A fundamental piece of advice for writing fiction is “Show, don’t tell.” A good writer will use words to paint a picture or set a mood. Poets and songwriters are masters of this advice. Metaphors, analogies, figurative language, even alliteration– all create memorable images with very few words.
Jesus (hardly surprising, as He is the Word of God) was a master storyteller, using parables that we still recognize and identify with today–mustard seeds and prodigal sons, good Samaritans and lilies of the field– Jesus didn’t “lecture” about forgiveness or holiness or love; He provided word pictures, even as He demonstrated each concept in His actions.
When Jesus was getting ready to return to Heaven, He commanded His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations.. (Matthew 28:19 NIV) He also said to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature..(Mark 16:15 NKJV). And as I review Jesus’ methods and actions, I see that I need to make some changes.
I need to listen more and lecture less. I need to spend more time with those who are shunned by the “righteous,” but cherished by God. I need to spend less time defending myself and more time testifying about Jesus. And I need to spend less time “telling” and more time “showing” love, obedience, joy, mercy, peace, and hope.
This doesn’t eliminate the need to talk and write and “tell” about God– but I want to learn more about doing it God’s way!
A couple of days ago, while the weather was still cold, but clear, my husband and I visited one of the many beaches along the eastern coast of Lake Michigan. The beaches are popular throughout the summer months, especially those with lots of dunes and smooth sand for sunbathing and picnics and beach volleyball. We’re the sort of odd ducks who like to visit in the off-season, bundled in parkas and combing the rocky shores looking for unique stones and beach glass.
I was reminded of Jesus’ parable of the two men– one who built his house upon the rock, and the other who built his on sand. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A24-27&version=ESV. Sandy beaches are wonderful to visit in the summer, when the weather is perfect, the sun is shining, and the lake is calm. But over the winter months, people avoid sandy beaches (as we did) because the wind and waves can erode great patches of sand, moving it about and changing the shoreline considerably. On the bigger public beaches, crews put up fences to keep the winter gales from blowing sand away from the shore and into the parking lots and streets. The fences also trap the sand and snow on the shore. Snow banks that form on the beach can melt and carry the sand back into the lake, forming new sand bars that can cause damage to small boats. Even in the summer, large waves can produce undertows and dangerous currents for the unwary.
In many ways, sand is like sin. Sand is attractive– smooth and glistening in the sun. It is warm and seems to yield to the touch. But sand shifts; it blows and drifts easily, but it sticks in place where we least want it, tiny grains getting into hair and clothes, shoes, and beach towels. It slips away, slides from under our feet, fails to hold its shape, unless we wet it down and pack it, and then it crumbles under the action of the waves.
Rock, on the other hand, is secure. It takes centuries to erode; it doesn’t shift or fall away. A rocky coast may not seem as inviting for pleasure, but it makes a far better foundation for a home or a lighthouse. Even the smaller stones along the beach do not blow around in a strong wind, nor do they melt away with the snow.
Beach stones can offer further illustrate how God works in our lives. Stones on the beach start out with sharp edges. They are cold and hard and uneven. But over time, the rocks are slowly churned by the waves and the movement of smaller rocks and sand, and they are smoothed and polished by their environment. Among the sharp rocks are beautiful agates and quartz, their varied colors seeming to absorb sunlight and heat. Just so, we are transformed from hard and cold isolated individuals as we absorb the Son’s character. And, as we are churned up against others, and the hard edges get smoothed away, His beautiful character is revealed in us, and we shine. With further polishing, the stones reveal the kind of strength and beauty that make them worthy of being displayed or set in jewelry. Not every rock along the beach will go through this transformation..some will remain hard and sharp; others will be ground into sand. But some will cry out in their beauty and strength as testimonies of God’s eternal process of redemption.
God is interested in the little things…we praise Him for his glory, majesty, and power–rightly so–but He is also the God of atoms, and quiet moments, and insect wings and snowflakes.
God celebrates with us in our smallest victories–biting our tongue instead of bragging, shaving a minute off our 5K run, not burning the dinner rolls, remembering to put gas in the car for my spouse. He also sees our smallest sins–when no one else is looking; when no one else knows our motives or inner struggle– God sees every detail, every motive.
God often uses yeast as a metaphor for sin–just a tiny bit can ruin everything. One tiny act– a fib, passing along a rumor, snubbing a neighbor at the store, watching “soft” porn on TV, hanging out with the “fun” crowd and taking dangerous risks, gambling “for fun” with money you promise to pay back later, drinking a little too much just a little too often, spending more time with that co-worker who “understands” your marital woes better than anyone…Most of us don’t set out to become addicts, thieves, adulterers, bullies, sexual predators, rage-aholics, embezzlers, or compulsive liars. But Jesus warns us that big sins start small: “murder” really starts with disdain and anger and hate; adultery begins with lust; and the love of money (greed) is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Selfishness, pride, envy, rebellion– they lurk in little lies and delayed obedience and easy justification we allow in our daily lives.
But God is not only watching us under a microscope, waiting to catch us in some small act of sin. In fact, that is not His primary desire in watching us. God is searching eagerly for signs of obedience, faith, goodness, love, and kindness.
Jesus used parables about small things– a lost coin, a mustard seed, a pearl, a speck of dust, the eye of a needle, a narrow door/gate, a lily of the field– to illustrate joy, faith, self-control, obedience, trust, and even the kingdom of God. Small things are important, sometimes even glorious, in God’s eyes. Even some of Jesus’ miracles started with small, humble, simple things– water, five loaves and two fish, a few quiet words, a few tears.
Today, I want to pray that I will see God moving– not just in grand gestures and eloquent sermons (though I love to see Him move in those ways, too!)–but in the small moments. I pray that I will be sensitive, not to the world’s crushing words of hatred and deception, but to the still small voice of encouragement; to the hopeful smile of a stranger; to the rushing wind that lifts dust mites to glory in the sun; to the unshed tears of a widowed friend. I want to plant the mustard seed of faith and watch how God will grow it. I want to be that cheerful giver of my last coins in gratitude for the riches of Grace that cost me nothing but cost my Savior everything.
I saw an interesting site the other day about “Plant (ing) Your Spiritual Garden.” Spiritual Gardening
I’ve seen different versions– one version had some rows of “P”s, instead of “peace”– Peace, Prayer, Patience, and Positive Thinking. Another talked about keeping Be’s near your garden– Be Faithful, Be Loving, Be Kind, Be Anxious for Nothing, etc..
I love figurative language– parable and metaphor and such– the Bible uses it generously. Jesus used parables about gardens, planting, fruit trees, harvest, and vineyards throughout his teachings. He knew that we can listen on two levels and that we remember concepts better with visual and figurative examples.
Prayer is something we must cultivate–we can grow and produce fruit if we develop the pursuit and practice of prayer. Remember to pull out the weeds of busyness and doubt. Plant seeds of praise and trust, dig deep in the fertile soil of faith; allow for the key ingredients of the light of God’s Word and the Living Water of daily fellowship with Him.
There are a lot of other great tips to keep healthy growth happening. Need some more tips– check out this page. Proactive Prayer Points
If you have other tips, I’d love to hear them– please leave a comment or suggestion!