God's glory, a story for God's glory, the transforming power of stories, His Story, sharper vision, stronger foundations, Hearts of Fire, tragedies, plot, greater compassion, firmer faith, story middles, endings

A Story for God’s Glory

Do you like biographies? Maybe it’s the dozens of missionary life stories I had to read in Bible college, but I’ll admit my reluctance to receive this particular book from a coworker, let alone read it. Hearts of Fire shares cameos about eight women of the persecuted church around the world, collected by The Voice of the Martyrs. These are genuine heroines of the faith who lived for God’s glory, and yet I confess…the stories didn’t appeal.

I cringe from those horrible happenings and unhappy endings. I’ve always run from the reality of evil—at least, tried to ignore it insofar as possible. And I’m ashamed to say I’m often less than satisfied with the way the Ruler of the Universe is writing earth’s story.

Because I’m a writer, after all. In my plots, I like resolutions where the loose ends get neatly tied up and the bad guys are either redeemed or meet their comeuppance. And granted that conflict creates intriguing stories and character develops through trials, I still make sure my good guys don’t suffer too much.

The truth is, I don’t want to cry. Or hurt that deeply. The world’s already full of sin and sorrow, tragedy and terror. We find heartache and heartbreak enough without reading it in someone else’s story.  

Why, Lord?

So what on earth is God about when He allows life to smash, bash, and mash His own people? I tend to grouse and grumble when I believe my story is about me. But then I remember that God is the main character in everybody’s story.

Though it’s hard for me to accept sometimes (most of the time, if I’m honest), I know that He shakes and breaks in order to remake us in His good and beautiful image.

“If God seems to be writing an unusual story in your life, don’t resist His penmanship on the pages of your days.” –Joni Eareckson Tada

The Author and Finisher of our faith pursues one driving theme in history and in all of our stories: His glory.

His praise and perfection. His majesty and magnificence. The climax of His ultimate victory.

Out of every hardship in my story, He brings…

Sharper Vision

“There’s a book of Revelation in everyone’s life,” said Anne Shirley of Green Gables fame as her friend Gilbert Blythe lay dying. God uses those bad times to reveal to us where we’ve closed our eyes and refused to see His truth. He gives us insight into parts of our lives where we may be blind.

We usually can’t see the end from the beginning. No one knows how long their story might last or how many chapters are left. Our saga isn’t open and shut, it’s ongoing. You and I will always be WIPs—Works in Progress—until the Author reaches the end.

Madeleine L’Engle’s YA sci-fi/fantasy A Wrinkle in Time begins: “It was a dark and stormy night…” Despite the cliché, this opening has impact and evokes emotion, perhaps fear or even dread. Does it sometimes feel like we stumble our whole lives through a dark storm, where the villains usually have the upper hand and never get their due?

Ah, but it’s not the end yet.

However, it’s not all about the ending. Here in the middle of our story, we glimpse just enough flashbacks to understand the basic plot of God’s glory and just enough flash-forwards to latch onto the vision of a future with purpose and meaning.

“Every deficiency in our ability to see or walk or speak will be healed by grace.” –Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire

But my perspective is limited. Every time I attempt fix myself (and everyone and everything I deem wrong in the world) by my own cut-and-paste approach, I become like those…

  • “who have lost interest in your own story because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere…
  • who are displeased with your story because it doesn’t seem to be working out fairly…
  • and who are tired of your story because it has gone on too long without your getting anything out of it” (Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire).

Firmer Faith

My book of Revelation also shows me plainly (and painfully, perhaps) my areas of unbelief and lack of faith in God.

I realize I don’t trust the Author completely. And I don’t always prioritize God’s glory over my own preferences, I’m sorry to confess.

They say it requires a good beginning to hook a reader. It takes a good ending to lead into the next book. But it takes a good middle to build a story, and that’s where most of us live.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” –John Lennon

The above quote seems to make sense, though I can’t help but feel it diminishes and downplays the importance of the hard times before we get to the end. The real triumphs must happen in the midst of the tragedies. The victory of faith overcomes the defeat at mid-season.

My favorite of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne books, Rilla of Ingleside, tells about the shattered naiveté of Anne’s youngest daughter, who grew up during the long years of Canada’s involvement in the First World War. Of course, the story concludes with the happy return of the men—her brothers, friends, and sweetheart. Yet many more don’t come home whole than do.  

The book’s agonizing middle carries the story. Only God’s glory through His maturing work in Rilla’s life brings any sort of true resolution to the tale.

Late pastor Eugene Peterson writes: “Much of the satisfaction (in reading a book) comes from giving my imagination to the contradictions and ambiguities of the plot… (But if I am angry and dissatisfied), the story is not yet finished. When you yourself are in the story, you never know how near you are to the end. There may be a surprise ending on the next page, or it may go on for a thousand pages… The contradictions, the inconsistencies, the impossibilities, the unresolved tensions, the lack of balance between reward and punishment, disappointment and blessing—all of these are materials in the process of being used by a master (author) whose plot…includes…the world” (As Kingfishers Catch Fire).

The middle either makes or breaks our faith–and our story.

Greater Compassion

Sometimes the holocaust flames of my life are meant to teach me to care more for others. I well remember the time I burst into tears when a friend shared that she had lost a months-old baby. Why? Because I was experiencing health trials of my own during that moment. How can I suffer with others without suffering myself?

“The worst that can happen to us has already been staked out as God’s territory.” –Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire

K. M. Weiland’s book Writing Archetypal Character Arcs discusses the use of archetypal story characters to represent the stages of growth in our lives. Guess what? I think I’m in the process of turning into a Crone.

I can’t tell you how old that makes me feel! How seldom my role of the Crone receives any attention at all, let alone gets written about as a main character. I rarely find myself on center stage anymore. The glory days have faded.

Or are they over? Perhaps I’m still waiting for them to arrive. And I’m mistaken about whose glory it’s all about anyway.

Though I have my Damsel-in-distress moments, I’m no young Maiden any longer. Nor am I even a mature reigning Queen. I’m just a tired Crone—which is okay as long as I don’t creep into the shadows to become the bitter Hermit or the wicked Witch.

I may have faded from the spotlight, but I can still contribute a rich gift of wisdom and discernment to the younger generation. Though retirement lures and rest beckons, I’m challenged not to sink into lethargy or despair. I want to keep on shining during my twilight years with a burning heart to serve others and to focus on God’s glory.

Stronger Foundations

God surely uses the calamities of life to uproot our false gods. What do we stake our lives on? Money and status, jobs and education, family and friends, the justice system, a safe country? I probably depend far too much on the comfort and security of my earthly home.

We are meant to destroy those faulty footings and rebuild on sure foundations. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” the hymnwriter Edward Mote declares. “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

We can cling to this steadfast base in the middle of the mess, because “the days are coming when we won’t even think about the old life, the present hard times, in the glory of what’s ahead” (Romans 8:18-21, MSG).

“Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” –2 Corinthians 4:17 (NASB)

Remember that the middle of the story has the meat. It carries the weight of the plot. Writers sometimes complain of a “sagging middle.” Let’s not live our lives that way.

In the thick of heavy clouds and heavier burdens, when my story feels anything but glorious, sometimes whole weeks or months seem like “Jonah days,” as Anne Shirley called her times of flops and failures.

And what about the really bad stuff? I’m talking about more than mistakes–spilled milk, broken dishes, burnt cookies–here. Rather the national disasters, the untimely deaths, the sheer, devastating pain—physical and/or emotional—and the doubts that rise like specters and make you question whether any of the story has even a small moment of glory, let alone eternal significance.

An Eternal Weight of Glory

I don’t like weight. Certainly I’d choose light and easy, wouldn’t you? But most of our story middles drag and sag—tense, oppressive. Just hard. In books, things usually get worse before they get better. Life, too, presses down heavy toward the end.

But it has worth and meaning. An eternal weight of glory, God’s glory.

“Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential for greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.” –Unknown

Our stories, my friends, are the classics as opposed to the cozies. The timeless masterpieces compared to the trending flavor of the month. Jane Austen vs. the spin-offs, Tolkien vs. the copycats. L. M. Montgomery and C. S. Lewis vs. the filmmakers.

Not that the fun chapters have no value. But they are exactly that—the lighter, shallower fare. Hearts of fluff, not hearts of fire.

Are you willing for your story to be a strand of God’s glory woven into His-Story? Can you say it’s worth its weight in gold?  

As Anne (and Montgomery) remind us:

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” –Psalm 30:5

It’s not morning yet.

But the story doesn’t end in darkness.

With the dawn, what a glorious new beginning we’ll see.  

2 Comments

    1. Me too, I’ve been shaping up for this one for a while. Sometimes it does me good to reread my own advice!

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