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What Makes a Good Story?

What makes a good story? I guess we should qualify what is “good.” What makes a “wonderous” story? For those of us who have studied composition or rhetoric, a few key elements make a compelling story. Here are only a few of them:

(1) dramatic content, (2) believable and rememberable characters, (3) selection of important plot events, (4) a deepening plot with subplots, (5) a knock-it-out-of-the-park conclusion. These, and a few others, are some ways a writer develops a story from a mere reporting event to a dramatic expression—a wonderful story.

When I was a child at Holly Springs FWB Church, Newport, NC, I recall how the Reverend O.B. Jones would direct the congregation in some of his favorite hymns. One of those hymns was “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story.” He would ask the congregation to stand and call out the hymn number. He would sing louder than the choir and congregation combined, and the look on his face during the hymn was full of joy and devotion. “Yes, I’ll sing…”

I heard the words—“sing it with the saints in glory, gathered by the crystal sea.” Imagine a multitude of people gathered around a vast pool of water so still, it looked like glass. No winds of war or turmoil will ever disturb the peace and serenity of that place. Even the inanimate sea reflects the glory and majesty of God. Yet there is no greater reflection of the glory of God except through the Christ who died for me.

We sing of the One who left his home in glory to come to us to die upon a cross, but more importantly, that the victorious Christ rose again in splendor and power. Had he not come to you and me, we would remain in our sins and helpless without a savior. Nevertheless, he left his home in glory for the cross of Calvary. Friends, I can’t think of any content more dramatic than this.

Why? Because we were lost, and Jesus came from glory to find foolish sheep like me. Like a sheep, I wandered away with my face down, munching on the next blade of grass. Little did I know that I strayed far from the sheepfold of the Lord. He looked a long way across the pasture of creation and saw me in the dark woods surrounded by the wolves of evil. He left glory to venture into the woods to throw his loving arms around me and bring me back into His way. I couldn’t think of a more believable or rememberable event in life than when Jesus brought me back to be with him.

It was dark in those woods; the wolves and bears took their liberties to damage my soul. I came back, bruised and faint. My sight was gone, and I still cowered in fear of the evil around me. But Jesus healed me and freed me from them all. Every painful experience—every broken promise—every foolish decision I relived as it was yesterday. Yet, Christ in mercy, set me free.

Those days still come. No one ever promised that the road would be easy or without challenges. There are dark times of death, sickness, fear, loneliness. It’s like a spiritual wasteland sometimes. How will I get through the dry times? It is only by his hand that I’m safely led (Psalm 139:9–10). Through every subplot of our life’s story, Christ was there delivering me from them all.

One day, this earthly life will end, and I will (poetically speaking) stand by the Jordan River and, like Joshua, will see over into the promised land of rest (Joshua 6:13–

17). But I will not cross Jordan alone, he will bear me safely over to the other side (Luke 16:22). Ah, then I will meet all my loved ones and rest in eternal praise to the One who died for me. Beloved Christian, no major league player could have knocked-it-out-of-the-park with a greater promise, and I doubt there is a more wondrous story than one of the Christ who died for me.

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