I’ve been tantruming for about four years now. Yep, you heard right, four. It’s not that anyone ever told me outright that if I prayed or gave or became a missionary that then God would be obligated to me, but my Sunday School brain heard that and was pretty happy. Turns out that story gives me quite a bit (read ‘a LOT’) of control in the ‘me-God’ relationship—and, as I am discovering, is entirely imagined and made up. It’s also terribly confusing and frustrating when it stops working.
Being the committed and persevering type that I am, I jumped through all the hoops. I prayed more, I read more, I confessed, I worshiped. I confessed again. Nothing wrong with these things, but I was doing them so God would owe me and be obliged to do what I wanted.
Then I listened to a talk where the lecturer called what I was doing ‘Christian Magic’. Well that doesn’t sound good! This is exactly what I was doing: waving my wand and waiting for God to perform. Unfortunately, through this my trust and growth in and ability to experience God’s freely flowing goodness, love and faithfulness has been severely stunted. Turns out I’m tantruming like a two year old because my version of reality (and my hardheaded want for control) and how I understand the Story of God has chapters and sections that are completely off and more influenced by my culture, life experience and a five year old’s perception of Sunday School stories.
The Gospel as Exchanging Stories
We’ve been through a long period in Western Christianity where the Bible narrative or Story of God has been reduced to “You’re a sinner; Jesus died for your sin; pray a prayer to get a ticket into heaven; behave well and God will look after you.” We’ve lost our understanding that Christianity and the Bible narrative is based upon the knowledge of how things really are and that conversion to Christianity is an exchange of master stories that impacts every part of our lives.
In James K.A. Smith’s book, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (2013), he describes that each culture, community, and family is a group of people that operate under a master story that teaches us how to understand and respond to whatever happens in our lives. It tells me what things have the greatest worth? What or who do I give my loyalty and commitment to? What gives my life meaning? It tells me how to get recognition, power, worth and love. It answers, what is intelligence? It tells me what is okay to do and what is not okay to do, what is acceptable to say and what is not (what are three things not to talk about at a dinner party?), what’s ‘in’ to wear and what is not, it tells me what success looks like and what it doesn’t.
So I develop an image of how life works and who I should be and what my life should look like in my head, and from that I develop desires (what do I dream about being or having? to be rich and own a big house and marry a beautiful girl, to be thin and muscular and have flawless skin and perfect hair, to be in control) and loves (what do I spend money on? nice clothes and nice cars, technology, sport). In turn, those desires and loves give me goals (university), habits (dieting and working out), and routines and rituals that bind me to the narrative and community. At the same time, I’m becoming a walking advertisement for the master story and community because I live out the story and community values in everything I do: I incarnate the story.
Why is this important?
Conversion to Christianity is not just about Jesus dying for my sin so I can get into heaven. It’s an exchange of master stories. An exchange of realities, a change in how I perceive the world. An exchange of how I imagine worth and power, and love, and success. An exchange of what gives my life meaning or how I get recognition. These different images re-form my heart and my desires and the things I love, so my goals change. It actually re-forms how my brain thinks and imagines—or you could say it renews my heart and mind (Romans 12:1-2). But for this to happen, we have to have a whole story, not just one part of it. The more of the Story of God we have, the more our hearts and minds will be transformed.
What Story do I incarnate?
God didn’t reveal theology or doctrine, but a master story. A story to align our lives by and a story to incarnate. Jesus’ central message was to repent (exchange) and believe because the Kingdom of God is near. We see this idea of exchanging master stories throughout the Bible. Blessed is the man who lives this way, not blessed is the one who lives that way. Put on this, put off that. Set your heart on this and not on that. Set your mind on this and not on that. Set aside the old man, live according to the new man. Live by the Spirit, not by the flesh. There are two ways to live: by God’s master story or by your own.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at different aspects of the Story of God and how they influence our formation. Thanks for joining our journey!
Something to Ponder
Is the god of my story the God of the Bible?
How does my story influence how I relate to God?
Will the story I live by prove to be enough in the midst of failure and loss?
Has there ever been a season in your life when it seemed like Christianity ‘didn’t work’? Take a few minutes and ask God if you have a wrong perception of Him or how his kingdom works.