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 that was 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, story wars 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.
Temptation is a Story War
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.
In this passage, 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.
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 shortsightedness. 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 of 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 desire floods 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 that Tristan’s deep longing was to be a husband and a father. The porn was a cheap substitute for the intimacy that 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 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?
What if as parents we discipled our kids by helping them see the story wars in their own heart? So when your child demands a toy forklift and a snow globe and a skateboard and an iPod and a candy bar you ask them, “Will these things make you happy?” Or when your son steals a toy from your daughter you can ask him, “What are you loving the most right now?”
In our lives, in our families, in our churches, in our culture. May the best story win. And the good news is, the best story will.