What Good is a Story?
Previously, I’ve explained how stories matter, especially stories of God at work. They harbor magnificent power. But, stories do something, too. They affect us when we take them to heart. Sure, every reader occasionally realizes he or she has no idea what the previous paragraph said. But, when readers intentionally engage stories, they invite change. Stories’ potential to ignite change helps answer, “What good is a story?”
Consider this. Each issue of the Baptist New Mexican is filled with stories, averaging two thousand words of stories per page, sixteen thousand words in an issue. The number of words emphasizes the question, “What good is a story?” Why print and distribute them? How do they affect us? The answer either gives meaning to story telling or exposes its folly.
I’m speaking about factual stories, stories that tell about real events, stuff that actually happened. I’m also specifically talking about stories that tell of God’s work among His people and in the world. Since, deep inside, I’m an analyst, I analyzed stories. I love fiction, but that’s not the subject under scrutiny. Here’s what I learned about myself and other readers.
When readers engage with stories at the most basic level, they gather information. They absorb cold facts, data, statistics, figures, pictures, descriptions, history, and such. Readers absorb massive amounts of information from true stories. They recognize this has happened when they repeat a story, detail by detail. They absorbed information. Then, like a wet sponge that releases its water when squeezed. They recall and repeat the information as they tell the story. Information in. Information out. Stories increase the amount of information people possess. They help readers know more. But, knowing, alone, is insufficient. God intends more. God purposefully reveals Himself.
Readers can engage stories more deeply. Stories can stimulate activity in a reader’s heart. Experiences when a story’s mere hearing stirs feeling are common. These stirrings lie at the heart of inspiration. Inspiration leaves us feeling good, hopeful, joyful, encouraged or entertained. People enjoy inspiring stories. Some stories try to inspire, others do it naturally and effortlessly. Yet, readers, too, play a role in inspiration. Reading too fast and reading amidst distractions limits inspiration. Inspiration needs a comfortable setting and time for readers to canvass stories for golden, moving moments. They need time to read again, maybe again. Inspirational stories take heightened concentration. But, when stories inspire, the investment feels small.
Beyond the joys of encountering inspiration lies an even deeper engagement with a story. At some point, readers consciously ask of a story, “So what; why am I reading this.” Inspiration often begs that we reach further into the story and into ourselves. Stories influence readers who brave asking, “What should I do with this?” Action that responds to inspiration and uses information causes change. Compelling stories shape opinions, stimulate imaginations, and alter behaviors. “Compelling” may be a quality of the story or a result of the way readers read. Readers influenced by stories expect to be influenced. Expectation changes the way we read. Read with expectation, stories can awaken possibilities and illuminate choices that we either never knew or had long neglected.
Informing people is a laudable, commendable goal. Inspiration is, too. But, only stories that become influential cause change. Though not Scripture, stories of God at work in the lives of believers and among churches are powerful. We need their details and information. We need their inspiration. Mostly, we need the results of their influence upon us.
So, what good is a story? When read with intention and expectation and when read in the right environment and given time, stories can literally alter lives, our lives. Imagine 16,000 words of influence every week. That could stir up God’s Kingdom. Such influence could ignite a movement, a revival, a spiritual awakening. The life-changing power of stories lies, not in the words, but in God. The Holy Spirit uses them to alter the way we see and hear.
The stories of the Baptist New Mexican are sufficient to inform, inspire, or influence our readers. What happens isn’t an editorial decision. Recently, we’ve added a brief “Editors Take” to the end of certain stories to guide readers in the direction of influence. The New Mexican staff works hard at the tasks of composition, design, and circulation to put stories in readers’ hands. Then, we pray. The rest is up to our readers and God. Enjoy reading this issue. See what happens!
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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