I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.
-Jesus (John 14:27)
There's a memory I love. A memory about bedtime with 6 year old twins about 6 years ago. Now, trying to get twin boys ready for bed is like trying to hold a dozen angry lizards in your arms...except lizards can’t throw things at you.
One way that we learned to help our kids calm down when it was time to prepare for bed was through storytelling. We would sit in a circle and I would ask them for a subject idea (it was always an animal), and then begin telling a story. But I’d only talk for 30 seconds. Then I’d stop and look at the little guy next to me and say…
He’d sit there a few seconds thinking, and all of a sudden he’d join in:
Judah: AND THEN….. the bear fell off a cliff! (super proud of himself for killing off the main character)
Me: Well, let’s not end the story too quickly so… AND THEN... the bear landed in a surprise river at the bottom! AND THEN???… (looking to next son)
Kylan: AND THEN…. the river led to a huge waterfall and he fell off that and DIED!! (brothers give each other a high five for thwarting their father yet again)
Me: Ok, let’s regroup and give this another shot tomorrow night.
As the days passed, the boys eventually stopped trying to kill every character in the first scene and started to create some really fun stories with us. We called it progressive storytelling. It was beautiful to watch them envision surprising possibilities and then speak them into action. They had to imagine a world where new things were possible. Where unexpected moments were always around the corner, and where each moment might seem like the end, but could always be redeemed to keep the story moving forward.
We never knew exactly which way the story was going to go, but we each had a role in choosing where it went. And my goodness, the creativity was really fun.
Each of us is a story in progress, as is the world around us. It’s all unfolding in surprising and unexpected directions. Sometimes it’s tragedy, sometimes it’s comedy, but it’s never predictable. Some lines are not written by us, and we have no choice but to take what we’re given.
Yet always, our turn will come around.
And then we have an opportunity to speak into the story that’s unfolding. We have a chance to shape it. To imagine. And to live it.
Do you find yourself losing your imagination these days? I’ve noticed that I have. It’s really easy when you’re tired and discouraged. But Jesus helps us resist the urge to throw our hands up and complain that we don’t have anything good to add.
Jesus was a man full of imagination. Crowds couldn’t hear him so he used hillsides as natural amphitheaters and lakes as a microphones. He responded to problems with solutions that nobody saw coming.
He was God with skin on, doing things no one has ever done before, shocking and surprising the world by adding unexpected chapters to the story.
A revolution, but without weapons?
A show of greatness, but through humble service?
A call to holiness, but motivated by grace and not guilt?
Caring for the oppressed, but without hating the oppressor?
Saving the world, but through being killed unjustly?
Dying but then undying?
Seeing the heartache of the world but promising a vastly different ending?
What profound creativity.
AND THEN, on top of all of it, he tells his disciples that they are going to be the ones progressing the story next. And in fact, the story is just going to get better and better.
Greater things, he said. Greater things than these.
How do we do greater things than Jesus?? That doesn’t even sound appropriate to suggest.
Yet, there are millions of us around the globe. Millions of people who have said that Jesus is their Lord. Millions who profess that they want to live the values of the crucified Christ who overcomes evil with love. That’s a lot of potential for great things.
And Jesus promised that the reason his disciples would do greater things was precisely because he was leaving to join the Father. That way, he could be in millions of us. Working through our hands, our prayers, our words, and our imaginations. What happened?
In times of stress or crisis, it’s easy to forget that we have God’s spirit of love to shape the unfolding story.
What if Christians everywhere were praying for creative ways to include and elevate the overlooked and excluded? What if we treated our money like it belonged to God in the first place? What if we listened to people who tell us they are in pain and actually imagined possibilities to care meaningfully? These things sound obvious. Yet they will aways be radical.
What if we believed, like the Chinese proverb at the bottom of my father’s emails for years, that it is far better to light a candle than curse the darkness? What if we trusted Jesus?
We’d be people that look a little more like Jesus. And we’d make a world that looks a little more like God’s kingdom.
Don’t lose heart. It can happen.
Jesus, restore my imagination in what you can do through me.