For thousands of years, the Elders of a people have verbally passed true life stories down to their children. This was a major way for history to be recorded before the time when individuals began to record events on writing materials.
Today, with the invention of the printing press and the explosion of digital technology, communication is transferred, more often through electronic means than from the voice of a loving father.
This makes one question, ‘Who’s voice are your children hearing?”
Story Telling is an Elder’s Duty
The Israelites understood it was their responsibility to pass true stories from one generation to another. In fact, they recognized it was the way the Lord God would make His ways and acts known to the nations.
Even within the Song of Moses, this reality was communicated to the congregation.
“Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; Your elders, and they will tell you:” (Deuteronomy 32:7).
Not only was the Song of Moses sung to the Israelite congregation, but the Apostle John also saw the Song of Moses being sung in the heavenly realm. If the Angels recognize this important truth, how much more should we who are given this directive on earth, be willing to carry it out.
“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.”(Revelation 15:3).
In Psalm 78, Asaph, the great musical Levite, also emphasized a father’s story telling responsibility.
“Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.” (Psalm 78:3- 4).
Wisdom obtained through Story Telling
Researchers have indicated that humans learn more from events which took place seventy-plus years previously than they do from present day events. Learning from history is an effective way for our youth to obtain wisdom and a reason for us not to ‘hide it from the generations to come’.
“When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgements which the LORD our God has commanded you?”
“Then you shall say to your son: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; and the LORD showed signs and wonders before our eyes, great and severe, against Egypt, Pharaoh, and all his household” (Deut. 6:20-22).
Story Telling Brings Nations to the LORD
When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River, Joshua took twelve stones out of the river and set up a memorial wall. This was his way of building ‘something’ which would remind all people of the Lord’s miraculous work.
He knew these memorial stones would be a centrepiece of communication to all nations.
“…When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’
“Then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land’: for the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, Which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, “That all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” (Joshua 4:21-24)
Jesus, a Master Story Teller
Jesus was the master of telling stories through Parables. A Parable is a placing of one thing beside another with a view to comparison and the hearer must catch the analogy if he is to be instructed. His masterful use of Parables in story telling ensured that those hungry for spiritual truths would understand the mysteries of the kingdom.
According to Matthew’s recorded account, Jesus quoted from Psalm 78 and identified himself as one who would speakof things that had been kept secret since the beginning of time.
“All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:34-35).
Passing on Accurate Information
Contrary to the view of many sceptics, the oral transference of stories does not mean the changing of those tales. Agnostics often state that Biblical stories cannot possibly be accurate since they would have been changed as they passed from one person to another. While it is true that details can change when passed on, it does not mean the stories of God’s works changed before they became recorded in the Bible.
For instance, my Uncle Holger has a reputation of being a story teller who regularly repeats the same stories, yet over the years has never changed one detail. In many ways, he is a Master Story teller of the Petersen clan, accurately preserving our family history.
My uncle is also a true community elder in the sense that he can accurately recall the history of other individuals, passing their stories to their ancestors.
Children Love Stories
Also, contrary to popular belief, children are interested in the lives of their forefathers. I again refer to personal experiences with my family members.
In late 1998, when my mother was in the last days of her life, we assembled her memoirs in a small book to give out as gifts for family members and close friends. When nine-year-old Justin, my mother’s eldest great-grandchild, saw the book he responded with, “Good, now I can learn something about my family.”
Several years ago, while traveling in the car with Rae-Lynn, my eight-year-old niece, I sang a Psalm of David:
“Open wide ye gates, be lifted up ye doors and the King of Glory shall come in. Open wide ye gates, be lifted up ye doors and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is, who is, who is this king of Glory? The Lord God of Hosts is His name!” (From Psalm 24:7).
Rae-Lynn listened to the words most intently and then asked what the song meant. I explained that in old testament days, gates were closed to protect the entrances to the city. When outsiders called for the gate to be opened, the gatekeepers would call down and ask who wanted entrance into their city. Twenty minutes later when we arrived at our destination, Rae-Lynn summoned up our trip with, “Wow, that was quite the story!”
Lack of Story Telling results in Lost Communication
While story telling by the elders is common in most cultures, it’s a sad reality that our modern Christian congregations have relegated that art to the back seat of the church. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a denominational, a charismatic or a house church, the truth is, oral story telling is not recognized as our Lord intended it.
For example, in many groups there is much preaching and teaching by the five-fold ministries. Many churches have been built on strong Sunday school programs where the emphasize is on Bible stories. Young leaders are being raised up to do the work of the ministry and to hear the voice of God for themselves.
All very good in itself, but the Body of Christ suffers both on an individual and corporate level when programs take away the opportunity for Elders and Fathers to communicate their personal experiences with God.
My heart is saddened when I see Elders who have experienced healing, deliverance, signs and wonders, get treated as if they are ‘too old’ for anyone to listen to. Not only are their stories being lost but so is the transference of their faith to younger generations who need to hear what the Lord has done and will do for them. Church leaders must recognize this as a weakness in the Christian community and provide a venue for Elders to pass on these stories to the younger generation.
At the same time, the older generation must put away any ‘poor me’ attitude and be willing to share their stories with the youth, whether or not their church provides a venue. This may mean even extending oneself and opening up their own home to the youth of their community.
I was 22 years of age when the LORD Jesus Christ came into my life. Three months later I found myself at a home with fifty Christians who had gathered together for dinner. While there were a number of young people my own age in attendance, I spent most of the evening in a private discussion with an elderly man.
I was enthralled with this gentleman’s stories of God’s saving grace and miraculous healing power. He was the first person that I ever met who had experienced physical healing and he was the first who told me about fasting. An Elder in the church, this gentleman did not preach sermons, teach Bible studies nor lead worship. But for the rest of my life I will remember the great impact he made by taking the time to tell me, a novice, of the wonderful works of the Holy Spirit.
“Publish with the voice of thanksgiving and tell of all your wondrous works”. (Psalm 26:7).