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Understand the Story Article

Understand the Story

If we use the analogy of a puzzle, discovering God’s story is looking at the box top and seeing how that picture will apply to the pieces once they are assembled. Understanding God’s story, then, is identifying the edge pieces, the corners, and the main colors that go together to make up specific parts of the picture, then beginning to assemble the pieces slowly and building momentum as the puzzle comes together. Much of the reading that we do is passive. I don’t know about you, but often in my Bible reading I find myself skimming a page because it is so familiar, and immediately forgetting what I’ve just read. It’s the epitome of passive reading; it’s like sitting at a table, looking at puzzle pieces, and walking away. Neither my brain nor my heart feels the effect of biblical nurture.

Truly understanding God’s story requires three things:

  • the Spirit of God,
  • an active mind,
  • and elbow grease.

It takes effort and alertness to move from the eyes to the brain, to the heart, and back. Between Luke 24 and the first stories of the book of Acts, we see a huge leap in the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ story. The hope they have gained from Jesus’ explanation of the scriptures has somehow blossomed into passionate preaching — so powerful that 3000 people are baptized in one day, and a group of religious leaders is so goaded by conviction from God’s Spirit that they stone a preacher to death rather than continue listening to his words.

What Has Happened?

For one, we see that in Acts 2 God sends His Spirit on His people in power, just as Jesus had promised. The Holy Spirit fills the disciples and emboldens them to speak, giving them an incredible ability to communicate the gospel in words that all those present in Jerusalem can understand. Peter stands up and makes the case for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the promised Messiah according to the Scriptures, and calls people to repent — and they do. It’s impossible to understand God’s story apart from God’s Spirit, but literally anyone aided by God’s Spirit can do it. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2:9-12, 16b:

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. . . . we have the mind of Christ." (NKVJ)

God guarantees that we can understand His word, by giving us His Spirit. Any Christian can do it. Within the early chapters of Acts, we can make another observation. When the Sanhedrin calls Stephen to give an account for what he’s been preaching, he stands before them and, rather than defend himself, begins to tell the story of how Israel has always rejected everyone that God has sent them, and always misinterpreted God’s purposes. In an incredibly lean, pointed narrative, Steven moves from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, up through Joseph and the Exodus, to the Temple period under David and Solomon, up to Jesus. My suspicion is that he had been meditating on the story of the Old Testament and had put that together in his times of worship. It takes work to communicate so clearly and make such a linear argument. Steven really understands and applies God’s story to what is happening in his day.

So How Do We Do That?

First Step

We need to remember that truly understanding God’s story is a lifelong process of relying on God’s Spirit, putting the story together, making connections, telling it to someone else, making new connections, and putting it together again and again from different perspectives. It’s always the same story, but it’s so rich and deep that no one can grasp it perfectly in one lifetime. The pursuit, however, is incredibly enriching.

Second Step

We need to read actively. In CBT Bible studies, we base everything around four kinds of discovery questions that encourage active reading and help to unfold the text in our minds and hearts:

  • Observation: Where is the story taking place? Who are the most important people in the story? What are they doing and why?
  • Inference: What does this story teach me about God, man, sin, righteousness, or any other theme that is relevant to the particular narrative:
  • Connection/Review: Where have I seen something like this before in the Bible? How do the stories connect? What does this teach me about God or God’s plan, etc.?
  • Application: How do I need to respond to this story?

I find it helpful to read a story and talk out loud about what is happening, ask questions, and make observations. I write down what I observe and learn in the story and respond to God verbally as I read. This keeps my mind engaged and is a form of interaction with God as I read His word.

Third Step

To understand the grand narrative of the Bible, we need to put it together for ourselves, and to tell it as a rite of passage. Telling the story reveals our grasp of the story and areas of weakness where we need to study more. The first time I was ever asked to tell the whole story of the Bible, I picked the theme of the importance of God’s word, and I had two weeks to prepare. The process that most helped me was to lay out three sheets of paper and tape them together horizontally. I wrote the names of the 14 Eras of Scripture out at the top of the paper, and then made columns of all the main people and stories in those eras, paying attention to my theme and making special notes of stories in which God’s promises played a prominent role. I told and retold the story, narrowing it down so I didn’t bore people with too many details, and memorized some key verses that pertained to the theme. The first times I told the story, I used my giant cheat sheet to keep me on track, but now I can do it from my head, because I’ve done it so many times. If I decide to tell the story and pull out a new theme, I make another cheat sheet.

If you are just embarking on this journey, or if you have been working on these steps, please know that we are here to help in any way we can. We hope you will consider coming to our yearly trainings, in which we offer practical teachings and tools for people who want to tell God’s story.