There are two types of people in the world: those that read instruction manuals and those that don’t. For the longest time, I used to be the latter. Anytime I got a new gadget, appliance, or piece of furniture, I believed I could figure out how to use it on my own. But over and over again, my assumptions proved to be wrong. Rather than a few minutes, I would spend hours trying to assemble my new purchase. Only after conceding defeat would I pick up the instruction manual to see that what had been so difficult could have been easy if I had read the directions.
Regardless of the subject, all instruction manuals are designed to provide a clear pathway to the same goal – success. It could be the successful installation of a light fixture or the successful completion of a fitness program. They usually contain detailed steps and helpful suggestions that, if followed, will lead us to complete our desired goal.
While we all have different goals we are trying to reach, there is one ultimate goal we have in common. All of us, no matter our age, ethnicity, or educational background, are looking for “the good life.” We all desire a life of happiness, beauty, and truth devoid of pain and sorrow. Said another way, we are looking for a life of flourishing.
We All Live In A “Story”
Since all of humanity is looking for the path to flourishing, over the years, many different people have created formal and informal instruction manuals to help us get there. These instruction manuals can be thought of as “stories.” A collection of facts seen through the lens of our mind, body, and heart, stories are the “why behind the what,” serving as the driving force behind our decisions and the things or people we choose to love. The stories we believe give us a set of instructions that claim to lead us to the “good life” or a life of flourishing.
Here are three questions to help you see some common stories we all live by:
- Why do we buy so much stuff or feel the need to have the latest technological devices? Because we believe we’ll be happier or have greater self-worth if we have more possessions.
- Why do we try to control others or are rigid with our expectations of ourselves and other people? Because we believe we’ll be happier and safer if our circumstances and the people around us are perfect.
- Why are we so passionate about being authentic and true to ourselves even when it negatively impacts other people? Because we believe that we’ll be happier if we prioritize self-expression and autonomy over the needs of a collective community.
In each example, our decisions or beliefs are motivated by an underlying story telling us where to find happiness. However, we aren’t born with these stories. Over the years, we have received them from lots of different influences. The TV shows we watch, the people we follow on social media, and our community all teach us how to view our lives and the world. This is where we learn that the good life is found in material possessions, control, individualism, and many other things. But, while enticing, these stories simply aren’t true because consumerism always leaves us wanting more, perfection of any type is impossible to achieve, and self-expression without consideration for others is selfishness in disguise.
The stories we believe matter. They shape our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. They tell us what to value, how to view the people around us, and how we should steward the resources we have been given. Most of all, they claim to lead us to “the good life” or the place of happiness and flourishing we deeply desire.
But, there is only one story that actually does this – The Story of The Bible.
The One Story You Should Live By
Instead of telling us that our flourishing is found in money, power, control, or approval from others, the Bible tells us that the “good life” can only be found in relationship with God. The Bible provides an instruction manual or framework for our identity, purpose, and belonging. It tells us how to view the world, care for our neighbor, and what to do with our pain and sorrow. The Story of the Bible shows us how to live and lets us know that our life only has meaning in relationship with our Triune God. But it also shows us that this relationship is only possible because of Jesus Christ.
From Genesis to Revelation, all 66 books of the Bible combine to form one unified narrative that shows us that God created us to flourish in relationship with him. But, because of sin, this relationship has been broken, and humanity now tries to find a life of flourishing apart from Him.
God doesn’t let sin win, though. Throughout history, he pursued his people and, through Christ, conquered sin, providing a way for humanity to reconnect with Him. This act of grace allows us to experience the good life we were designed to have. However, to experience it, we must live according to God’s way, not our own.
God’s way shows us that the good life comes through self-sacrificially loving God and loving others. It shows us that our creativity, ingenuity, and talent should be used to build a world where everyone thrives. Amid the difficulties of life, God’s way shows us that joy comes through finding our hope and comfort in Him. While it is a way that is counter-cultural and will often be rejected and ridiculed by the world, it is the only true way to experience a life of flourishing.
The Story You Believe Matters
Ultimately, we will all live by a story, choosing an “instruction manual” to guide us through life. So, the issue is whether we will choose the one that comes from our favorite social media influencer, politician, family, or friends or the one that comes from the God who created us.
When we choose the wrong story, we end up experiencing a counterfeit type of flourishing. Our happiness becomes rooted in the fulfillment of our personal desires in such a way that others suffer. We won’t love others self-sacrificially and we will worship other “gods” instead of the one true God. Sadly, any pursuit of human flourishing that is disconnected from God will fall short of what we were intended to experience.
But, our poor choices don’t only impact us individually. They also impact us corporately. Greed, racism, poverty, war, division, and so many other world issues are rooted in humanity’s attempts to find flourishing apart from God.
The story you believe in and live by matters.
I hope you choose wisely, following the only one that will lead you to a life of flourishing in relationship with our Triune God.
Elizabeth Woodson is a bible teacher, writer, and speaker, who is passionate about communicating the rich theological truths of Scripture. She loves helping people internalize their faith and connect it practically to everyday life.
Elizabeth works as the Institute Classes and Curriculum Director at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas where she teaches classes on the Bible, theology, and spiritual formation. She formerly worked as the Single Life Coordinator at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship under the leadership of Senior Pastor Dr. Tony Evans. Elizabeth is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a Masters in Christian Education and a cohost of the podcast Culture Matters.