Almost two years ago I picked up a book called The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd Jones. I loved it immediately and it has become a favorite (if not THE favorite) book on our shelf. In fact, I’m kind of an evangelist for it. I think I’ve bought at least four copies for family and friends. I quote it on my personal blog regularly and otherwise promote it as The Best Book in the Whole Wide World.
It’s like Sally Lloyd Jones crammed in four years of Bible college, 21 years of Sunday School and 13 devotional books all into one amazing book. Without being stuffy, pretentious or boring! I could go on and on about my hero-worship of her, but that might kinda defeat the purpose of this interview, huh? Let’s just get to the real stuff, ok? I’ll do it the way Lydia and I do when she’s playing her pretend guitar…”Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! I’d like to introduce to you: the amazing, the smart, the funny—SALLY LLOYD JONES!”
Me: Ever since I picked up the Jesus Storybook Bible, I have wanted to know more about you. My daughter (then 1.5) and I read three chapters of it the first time we opened it. She kept saying, “Je-dus! Je-dus!” and I was crying by the end of the 2nd chapter! I have decided it is required reading for every Christian–like the Chronicles of Narnia. 🙂
Sally Lloyd Jones: what an honor, thank you. And what a wonderful story for an author to hear.
Me: Why did you decide to write a children’s Bible? I mean, do we really need another kids’ Bible story book? What makes this one different? (I think I know the answer, but I want to hear it from you!)
Sally Lloyd Jones: The distinction between a childen’s Storybook Bible (which is a shorter retelling); and a children’s Bible (which is a translation) is probably obvious but nevertheless I think crucial to make here because it sometimes gets lost.
In a retelling, in a children’s Bible Storybook, you have some hard choices to make. You are translating in the sense that you’re finding a way to speak children’s language, you’re putting difficult concepts into words that a child can understand. But, unlike a translation, you’re leaving bits out, you’re selecting stories, keeping some, leaving others out, cutting, paraphrasing.
The Bible is, of course, an adult book so in order to make it accessible to children, by it’s very nature, as you retell it, you’re going to have to reduce it down. Unfortunately, the danger is that you reduce it down into moral lessons. Almost like a Bible Aesop’s Fables. Children are then left with the impression that they must be good for God to love them. Disastrous. It’s as if Jesus never came.
So I wanted to write a children’s Bible storybook that first and foremost told the Great Story of the Bible–the story running under all the stories of the Bible like a golden stream–the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. The Story that at the center has a baby, the child upon whom everything would depend–Jesus. The only, real true Hero of the Bible. I wanted a Bible Storybook that was, like the Bible is, not all about us and what we should be doing–but about God, and what he has done.
Me: Tell me more about “every story whispers His name.” I love the idea of kids learning the continuity of the Bible. Is that one reason for this book?
Sally Lloyd Jones: Absolutely. If you lose the greater Story of the Bible, the danger is you start thinking that it’s all about you and what you should or shouldn’t be doing. You can start to think it’s a book of rules to follow (of course there are rules in it and they show us how life works best but if we could save ourselves by following the rules, Jesus never would have had to come); or you can think it’s a book of heroes to copy (clearly that can’t be right though. So many of the people God uses are not heroes at all–they’re broken sinners!).
But if you see that everything in the Bible is pointing to the greater one, the greater Hero, the greater David, the greater Daniel, the Greater Shepherd, the True King–it transforms everything. Suddenly it’s an incredible adventure story. A wonderful love story.
The rescue of Noah and the ark was great–but it was not enough. Isaac was a brave son–but there would be another braver son. The promised land was good, but it wouldn’t last. The law was good, but it wasn’t enough. A greater rescue, a more wonderful home, a more obedient son was coming.
The Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. It’s most of all a Story. And there’s only one hero of that Story. And it isn’t us!
It’s all about Jesus, it’s always all been about Jesus, from the very beginning. Jesus himself said it, didn’t he.
“Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:27 (NIV)
Me: My very very very favorite part of the book is the repeated phrase describing God’s love, “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”. I have seriously thought about getting that printed and hanging it on my kids’ bedroom walls. What inspired those exact words? How did that phrase come about?
Sally Lloyd Jones: Children’s lives are so filled, it seems to me, with rules and lessons and instructions and directions and do’s and don’t.(Of course these are all important in their place; all children need guidance and that’s appropriate!) But I don’t see much grace being extended to childen. We know, as adults, where to find grace in the Bible. We go the Bible for strength and comfort in times of need, don’t we. But I worry that children aren’t always being offered that refuge, for when they are in need of strength and comfort. I worry that they don’t always know that this incredible, outrageous Grace is for them too.
Children need to know that they are loved by the one who made them. No matter what. Always. Forever. Period. And it isn’t depending on how good or nice they are. It’s always and only depending on Jesus and what he has done for them.
How great if we can help our children understand something of that incredible Agape love God has for us that doesn’t depend on us. The unconditional love He has for us. The love that will not let us go. Ever.
Sometimes I go into sunday schools and ask two questions of the children. “How many people here think you have to be good for God to love you?” And “How many people here think God will stop loving you if you stop being good?”
I wrote this book for the children who put up their hands.
Unfortunately quite a few do. And these are not children who don’t know the Bible. These are children who know their Bible stories very well, who could answer all the questions, who go to sunday school, who are “good.” But somehow they’re missing the most important thing of all. What the Bible is all about.
Me: As a parent, and here at Impress Your Kids, I am trying with my whole life to make sure my kids know and experience God’s love for themselves—and as early as possible! What impacted you as a child for the Lord? When did you become a Christian? Is there anything you’d suggest to parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents to do to help kids love Jesus at an early age? (Besides buy your book, of course?)
Sally Lloyd Jones: I count it a great honor that I became a Christian as a small child. (I was four!) I don’t remember a time when Jesus wasn’t my best friend. This was radically real to me. I prayed. I had conversations with Jesus. I knew Jesus was with me when I went to boarding school at eight.
First off, I don’t begin to presume to tell parents or grandparents or teachers or anyone else what is best for their child or any child, but perhaps I can just share some of the things I have found to be important when speaking to children in my own work (for what they’re worth–perhaps blindingly obvious, but steaming on regardless!):
- extending grace to children and encouraging them (not only telling them and instructing them and trying to corral them and being their policeman!)
- speaking to children on their level (not patronizing them, they can sniff it a mile off and don’t like it anymore than we do!)
- giving children credit: they can understand more than we assume–they may not understand every word–but that’s OK–it’s better to let them stand on tip toes rather than dumb everything down out of fear they won’t understand. Children love to stand on tip toes, to reach up, to understand. It’s how they grow!
- Staying being humble before them : Jesus has a very high opinion of children. He even told us to learn from them. Children can teach us a lot.
- Letting them see your weakness (not pretending you’re perfect–which just gives them that impression again that it’s about being good and then God will love you); it’s not about not having weaknesses, it’s about how you deal with your weakness, how you bring them to God, how you trust the Lord when you’re scared, that’s what will bless them and help them and teach them and equip them in their own lives
But most of all, in all your dealings with children, trying to constantly keep the focus on the Story–and on the one true Hero. Let them meet Jesus. He’s the one who will capture their hearts. And change their lives.
Because rules can’t change you; but a story can.
Me: I have so many favorite stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible–Abraham & Isaac, Adam & Eve and Jesus’ death. What’s one of your favorite stories in The Jesus Storybook Bible? Or which one do you think best showcases the “every story whispers His name” byline?
Sally Lloyd Jones: Favorite story?
So hard. I love them all for different reasons. It’s what parents say about their children isn’t it. But if I had to choose, I suppose one of my favorites is the story of Leah and Rachel “The Girl No One Wanted”. I wrote it for one of my nieces who was having a terrible time in the school playground. She was only about 5 or 6 and already being called names. And she was suffering from a horrible idea about herself. Feeling ugly. Unloved. Not wanted. Left out. The whole deal. And I hated hearing that. So I thought maybe this story of the one God chose, might help her (and other little ones like her) see it differently: see the truth and know that her under cover identity, no matter what anyone in any playground said, was “Princess”–the daughter of a King–and He had chosen her and wanted her and said she was beautiful. (Which, of course, she is anyway–inside and out!)
But in terms of which story is really my favorite–maybe can I say what children always say when asked this question (hating to leave anyone out): “They’re all my favorites!”
No but it’s true. Every story was a great blessing, struggle and challenge to write. All at the same time. And sitting down at my desk every day was like an all out battle and mini desk revival every time! But what an honor and I’m so grateful.
Story that best show-cases the byline: “every story whispers his name”
That’s hard too! Because I didn’t really even begin to touch on all the various parallels and pointing to Jesus that happens in Scripture. But one of the ones I think that struck me the most was Abraham and Isaac. I was blown away when I saw the many parallels in that story to God and His Only Son. God, the Father whose only son climbed the same mountain with wood on his back, but who didn’t get to keep his son, whose only son wasn’t spared, whose son became the sacrifice provided just in time, the sacrifice that lets us all go free, that lets us be spared. His son wasn’t spared so we could be. It is heart-breaking. It really opens your eyes to the incredible love story we are a part of!
Me: And finally, because my daughter and I have almost memorized the whole book, is there any chance of a Part 2? I’d love to hear about Moses! and Esther! and well, just more!!
Sally Lloyd Jones: Yes! There are rumblings of a 5th anniversary edition where I’ll write some more stories–so stay tuned for 2012!
Me: I hope those aren’t too many questions.
Sally Lloyd Jones: Not at all . It’s my honor to be asked them. thank YOU.
:: :: ::
Wow! Did you love that? I wanted to go back and write MY comments in between her replies but I thought that might be a little much…
As the proverbial cherry on top, the Jesus Storybook Bible Deluxe Editionis available for pre-order now. It includes the book on audio…that’s right, every single story read by masterstoryteller, David Suchet! How awesome is that? You can hear clips of it on Sally’s website. It’s breathtaking!
You definitely want to stop by Sally’s blog and her website. (She’s quite web-savvy and even has a few facebook pages and twitters!) You’ll also want to check out her new kids’ books, Being a Pig Is Nice: A Child’s-Eye View of Manners and How to Get Married … by Me, the Bride. They make me giggle just looking at them!