We all love a good story. In fact, we are addicted to storytelling. We spend endless hours watching stories on television, ipads and iphones. We go to the cinema with friends and family to watch a good story. We purchase lifestyle magazines because we enjoy reading stories about interesting and remarkable people. When I am at the doctors, I usually pick up a lifestyle magazine while I am waiting for a consultation. I never read the advertisements. I gravitate to the stories where people share their life experiences.
Why Add Stories To Your Preaching?
Your people will love a good story. If the minds and thoughts of your listeners are wandering and they do, a good story will get their attention again to focus on your preaching. “A father took his family for a Sunday afternoon drive. As they were driving, enjoying the scenery, the two kids cried out: ‘Daddy, daddy, stop the car…’” “A young businessman overwhelmed by the enormous pressure placed upon him by his executives found his Christian spirit being crushed, slowly but surely crushed…” “Her lips moved but there was no sound. She breathed a wish in her soul and sent it unspoken to the throne of God. Would God answer her prayer? Would God grant her the unspoken wish in her heart…” You now have their attention.
When I started out preaching, I gave the people a lot of content. After about six months or so of preaching, my wife gently whispered in my ear: “Remember, we are not in the seminary classroom. The people love your content but we need to know how to put it into practice in real life.” These were pre-internet days so it took me a while to learn that story is one way to show to people how to apply biblical truth to life experiences.
Why add stories to your preaching? There are many reasons but let me share three reasons why you should add stories to your preaching of God’s word.
1. Stories apply the content of your preaching.
If you want to show the people how to apply biblical truth, tell them a story. Let me finish the story about the young businessman.
A young businessman overwhelmed by the enormous pressure placed upon him by his executives found his Christian spirit being crushed, slowly but surely crushed. It seemed he had nowhere to turn. He felt he could not share it with his wife. He felt he could not share it with his friends. So, he absorbed the pressure until one night “feeling the depths of utter despair, he cried out to God [God help me].”
After a few moments of intense despair, a strange calm crept into the room and settled about him. As he placed his head upon the pillow, a song began to run through his thoughts: Take your burden to the Lord, and leave it there. If you trust, and never doubt, He will surely bring you out. Take your burden to the Lord, and leave it there. As this young man poured out his heart before God, he found rest in his Creator; he found refuge in Jesus and discovered and experienced the power of prayer. Will your find your rest in the Lord? Will you take your burdens to Jesus and discover and experience the power of prayer.
Story adds life experiences to your preaching. What you are doing is applying your preaching content to your people!
2. Stories clarify the content of your preaching.
I have been in the preaching ministry for nearly thirty years and I have shared the Easter message for most of those years. We often have people who come to the Easter services who seldom attend a church service. I find that story is one way to add clarity to the biblical message of Easter.
This following story adds clarity to the truth that God cares about us. You cannot share this story by simply reading it. It is an emotional story so you need to know the story well and share it with passion and love.
A father took his family for a Sunday afternoon drive. As they were driving, enjoying the scenery, the two kids cried out: “Daddy, daddy, stop the car! There is a kitten back there on the side of the road.” So he turns the car around, pulls over to the spot. “You kids stay in the car. I’ll check it out,” says dad.
He goes over to the kitten, sees that it’s just skin and bone, sore-eyed, full of fleas. His heart is touched a tear comes to his eyes. He reaches down to pick it up, with its last bit of energy, it hisses at him, hair standing up on its back, showing its teeth and claws, lunging for his wrist, scratching him and drawing blood. Nevertheless, he reaches out and gently picks it up and brings it back to the car.
Easter reminds us that Jesus reached down to pick us up. In doing so, He shed His blood and endured the pain and horror of the cross in order that we might not be forsaken on the roadside of life, in order that we might not be separated from someone who cares for us.
3. Stories stick to the content of your preaching.
We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. We all know the story of the Rich Land Owner. These stories are unforgettable and the truths in these stories are self-evident and they stick to us like glue. They are unforgettable!
Jesus said that we must go into the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). As preachers of God’s word, we remind the people of this command regularly. We can either tell them or we can tell a story.
Peter’s life was in tatters. There seemed to be no hope. So he sunk into depression and began drinking. Before long alcohol controlled his life! However, even alcohol could not bring him out of his depression and despondency. Peter said, “I really wanted to die, myself, whether drinking or how, I didn’t want to live.”
But in 1984, he met some people from Singapore who proved instrumental in restoring his life and hope. Over a period of time, these people talked to him about Jesus Christ and they prayed for Peter. In time, Peter realized that he was a sinner in need of a Savior. So Peter prayed, “Lord, forgive me. I’m a sinner. If I am acceptable to you, then I’m ready to give my life.”
A year later Peter was baptized early one morning in a mountain stream! “It was a chilly morning,” he remembers. “You can’t imagine how cold.” But he says, “I couldn’t change my clothes right away.
I had something to pray. I knelt down and I prayed. One prayer, it came to me in my mind, only one: “Lord, you saved me. You gave me this life. Now I don’t want to come to Heaven by myself. Lord, save my people. I want to see many of them in Heaven the day I come.”
For Peter, a simple thank you was inadequate. He was so certain of the new life he had in Christ and the life to come that he didn’t want to go to heaven alone (I don’t want to come to Heaven by myself, Lord, Peter said).
So in 1985, Peter became a member of a Bible translation team. Peter helped the translation team to translate the Bible into his own language. When he began translating the Bible into his own language, there were no Christians in his village.
In 1994, just nine years later on Christmas day, the New Testament was dedicated. Peter says, “You cannot imagine my happiness and my joy. And then, my tears couldn’t stop, when I saw the people. More than 500 are now believers [in Jesus Christ] and I won’t be going to heaven by myself”.
Peter who wanted to die experienced the certainty of eternal life and many became believers. Why? Because to Peter a simply thank you was inadequate. He wanted more. He wanted others to experience what he experienced.
The story made the point – I didn’t need to tell the people we have a mission. The story did it for me. Why add stories to your preaching? They make the point for you!
What must you keep in mind when you add stories to your preaching?
There are many tips to keep in mind when using stories in your preaching, but let me share three tips with you.
1. Limit the stories in your preaching.
I use stories to make a point from a biblical truth. I never tell stories just to tell stories. I tell stories to make a biblical point.
I usually only tell one lengthy story in a sermon. Peter’s story above was the only lengthy story I told in the sermon. However, I will use a couple of short stories with a lengthy story if appropriate.
I used this short story to make a particular point. Many years ago it was reported in a local newspaper that a man had robbed a convenience store. This man gave the clerk a $10 dollar bill to get her to open the cash register. Well it worked! She opened it and he forced her to give him the contents of the drawer. He got everything–a grant total of $4.34. He left in such a hurry that he forgot the $10 dollar bill he gave the clerk to open the cash register and he lost $5.66 in the deal. That is the way sin is. It never gives what its promises.
A little girl was playing on the footpath with a ball. While she was playing with the ball, it roles onto the road and she goes to retrieve it. From nowhere a car hits the little girl. The driver doesn’t stop because he is intoxicated. When the police arrive, the parents are hysterical. As they examine the little girl, they realise the worst. The police officer looks up at the parents and motions his head to say there is no hope. The mother screams: Why? Why? Why? On the way back to the police station, the officer struggles with the mother question. How do you answer such a question? What do you say? Some people look within for answers. Others look to the sciences for answers. But I want to encourage you to look to God and His word for answers to life’s most difficult questions.
Learn to limit your stories and they will have unforgettable impact upon the people in your congregation!
2. File the stories for your preaching.
I generally write stories from the books that I read or literature I read. The story of the young businessman came from an autobiography. When I read that book, that moment when the young business man knelt down and handed everything to God in prayer impacted me. So I wrote a short story of his experience and filed it away in my story files.
The story about Peter came from literature I read about the ministry of Wycliffe. When I read his testimony, I quickly wrote it down and filed it away in my story files. The story of the little girl hit by the car came from a book I read about the experiences of a Christian police officer. The story brought me to tears and made me think about life’s difficult questions. I wrote the story down and filed it away in my story files.
I also write stories from the Bible. When I read the Bible for my personal time, I often come across stories that impact me. Here is a story I put together after reading about Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. I used this story to introduce a sermon on prayer but I first wrote it because it impacted me in my personal reading of God’s word.
Her lips moved but there was no sound. She breathed a wish in her soul and sent it unspoken to the throne of God. Would God answer her prayer? Would God grant her the unspoken wish in her heart? Hannah was desperate, pain permeated her gentle spirit. Why? Her husband adored her. He loved her deeply and he lavished upon her many wonderful gifts.
Nevertheless, this did not ease the problem in their marriage, a seemingly insurmountable problem, a problem that intensified year after year. Hannah was childless. She was barren. She could not bore for her husband the son he needed to perpetuate the family line. In her culture, this brought great shame, for her honour and worth as a woman was contingent on bearing a son.
The Bible tells us that her problem escalated when her husband, Elkanah, took another wife. He took Peninnah and she bore him children. However, Elkanah never stopped loving Hannah and Peninnah saw this, and it impelled her to meanness and she continually taunted Hannah for being childless.
As time went by, it all came to a head. When the family went up to Shiloh to worship God, the pain overwhelmed her. It crushed her gentle spirit. Alone and miserable, she poured out her heart before God.
The Scriptures tell us that her lips moved but there was no sound. She breathed a wish in her soul and sent it unspoken to the throne of God. Would God answer this prayer? Would God grant her the unspoken wish in her heart? This childless woman! This taunted woman! Would God grant her the unspoken wish in her heart?
After Hannah prayed, her spirit was renewed and her face was no longer sad. Yes, she was childless but she was not prayerless! Yes, she was barren but she still believed and in her times of solemn prayer, Hannah found refuge in God and discovered the power of prayer!
You know what it’s like. You’re downcast. You’re struggling in your faith. You don’t know where to turn and no one seems to understand and you pour your heart out to God and in solemn prayer you find refuge in Him and discover the power of prayer.
3. Learn to tell stories well in your preaching.
I am not a good story teller. However, over the years I have constantly worked on telling stories. I feel much more at ease now telling stories in my preaching.
I have worked on different ways to tell stories. Some stories are quite funny. Others are quiet emotionally. Whether funny or emotionally I find the best way to tell a story is to bring people with you. I never say, “Now I going to tell you a story about Matt.” Let me show you how I told the story of Matt.
The Bible speaks about sin, death and life. Matt was 19 years old. While still living at home, Matt was working full time at a local industry, played in a rock band with several friends and had a loving girlfriend. Things seemed to be going in the right direction, for Matt—his friends were supportive, he seemed to be enjoying what he was doing and there was optimism for the future as he and his girlfriend progressed to build a steady relationship.
But something was happening inside Matt. Anger had built up inside him. His mom attempted to intervene, but every time she attempted to get close, it always seemed to escalate into a fight of some sort. As her only child, Matt was the pride of her life. And yet she couldn’t seem to reach out the way she intended. Matt’s father had divorced his mom early in Matt’s life and wanted nothing to do with him. In the brokenness of his relationships with both parents, a feeling of despair hopelessness began to well up inside of Matt. And so late one night when he came home from work, Matt went into the garage. There he found an extension cord, which he proceeded to wrap around one of the beams. He then placed it tightly around his neck and walked off the steps that led down into the garage. His mother was the first to find him the next day.
When I read that story, my heart is gripped with sadness to the point of tears because I am convinced that Matt only saw part of the picture—sin and death. Unless we see the remedy for sin and death, life will seem futile. The Bible says that Adam brought sin and death but the Bible also says that Jesus Christ brings life and hope. Unless we see the full picture, we may miss the Good News of Jesus Christ.