Your personal story is undeniable and people want to hear your story. Where God appears in your story, the more personal you can make it, the better.
God is not an idea, God is a real person. Avoid direct reference to the Bible and no reference to “my church teaches” because although those are authorities for you they are not accepted as authoritative to others.
Stick with statements that begin with:
- In my experience . . .
- I have come to see . . .
- My study has led me to believe . . .
Talk about the dark valleys, the times of doubt, the wounds and wanderings. Your conversation partners know pain and they know loneliness. But God has wired them the same way He wired you and me—with a very deep desire for a restored relationship with Him. If you can tell your story and aren’t afraid to show the path through the wilderness you wandered, you just may find they’ll walk with you long enough to find the Way themselves.
If you’re thinking right now, “I don’t have a story,” that’s simply not true. If it helps, grab a piece of paper and draw your life on a timeline from conception to the present. Fill in the highs and lows and then fill in all the in-betweens. Start with the circumstances of your conception. Were your parents married, unmarried, are you the product of IVF or rape? Do you know who your father is? What were the circumstances of your birth? Were you a preemie or adopted or born with a condition?
Have you survived cancer? Are you living with chronic pain or disability? Were you a standout athlete? Did you win the lottery? Are you divorced, widowed, never married and wishing you were? Are you childless but wish you weren’t? Have you walked with someone you love to the end of the valley of death and then come back through the grief to life redefined? Were you a prodigal? Do you have a history (directly or indirectly) of addiction? Did someone you love take their own life? Have you been homeless, hungry, or unable to pay the bills? Have you been to war or suffered the post-traumatic stress of it with someone you love? Is your child not like all the other kids? Do you have an eating disorder? Were you a victim of assault or abuse? Have you ever been to jail? You have a story.
I asked Andrea Casteel Smith for permission to tell her story and she agreed. She tells the whole story in Scarred Beautiful, but to summarize: By all accounts, Andrea had it all. Family, financial security, faith community, beauty, friends—until the night she was arrested in her own driveway for driving under the influence. She’d only driven a few blocks. She’d only had a few drinks, but she bore the full weight of the penalty of her sin including spending a month in the county jail. She was broken at every level of her being and the lowest point came when her physical scars, the result of skin grafts when she was an infant, were exposed in multiple strip searches with male guards looking on.
Andrea tells her story of redemption with a piercing authenticity that cuts through skepticism. You cannot read her story and deny the reality of the God who was there, the God who spoke, the God who healed, the God who redeemed, and the God who has now given her a new purpose in helping other scarred beautiful people tell their stories as well. See Andrea Casteel Smith, Scarred Beautiful: My True Story of Finding God in Despair and Beauty in Imperfection (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2015).
If you are a redeemed sinner, you have a story. And that story is the undeniable truth of the Gospel through which God desires to reach into the heart of another. You have a story and it’s eternal. Every person you ever meet on every day of every year is a person with an eternal story. Your story has the power to influence another person’s perspective on life and themselves and God and eternity. That, my friend, is a Gospel calling! You have a story and it is personal.
What Americans are missing is the reality that God is a person—and not just any person. God’s nature as holy and sovereign and merciful actually means something—and that something is not up for endless personal interpretation and reinterpretation as the winds of time and circumstance blow.
God alone has the right and the privilege of defining what is good and beautiful and true. Those transcendent values are the only legitimate basis for personal and public morality. But how do you help people see a cosmology when they’ve come to believe they are the captains of their own destiny? You tell them a story.
Having established authenticity through the sharing of our story and hearing theirs, we make use of the stories of others as well.
The apostle Paul has a story that is not only worth knowing, it’s worth repeating. You can use any of the second half of the book of Acts to tell Paul’s story or you can use a letter like Philippians. I like to use the book of Philippians because it is short, personal, and rich. The theme of the book is the mind of Christ. And we want to be cultivating the mind of Christ in the matters of the day so it’s an essential book for us to know. In it Paul not only testifies to the mind in Christ but demonstrates what a life governed by the mind of Christ looks like. He then calls us to have the mind of Christ as well.
“What’s on your mind?” is an easy conversation starter no matter who you’re with. It’s a wide open door that provides others the opportunity to initiate a subject or volley back to you. “I’ve been thinking about what God must think about everything going on today. What do you think God thinks about . . .” and you fill in the blank.
Most people will not have given God much conscious thought. Most will not have considered God’s perspective on the issue and many will honestly admit they have no idea what He might think. You, on the other hand, have a mind full of mindful thoughts on the matter! You have been thinking about what you’re thinking about. You have been intentionally setting your mind on the things that are above. You have sought God’s perspective and the mind of Christ on the matters of the day. You are ready for this!
We know from the Bible what God declares to be good. We also know what He declares to be sin. We know what breaks the heart of God and we know what delights Him. All we have to do now is tell the story.
This is an excerpt from Carmen’s book Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back into Every Conversation. Find more information and how to order a copy here.