Practical Guide to Telling God's Story
Stories are powerful.
Think of your favorite movie. It’s probably a good story.
Or think about the last time you got teary eyed when you saw a commercial. It probably wasn’t because there was an affordable price on a new Toyota -- it was because they told you a compelling story.
The last time you were moved by something you heard, it was probably a story.
The last time you belly laughed at something someone told you, it was probably a story.
There is something about a story that connects with us in a way that nothing else does. But it’s not just that. Stories shape us -- they make us into who we are. So here's the thing: We all pass stories on to our children. The question is which story we'll pass along.
Here is a simple, practical starters guide to passing on God's story to the next generation.
1. TELL THE STORY
Passing on stories of God’s faithfulness to our children is the best way to help them understand who God is and who they are.
I believe the most important tool for every parent, grandparent, and teacher, is the actual story of God.
One question people have asked me is, ‘what do you mean when you say “God’s story”?’ Some people have concluded it’s just a trendy term to talk about the bible. We don’t mean that at all. What we mean is that the bible is one story from beginning to end, about a God who is doing something in the world. We believe this is a true story. It's the one that tells us who God is and who we are. It tells us what’s broken in the world, why it’s broken, and how God is repairing it. You can basically break the story down like this:
The creation, the fall, the redemption, and the renewal, or reconciliation.
A lot of us grow up learning fragments of the story. We learn about Father Abraham and Noah. Daniel and the Lions Den. David & Goliath. We know some scripture we memorized or heard repeated along the way. Yet, when it comes to putting it all together, we’re not sure where it all fits. When exactly did Elijah live and why did Joshua fight the battle of Jericho?
I was raised in Sunday school classes and knew many of these stories in detail, but I couldn’t put them in order. I couldnt tell you how they were related to each other. So, when I went to The Johnson Bible College, they had an entrance exam that tested our pure knowledge of the biblical timelines and events. I walked into that room full of confidence. I walked out doubting that I got a single question right. I’m serious.
I think we often overlook the importance of chronology. It might not feel like it matters, but it does. Imagine watching a bunch of scenes from a very long movie out of order repeatedly. That would be overwhelming. And confusing. So much so that you might finally decide to turn the movie off because it doesn’t make sense. Like, perhaps, you didn’t know it was movie.
We have told our daughters the overarching story of the bible many times since they were first born. Often I’ll lay on their floor at night, pick up where we left off the night before, and tell the story in the most engaging way possible, starting with "in the beginning" and moving forward.
Deuteronomy 6 uses the phrase, “impress them upon your children”. The best way to translate that hebrew phrase is, "teach these to your children as you would sharpen a blade". A few years back I bought a machete -- I don’t know why except I thought it would be cool to own a machete. Anyway, it came completely dull. I guess that’s a good thing. That meant I needed to sharpen it. So I did. And I noticed that it didn’t take that long to sharpen it. Now, unfortunately I’ve not been clearing out any heavily wooded areas or bamboo fields, so I haven’t used the thing to date. But if I had, I would need to sharpen it again and again. Because when a blade is in use, it is always in need of sharpening. It’s not enough to tell our children once or twice or to let them hear it once a week when you gather with the church. Repeat it! Tell the story of God often.
I imagine the ancient families in oral cultures sitting around fires, relaying the stories of old. The grandfathers reminding their children and grandchildren about the epic stories that have been passed down to them. Everyone hearing the stories over and over again. And challenged to embrace it and learn it so they could pass it on to the next generation. Let’s ask ourselves, are we preparing our children to pass the story on well? That takes repetition.
4. FOCUS ON THEMES
The Israelites had the responsibility to pass on 613 laws to children; we have the responsibility to pass on themes. Themes express the meaning of a text and connect all the stories together. Here are a few of the really prominent themes: God is good, God’s words are true and powerful, God is the central character, God wants humans to trust Him. Etc.
Here’s a brief example using that last one: When God calls Abraham to leave his homeland and travel to a new land to start a new family, He is asking Abraham to take a step of radical faith. That’s not just a theme in that story, it's a theme expressed over and over again throughout the overarching story: God wants humans to trust Him. So, when you tell the Abraham story, allow some conversation about what that would have been like for Abraham. Dig into what trusting God is like, talk about how hard it is some times. And so on. We could do an entire course on how to extract themes, but not right now.
5. RELAY THEM AS THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FAMILY
Have you ever found something really cool about your genealogy -- like you’re related to a famous person or to someone who did this really great thing a long time ago? You’re so excited to tell another person about it. So you do. But when they start telling you about their ancestors, what happens? Well, maybe your a better person than me, but I’m like, “no…” and then I get restless legs. We don’t find other people’s genealogies interesting unless they somehow connect with ours.
God knows that the great great grandchildren of the Israelites might not understand why these things are important. So, when that happens, remind them of who they are:
Deuteronomy 6 continues,
In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors.
Adam and Abraham don’t disappear in the New Testament. Theologically speaking, we are adopted into God’s family, grafted into Abraham’s promise. These stories are our stories. The wholeness of the garden, that our story. The flood, that’s our story. The tower of babel, that’s our story. The promise of the descendant who would set all things right, that’s our story! And so on. Help children connect with the story by reminding them that this isn’t a fairy tale. This is where we came from. These are our ancestors. This is our story.
6. PRIORITIZE IT IN YOUR SCHEDULE
I was addicted to basketball growing up. I was a disciple of basketball, literally. I shot 200 jump shots almost every evening in high school -- rain, shine, snow, ice. 100 right handed, 100 left handed. I worked out pretty much everyday. I ran cross country, which I hated, to get in shape for the season. All of this in addition to practices. I was devoted to it. It was important to me, so I prioritized it in my schedule.
If we’re going to be people who embrace discipleship as the centerpiece of our homes, we have to invest quality and quantity of time to it.
Deut 6 emphasizes this: talk about these commands when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. In other words, make this a part of your everyday life.
Maybe you’re thinking, I don’t know the story:
A. The story tab on the Crossview app has an overview of the whole story that takes about 20 minutes to read (Download in iOS or Android store).
B. Get the Jesus Storybook Bible. It’s wonderfully written and captures themes very well. And the subtitle is “Every story whispers His name” so every story looks ahead to Jesus.