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Those of us who are of a certain age will remember Max Bygraves (1922-2012) the English comedian, singer, actor, and variety performer who appeared on numerous radio and television shows, made twenty appearances at the Royal Variety Show, had a number of hit records, appeared in various films, and presented numerous quiz programmes, including Family Fortunes, right the way through the years from the 1950s to the early noughties.  His catchphrase ‘I wanna tell you a story’ became an integral part of his act (although it actually  originated with comedian Mike Yarwood impersonating Bygraves).

Everyone loves a good story. From the young child’s: ‘Will you read/tell me a story, daddy?’ to the adult’s enthusiasm about a particular book or film: ‘It’s an age-old  story of love  and betrayal … a  story about theft, fraud and deceit on an incredible scale! From popular comedians like Billy Connolly and Michael McIntyre (who paint real life pictures rather than crack jokes) to inspirational orators or preachers such as Tony Benn or Fred Craddock. Jesus himself was a great storyteller. Most of his preaching and teaching was in parables – earthly stories with a heavenly meaning.

This is not surprising because essentially the whole Bible is a book of stories (and by this I don’t mean fairy stories) rather than a book of rules and regulations. Right the way through from the intriguing Creation Narratives to the mindboggling accounts of the Last Days and the Return of Christ, the Bible is full of stories. From the overarching metanarrative of God’s gracious dealings with humanity from eternity to eternity, to the more personal stories of individuals, families, tribes, nations, and churches. Time and again as we read these stories we are able to make helpful connections. We see how these more personal stories fit into God’s big story. We identify with the individuals or families or churches whose stories we read … and start to believe that God dealt so graciously with them (as he did whenever and wherever those in the story turned to him) he will also deal graciously with us. We see that with God there is always a way out, a way back, a way up, a way forward!

I am a born storyteller (or so I am told). It’s in my nature, it’s in my blood, my DNA. I have always loved stories ever since I was a child. I loved to hear my father speak about his years in the British army (lying about his age and enlisting in order to fight in WWI and then spending 10 years in India following the end of the war) or my mother’s stories of her childhood in Scotland (where she and her two sisters were sent to live with relations – relations who treated them like skivvies – following the early death of her own mother). I have always read vociferously. I love getting into conversation with people (listening to them and not just talking to them). I write numerous stories and blogs … and even poetry and songs on occasion. Prior to Lockdown I was actively looking for a storytelling club that I could join – I have a friend who belongs to such a club (that meets in a pub near to where he lives) and he tells Bible stories (without saying they are Bible stories) because no one knows them anymore?! Interestingly his stories are always well received and he is constantly being told how good they are, how poignant, how intriguing. For me, story is the best way to communicate, to teach, to inspire.

The Psalmist exhorts us ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story’ (Psalm 107:2 TNIV) and when I speak of Christian storytelling I don’t mean just telling a good story for the sake of telling a good story (as commendable as that may be). We are not to be like some preachers who just tell endless stories unrelated to their message, or be like the fictitious preacher who was once heard to exclaim, ‘I’ve got this great story … if only I can find a text to go with it?!’ Neither are we there to ‘preach AT people’, to force the Gospel on them, but (I would suggest) to share the Good News winsomely, warmly, attractively – ‘evangelism through fascination’ as someone once put it. So there should be a point to our story just like Jesus with his Parables. Just as Max Bygraves took on the persona that Mike Yarwood attributed to him – and adopted the catchphrase that became synonymous with him – so we are (by the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit) to take on the persona of Christ. What we communicate to others is not simply the words of Jesus Christ but Jesus Christ himself. We are called to be ‘lights to the world’ (Matthew 5:14) but the real ‘light of the world’ is Jesus himself (John 8:12). Words alone are insufficient in and of themselves. We are to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Now, your talent (and everybody as a talent, as Jesus taught us in Matthew 25:14-30) may not be storytelling. Your creativity may lay in other directions – song writing, poetry, music, art, crafts of one kind and another, conversation, hospitality, friendship, and so on – the list is endless. Take a moment to write down what naturally comes to mind as you think about what you are good at or ask someone who knows you really well (and is not a sycophant) to tell you what you are really good at.  Now prayerfully think of ways in which you can use your creativity for the glory of God and the good of others … and then get on and do it!

Teresa of Avila was born in Spain in 1515 and entered a Carmelite convent when she was eighteen, and later earned a reputation as a mystic, reformer, and writer who experienced divine visions. Amongst many other things she wrote Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

~ Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

Jim Binney

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