What Is Your Story?

September 6th, 2013

In 2011 I moved my wife and three sons to Silicon Valley to pursue a dream. I wanted to start a new church that would engage my city with the gospel (the story of the Bible) in a new way. The day we moved, I had just three people committed to my dream and just three thousand dollars in the church bank account. I’d never felt so excited or so scared. It was a move of faith. I had no guarantees. But it all felt so right, like the next chapter in the story that God was writing for my life.

I’ve always sensed that my life is part of a bigger story. It’s the times when I’ve forgotten this bigger story that I’ve felt the most lost in life. Life is full of seasons. Whether I’ve been navigating a season of excitement or suffering, it’s always been my grip on what I call the “Big Story,” or the Big Story’s grip on me, that has help me make sense of life’s ups and downs.

Years ago I read a quote that put this perfectly:

“The same impulse that makes us want our books to have a plot makes us want our lives to have a plot. We need to feel that we are getting somewhere, making progress. There is something in us that is not satisfied with a merely psychological explanation of our lives. It doesn’t do justice to our conviction that we are on some kind of journey or quest, that there must be some deeper meaning to our lives than whether we feel good about ourselves. Only people who have lost the sense of adventure, mystery, and romance worry about their self-esteem. And at that point what they need is not a good therapist, but a good story. Or more precisely, the central question for us should not be, “What personality dynamics explain my behavior?” but rather, “What sort of story am I in?” (Robert McKee, “Storytelling That Moves People,” Harvard Business Review, June 2003, 51-55.)

What sort of story am I in? This is the question I’ve been asking all my life. This is the question I believe everyone in my city is asking and needs an answer to. This is the question everyone on the planet needs to wrestle with.

What Sort of Story Are You In?

Questions precede answers. There’s no use talking about answers unless we first get our questions right. We have our question: What sort of story are we in? Throughout the ages people have given many different answers to this question. Your neighbors, coworkers, and local bookstore all offer different answers to our question. If you filled the room you’re in right now with a mixture of both atheists and deeply religious people, you’d hear fifty different stories from all these people. But they all believe the story that they think makes sense out of their lives.

My conviction is that only one story is big enough to adequately answer this question, to explain all the beauty and all the brokenness we see in this world, to make sense of our desires, dreams, and disappointments.

Tell An Alternative Story

Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich was once asked about the most revolutionary way to change society. He answered the question this way:

Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step . . . If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.

Most of you care about seeing change happen in the people in your city. As I seek to love and touch people in my city, I’ve realize I must focus my energy on two main things: 1) listening to their story 2) telling them an alternative (better) story—the Big Story.

During the last two years, God has been using me more than ever before to lead people to place their faith in Jesus and experience new life in Him. It’s thrilling. I’m no more equipped than you to do this. I don’t have any secrets. My only “secret” is that I believe God can save anyone’s life, and I work hard at listening to people’s stories and telling them a better story.

If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.


Excerpted from The Big Story: How God Makes Sense Out of Life by Justin Buzzard, © Moody Publishers, 2013.

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