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Posts Tagged ‘the power of story’

Jo 17I wonder how long it is since you picked up a novel or story of some description and were totally drawn into another world. It can be a weird journey, can’t it, to feel our head and heart are somewhere else entirely in a kind of parallel universe, while we try to function as usual in our every-day lives?

During a recent interstate road-trip, we discovered a lovely, second-bookshop in one country town and decided to stop and browse there. I wanted something to read and, feeling a little tired and nostalgic, I opted for an old novel—A J Cronin’s Crusader’s Tomb, published in 1956. I remembered reading The Citadel years ago, so was looking forward to another book by this author.

I loved Cronin’s beautiful writing style and was soon completely drawn into the story. But what a sad one it was! I felt so much for the main character, who stumbled from one disaster to the next, in an attempt to become the artist he wanted to be. In the end (spoiler alert!), it was only after his death that the greatness of his art was acknowledged. At least I knew his family was provided for and those who had maligned him and his work during his lifetime were proved wrong. But how drained and depressed I felt after that final chapter! Should I perhaps have invested my emotional energy into reading something more positive and uplifting?

At that point, I remembered a period last year when our church focussed on some of the amazing events during Jesus’ ministry, as recorded in John’s Gospel. Rather than miss something because of how familiar these stories were to me, I decided to take the account of the man born blind (John 9) and write a version in the first person, trying to get right inside the man’s head and imagine what his whole experience of being healed by Jesus must have felt like. What a journey it was for me too! Here is how I began:

I cannot see, but I hear him nearby, this man they call Jesus. He says he is the light of the world and that the work of God will be displayed in my life. But who is he? What does that mean?

Now I hear him spitting and feel his hands gently putting mud on my eyes. What is this all about?

Then he orders me to go to Siloam … and I know I need to do exactly as he says.

I wash—and things begin to take shape around me! For the first time, I see people and animals

and houses and sky

and trees and earth

and food and water

and … oh so much!

I see colour and light and shade and am overwhelmed with the brightness and variety before me.

I try to adjust to it all, as my heart bursts within me. Who is this Jesus who has opened my eyes?

Have you had time lately to read some of those amazing accounts of Jesus’ ministry here on earth? These stories are powerful. These stories are true. These stories are worth investing our time in. And these stories can be life-changing, as we allow God’s Spirit to speak to us through them and impact us in a deep way.

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I had just finished speaking at a meeting and was chatting with an old friend as we ate lunch. We had not seen each other for some time and were reminiscing about the years when he and his wife used to run a cafe in a very multicultural area of Sydney. I had met them in that period and was so impressed at their heart to reach out to the people who came across their path on a daily basis in that cafe. As we chatted, he told me a story from those times I had never heard before. He shared with me how one day, his wife (let’s call her Marie) was unable to come to work alongside him at the cafe as she normally did. But over time, Marie had befriended a Muslim lady (let’s call her Sara) from Somalia who, when she heard about this, offered to help them out for the day.

‘I will be Marie today!’ she declared—and she meant it.

Sara set to work and, not long after, saw an elderly lady outside the shop having difficulty walking, despite having a walking frame. Now knowing how her friend Marie, who has such a warm, caring, friendly manner, would act, she rushed out to help this older lady.

‘Are you all right? Would you like to sit down for a while? Would you like a cup of coffee? Or can I get you a taxi home?’

But the older lady, seeing her Good Samaritan was a Muslim woman, turned on her.

‘No—I don’t like Muslims!’ she replied with vigour.

Sara bit her tongue but did not retaliate. After all, she was Marie that day—she had promised to act just as Marie would. She continued graciously helping the older lady, who did at last allow herself to be helped into a taxi.

The following day, my friend who ran the cafe received a phone call.

‘Do you have a Muslim woman working in your coffee shop?’ the voice demanded.

‘Yes, I do,’ my friend replied, wondering what was to come next.

‘Well, I have something for her. I will see it gets delivered to your shop today, so if you could pass it onto her …’

The parcel duly arrived and when my friend next saw Sara, he handed it to her.

‘What is it?’ Sara asked a little fearfully.

‘I’ve no idea,’ my friend responded, ‘but you might as well open it.’

When she did, inside was a wonderful pamper pack of perfume, bath salts and skin care products, just right for her—a peace offering par excellence. And Sara accepted the gift with grace.

What a challenge this story was to me on several levels! But above all, how well it shows us that we can choose how we respond to others. We can respond with anger and defensiveness, which often worsens the situation. Or we can respond with grace and forbearance, like Sara did. As a result, barriers were broken down in an amazing way. And all because Sara chose to act as she knew her friend Marie would.

I was humbled by this story. How about you?

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Eph 4:32

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Sometimes it’s the simple truths that have the most profound impact on people. I learnt this lesson all over again last week—and I hope I remember it this time.

I had just finished speaking at a meeting when, in response to a question, I decided to share a brief story of something that happened many years ago now. The ladies present had all been patiently listening to my input, but their heartfelt reaction to this story I shared almost as an afterthought opened my eyes again to the simple, powerful truth it demonstrates.

The events in this story took place in a small group during a short ministry training course. There were five women in our group, including our wonderful facilitator, Joy, who counselled and prayed for us with such gentle wisdom and insight. As we took it in turns to share any difficulties we might be facing in applying what we were learning to our lives, Joy listened carefully—to both God and us. This was never more obvious than on the day one older group member told us how she had never felt loved as a child, particularly by her father, and how that had affected her so much throughout her life—and still did. I can’t remember now all the conversation that unfolded in response to what she shared, but I clearly remember what our facilitator suggested we do.

‘Mary, would you like us to hold you and sing to you? Perhaps Jesus loves me, this I know?’

I remember how strange I thought this suggestion was at first, but I soon changed my mind.

‘That would be lovely!’ Mary immediately responded.

As a group, we gathered around her and our facilitator held her close. Then we began singing together—

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

‘Oh, that’s so wonderful! Sing it again, please!’ our friend cried out, when we finished.

‘Oh, please sing it again—it’s so wonderful!’ she repeated several times over the next few minutes, whenever we stopped singing.

I will never forget the ecstasy in her voice as she begged us to keep going and the joy and delight radiating from her face as we did just that. She almost literally shone, as the love of Jesus and of our perfect Father God was poured into her by the Holy Spirit. How healing it was for her to have us sing this simple little song over and over again to her! I know that she too remembers this event to this day, around twenty years later.

As I recounted this story to the women at the meeting last week, I expected to receive some rather puzzled looks. After all, what I had described was rather unusual and I feared they might not understand. Instead, it was almost as if a gentle, collective sigh spread across the group. Most women responded with warm smiles—and some seemed quite touched and a little emotional. As I stood there, I realised this story was probably the most significant thing I had shared with them that day. It was the simple truth they too needed to hear. God had brought it to my mind, I believe—and I felt very humbled.

Jesus loves me—this I know!

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I’m a writer and speaker. I use and play with words day in and day out, and our English language is so rich that I’m often spoilt for choice. Yet sometimes I wonder if, in all my cleverness, I make something sound much more complex that it really is.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at a women’s retreat. I was entrusted with the task of giving three talks, each forty-five minutes in length. I spent many hours preparing these and their accompanying reflection sheets and discussion questions. And in the end, those talks more than filled those forty-five minutes I had been allotted! Yet the women were very gracious and patiently heard me out.

But as I delivered what I had prepared, I noticed two things. The first was that the women present went very quiet and seemed to listen extra hard whenever I shared some personal experience I had had of God or some story from my own life to illustrate a point I was making. I saw again the power of a simple story or honest testimony, as the women related to what I shared. No wonder Jesus so often taught in parables.

The second thing I noticed was that, out of all I shared over the weekend, what seemed to have the most impact was the simple truth that God loves each one of us. Not just in some theoretical, matter of fact way, but deeply¸ profoundly, purely, honestly. God created us. We went our own way. But God called us back, treated us with such grace, forgave us, accepted us. God loves us with a love that is perfect and eternal.

It was when the power of God’s love and the power of story combined, however, that the Spirit seemed to touch us the most. At one stage, I shared how, at a needy time in my life, God’s love filled me again in an amazing way. I had been so busy and, in the process, lost any sense of God’s real presence with me. But God broke through one night when I was home by myself. To my vast relief, I found myself freely worshipping God again, full of joy and so conscious of God’s Spirit alive in me. But it was the two pictures I believe God gave me then that impacted me even more. The first was of Jesus holding me as a baby, smiling down at me with such pure love and delight as he whispered, ‘Wow! Jo-Anne!’. I knew he was showing me he loved me just the way I had been created, before I could achieve anything. In the second picture, I saw all my certificates I later received piled in a bunny rug and gently pushed to one side. I knew God was showing me that, while they were great, I was utterly loved even without any of them.

I pointed out to the women listening how each one of us is that baby in Jesus’ arms, so precious to him. And in the quietness, God touched us all.

When it’s all said and done, it’s as simple—and profound—as that. God loves me. Jesus loves me.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

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I quite enjoy driving long distances by myself. There is something special about being alone in my car in a kind of bubble with God, listening to music or praying aloud or just enjoying God’s presence. And what makes it even more special is the opportunity to gaze out at the beautiful countryside I am driving through, noting the often dramatic changes in the landscape and marvelling at God’s creativity on display all around me.

This past weekend, I found myself heading west from Sydney to the beautiful town of Orange. I have always loved driving up into the Blue Mountains. Yet again, I feasted my eyes on those vistas of tree-covered slopes, of valleys shrouded in blue haze and of old stone settlers’ cottages and holiday venues from a bygone era. But it was as I crested that mountain range and began to descend to the sloping plains beyond, stretching as far as the eye could see, that my mind was blown yet again with the vastness of it all. And as the road wended its way further west, across smaller ranges and down into rich farming valleys, God seemed to be all around me, in and outside that car, overwhelming me with his own vastness.

I am so thankful for that experience. I am in the midst of a very busy month of speaking—and at these times I can often forget the bigger picture and become overwhelmed with all that has to be attended to. I can even lose sight of why I am doing everything I’m doing, until things become more of a chore than a joy. But my journey over those mountains put a dramatic stop to that, ministering to my spirit in several ways.

Firstly, seeing God’s hand of creativity in such an undeniable way around me enabled me to pull back, focus on that bigger picture again and realise God is quite able to use my speaking and writing to encourage others. I am in the hands of a great, great God, after all.

Secondly, at my destination, I met with a body of women who love the Lord and endeavour to serve God where they are. Some face big challenges right now and others are on the brink of changes that will impact them greatly. And again I saw what a privilege I have to speak into others’ lives and encourage them in some way.

Thirdly, I glimpsed again the power of a written story. One lady had travelled some distance to hear me speak because two of my books had touched her so deeply. How could I ignore God’s encouragement via this dear person to hold fast to the vision I have been given and to believe my books can make a difference?

Yes, I journeyed over physical mountains this past weekend with God. But I suspect I surmounted some inner obstacles as well. People, we have a great God—a God who will help us climb those mountains in our lives and stand victorious till the end!

Who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. Psalm 18:31-33

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