Lawyers sometimes have a saying they use when building their case behind closed doors: “The best story always wins.” When it’s time to render a verdict, the judge and the jury won’t be thinking about the information presented as much as they will be asking, “Which story is most compelling and coherent?”
The courtroom isn’t the only place where story wars unfold. In the unseen corners of the human heart, they rage daily. These stories vie for supremacy on the silent channel of our thoughts. This battle is between the story of God and alternative broken stories.
In Matthew 4, Jesus experiences three temptations that highlight how many times the most powerful temptation is not to do something bad, but to do something good in the wrong way. Satan offers Jesus the chance to live into a story with the same ending as God’s perfect plan but with a different plot.
Specifically, Jesus is tempted to indulge a legitimate desire (eat), to believe something that is true (he is the Messiah), and to pursue a kingdom-minded shortcut (establish the Kingdom of God). These are all good things, which is exactly why these temptations were strategically chosen by Satan. Satan offers Jesus the chance to live a story with the same ending as God’s perfect plan but with a different plot.
So what’s the problem with these temptations? They don’t seem so bad.
In the first temptation, Jesus was tempted to indulge a desire at the cost of a greater desire. There’s a sad story in the Bible of a man who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew because he was hungry. This is the epitome of short-sightedness. It’s easy to allow a legitimate desire to crowd out things that may be even more important.
In the second temptation, Jesus was tempted to believe a truth in isolation. That is, a truth isolated from the rest of the story of Scripture. It was only Jesus’ knowledge of God’s broader plans and purposes that allowed him to reject the sound byte truth that Satan fed him.
During the third temptation, Jesus was tempted to establish the Kingdom by temporarily worshipping the wrong thing. Satan was saying, “We can get to the last chapter of the story without any conflict. All you have to do is worship me.”
As far as I can tell, every temptation I’ve ever faced has fit one of those three molds. Temptation comes to us in the form of a story. And that story will always tweak the details of the biblical story in some way. At that point, we are caught in the middle of two stories that war for our heart.
Sin is Trusting a Broken Story
The essence of sin is false love. When we love the wrong things in the wrong order, we’ve put our stock in a broken story. Rather than desiring God above all things, some misplaced desires flood our vision.
If you have some perspective, it’s probably not too difficult to look back and see how these broken stories have manifested in your life. You have pursued (and still pursue) loves that were “ultimate” for you but were also false.
From the moment Tristan first stepped into my car on the way to the coffee shop, he seemed burdened. We ordered drinks, sat down, and the whole situation came pouring out. He was confused about why he continued to look at pornography even though he didn’t want to. Together, we began to unpack the broken story he was trusting in.
During our conversation, it became clear Tristan’s deep longing was to be a husband and a father. The porn was a cheap substitute for the intimacy his soul craved. The porn promised to meet this desire, but it couldn’t. His spirit was left sloshing around in a wake of sewage.
For Tristan, grasping the distinction between the true story of Jesus and the broken story of pornography was a turning point in his internal civil war. He was able to see that his good desire for intimacy was being hijacked and driven down a road that leads to death. So we talked about the road to life and truth. We spent the end of our time exploring the question, “How is God inviting you to you feed your desire for intimacy with him and with others?”
All of us are seduced by broken stories. For a moment, they promise hope, but if we follow them long enough they lead to frustration, pain, and an overwhelming emptiness. So how can we gain perspective in the midst of these story war?
The way we refuse false love is by catching a captivating picture of Jesus as the true and better lover of our souls. And our weapon for fighting the story wars is not willpower; it’s worship. As we fixate on Jesus, we see that he is the real picture of human flourishing. Other stories of our good can’t deliver. So worship (i.e., affection and desire for God) —not willpower—is what kills sin in our lives.
Trusting the Best Story
Actor Jim Carrey has famously said, “I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever wanted so that they can see it’s not the answer.” Jim is saying, “Hey, wake up world. What you are chasing won’t make you happy. That story is broken.”
What if we took that advice? What if we allowed the Holy Spirit to begin to expose the emptiness of the stories we regularly trust in? How much more joy would we find in Jesus as we aligned ourselves with the true story of God?We would be free from lying successes, free from false loves, and free from broken stories. We would know the true story, trust the true story, and we would be set free to actually live a better story.
I can tell you that these ideas work with two-year olds. Parents, the beauty of grasping that sin is “loving the wrong things” is your toddler can understand it. I’m able to say things like, “Son, right now you are loving that toy more than your brother.” That really drives at the heart. My encouragement to you is this: help your child see the story war in their own heart. What false loves can you help them identify? When they demand a toy forklift or a snow globe or a skateboard or an iPod or a candy bar you can ask them, “How long will these things make you happy for?”
In our lives, in our families, in our churches, in our culture, may the best story win. The good news is, it will.
Sean (@Sean_Post) lives in Maple Valley, WA with his wife and two sons and leads a one-year discipleship experience for young adults called “Adelphia”. He is completing his doctorate in Missional Leadership.
Adapted from Sean’s upcoming GCD Books title The Stories We Live: Discovering the True and Better Way of Jesus. Coming June 2015.