The Power of Storytelling

Until I came to know the Lord and went to college, I was never a serious student.  My elementary, middle school (Jr. High when I was a boy), and high school academic effort and achievement were doubtless below average and just enough to get to the next grade level.  I did not like school… at least the schooling part of it.  I like lunch, loved recess, and loathed most everything else.  Except story time.

I, like the rest of us in elementary school loved story time.  It was usually in the afternoon, after the late recess.  The teacher would stand (or sit) in front of the class and read such wonderful stories like Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and Robinson Caruso. We would sit in rapt attention and hang on every word.  I’m sure every teacher wishes their students would respond to all their studies like they do to story time.

It was especially delightful to me because I did not come from a home where reading to the children was a thing.  Oh, I’m sure there were times my mom (never dad) would read to us when we were very small.  They came from rural Kentucky and their educations had only taken them to the lower elementary range; third grade for Dad and 5th grade, I think, for mom.  We were not a literary type family so I don’t remember any regular times of reading through children’s books.  So, when teacher’s started to read to us in school, I was mesmerized.  I thought it was the greatest thing!

My wife, Michal, made it virtually a daily thing to read to our children from the time they could in any way follow.  In homeschooling our children there was rarely a time that story time/reading time was not a staple.  Even I would get into the act though not nearly as much as Michal did.  But I think my grown kids today would sit and listen to me read Kipling’s Riki Tiki Tavi or The Jungle Book.  To this day, my kids love to hear me retell stories of events from my childhood.

Today, I have four grands living in my house with another as almost a daily visitor and two more very near.  One of the favorite things for my grands is for Ama (Michal) or Apa (me) to read them a story even though their mothers (and dads) do so aplenty.  Those of you who read to your children know of which I speak.

Years ago on a three week family vacation to California, Michal got hold of a tape (cassette at the time) from the National Story Tellers Annual Championship to listen to as we traveled. You can only imagine the delight it was to all of us to listen to that tape and the half dozen or so stories performed by national champion contenders.  These were all original, self-written, true stories from their own lives.  They were marvelous and so captivating that we listened to them over and over to the extent that we almost had them memorized. We have since then lost that tape.  I would pay decent money to get a reproduction. We also got hold of a series of tapes that were from Dr. David Jeremiah’s church services in California. It was a tape of all the humorous things that have been said from his pulpit over the years. Most of them were tiny stories, or narratives that ended up tickling your funny bone.

As human beings, it is in our DNA to love stories.  Our ancestors as far back as Adam’s family were storytellers.  They had to be in order to communicate to subsequent generations who God was and what he had done in their lives.  It would not be for some thousands of years that Moses would, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, write down the “stories” about Adam and Eve, Able, Cain, Seth, Noah, and a host of others.  He would record the stories surrounding the patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then, he began to record the stories involving himself and the Exodus from Egypt and the inception of the nation of Israel all the way to the doorstep of entering into the Promised Land.   After that, other storytellers took over recounting Israel’s history in story form. Finally, the ultimate storyteller, Jesus Christ came, and communicated to his people the eternal gospel, mostly in story form.

Most of the Scriptures come to us in story form.  Now from those stories come the incredible biblical and systematic theologies that have been developed because those stories were not just to entertain, they were to inform.  The best story tellers are not entertainers…they are teachers.  And Jesus was the consummate teacher.

So, when we tell stories, we should do so with the gospel in view.  Even when we read secular stories to our children and grandchildren, we should be careful to uphold biblical virtues and truths.  Accordingly, if we “make up stories” or share our own “life stories” with our little ones, we should be upholding and underscoring biblical truth and relating that truth to our story. But especially when we read to them Bible stories, we need to connect them to Jesus and the gospel.  I’m encouraged with the number of children’s Bible Story books that are doing this today.  If the intention of the stories in the Bible is to communicate and advance understanding of Christ and the gospel, this should be a fundamental priority of our story telling too.

So go ahead, tell those stories.  Our children and grandchildren love them.  They are a great means of promoting the gospel in their lives.


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