We are big story-tellers at our house. Most every night at dinner eventually moves into some kind of story – a story from the kids about their day, a story from me or Jana about ours, or a story that we’ve told tons of times before that the kids have now started to ask us to tell again. We’ve done it so much the family has come to expect it. Just this last week, we had a birthday in the house, and part of the celebration was retelling the story of the day my daughter was born (which is a pretty good one, by the way).
Stories matter. They matter not only for sheer entertainment value; they matter because stories root us in who we are. They help us to remember where we came from, and even more than that, they help us remember that the Lord has been faithful to us in the past. And because He has been faithful to us in the past, we can trust that He won’t stop now. It is as George Mueller once said, “If the Lord fails me at this time, it will be the first time.”
We get that kind of confidence through looking back and retelling the great deeds of God on behalf of His people, our families, and ourselves. One of the greatest and most simple gifts we can give to the next generation is the discipline of telling stories.
If that’s true, though, then the opposite is also true – we neglect stories at the peril of future generations. This seems to be, at least in part, what happened during the days of the Judges. Here we read from Judges 2, after the conquest of the promised land, and after the dispersal of that land to the tribes of Israel. Here was a generation who had seen the Jordan dry up, the mighty walls of Jericho fall, and the hearts of their enemies melt like wax before the power of God:
“The people worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. They had seen all the Lord’s great works He had done for Israel. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. They buried him in the territory of his inheritance, in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7-10).
I’m sure there was much that occurred as one generation passed to another, and therefore lots of reasons why that generation rose up and did not know the Lord of what He had done. But surely part of it was because the story was not stewarded. It was simply not told, but maybe assumed, and the great works of the Lord were put on the back burner.
It seems almost too simple to say, but that’s the power of story. And that’s also the reason why the Lord had commanded this discipline into the regular rhythm of His people. Take, for example, the command regarding the observance of the Passover from Exodus 12:24-27:
“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ Then the people bowed down and worshiped.”
The key here for me is the statement, “when the ask.” Because they will ask. Especially if we build this discipline into the regular rhythm of conversations we have at the dinner table, at bedtime, and on walks in the neighborhood. Serve the next generation, friends. Serve them by telling the story of God’s faithfulness over and over again.