If you’re telling a story and want it to come to life, it’s important to tell it in a way that resembles how people experience life. Simply put, they do this through their senses. Whatever your most vivid life memories are, you gained them somehow through vision, touch, taste, sound, and smell.
In fact, if you can only include one, pick smell. It’s the sense most strongly associated with memory. For example:
- What’s the smell of your grandparents’ house?
- How about Thanksgiving Dinner?
- Can you remember how laundry smells that has been dried on a clothesline?
- Did the hallway at your elementary school have a particular smell?
Engage people’s senses, and the story begins to take on life. Let’s consider the occasion on which King David began to develop a vision for building the Temple in 2 Samuel 7:1-2.
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”2 Samuel 7:1-2 (NIV)
A simple explanatory approach conveys information. It could be something like:
King David had been in many battles with adversaries. Presently, he was in a peaceful time. It was common for the affluent to want homes built of cedar because of its quality and the aroma it produced. David observed the high quality of his palace in comparison to the location of the Ark of the Covenant which was the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was designed to God’s specifications, but for the period of time when Israel was itinerant. David desired to see the Ark–the location of God’s real presence among the people–stored within a building more fitting to its significance.
Pause to consider what it was like for David to experience this scenario through his senses and help your audience picture it.
What does it feel like to finally get rest? David had fought so many battles. Can you feel the soreness in his arms and wrists from swinging that sword? The stiffness in your back that comes from constant travel? It must have felt good to be home, sitting in a comfy place. If you could sit on David’s seat and let your eyes wander the room, you would see beautiful, sturdy walls. If you took a deep breath, you could smell the fresh cedar wood used to construct it by talented craftsmen. But on this day, as David allowed his eyes to float around his home, he began to think about the Ark of God. He thought about the Tabernacle. Beautiful as it was, we all know the difference between living in a house versus camping in a tent. The Ark of the Covenant, the place where God’s presence dwelled, was out there while David was resting comfy and dry in his palace. Can you feel that tug on his heartstring that somehow, God deserved better from him? “How is it right for me to live here while God’s Ark is out there?” If you could make a physical building worthy of the presence of God, what would it be like?
What’s interesting to me about this story is that by going deeper into David’s senses, his compulsion to build something even nicer for God makes total sense. In my illustration, I obviously went a bit verbose on the sensory example, but I hope you can see the difference. Think of some other scenarios where the senses matter:
- What did the lady look like who had been caught in adultery? Do you see her trembling? Can you feel the butterflies in her stomach of knowing she was caught and exposed? Do you feel the piercing disdain from the eyes of the crowd looking and judging?
- What about the man by the pool of Bethesda? Can you imagine the texture of his skin from sitting on the mat all those years? Did the area around the pool smell like sickness from all the people who waited there in desperation for a miracle?
- What about Lazarus walking out of the tomb? Can you see a glimpse of something white moving out of the darkness and shadow? Could that be him?! Can you see the life in his eyes as the cloth is pulled away? Can you feel the excited embrace of people hugging a friend they thought they’d never see again?
If you want to make a story come to life, speak to people’s senses.