My uncle once remarked about his wife, “She’ll talk with you about anything you want to talk about—as long as it’s horses.” It was his way of alerting folks to the fact that my aunt was a horse enthusiast—“enthusiast” meaning, of course, that if faced with a choice between losing my uncle or her favorite horse, she might have to pause and think for a minute or two. Enthusiasts tend to be a bit out of the normal range when it comes to some particular issue, subject, hobby, species, etc.
People locked in the jaws of a narrative can sometimes be challenging for those who do not share their perspective or reflect their level of obsessive enthusiasm. Mainstream media representatives these days are a prime example. The left-biased, narrative-driven antics passed off as news reports by mainstream media have drawn reactions from many that range from nausea to head-banging exasperation. They have provided a non-stop exhibition of the power of an ingrained narrative to restrict the scope of allowable information, limit discussion, repel open debate, deny free thought and paralyze perspectives. Their overriding storyline demands that if an issue or event can’t be twisted somehow to support the notion that President Trump ought to be impeached for colluding with the Russians, then it is not news and thus unworthy of acknowledgment, much less public distribution.
Was Paul Narrative-Bound?
The potential of inflexible narratives to inflict mental paralysis and negative reactions can raise some interesting questions. For instance, one might be prompted to ask whether the Apostle Paul was bound by one. It could be argued that he seemed to have a one-track mind, and his determination to attach everything in his life to a single theme frequently brought negative reactions. And that brings up another question. Might the thought of being seen as one of those people defined by a persistent or unpopular narrative impair our involvement in personal evangelism? And if so, is it better to compartmentalize our Christianity in order not to be offensive?
Unlike my aunt’s decision to buy a horse, following Jesus is a choice that encompasses everything. His invitation, and all the perks that go with it, were presented as an all-or-nothing transaction. He who does not take his cross and follow after Me, Jesus said, is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 10:38-39 NKJV). Later, He reiterated it this way: If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
Being bound by a consuming theme wasn’t new to Paul. Prior to his personal encounter with the risen Christ, his life was driven and defined by a narrative that justified cleansing the land of Jesus’ message at any cost, including the extermination of His followers. Jesus was a threat that challenged him and his religious authority and needed to be eliminated. His meeting with the One he opposed changed Paul’s guiding narrative, and that change redirected everything.
An All-or-Nothing Decision ~
Meeting Jesus gave Paul a fresh perspective on himself and the world that could leave no part of his life untouched. His new relationship with Christ became his defining story, and it included no situational waivers and exempted no relationship. From then on, regardless of his surrounding circumstances, or the subject at hand, or the people involved, or the consequences that might follow, Paul was determined to guide every interaction toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. Being a Christian wasn’t just something he did on certain days of the week, or on special occasions during the year, it was an exhibition of who he was.
Life-defining narratives aren’t unique to a select few. All of us have a set of deeply held, overriding concepts that guide our behavior patterns and direct the course of our lives. They grow out of our core system of beliefs and the worldview by which we understand and interpret everything that happens. The governing narratives that grow out of those beliefs are primarily driven by one of two powerful motivational forces – what we fear or what we love.
There’s a Difference ~
Fear-driven narratives are obsessively self-centered. They focus on acquisition rather than giving – and manipulation of others rather than edification. They offer no lasting fulfillment and easily accommodate violence and hatred. Conversely, Jesus’ guiding narrative is based on other-centered love, is eternal in scope, deeply fulfilling, and characterized by selflessness, sacrifice, and service.
The contrast between the narrative that defined Paul’s life and the hateful ones abounding today is stark. Rather than limiting the scope of debate, or restricting allowable information, or twisting words to manipulate their meaning, the “Jesus narrative” blows the information doors wide open and invites every challenge. The only restriction of information His guidelines enforce is the exclusion and elimination of distortions and misrepresentations of reality. The only boundary constraining the Jesus narrative is truth, and the only paths He won’t walk with us on are those founded on a lie. The only acceptable motive for engaging others, especially about Him and the life He offers, is love for Him and for them.
Choosing a life-defining narrative is sobering, but, consciously or not, everyone does it. A life governed by fear and anxiety might seem self-protective, but it is ultimately isolative and lonely. Jesus said those who seek to save their lives eventually lose them. The defining narrative Jesus offers is different. He isn’t just inviting us to believe and accept the story of His life; He is offering to absorb all the pain and misery of our failures and to weave our lives into an eternal part of His. Beyond that, nothing that happens in our life is simply about us anymore. It’s also about Him.
© 2017 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
To follow this blog for more “Right Side Up Thinking ~ In an Upside Down World”, sign up just below the Search box in the upper right sidebar for regular email notifications of new posts.
Sometimes I do feel like I annoy people when I continually bring a discussion back to right and wrong, the Bible, or God’s viewpoint. I hope I’m not as annoying as the present day media! From my perspective, they twist any topic back to the one that want to talk about…. But maybe that’s how people feel about me too! So…. How does one find a balance, so people keep listening?
Thanks so much for your comment, Lora–and for your insightful and very relevant question. The older I get, the more captivating and vital the issue of balance seems to become. Finding balance is shooting at a moving target and one that often tests the limits of our creativity. Without going into tedious detail, I think a key to finding that balance between our heart’s connection to our “Jesus narrative”, and the extremities of the patience of those we’re talking to, is to keep the focus of our interest on them and what’s going on in their lives, and not just on us and/or our determination to declare the Word of God to them. If the gospel does not appear to be “good news” in the context of the lives of those we’re sharing it with, then it may only be another irritant they want to escape from.
We’re all aware that the Scriptures are meant to be seen not just as ancient, authoritative documents, but as principles to live by in the world we deal with every day. Sharing our faith isn’t a matter of following a script, and the circumstances are as variable as life itself. The challenge I feel when talking to others is to find some place where I might inject God’s Truth in a way that they might hear it as positive and helpful, and something that actually fits their situation or circumstance. It means that I have to listen carefully, and with genuine interest, to what’s going on in their lives and to depend on the Holy Spirit of God to grant perception and discernment. It’s tough sometimes to find a place to insert some aspect of Jesus teaching–without quoting chapter and verse and turning it into a sermon–and weave it into the dialog a way that might matter to them, that might add something worthwhile and valuable to their situation and/or increase their hope. I try to consistently close out those conversations by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to get to know them a little better. Then I mention that I do talk to God frequently about people and things I care about and ask what specific thing (or things) they would prefer that I ask God for on their behalf. I try to never throw out that worn cliche, “I’ll be praying for you.” It’s much better to ask them what they most want God to do for them. That gives an opening for the next time we see them. “Hey, I was talking to God the other day about you and asking Him about [insert issue]. How’s that going?”
I love it that you’re being sensitive about the potential downside of having a “life-defining narrative” and there will always be some who see it as a negative thing no matter how hard we try to avoid it. But the other side of the story is that there will always be some whose lives will be brighter–and some whose eternal destiny will be changed, and that won’t happen if we stop living out the only thing that makes life worth living.
Sorry for the long-winded response, Lora–and thank you so much for your efforts to keep the Light shining in these dark and challenging times. Living for Him is challenging, but we’re never better than when we’re challenged, so hang in there.
Ron, I love the way you weave current events into your writings. I too am concerned with where our culture is headed when open discussions and civilized debates are shut down. For example, Vice President Pence was booed at the University of Notre Dame and many walked out without even giving him a chance to speak. Where is this country going if we cannot show enough courtesy to listen to another’s ideas? Isn’t this freedom of speech?
As Christians, we must show by example what love, respect, and courtesy look like all while not comprising our faith in the truth. We have the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and discernment as long as we submit to Him and His guidance.
Thanks for another great post!
You’re such a little spiritual vitamin, Beckie–always propping people up and making them feel better than they have any rational basis for feeling, but we love it anyay. I am so glad that the Lord has energized your talents and gifts the way He has.
LikeLiked by 1 person