What’s Your Story?

September 6, 2023

Let me share the story of Perpetua, born in 182 AD to a wealthy family in Carthage. When she was just 22, Perpetua was arrested and put in a Roman jail. All she had to do to go back home to her infant child, her husband, her family, and her life of privilege was to say, “Caesar is Lord” instead of “Jesus is Lord.” Replace one word with another. That’s it. Her father begged her to recant. But she just kept saying, “I am a Christian.”

On the day of her martyrdom, Perpetua and the others marched joyfully to the amphitheater. Perpetua began to sing. At this, the crowds became enraged and demanded that the prisoners be scourged. She was then attacked by a mad cow and struck by a gladiator’s sword. Perpetua screamed as the sword met bone. Then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided his sword to her throat. Perpetua made a choice, not between life and death, but between allegiance to Jesus and allegiance to the empire of her time. 

Perpetua made a choice, not between life and death, but between allegiance to Jesus and allegiance to the empire of her time. 

We as Christians are not facing a Roman empire, but the nature of empire has changed. After World War II, Churchill said the empires of the future would be empires of the mind. The wars of the future would be less about territory and more about ideology. Pope Francis has called the secular progressive vision “ideological colonization.” 

So How Do We Preach the Good News?

Fortunately the worst thing I’ve had to deal with is nasty people online who hurt my feelings, but we all face moments of decision. We have to choose between Jesus and the imperialistic ideologies of our time. So how do we preach the good news of Jesus in a culture where many, if not most, perceive it not as good but as evil?

First Peter 2:11–12 says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” This is not just a call to preach the good news, but to become the kind of people who are living joyfully in the kingdom of God in the middle of whatever empire we find ourselves. That’s our story.

The early Christians did this, and it changed the world forever. The church grew not in spite of stories of martyrdom, but because of them. Christians exploded from a tiny minority to the major driving force of human history. Alan Kreider writes, “It was not Christian worship that attracted outsiders, it was Christians.” Of course, the New Testament word for this is witness, someone who sees or experiences something of great importance. Used as a verb, it means to tell others about what you have seen and experienced that is of great importance. That’s it. 

The church grew not in spite of stories of martyrdom, but because of them.

We’re not salespeople. Our job is not to close the deal or to manipulate people with the right technique. It’s simply to bear witness to what we have seen and experienced in Jesus, in word and in deed and in the power of a transformed and transforming life, not just as individuals but as a community, not just on stages but around dinner tables. 

The Power of Your Story

Human beings are drawn to story, especially in our postmodern culture. In the age of deconstruction and disinformation, many people no longer find facts or evidence or intellectual arguments or experts as compelling as they used to. But someone’s story is hard to write off.

There are all sorts of challenges to preaching the gospel in a “speak your truth” kind of culture. But one of the up-sides is that people are open to your experience, your story. Michael Green makes the case that 80% or more of evangelism in the early church was done by ordinary Christians explaining their story to their non-believing neighbors.

Do not underestimate the power of story—and I don’t just mean storytelling as a pastor. Do not underestimate the power of your story. You may not think it’s dramatic or important or even worth telling. It is. People are drawn to conversation, and through conversation they are drawn to Jesus. Take some time to sit and ask, “God, what is my story? What do you want me to tell? Who do you want me to tell it to?” 

Then go tell it.

John Mark Comer

John Mark Comer

John Mark Comer is the New York Times bestselling author of Live No LiesThe Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, and four previous books. He's also the Founder and Teacher of Practicing the Way, a simple, beautiful way to integrate spiritual formation into your church or small group. Prior to starting Practicing the Way, he spent almost twenty years pastoring Bridgetown Church in Portland, OR, and working out discipleship to Jesus in the post-Christian West.
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