If I learned anything at all from twenty-one years of homeschooling it is this: the daunting, two-inch-thick school book is managed in daily assignments, one lesson at a time over the course of an entire school year. If we persevere, we will be able to say in June, “We did it!”
Thirty summers and thirty gardens have tutored me in the sacred rhythms of seed time and harvest. If there’s going to be homemade spaghetti sauce to share with my family on a snowy day in January, I need to weed the tomato plants in August. Bending low over the plants, I ask myself, “Do you want tomatoes or not?”
Rounding the corner into my sixth decade and a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, I hustled myself into physical therapy for foundational exercises to maintain flexibility and balance, and to sustain strength. The dailiness of this new routine (that feels like a part-time job) takes me back to September’s two-inch-thick school books and the weedy jungle of my summer tomato patch.
Do I want to push back against the effects of a progressive disease?
Do I want to be able to lift and carry my baby granddaughters?
Do I want to continue teaching women that they can be confident Christ-followers and students of God’s Word?
What story do I want to be able to tell?
If I bail on the textbook, let the weeds take over the garden, and toss the exercise instructions into the trash, the story will not have a happy and God-glorifying ending.
When the rigors of routine become odious, and you’re tempted to quit, ask yourself this question: What story do I want to be able to tell?Tweet
A Story of Incremental Discipleship
Peter, Jesus’s fisherman-turned-apostle, had experienced for himself the reality of incremental discipleship. The only one of the twelve that Jesus rebuked on the record for his careless words (Matthew 16:23) grew to be one of the early church’s most impassioned apologists (Acts 2:14-36). And it didn’t happen overnight.
Therefore, in a world turned terrifying by Emporer Nero’s persecution of Christians, Peter wrote letters to struggling churches, urging them to keep loving God and believing his promises, even though they could not see God at work in the present moment. Peter’s eyes were fixed on a story that would result in “praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
It’s as if Peter was asking in his letters, “Hey, New Testament Church, what story do you want to be able to tell?”
Do you want to be known as a loving and pure church? Then “love one another earnestly, from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
Do you want a solid reputation among unbelievers? Then “conduct yourself honorably” (1 Peter 2:12).
Do you want to “love life and to see good days? Then “keep [your] tongue from evil and [your] lips from speaking deceit, and… turn away from evil… do what is good” (1 Peter 3:10-11)
Peter wrote his second letter near the end of his life. Perhaps he knew his days were numbered. Certainly, he knew a few things about the long obedience of following Jesus over a lifetime. He had learned the truth expressed by Dallas Willard–that God “is not opposed to effort. [He] is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”
A Story of Effort, Not Earning
Peter invited his readers into considerable effort when he laid out God’s plan of action in no uncertain terms:
What story do you want to be able to tell, Christians? Do you want to be useful and fruitful in the Kingdom of God? (2 Peter 1:8)
Then “make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
You may feel as if “sisterly affection” or love is every bit as remote and impossible today as an iPhone would have been in 1975, but do you have faith in an all-powerful God?
Starting with Peter’s recipe that begins with faith, this could be your story…
You supplement your faith in an all-powerful God with some act of goodness that feels a little edgy. Maybe you bless someone who doesn’t “deserve” it and can never reciprocate.
Then, you learn something about their life. You become a student of those impossible people in your family or your church.
You take that knowledge and then ask God for grace to hold your tongue the next time you’re with them. You exercise a smidgen of self-control and endure their politics, their body odor, or their irresponsible choices in order to speak some truth into their life that only a sister in Christ could get away with sharing. Your sisterly affection leads to a unique opportunity to speak the truth in love.
Well, it’s not going to happen overnight, but one small act of righteousness today leads to another one tomorrow, and the story you can tell for the glory of God is completely transformed!
I have been encouraged by this sifting wisdom from Elisabeth Elliot:
“Choices will continually be necessary and — let us not forget — possible. Obedience to God is always possible.”
If the “impossible” task you have in mind is really an assignment from God, it’s always possible to do the will of God. He will grant patience and perseverance as you wait for him to work through you. What story do you want to be able to tell when you come to the end of this journey?
What seemingly insurmountable challenge are you looking at today?
Is there an edifying book you’ve been meaning to read? A relationship that you know in your heart needs mending? An odious project that you’ve been putting off?
Is there some assignment from God that seems as if it’s come to the wrong person, and you feel as if you’ll never achieve the goal?
Start today with one, small but God-empowered step, and then ask yourself:
What story do I want to be able to tell?
“Choices will continually be necessary and — let us not forget — possible. Obedience to God is always possible.” #ElisabethElliotTweet
And Now Let’s Talk Books…
I have long regarded my reading as a spiritual practice, so Jessica Hooten Wilson’s thoughts in Reading for the Love of God felt like both confirmation and affirmation to me. As “word creatures,” believers read differently, uniquely, and with an eye toward our responsibility to read with a reverence for words and an appreciation for the power of story as a vehicle for truth. The book carries a crucial question: “What good is reading literature for the Christian?”
Hooten Wilson’s premise makes abundant sense: Our practice of reading the Bible changes the way we read other books, but it is also true that the way we read every other book impacts the way we read the Bible and whether we encounter the Word as it was given. She lifts wisdom from the reading lives of Augustine of Hippo, Julian of Norwich, Frederick Douglas, and Dorothy Sayers to probe her readers’ thoughts on how and why we read.
I came away from the book with fresh insights that now enrich my appreciation for the reading life:
- Until the 12th century, readers in the West read everything out loud. Silent reading, when it eventually began to be practiced, signaled a change from reading as a communal practice to an inward practice. I can’t help but think that maybe we’ve lost something in the transition…
- One obstacle to the spiritual reading of a text is our tendency to prioritize message over narrative. When we reduce, for example, the biblical narrative to the level of Aesop’s Fables, we miss the point and the purpose of the original Author. This should change the way I teach the Bible, but it should also affect the way I read fiction. (There’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying a story for its own sake without pawing around in the author’s emotional and biographical entrails for a “deeper” meaning!)
- Whenever we open a book, we are engaging with three elements: the author, the reader, and the text. A balanced interpretation of the work requires attention to all three, which argues for a slow and thoughtful approach to our reading life. Unfortunately, the internet is training us all to skim and grab headings on the way by.
Since we are called to LIVE the words of scripture, the counter-cultural practice of contemplation becomes an essential tool for letting the Bible shape our worldview and to give all our reading choices a chance at improving us in some way. As we read the text, pray the text, love the text, and digest the text, we cooperate with God in our own spiritual formation and come to know the Word (and all the words) as living and active.
Holding You in the Light,
Our practice of reading the Bible changes the way we read other books. It is also true that the way we read other books impacts the way we read the Bible. More on the reading life: #ReadingForTheLoveOfGod @HootenWilson @BrazosPressTweet
Did You Know that I Also Publish a Monthly Newsletter?
Every month I send a newsletter with biblical encouragement straight to my subscribers’ email inboxes. Frequently, I share free resources, and the newsletter is where everything lands first. I’m committed to the truth that women can become confident followers of God and students of his Word, and it’s my goal to help you along that path.
To add this free resource to your pursuit of biblical literacy, simply CLICK HERE. There, on Substack’s website, you’ll find a prompt that looks just like this image for Living Our Days with Michele Morin. Over on that site, simply enter your email and then click on the purple “SUBSCRIBE” button.
You’ll receive a welcome letter to confirm your subscription and monthly encouragement in your email inbox.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Brazos Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books or products I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to the seller. If you decide to buy, I’ll receive a few pennies at no extra cost to you.
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
17 thoughts on “What Story Do You Want to Be Able to Tell?”
Michele, I absolutely loved this. It goes with what I’ve been mulling over. Our flesh chooses easy. If we succumb, we miss the joy and harvest that comes from putting forth the extra effort.
That searching question has pulled (or pushed?🤣) me over more than one finish line!
Such good points. Grace isn’t just for forgiveness of sin–it’s for the difficult everyday living out of God’s ideals. That’s a great distinction between effort and earning.
Isn’t that just so helpful? For years I had the wrong idea and my lived experience (that Christianity requires effort) just didn’t correlate with what I was taught about “works.” This really helped me.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for this Michele. It’s easy to let life energies be siphoned off into trending trivia… What do I want my life record to tell? I appreciated your unpacking Peter’s recipe for fruitfulness. I’ve often pondered these verses wishing for more practical illustrations. And there they are! 😊
Our pastor has been preaching from the passage and it’s been singing in my brain for weeks! I’m a slow learner, so I need a plan for incremental discipleship.
Onward and upward, dear one.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Good morning, Michele! I loved this post. It hit home in so many ways. As I contemplate what legacy I want to leave, your words echo what I want and hope to model in my own life. Thank you for just the right words at just the right time.
Can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to hear this, Mary. I know we would have lots to talk about, lots of notes to unpack, if we were talking face to face!
Michele, this post is so practical. I love your mindset. The question, “What story do you want to be able to tell?” Is such a good one. Your suggestion to begin in one small way to do something (work toward mending a relationship, etc) is wise and practical. Loved this post!
Trusting for grace to take a long view…
God has been working on this with me for a long time, and I’m grateful to be distilling it into readable form this spring. Thanks so much for reading.
This is wonderful Michell. I love how you help us tell our story with the practical ways too. You have I inspired me. I love also how you broke down reading and it is interesting that at one point in time it was spoken out loud.
I can’t imagine ONLY reading aloud! For me, reading is such an individual thing!
And may your own story be enriched as you ponder the shape of its ending.
Michele, so inspired by this post! YES obedience to God is always possible, because of His gift of grace.
Isn’t it just amazing to remember how God bends over backwards to support us and to help us end well.
I’m reading this as I ride my stationary bike (it has a desk attached LOL). So, your comment about exercise that feels like a part-time job struck a chord. I don’t do it because I really enjoy it but I want to continue to be able to interact and play with my great-grandchildren and serve God alongside my husband a little longer. This is such a good word of encouragement to us all. I love that Elisabeth Elliot quote, too.
You are a wise woman! Thanks for spending some of that super productive time here with me!