This morning, Amy and I visited a class for young married couples to tell them our missions story. We didn’t know anyone there, so we were both excited about making a whole class full of new contacts. We actually showed up an hour and a half early. Amy looked at all the empty chairs around the time it seemed like the room should be filling up and said, “Something doesn’t seem right. Did you mix up the start time?” I didn’t think I needed to address that.
People finally showed up. As the class was about to start, we were sitting next to Daniel and Kacy, a couple who moved to Tyler just last month. Interestingly enough, they told us they were also preparing to do missions work. They were going to be working through an agency called Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). What a nice couple! Daniel whipped his cell phone out and asked for my information and texted me right there to make sure we could get together sometime.
Fred, the teacher introduced us to the class and told them we would share for about 10-15 minutes. There was a time when being given such a short amount of time sizzled our mental circuits. How could we possibly tell our story, talk about the need for the gospel in Italy, describe the process we are going through to get there, and ask for their financial support in that time? The answer is we couldn’t. What would we leave out? What would we emphasize? Scrap the story and talk about the need, or go straight for the pathos by painting a picture of gospel poverty in Italy? We have learned in the process of fundraising to adapt our message to whatever time slot or audience or setting is available.
It felt really natural this morning. Of course, I couldn’t see too well. I’d taken my glasses off and put in a trial pair of contacts and my eyes were swimming a bit. A slight headache was growing into nausea. But that was only faint noise compared to the excitement I felt looking into the engaged faces of strangers sitting around us. I have to admit, I love being a storyteller. I love that we are immersed in something big that inspires people when we talk about it. The story we tell is a good one. I think this is a feeling the disciples shared when they were sent into the surrounding villages to “proclaim” their Jesus stories (Matthew 10:1-15). Telling these stories in countless strangers’ homes must have been quite compelling. Their retelling gripped people because the story they were living kept gripping them. You get a glimpse of this in the way the apostle John begins his first epistle:
From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. (1 John 1:1 MSG)
It’s the exhilaration of “taking it all in” that took others in as they told a story they had lived through. I felt that happening this morning as I leaned forward in my seat and gestured wildly through our 10-15 minutes. I felt affirmed by the looks in their eyes and some of them were leaning forward like me. We had a great time.
Backstage, we have been dealing with some frustration. In the other hours when we aren’t speaking to groups like this or having coffee with someone to discuss missions, we feel an ache to wrap up here and move to the field. I find myself telling God in my alone times, “I am ready to go now. I want to be there now.” I want to compel people with stories of what God will be doing in and through us there. It feels like an eternity. The truth is living in that frustration is failing to see the treasure we have now. And, it’s also waste-basketing the importance of seed bag stories.
A seed bag story is the story of how God threw you into the seed bag of some larger purpose. Its a story filled with a series of dynamic “coincidences” that sparked a richer life in you. If you believe in a sovereign God as I do, you would agree there are no coincidences where He is concerned. Only well thought out seeds planted in the garden of your life. Looking at your life this way requires you seeing God more as a planter. King David saw Him this way:
You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. (Psalm 65:9-11 NIV)
The verbs in this psalm (“care,” “enrich,” “provide,” “ordained,” “drench,” “bless,” “crown,”) tell me God loves the work of planting seeds and nurturing them. His care for the land pales in comparison to His care for the soul of man, the pinnacle of His creation. He throws us into the seed bag lovingly so He can enrich us abundantly. Then, as we tell these seed bag stories, we enrich others.
So, with that in mind, we are living as exciting a story now as we will be living “on the field”. I see the way people respond when I walk them through all the seeds God has planted along our way. Dynamic moments of sparked life that we couldn’t make happen ourselves. Men have even told me, “Your story makes me jealous.” Not that we would want to make anyone jealous. We only want to honor God by talking from the seed bag.