“But I don’t have a good testimony.”
How many times have you heard these words, or said them yourself?
How many times have you listened to someone tell their story and thought, Wow, I wish God would move in my life like that?
We often nurture a love/hate relationship with story. We love the magic on the silver screen, the plot that keeps us reading late into the night and the honest personal accounts of faith tested by fire. But then the story comes to a close and we snap back to reality, to our story, which feels more like a rat race than a redemptive drama. And then we hate it—because we don’t know how to translate the soul-stirring story into life as we know it, a life that is marked by deadlines and errands and responsibilities and stress.
Unfortunately, real life does not offer the luxury of structured chapters, thematic clarity or closure. As we look over our shoulder at the cluttered labyrinth of twists and turns our lives have taken, we see a jumbled mess rather than a streamlined plot. And when we lose sight of our storyline, it’s easy to get cynical.
As Christians, this is a critical dilemma. We are quick to praise God’s unfolding drama of redemption in the world, and we affirm the small part our individual stories play within it, but we struggle to put these concepts into hand-worked, hard-won practice. We love the Gospel story, but it almost seems too big, too grand, for the slight details of our ordinary lives.
How do we unearth the cosmic drama in the daily grind?
Perhaps the answer is the same for us as it is for the creators of our favorite stories: We do it by paying attention. The best stories share common elements, weaving a tale with rich metaphor, mounting tension, character growth, plot momentum and slowing, sweet resolve. Any story you’ve ever loved is good simply because the storyteller paid attention to these elements and put immense work into drawing them out.
There is no question that God is moving in your life. The only question is: Have you committed to the work of paying attention? Consider these practical ways to identify and inhabit God’s story for your life.
Accept that you are an unfinished work
Unlike our favorite stories, the beginnings, middles and ends of our own are rarely so clean-cut. Rather, our stories are ongoing. Our lives are a testimony to unfinished grace in the patient and loving care of God’s refining process. And it is this incomplete and uncertain standing that strengthens our faith.
It’s OK to not understand how everything connects. Instead of getting frustrated by the lack of clarity in your life, look to the wisdom of Hebrews 12, in which we are told to “fix our eyes on Jesus [as] the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). When we accept our role as unfinished works of grace, we relieve ourselves of the pressure to make sense of it all, and we can draw nearer to Christ in faith, having confidence that He is shaping us according to His good design.
Keep your eyes open for grace
God’s grace is not spontaneous but purposeful, and we can train our eye to find it. It’s a skill that we have to discipline ourselves to learn in this world of clutter and noise, like developing a muscle. To start, slow down. Start a journal, talk with a friend or go running to build in some time to process and pray. Ask God to reveal to you where He is at work in your life, what He wants you to learn and how He wants you to change.
Our “inciting incidents” may not always appear in lightbulb moments of revelation; more often than not, they show up in the midst of a million small decisions we make every day. Like water slowly carving its path through rock, these small turning points culminate together into a force that, over time, can change the course of a life.
Process and pray through your pain
We all have wounds that haunt our histories, and there are three ways we can respond to them. We can live in denial and superficially skirt around the edges, we can sink so completely in our grief that we get stuck, or we can commit to the good, hard work of walking through our pain.
Be willing to reenter the painful experiences, to pray through them, to listen and learn how these wounds have shaped you—for better and for worse—and how God can transform you through them. As C.S. Lewis wisely said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” And as Jesus said often, He who has ears, let him hear.
Identify with the rhythms of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection
Romans 6 teaches that when we put our faith in Christ, we are unified with Him: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). This identification with Christ is what brings us into salvation, but it does not end there. He invites us to pattern our daily living after the greatest story ever told through rhythms of living through Christ, dying to sin and experiencing resurrection.
Intentionally observing the life of Christ lends our lives holy context, teaching us to align every disappointment, every desire, every struggle and every success with His character—shaping us to become more and more like Him. It centers us on the Gospel story, even when we are uncertain about what will happen next in our own.
Realize the resurrection might not yet be in view
We have this tendency as Christians to absorb the shock of tragedy and then say, “BUT–God is good. There is hope. I’m better now.” The promise of resurrection is sure, as God is in the work of redeeming all things, but sometimes we can rush to it prematurely when He calls us to wait.
Like the hinge of success for the perfect joke, timing and pace matters in storytelling, and the Good Story requires us to walk faithfully through each scene. It requires us to witness the violence of Good Friday, the disturbing details of which the gospels do not censor. It requires us to wade through the shadowlands of Holy Saturday, unsure and in between. And then it invites us to experience resurrection. But all of this is subject to God’s timing, and sometimes we have to wait.
When you find yourself in the ache of the meantime, take comfort that the resurrection is ahead and God will bring you there in His perfect timing. And believe that He is transforming you even now in the waiting.
Share your story in community
It’s been said the two most comforting words in the English language are, “Me too.” We want to know that we are not alone. Telling our stories in the confidence of community puts all our strengths and weaknesses on the same plane, debunking the illusion that our secrets, sins and fears are unique, and showing we are not so different after all. Honestly sharing our stories with one another quickens personal healing, gives us the freedom that results from confession, cultivates community, and often helps us find new connections and echoes of grace we did not see before we put them into words. This is how the body of Christ is created to function.
Learn the story, and live it better
Stories show us the connectedness of life. They teach us how to bridge the gap between the daily grind and eternal glory. They help us to make sense of the rambling events of our lives and to align our ordinary days with the greatest story ever told of the Gospel. And when we pay attention to the story at hand, we’re able to live it better, fuller, deeper—just as God created it.
Excerpted with permission from Inciting Incidents, curated by Sarah Cunningham (Moody Publishers, 2012).