The Power of Story

Everyone loves a good story.

Sure, we may prefer different types of stories — some prefer Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, while others want romantic comedies,  action thrillers, reality TV or documentaries — but regardless of the genre of the story, we are all drawn toward a well told narrative that resonates with certain aspects of our lives. Sometimes we want these stories to inspire us, sometimes we want them to challenge or provoke us, sometimes we simply want them to amuse and distract us.  Regardless, our culture has provided us with a glut of movies, TV shows, books, and video games to fill almost every possible option.

The question then becomes: how do these stories shape us?

Because, whether we know it or not, stories shape who we are.  That’s a huge part of why we are drawn to certain books, shows, etc.  We don’t go to watch a movie in order to analyze and learn something.  No!  We go because it’s going to make us feel something.  A well-told story might make us think, but those are increasingly rare. Most of the time these stories are designed to make us feel something, to shape our emotions. This is because, for the vast majority of us, it isn’t stark information that drives our desires; emotions drive our desires.

And, guess what: it is our desires which dictate our behaviour.

Knowledge and learning may give us skills and equip us for life, however, for all but the most analytical of us, knowledge doesn’t transform us.  Instead, it is our deeply seeded, subliminal desires which form the motivations behind our actions. And what shapes these deepest desires more than the stories we tell ourselves and live within every day?

Think about this for a moment:
There are really only a handful of stories which our culture tells over and over. And most of these have something to do with our own personal self-fulfillment. Maybe it’s some version of the story of:

  • the American Dream (self-fulfillment through wealth: stories of the self-made-man, the underdog story, etc.)
  • finally finding that certain someone (self-fulfillment through sex & romantic relationships)
  • achieving justice on my own terms (self-fulfillment through revenge;  misunderstood hero stories, etc.)

Obviously, this is just a small sampling.  And yet, it’s remarkable how many stories fit under these categories of wealth, sex, and violence (all told under the cultural guises of hard work, relationships, and justice).

Now, why on earth am I sharing any of this?

Because, true, Biblical worship tells a story.

Worship isn’t about imparting information.
Worship isn’t about your own personal self-expression to God.
[Both of these might happen in worship, but that’s not what they’re about.]

Biblical worship has always been centred, not on us as the worshippers, but on God and his amazing acts of redemption. And, more than simply retelling the events of God’s story, worship draws us into the Biblical narrative so that it becomes the story of God which shapes our desires and identity. As Robert Webber has famously said, “Worship does God’s story” (29).

The problem is this: for 6 days out of every week, most of us are immersed, not in the Gospel Story, but the stories of our society. And, on top of that, only rarely do we pause long enough to ask how these stories shape how we think, how we feel, what we desire, and who we are.

And so, part of what we want to accomplish as we gather in worship is to undo all of the stories that you’ve been living within throughout the week. In each and every service we want to proclaim the amazing acts of God in a way which intentionally subverts our cultural narratives.

We want the Gospel Story to be so ingrained in who you are that it become this story and only this story which shapes your deepest desires and provides you with an unshakable identity anchored, not in your own personal self-fulfillment, but in the faithfulness of Jesus.

Throughout the coming weeks, I will be using this space to walk you through the narrative of our worship. My desire is that you would be able to identify the thread of the Gospel Story which runs throughout our worship gatherings and that, as you learn to see the story, you will be able to engage more deeply in worship, allowing it to form who you are.