I’m a “story buff”! From Narnia to the Shire to the planet Tatooine to Oz, I love a good story, and I’m not alone. It’s a human thing. Present-day Americans spend many hours every week consuming stories—from books, to movies, to TV—for good or bad, we are a story-craving people. Why?
Often, it’s an escape mechanism—our reality is so intolerable that we retreat into fiction for momentary relief. Other times it’s fantasy—our reality is so unfulfilling, we choose to vicariously enter another story, identify with other characters in a different adventure, one that we imagine is more meaningful and valuable. I think, deeper than all that, we are creatures designed by a great storyteller. Our hearts long for happy endings; and we crave a bigger story, a better story, a richer reality than this broken, painful present through which we all limp every day.
To some degree, our stories shape us. They create an inner narrative—a sort of pseudo-theology or life-philosophy that shapes our values, our expectations, our hopes, and our daily decisions. This makes the stories we consume exceedingly powerful and influential in our lives. They have the power to lie to us, to deceive us, to distract us, and to actually lead us far off course from the true “story of all stories.” It behooves us to be discerning in the stories we consume and in how we filter or process their narratives.
The reality is, you have a story, and something will shape your story this new year. You will turn to something or someone to tie off your “story hopes,” and that something will guide, direct, and powerfully influence your story this year. It will either fulfill you or disappoint you. It will either lead you to greater engagement in God’s ultimate story, or leave you groveling in despair and frustration that “your story” isn’t coming together the way you expected.
At best, when it comes to stories, you need a Jesus-shaped, gospel-centered, biblically-principled grid through which to view all other stories, and through which to filter those false narratives with the truth. The false narratives are many, and abounding 24/7 in our media-saturated world. They say things like “Your key to happiness is possessions, pleasure, and personal gratification.” Or, “Your key to happiness is to find god within you and leverage the god-force to work in your favor.” Or, “Your key to happiness is in personal improvement, becoming the ‘best you’ and following your heart.” Or, “Your key to happiness is in political victory and an economy that is booming toward financial success and security.” Or finally, “Your key to happiness is in true love to be found in that one special person who is perfect for you.” False stories. Fake news. There are slivers of truth woven in here—for there’s nothing wrong with a strong economy, a loving companion, personal goals, or material blessings from God. But the story that “these things are ultimate things and that your story will flourish as you pursue these things” is nothing but a fictional narrative.
Who or what will write your story this year? Where will you turn to find your story unfolding, and where will that lead you? May I give you three story-shaping realizations that Jesus gave His followers? Go with me for a moment…
In Luke 24, Jesus is alive again, but His followers don’t know it yet. They are totally flummoxed—hiding in fear, worried sick, and utterly discouraged over the horrific turn their story has taken. They cannot fathom a tomorrow with a happy ending. Their story has utterly lost hope.
Some hours after a long walk with the resurrected Jesus to Emmaus, two disciples have joyfully returned to Jerusalem and are feverishly recounting to the cowering followers of Jesus that He is indeed alive again—physically, bodily, literally! These two have moved rapidly from total despair to abounding, excessive joy and hope.
I love what Jesus does! Could He have knocked on the door? Sure. Could He have announced His arrival in some less “disturbing” way? Of course. But Jesus is not only God—He’s fun! He’s fabulously creative and spectacular. He chooses to materialize! He’s going to create witnesses, and He’s making sure they never forget and never doubt what they are witnesses to. Literally, as in “Beam me up, Scotty,” in the middle of the room of disciples, Jesus suddenly is there—materializing from nothing. I really want to learn how to do that! See it for yourself:
“And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.” (Luke 24:36-40)
In this supernatural moment, Jesus gives some remarkable, story-shaping realizations to these fearful followers.
First, Jesus is the center of my stability and future.
See Him show up “in the midst”—not on the sideline, but in the center! He’s alive; He’s real; He’s speaking: “Peace!” It’s important to realize the psychological, emotional, spiritual state of these followers of Jesus. They were terrified, afraid, troubled, imagining a lot of false narratives, surmising and supposing a lot of lies—not to mention discouraged, despairing, and devastated. Yet, in the middle of that mess, Jesus shows up!
Note, He doesn’t tell them what to do—rather, He addresses their psychological world. He goes to them where they are and says “Peace!” Then he questions their questions. He exposes their false storylines and breaks down their untrue narratives. From that position in the center, He completely recalibrates their spiritual, emotional, and psychological world. He essentially says, “I’m here, I’m the source of your ultimate peace, and you can now touch, feel, see, and hear the true story. He reoriented their reality to Himself as ultimate reality!
What’s the point? Simply that God is the greatest story writer of all time, and His ultimate story is the story of Jesus. In that moment, and perhaps in this one, Jesus says, “I’m the center of it all! Build your story on me, and let me write you into the story of ultimate reality!” If you want your best story to unfold in this new year, it all begins with Jesus as the center of your emotional, spiritual, psychological world—Jesus as the center of your stability and future.
How I need this in the new year! My mind tends to know that Jesus is in control, but my heart forgets. My emotions and imagination tend to wander off into “supposing” false narratives, just like the disciples. Every day, my heart needs to return to Jesus as the center of my stability and future!
Already, the disciples are experiencing joy and wonder, and the story has barely begun! Jesus continues…
Second, Jesus is the center of the complete biblical narrative.
While they are marveling at his ability to materialize, Jesus eats some fish sticks and honey sauce (simply because Chick-fil-a had not been developed yet!), and proceeds to teach them—opening their understanding of the whole biblical narrative. Over the next moments, they see the Scriptures (the Bible to us), in a way and through a grid like they had never seen it! They hear the ultimate story of reality from the lips of the Author of that story! He opens God’s word and essentially tells them, “Every page, every story, every sacrifice, every law, every character, every figure, every promise—from the first to the last—it’s all about me! I am the center of the story, and it’s all a story about me!”
Minds blown! Indeed, mine as well! For so many years I read the Bible as separate parts that somehow form a whole “manual for life.” I read it as an elongated, detailed “how to” book—merely God’s intricate instructions for me, mainly showing me what a loser I really am. Yes, there’s a lot of instruction and eternal advice in Scripture. Yes, there are a lot of examples to learn from and emulate. Yes, there are many parts. But before any of this, it is God’s ultimate story—a narrative about Jesus and God’s story of time and eternity. It is an infinitely intricate tapestry of stories, pictures, figures, promises, and prophecies, all tightly woven together with undeniable supernaturality, in a way that only an infinite mind could author a story! And yes, it’s all about Jesus!
Not sure on this? The first two things Jesus did when He resurrected were to point the minds and hearts of His followers to the Scripture and to explain Himself on every page. Yes, every page points in some way to Jesus. Every page weaves another thread into God’s ultimate story of Jesus.
What does this mean? First, it means that believing in Jesus is no act of stupid or blind faith. There’s a cosmically complex “Rubik’s Cube” of a story that is so tight, so supernatural, and so beautiful that any honest researcher who attempts to exhaust it will either eventually bow before it or run from it in anger. The Jesus story is not one you “kind of like”—there is no gray area for Jesus to be a good guy or a good teacher. You have to either hate Him—rejecting Him utterly, or you have to accept Him for everything He said; and in this case, He’s saying, “I’m the center of the whole story of time!”
Second, it means your story is another thread woven into His ultimate story! This means your new year is not random, and not up to you. It means you are not the victim of a cold, heartless universe. It means the greatest story of your life is the one Jesus wants to write, folded into His ultimate story of reality. It means your story this year has meaning, significance, value, and beauty in God’s greater story! It means you are in for some surprises along the way, even alarming ones; but in His great love and grace, you never have need to fear if you know Him as Saviour!
Every day this year, my heart needs to return to Jesus as center of the complete biblical narrative, and ultimately of the story of time itself. What a stabilizing realization it is to know that my story flows from His! Every circumstance is woven into His master plan for eternal good. Every day, His ultimate truth and reality must be my center.
Third, and finally, Jesus is the center of my purpose and power.
After Jesus addresses their emotional world and grounds them in His ultimate story, He confers upon them a new identity, calling, and ability. He essentially says, “This is now who or what you are. This is both the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of your lives going forward.” To say they were told to “go witness” is to greatly reduce the reality. Yes, the behavior of “witnessing” is the unavoidable outflow, but look deeper.
Jesus says in verse 48, “You are witnesses of these things.” What things? All the realities He just unveiled to them. All the stability He just rooted them into. All the story He just unfolded before them. “These things” is all these things—God’s story of ultimate reality and redemption.
He isn’t merely telling them what to do. He’s conferring upon them a new identity—“witnesses”—and with it a new purpose and power. He doesn’t invite them to witness. He doesn’t suggest that they consider it. He says, “You are witnesses!” For better or for worse, you and I are today’s “living witnesses” of these things, which begs the question, are you a false witness or a truthful one? The question is not “are you witnessing?” The question is “what is your witness saying?” For indeed, you and I are witnesses whether we like it or not.
Beyond this new identity, He confers upon them a promise of His Holy Spirit’s power (divine enablement), and the call to preach the gospel. Astounding new reality has settled upon these Jesus-followers in this passage, and it has reshaped their stories dramatically. They have been utterly, irrevocably transformed—not by a work of their wills, but by astounding events and life-shaping new information that has completely rewritten their reality!
The disciples of Jesus, almost effortlessly, intuitively, and miraculously move from hiding to heralding, from fearful to flagrant in courage, from hopeless to abounding in hope, from anxiety to anticipation, from fogginess to clarity, from aimlessness to focus, from dismay to wonder, from confoundedness to confidence, from trepidation to celebration!
What’s the point for us? As my story unfolds with Jesus as center, He confers upon me a new identity, a new purpose, and supernatural ability to engage in that purpose. He writes me into His story! His ultimate story includes me! I’m a player in the plot! Mind blown again!
It’s a new year. You have a story. You love stories probably as much as I do—your Designer placed that in you. Something will shape your story this year.
On top of that, you long for a bigger story, one with a great big happy ending—one with meaning, value, significance, and hope. You long for the story in which you are loved perfectly, ultimately, and forever with a love you can never lose.
How cool that God is the Author of a great, ultimate story of reality—the story of Jesus—and as Jesus reclaimed the story, He desires to reclaim you and write you into His story. In so doing, He desires to be the center of your stability and future. He desires to be the center of your truth (your reality) and your worship. He desires to be the center of your purpose and power moving forward—the “why” and “how” of your living.
Simply put, every day this year, your heart and mine needs to return to Jesus as center. The story we most long for is the one He is writing. The best version of your story is the one you allow Him to write!
Who or what will shape your story this year? Fake stories? Or the ultimate story and the ultimate author—Jesus?
Return to Jesus as center, and be prepared to be “mind blown” over and over again at the story He writes in your life!
May Jesus be the ultimate center of your year, and indeed the rest of your life!
Happy New Year, Friends!