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August 31, 2022

What Makes a Good Story

By Steve Hearts

We seldom appreciate, let alone enjoy life’s stormy, tempestuous moments, especially when we’re in the middle of them. I’d dare say that if given the chance, most of us would readily skip over such moments the way we skip a track we don’t want to hear on a CD, and only live through the easy, pleasant moments of our existence.

But here is something to consider. Who does not enjoy hearing an interesting, exciting story, whether fiction or nonfiction? The plots of successful, best-selling novels and movies are never purely about sunshine, ease, and smooth sailing. They have to include uncertainty or stormy weather of some sort, otherwise they would put us to sleep for lack of excitement.

The Bible contains countless true stories that are absolutely captivating. Many of them tell of adverse, difficult circumstances which, I’m sure, the characters involved would not have chosen to go through, but without which, these stories would be nonexistent. In each one, God always showed up and marvelously proved His power.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

Acts 16 tells of how God used Paul and Silas in Philippi to deliver a fortune-teller from the evil spirit that controlled her, resulting in a considerable loss to her masters. In their anger they complained to the magistrates. Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, and thrown in prison. Such treatment certainly would not have been their choice. But instead of losing heart, they praise the Lord out loud in song. God then sends an earthquake, the prison doors fly open, and the chains of every single occupant fall off. The keeper of the prison thinks all his captives have escaped, and grabs his sword to kill himself. But Paul quickly lets him know that all are present. The man then falls to his knees before the two evangelists and asks what he must do to be saved. They witness to him, and he takes them to his house, feeds them, and treats their wounds. In the end, his whole family comes to know Jesus.

Would this story be what it is if everything had gone all hunky-dory for Paul and Silas from the start, without the whole prison experience?

I doubt if Peter would have chosen to be imprisoned by Herod, whose plan was to eventually execute him as he did James. I can’t imagine how Peter managed to sleep while lying chained between two soldiers. The story goes on to tell of an angel appearing to him, prompting him to get up and get dressed. I’m sure Peter must have wondered exactly how he was supposed to accomplish this, bound as he was. But he complied and the chains immediately fell off.

The angel then bids Peter to follow him. They arrive at the prison gate which, to Peter’s utter amazement, opens automatically. We’re talking centuries before the invention of modern automatic doors. Peter is in such awe, he thinks he must be seeing a vision. After they pass a couple of streets, the angel takes his leave. It then dawns on Peter that the whole thing was in fact real and that he had been supernaturally rescued. He safely reaches other believers who’d been earnestly praying for his release, and who are overjoyed to see him standing before them. Would this awesome story exist if Peter hadn’t been arrested by Herod in the first place? (Read all about it in Acts 12:1–17.)

These biblical examples make it obvious that challenging, adverse circumstances serve to greatly spice up our lives, which would otherwise be uninteresting and boring with nothing to tell of. As the quote goes, “There’s no testimony without a test.”

As we read in First and Second Samuel, King David’s life was anything but smooth. He experienced loss and persecution, not to mention flaws and mistakes. But if it weren’t for all that, his life story would not be what it is. And where would the comforting, faith-building Psalms be?

John Bunyan spent twelve years in prison for simply refusing to quit preaching without a license from the English church. During this time, he wrote the classic allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which continues to inspire and encourage many Christians today.

It is unlikely that John the Beloved would have chosen to be exiled on a remote island in the Mediterranean for simply testifying to his faith. (See Revelation 1:9.) But it was there that John received one of the most divine prophetic revelations ever given to mankind, which still enlightens us Christians today.

I first discovered my gift and love for writing as a teenager. But I had very little of interest to write about since I lived a largely uneventful, carefree existence. I would spend hours racking my brain for worthwhile ideas, to no avail. But as I became an adult, life’s climate drastically changed for me. I experienced storms and tempests in the form of bereavement, relational failures, and times of spiritual dryness. But all this helped me gain a wealth of lessons which resulted in a cascade of ideas and inspirations to put into writing. My relationship with the Lord grew by leaps and bounds, and He never failed to give me peace, comfort, and victory.

Reading or hearing the accounts of others who have overcome adversity is always fun. But what’s not so fun is finding ourselves in the middle of it. When our world suddenly unravels and we start plummeting from a high mountaintop into a low valley, or crossing a dark tunnel searching for the light at the end, this is when it pays to remember that we are living a story with three parts—the beginning, the middle, and the end. We can trust God to bring us through victoriously, so that we’ll have an inspiring tale to tell which will encourage and benefit those who hear it.

Do you find yourself in tempestuous, unpleasant circumstances? Are you wondering exactly how they will play out? Take heart and believe that a wonderful story is unfolding from it all.