Here's my original draft of what I intend to talk about to the students this week. There are some parts I have stolen from Donald Miller (The Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller, not my father) and Chris Heckaman, our senior pastor. (Hey, what can I say --they have good stuff so I stole it!)
If you have any suggestions or ideas ... or comments on whether this will resonate at all with kids in grades 7 - 12, please let me know.
As I thought about what God has been leading me to talk about today, I realized that it doesn’t have a lot to do with reading. Nor does it have a lot to do with writing in the traditional sense.
Let me ask you something. How many of you have ever thought about becoming a writer some day?
You know what I think? I think we all are writers, whether we put the first word on paper or not.
Think about it … what’s a common word for one of the things that writers write? I mean, you have poems, novels, plays, haiku, technical stuff, the instruction manual for my computer – which will never be read by anybody – but what is one of the basic things that writers write? A story, correct?
And what is a story? What are some of the components of a basic story?
Main character? Conflict? Drama? Resolution?
Yep, those are all correct. Really what a great basic story boils down to is this.
You have a main character – what you have maybe been taught is called the protagonist -- and early on the author paints this main character as someone we like – someone we want to be successful – we want to see them win against all odds in the end. Right?
And what enters in then? Conflict? And what is conflict? Well, basically, the main character has a goal or a desire … something they have to accomplish. And, because we like the main character, we like their goal, too – right? We want them to be successful.
So then they have to battle through all this bad stuff – all this conflict – to reach their goal, right? And, all along, we can relate to them. We’re rooting for them. We’re saying things like “Wow – I have had that happen before” or “Man, I can relate to what’s happening to them.” Whether we realize it or not, when we read a good story, we’re taking lessons from the people in the story, especially the main character.
And then, in a good story, what happens? The protagonist accomplishes their goal, the conflict is resolved, and we all go home happy … or at least until the author decides to write a sequel, right?
Let’s look at couple of perhaps not the best known but still great stories from the Bible. Rebekah – ever hear of her? Rebekah eventually became the wife of Isaac and one of the great matriarchs of the Old Testament. But do you know how she got there? She started out as a servant girl. Just a simple servant girl. Not really likely to ever do much more than live a simple life. Certainly not someone who would become a major player in the Jewish faith. But, when one of Abraham’s servants asked her to draw some water from a well so that he could drink, she did much more than that. She said, I will gladly draw enough water from this well for you to drink and I will also draw enough for your camels. Now, Abraham’s servant had something like 10 camels with him and, if you’ve ever seen a camel, you know that they are pretty big. I don’t know if his camels had one hump or two but drawing enough water for ten hot and thirsty camels probably took Rebekah a good couple of hours. And, because of what she did, completely unasked, Abraham’s servant recognized something special in Rebekah, brought her to Abraham, and she eventually ended up marrying Isaac. That is a pretty good story … all because she went the extra mile on her own accord to do more than just draw water for the servant but to also draw it for his camels. All when she was just a young servant girl. We can get excited about a story like that. She worked against odds to do something selfless. That’s a good story. What if she would have just been working hard to buy herself a new chariot or conspiring to get a date with a cute shepherd she knew. That would not have been nearly as good, would it have been?
Let’s look at another great story … the story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had a pretty good life. He was cupbearer to the King of Persia. That sounds like a pretty cool and sort of cushy job, doesn’t it? I mean, all he had to do was follow around the king all day through his palace and carry his cup. Apparently, back then, when you were rich and famous, you hired people to do all kinds of things including carry your cup. I wouldn’t mind having a cupbearer, would you? I mean think about it, you’re in your house doing your homework and you get thirsty. You don’t have to go to the fridge to get something because, well, right there is your cupbearer – with your cup! I need to think about getting a cupbearer. Sounds pretty cool. Seriously. If I had a cupbearer and you came over to my house to visit, you know what? I’d have him carry your cup, too.
Anyway, here’s Nehemiah living a pretty cushy life as cupbearer to the King of Persia. And then the city where Nehemiah grew up – Jerusalem – which is quite some ways away from Persia, is destroyed by marauders. It is burned and the walls around the city are broken down. Nehemiah could have felt sad but just gone on with his life carrying around the king’s favorite beverage but he didn’t. He felt called to something greater. He cared about more than just his own comfort. So, even though he knew that Jerusalem was a pretty big city and that the wall around it needed to be pretty high, he asked the king of Persia if he could go rebuild it. The king said okay so then Nehemiah went to Persia and worked harder than we can possibly imagine to rebuild the wall. Like Rebekah, Nehemiah saw a calling on his life that went far beyond his own comfort. He could have been perfectly content carrying around cups of Pepsi or lemonade for the king but he made a story that was something far more than that.
So, why am I telling you all of this? I am telling you all of this because God has already planned lots of opportunities for stories in your lives. Stories that are as good as anything you read that someone has made up and put on paper. Stories that are every bit as good as the ones of Rebekah and Nehemiah. And, my question is this – what are you going to do with the stories God has given you? Are you going to make exciting stories – stories that teach and lead and inspire others, stories that lead to a positive ending – or are you going to write stories that focus on your self … stories that ultimately are self centered or greedy or egotistical?
That’s a choice we have, you see. Whether we actually write our stories on paper or not, we are writing stories with our lives. And we can make those good stories – stories that others would read and they’d cheer for us and want us to accomplish our goal – or they can be selfish stories that, if someone read them, they really wouldn’t at all care whether we reached our goal. In fact, they might even cheer against us.
Well, let me tell you a little bit about myself. You all are too young to remember but I sort of came to age in the 80s and 90s. Now you may think of those as being times of big hair and leg warmers but let me tell you what those decades were really about. They were about greed. Pure and simple. 99% of the population was focused on chasing and gathering as much as they could. As many toys, as much prestige, as much money … you name it, we wanted it and lots of it! Today, we’re down to about 98% of the population living that way but, let me remind you, it was “the” way to live in the 80s and 90s.
And that is when I was in my late teens and 20s and early 30s … right in the midst of it … and I fell into it … I wanted all that stuff – all those material things. And I was willing to do whatever it took for me to get them. I didn’t really care much what happened to the people around me – I wanted my share of all that neat stuff I kept seeing advertised on television. I wanted the big house, the expensive vacations, the Corvette and the BMW.
But let me ask you this. What makes for a real good story? … a guy chasing a big house and a BMW? Is that a story where you will really cheer the guy on through any adversity he faces? Or, is this a better story -- a guy pursuing not his own dream but God’s dream … a guy or girl trying to make the world a better place … trying to discover and live out the real good story – the story God has planned for their life?
You may look at your life today or in the future and say, what story do I have here? My parents don’t get along. Maybe they’re divorced or maybe you’ve already lost a parent far too young. My friends bicker. I don’t know why God put me here. Let’s hope not but later on you may even find yourself really struggling … perhaps with pride or even an addiction of some sort. You may be thinking … there’s no story there. You may even be caught in that and wondering how there could possibly be a happy ending or a resolution.
Let me tell you … in all of those things, there is story … if you allow it to be the story God wants it to be … there is a huge story … a story to inspire and lead and teach.
Well, ultimately today I think they wanted me to talk about the book I have written. Really, this book is about my attempt to figure out what God is calling me to in my life. I mean, in the literal sense, this book is about a trip I took to Israel with a group of others from my church. But what it is really about is my attempt to discover the best story within myself -- the story that God wants me to write with my life. The title of the book – Trying to Lose My Self In Israel – gives you a taste of the fact that the book is about my quest to focus on the story God wants for my life – not the story the selfish part of me wants. By the end of the book, I am not sure there is a firm conclusion on that but that’s the neat part of God’s call on our lives. He is always calling us to something greater. The journey never ends.
The important thing, throughout your life, is to learn sooner than I did that we can write two types of stories with our lives. We can write selfish stories that are all about what we want. We can be content living out simple lives as servant girls or the king’s cupbearer … or we can search for more. We can focus on making our life the story God wants it to be for Him. Rebekah’s life didn’t get easier when she brought water to the camels. In fact, it got a whole lot more complex and stayed that way for many years. Nehemiah’s life also got a whole lot more complex when he responded to God’s call to be the one to rebuild Jerusalem … but their stories also became stories we want to hear … stories of God’s calling … stories that are about something much bigger than just the main character and their selfish wants.
You have lots of stories ahead of you. They can be stories where you decide to follow your own desires … to get the BMW … stories that will be all about you but really won’t capture the interest of those around you … or they can be the stories God wants for your life … stories where you do great things for Him.
And, along the way, whether it’s just in a private journal or maybe it is in stories you tell that get passed down through the generations of your family or maybe it is in a book that eventually gets published – wherever it is -- keep track of your stories. Build stories that make for great storytelling … stories where others root for you, they cry when you cry, and they cheer when you’re successful. Those are the things that make great stories.