The Top Story and the Bottom Story

So often the cause of many of our troubles come because we firmly separate the top and bottom stories of our lives. What do I mean? Both of the houses my wife and I have owned during the course of our marriage were two floors. Each floor served a specific function – in our current house I’ll head upstairs to my office or to get a tool out of storage. The bottom floor is where our family gathers to eat, to sleep, to enter the backyard. Each floor is distinct, yet both are integral to our family’s life.

Each believer has a couple of stories in the way we think about the world as well. I like to think of the bottom floor as the lives that we live. This consists of the daily everything that we both confront and make. Messy relationships, good happenings at work, children who get the stomach flu, church life, a broken down car, netflix, good food, worries and anxieties, and everything else that bubbles up from within and without us. The top floor consists of the truths that we know about God and the Scripture that we read. Those truths are fundamentally redefining. They change the way that we think about and interact with everything that happens on the bottom floor. So many of our problems come when we seal both floors into distinct units and never think about the way the two interact.

The Scriptures were written to us in particular as we live our daily lives. “The Lord is my shepherd, therefore there is nothing I lack” is not a dusty phrase true only for an ancient near east shepherd boy. Rather that exact phrase was intended for the entirety of the Christian church until the end of all things. The farmer in the 1400s and me sitting at my computer today each equally can be assured “the Lord is my shepherd, therefore there is nothing I lack”.

Lacking nothing because the Lord cares for us as a shepherd is not an esoteric concept.  It’s a deeply gritty truth given to us for whatever we happen to be facing at the moment. And yet, so often I hear people say that the Scriptures don’t help them or don’t have anything to say about what’s going on in their lives. Most often these individuals are quite knowledgable about what the Bible says about all kinds of topics. How amazing it is to hear someone wax eloquent about what the Bible says about God’s love for the believer and yet not see how it connects to his own consistent feelings of despair.

So often we struggle because we read the Bible thinking that we’re different or that our struggles are outside the bounds of what the Scriptures were written to address. But they’re not. Everything we ever experience is part of the normal human condition according to 1 Corinthians 10:13. We need to remember that the Bible was written anticipating the very circumstances we face and the very troubles we undergo.

One common homework assignment I give to counselees is to pick 3 psalms during the week and read them in light of their current struggles. Then they’re to write out how each line connects to what they’re currently going through – what does it say about who God is? what does it say about how he cares for you? what does it say about how you feel?

Take Psalm 23:1 for example in conjunction with anger over unfair treatment at work:

The Lord is my Shepherd;

The Lord watches over me constantly for my benefit. Whatever comes to me he has allowed for my benefit. Even though I’m slandered and criticized, I have a Shepherd that’s protecting me.

there is nothing I lack.

Regardless of what happens, I will not lack what I need. I can trust my Shepherd to give me all that I require. If I lose reputation, I did not need that reputation. If I lose my income, the Lord will provide for he has promised I will not lack what I need.

The remainder of the Psalm has everything to do with anger. It also has everything to do with lust, depression, victimization, financial woes, grief, loss, and shame. That’s not to say it speaks to those issues exhaustively, but rather that almost every Scripture has something to say about your particular situation as you live it. Even as Christ hung upon the cross to pay for sins, a human experience that you and I will never replicate, he breathed out the words of the Psalmists – Why have you forsaken me?

We aren’t meant to read the Bible as the top story that has nothing to do with the bottom story of real-life. The Scriptures are meant to interpret and redefine that real life that we might have joy and hope in the midst of a world that does not naturally trade in those commodities. Next time you pick up the Bible, think through what’s going on in your life. What’s troubling you? What are you rejoicing in? And read God’s word as an active participant in your daily experiences.


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