Marjorie Perkins, an eighty-seven-year-old woman in Maine, awoke at 2 a.m. on July 26 to find a man standing over her bed. He told her he was going to cut her, but she fought back, putting a chair between them as he struck her on the cheek and forehead.
Then the teenager headed for the kitchen, telling her he was “awfully hungry.” So she gave him a box of peanut butter and honey crackers, two protein drinks, and two tangerines. She then called 911 on her rotary phone as the intruder left. Police quickly found the man and charged him with several crimes. According to Associated Press, her story has made her “a bit of an international celebrity.”
Shifting gears: Richard L. Hasen claims in Slate that last week’s federal indictment of former President Donald Trump is “perhaps the most important indictment ever handed down to safeguard American democracy and the rule of law in any US court against anyone.” By contrast, Kimberley A. Strassel writes in the Wall Street Journal that “if lying politicians can be prosecuted for ‘fraud,’ as [the prosecutor] proposes in the Trump indictment, we’ll need a lot of new prisons.” She cites numerous examples of politicians engaged in actions that were, in her view, the same behavior for which the former president was indicted.
Your view of the indictment will likely be determined by the story you believe: Mr. Trump is a deceitful threat to American democracy or he is the victim of legal overreach and political animosity.
“Powerful technologies of the heart”
Simeon Zahl is a Harvard and Cambridge graduate who serves as Professor of Christian Theology at Cambridge. His recent article in Mockingbird, titled “The Cure of Souls: Theory of Change in Christian Ministry,” explores the ways people experience genuine transformation in Christ.
After describing various approaches, he focuses on St. Augustine’s observation that “the human will is helped to achieve righteousness in this way: [human beings] receive the Holy Spirit so that there arises in their minds a delight in and a love for that highest and immutable good that is God” and thus are “set afire with the desire to cling to the Creator.”
From this insight, Dr. Zahl states that “the heart of Christian ministry is the facilitation of an emotional encounter with the God revealed in Jesus.” Knowledge, even from Scripture, is not enough by itself. Nor is participation in various spiritual disciplines or practical ministries. Humans are so fallen and resistant to change that only the Holy Spirit can change us. And he does this by speaking to our heart.
Consequently, “the experience of being helped by God in your place of felt need is the heart of Christianity.” In this context, according to Dr. Zahl, stories and illustrations are “powerful technologies of the heart, much more powerful than mere words and ideas” because “they know how to speak the strange electric language of the heart.”
“Though I was blind, now I see”
What does this emphasis on Spirit-led storytelling mean for those of us committed to seeing our culture experience genuine moral and spiritual transformation? Let’s consider three responses.
First, experience the change we want others to experience. We must have a story before we can tell it. Our Lord promises: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
When last did time with God change your life?
Second, stay so surrendered to the Spirit that he can lead us to tell stories people need to hear. He knows the hearts we are called to influence and will prompt in our minds and hearts the stories he wants us to share (cf. Luke 12:12). But we must be able to hear his voice before we can follow it.
According to Oswald Chambers, “We must never allow anything to injure our relationship with God; if it does get injured, we must take time and get it put right. The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere produced by that relationship. That is all God asks us to look after, and it is the one thing that is being continually assailed.”
Will you ask the Spirit to guide your thoughts and prompt your words today?
Third, be courageous in telling your story and trust the results to God. Like the man born blind who told the skeptical religious authorities, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25), you have a story to tell that is uniquely yours. Others may reject what you share (vv. 26–34), but Jesus will make your story eternally significant (vv. 35–41).
In his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs advised the graduates: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” He was convinced that “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
Do you truly believe God can use your life and story to change your culture?
“Go home to your friends and tell them”
Yesterday was “Transfiguration Sunday” in much of the Christian world. We know the story of Jesus’ transfiguration experience with Moses and Elijah not only because Matthew, Mark, and Luke recorded it in their Gospels but also because Peter retold his eyewitness account in his second letter (2 Peter 1:16–18).
Paul never tired of telling his conversion story on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–19; 22:6–16; 26:12–20). Jesus instructed the demoniac he healed to “go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). When our Lord led the Samaritan woman at the well to faith in himself, she told her story to her village (John 4:28–30) and “many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (v. 39).
Now it’s our turn to tell our “town” our story.
Why not today?