and desperate view of life.
At another meeting, as he shared his “glass – totally empty” view of life, I got up my nerve and said I disagreed with him. I told him about the view God has of each of us and of the world he created. I suggested that he read the first three chapters of Genesis. He grimaced.
Several months later, he came to the meeting with a huge smile on his face. He told me that recently he had been hiding from life on the couch in a state of depression, when my suggestion to read the Bible came to his mind. He said, “I decided that I couldn’t feel worse, so I tried it.” I nodded in total shock. He reported that he began with Genesis and read through the entire Bible – and he had met God. As he talked, I was reminded of Jacob wrestling with and then yielding to God. I was stunned by his softened heart.
Light in the Darkness
As the next few months went by, the chatter among the board members became, “What’s going on with Jim? He has totally changed!” Finally Jim told his story to the whole group. He described changes he was making in his marriage, including respecting his wife more and spending more time with his daughter. He talked about new attitudes about his business ethics and changed policies regarding the treatment of the employees at his manufacturing company. His vision for his purpose in life now matched his new commitment to Jesus. Jim was still Jim, but, as Richard Foster likes to say, he was more of the Jim he had been created to be. Light had come into his darkness.
Sometime later Jim brought me a photo he had taken, a gorgeous, beautifully –framed, 24” x 18” photograph of Lake Michigan at sunrise. Through tears he explained that it was a thank you for being willing to share my hope with him when he was at his lowest – a hope that he now also shared with others.
That was my first venture in what Peter recommends (and demonstrated): “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). As my faith journey continued, I began to understand that what James Bryan Smith says is true, “[People] don’t want a lengthy explanation about authority of the Bible or why the Muslims are wrong. They just want to know what happened to you, how you got caught up in a new story with a new set of practices.”
People don’t want our sermons. They want our stories. They want to know the reason for our hope. I’ve discovered that telling stories and sharing experiences that also have a reference to the larger story of Jesus becomes easy, even second nature. That’s because it’s not a forced presentation, not a required download of information.
James Bryan Smith relates the story of Dallas Willard quoting Jesus as he sent his disciples out as “sheep in the midst of wolves” and told them to be as “wise as serpents. “ He asked Jim if he had ever seen a snake chase someone. Jim replied that he hadn’t. Dallas said, “That is because the wisdom of the serpent is to wait until someone comes to them.”