The Power of Story in Sharing the Gospel
His response really surprised me.
My third year at Duke University, I wrote a paper for an Abnormal Psychology course about "A Biblical Therapy for Anxiety." Discovering personal faith my first year had helped me experience peace of mind in difficult circumstances. My paper explored how faith could help treat psychological disorders.
I sent a copy of the paper to our textbook author, a prominent UCLA psychologist, Dr. James Coleman. He liked it, read it to his students, and asked permission to quote from it in his revised textbook.
I picked my jaw up off the floor and said, "By all means!" I also promptly sent a copy of his letter home to my parents in Miami, so they'd see that their son hadn't gone off the deep end with his campus Christian involvement. (They were beginning to wonder.)
That summer, I met Dr. Coleman at his lovely Malibu home. It had a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. This brilliant man confided, "I don't have this peace of mind that you do. I don't have this relationship with God."
I shared with him a short four-point outline of Jesus' main message. It was based on a famous statement: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."
I showed him another statement Jesus made: "I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me."
"That's powerful," Dr. Coleman remarked.
Doesn't sincerity count?
"I haven’t accepted all this before," he noted, "but I've been sincere in my own beliefs. Isn’t it sincerity that really counts?"
I offered this thought: Imagine I awaken at night with a headache, stumble into the bathroom in the dark, open the medicine cabinet, pop two white tablets into my mouth, and swallow. I would be placing my sincere faith in those tablets to cure my headache. If the tablets were aspirin, they might work. If I'd grabbed roach poison by mistake, I could get sick. It's not just the sincerity of faith that's important; the object of faith matters, too.
Jesus – through his life, death, and resurrection – demonstrated himself to be a worthy object of faith.
"I see," replied Dr. Coleman. "I could be sincere, but be sincerely wrong."
After a few more questions, he invited Jesus to forgive him and enter his life. He took some literature to share with his students. A month later he told me by phone, "Now, as I look out over the ocean and see the setting sun, I really believe I'm a part of all this. Before I didn't, but now I do." He meant he was seeing how he fit into a divinely orchestrated universe.
The next edition of his textbook contained a short portion on "Religion and Psychotherapy" and included part of my faith story. I began to tell psych profs I was "a case in this abnormal psychology textbook." Many invited me to speak, which jumpstarted what became a career in public speaking.
Dr. Coleman encouraged me to relate his story because, as he explained, people in his profession needed to know that there was more to life than just the physical world. His story has helped readers and listeners worldwide appreciate that fact.
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Why this story?
I suspect that as a reader of this website, you may be a follower of Jesus. You've just read a story that, Lordwilling, can inspire you with how God works to spread his message. But if you reread the story, I hope you'll see that it's written in such a way that someone outside your faith could enjoy reading it, too, and learn more about the Gospel.
It uses nonbeliever-friendly language. It offers benefits of faith, communicates some Gospel basics (John 3:16; Revelation 3:20), mentions evidences for faith, and answers a common objection. And it does this not by listing and teaching standalone precepts, but by weaving them into the fabric of an interesting story.
I trusted Jesus from a background of skepticism, in a university environment that was filled with skeptics. Once I realized there were so many good evidences for faith, I began communicating those to others, with positive results. But over time, I learned that not everyone was as interested in hearing about Jesus and support for his claims as I was in sharing that! However, many will listen to or read a good story. Illustrating Gospel truth with story often can get more to listen.
Jesus, of course, told stories all the time: "The sower went out to sow …"; "A man had two sons…." My mentor, Bob Prall, walked around the Duke campus telling stories that pointed people to God. My first wife, Linda Raney – my first speech and writing coach – said she read and listened "from story to story." Tell stories. It will help you gain and hold attention and help your audiences remember what you say when you share the Gospel.