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Through The Eyes Of A Child With Sally Lloyd-Jones

You ever had that moment where you’re reading a book to a small child and all of a sudden you find yourself tearing up? That’s the mark of a great children’s writer, and we are so excited to have Sally Lloyd Jones today, author of the Jesus Storybook Bible. She’s going to be talking about how she took that work, a children’s bible and reworked it into something for adults because so many parents were commenting to her on what the Jesus Storybook Bible has meant to them.

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…the key to the JSB’s power lies in the author’s refrain declaring God’s “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

Lloyd-Jones says she included that easily repeatable phrase to express the idea of “agape—the love we all strive for,” noting, “No matter what our age, we never outgrow this longing. I didn’t want to present the Bible as a book of rules or filled with stories of people like Daniel whose bravery I could never match. Someone once told me, ‘You are reaching the child inside the adult.’


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Sally Lloyd Jones: We’ve heard so many wonderful stories that blow your way because you, you know, we had no idea that would happen, like hearing that couples read it for their devotions, that it’s used like you just said, in ministry and evangelism. And even in theological seminaries, they have it as a set text. In some ways it’s not surprising because I think if you write for children with the respect they deserve and with the excellence that they deserve, then I think, you know, we all know children’s books that we love. I think you reach everyone, you know, adults as well as children.

Sarah Taylor: Her name is Sally Lloyd Jones, and welcome to the Passion Meets Purpose podcast. This conversation with Sally was recorded a few years back, but that was before I had this podcast platform, so I wanted to make sure that you get to hear her timeless wisdom. And so here is an interview from five years back, still fresh for today.

You ever had that moment where you’re reading a book to a small child and all of a sudden you find yourself tearing up? That’s the mark of a great children’s writer, and I’m so excited to be interviewing Sally Lloyd Jones. She’s most well known for the Jesus Storybook Bible. Perhaps you have a copy at home and she’s actually gonna be talking about how she took that work, a children’s bible and reworked it into something for adults because so many parents were commenting to her on what the Jesus Storybook Bible has meant to them.

Sally was born and raised in Africa. She was schooled in England and now lives in New York City. We begin our interview talking about the Jesus Storybook Bible and the fact that this new book, The story of God’s Love For You, is really just that work reprised for adults. 

Sally Lloyd Jones: You’re absolutely correct because it’s it was, it came about because, you know, I wrote a children’s book that adults were reading and we kept hearing from people about how they, some people loved breathing it with the illustrations, but others were saying, if we didn’t have the illustrations, we could give it to different people. And so we finally thought, well, it’s the same text, but we’ve, we’ve redesigned it so that it would now reach people that perhaps a children’s book wouldn’t reach. So it’s specifically done for grownups and it’s not the illustrations we have, a chapter head that Jago did and it’s beautiful. And we’re hoping, you know, it’s just it. It will reach a whole new audience, is our hope. 

Sarah Taylor: My friend Angie said that when she first became a Christian in her twenties, she had no idea what to do with the tissue thin pages of a Bible and so on the recommendation of someone, they said, go out and find a children’s bible. And that’s exactly what she did. And that was her introduction to Christianity.

Sally Lloyd Jones: Isn’t that wonderful? I love that. And we hear that, you know, we’ve heard so many wonderful stories that blow you away because you, you know, we had no idea that would happen, like hearing that couples read it for their devotions, that it’s used like you just said, in ministry and evangelism.

And even in theological seminaries, they have it as a set text. So it’s, it’s very, it kind of makes you laugh, you know, , but in some ways it’s not surprising because I think if you write for children with the respect they deserve and with the excellence that they deserve, then I think, we all know children’s books that we love. I think you reach everyone, you know, adults as well as children. 

Sarah Taylor: Tell me why that is. Talk to me more about that writing to children with the respect they deserve. 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Well, you know, a lot of people can tend to think because I’ve had people who don’t necessarily, they don’t, they, they don’t really know children’s books very well.

And I think often as, as a friend of mine in the business said, it’s very easy to write a bad children’s book. But to write a good one takes a lot of skill and in order to communicate to children, you’re not being simplistic. You’re, you are actually distilling down and putting it into words that a young person can hear.

So it takes a lot of work to get it to be as simple as you can without, you know, dumbing down. And what I like to think of is what Miles Davis said. He said, Listen to what I can leave out. And in the whole process of writing for children, especially when you are trying to convey this great story, you know, that that can satisfy someone like CS Lewis and yet you, you’ve got to make it simply enough so that a four year old can understand it.

Your job is really to understand it so well, that you can distill it down. And so it takes a lot of time trying to get it simpler and I think that’s where we’re respecting children, where we don’t dumb down, we don’t stand on high and look down on a child. Our attitude is more, you know, on our knees, eye to eye, talking to them about the wonderful truth of how much God loves us.

As you know, we’re, we’re God’s children as much as they’re God’s children. And I think that’s, if you write from that stance, then you dignify children and they respond because they know, children are very smart. , you know, they know when they’re being patronized. And I think we shouldn’t do that. 

Sarah Taylor: One of the things that you’re able to do so well is summarize the overarching theme of the Bible.Would you do that for us? 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Oh, yes. So you know, the, the, probably, you know, as a child I grew up thinking that the Bible was a book of rules that I was supposed to keep and, and then God would love me or else it was a book filled with stories of these people that I was supposed to copy so that God would love me.

And of course those things are not what the Bible is about, most of all at all. I mean, there, there are rules in the Bible that tell us how life works best, but the Bible isn’t a book of rules or a book of heroes. It’s most of all a story. And it’s the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

And at the heart, at the very center of the story, there’s a baby. And every single story in the Bible whispered his name. So that from the beginning of Genesis, right to the end of Revelation. It’s all about God’s amazing rescue. And once you capture that as a story, then it, it just melts your heart because you start to see that it’s not about us and what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s about God and what he’s done and that he is this God who moved heaven and earth to be close to us. That’s, and then once you capture that, I think then it makes all the difference in the world. Because, you know, children need to know they’re loved first of. And as all of us, we need to know we’re loved before and once we know we’re loved with that kind of love, then it changes everything.

Sarah Taylor: Can you describe a time in your life where you’ve ever doubted that that was true? 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Well, I mean, I don’t know. I’m sure I’m like anyone else. You know, we’re all the same as each other in the sense that I can from one minute to the next be doubting that. And it may not show itself very obviously, but I’ve come to realize when I, when I worry, I’m basically not believing that God loves me. I’m thinking I know better if I don’t, If I, that I can’t really trust him because he doesn’t love me. I need to be in charge. I mean, it’s all very subtle, isn’t it? But I think it’s happening all the time where we think we believe it, but on a gut level, the way we are in our moments, we’re not really believing it.

So it’s a daily battle, isn’t it, to, you know, But that was the first temptation in the Garden of Eden. Really when it boils down to it, what the enemy was saying was, you are gonna miss out if you trust God. Cuz he, you know, the implication being he’s not good. You can’t trust him. You need to be in charge of your own life.

Sarah Taylor: You define his unconditional love even further. You have a great, it’s not a mantra, but you have a string of words that works so well to expand the idea of unconditional love. Can you share that with our audience? 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Yes, and I better make sure I get it right because sometimes I, I, I do it all wrong, but it’s, God’s never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever. Love. 

Sarah Taylor: Where were you or how long did it take you to come up with that description? 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Well, you know, it’s funny, I, it kind of, I don’t remember that it took me very long. Just like the subtitle for the book is called Every Story Whisper’s His Name and that just came straight into my head.

It plopped in like a gift. Cuz all of it’s a gift really, isn’t it? But in terms of the never stopping, never giving up. I think all my years of writing for children, it’s just in me to want to make, and I love the sound of words and I love poetry. And I think often the kind of writing I do for very young children is like a poem.

A picture book is sort of like a poem, because a really good picture book every word should count, and you shouldn’t be able to really take out too many words without collapsing the whole book. In a really good picture book. So I think my training in writing for young children, I just knew that there, there had to be some kind of rhythm and I pattern and I don’t know, it just seemed to, and then I, I think then I realized once I’d got that phrase I needed to, to repeat it throughout the book to remind the reader.

This is what love’s about. You know, And you can’t, you can’t really describe it just with the word love, can you? Because there’s so many facets of it. You know, It doesn’t break. It never stops. It goes on forever and always. We can’t really, we’re kind of stuck with it. Our words aren’t enough, are they?

Sarah Taylor: They’re not, but certainly you help us get there.

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Sarah Taylor: I have a favorite part in the book. Do you, if you have a copy in front of you, page 112 where we’re talking about the Lord’s Prayer and then your translation of it. 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Right. And this comes from a story where I’m telling the story of when they asked Jesus how to pray and, you know, and they were these extra super holy people who thought that praying was using special words and standing in the middle of the street and showing off.

And Jesus says, No. It’s about talking in your normal voice like this. Hello Daddy. We want to know you and be close to you. Please show us how, make everything in the world right again and in our hearts too. Do what is best just like you do in heaven, and please do it down here too. Please give us everything we need today.

Forgive us for doing wrong, for hurting you. Forgive us just like we forgive other people when they hurt us. Rescue us. We need you. We don’t want to keep running away and hiding from you. Keep us safe from our enemies. You’re strong, God, you can do whatever you want. You are in charge now and forever and for always. We think you are great.

Amen. Yes, we do. So I was just really attempting to, like you said, put it in words that could catch the reader by surprise. And obviously the Lord’s Prayer is very beautiful. And I, this whole book is a, is a paraphrase in a, not a paraphrase. It’s a, it’s a retelling, it’s not a paraphrase and it’s not a Bible.

It’s just, it’s a storybook. So I always want to emphasize that, that my hope is in reading this, it will lead people to the actual text to the Bible itself. Cause, but sometimes, like you said, you can hear things so much that you don’t really hear them. So, Say the Lord’s Prayer, and we may not really ever register what we’re actually saying.

And I think when you write for children, it gives you a chance. You, you have to put it in different words. And in doing that, I realize it reaches adults. Because, we’re children inside, and sometimes the way we respond to God, we need to be in that place of childlike trust. And I think a children’s book can sometimes, and I think this is why, it’s probably why it’s hit a nerve with adults, is that it reaches adults at that level, that very sort of unconscious level of, of the heart, you know?

Sarah Taylor: Mm-hmm. 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Where God speaks to us. 

Sarah Taylor: You recently had a chance to do a songwriter in the round concert with Amy Grant and Ashley Cleveland. Will you tell me a little bit about that evening? 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Yes. That was so much fun. And I, you know, I had to keep pinching myself to say to myself, why am, excuse me, how am I up here with Amy Grant?

Cause, you know, mega superstar. But she, you know, I’ve got to know her now. Of course, now I can stop being such a mad fan woman. But the reason it came about it, it was just that a retreat center in Texas, we were all leading a retreat on storytelling. And in the, on the Saturday night, the tradition is that we do a concert.

You know, the singers do a concert, but Ashley said, You know, you need to be part of this. You need to, Ashley and Amy said, You need to read your story. So what we did was they would, one of them would sing a song, and then I wouldn’t know what the song they were gonna sing. They’d sing it. I would, in that moment, respond with the story that I felt I was supposed to read.

And then Amy would listen to the story I’m reading and respond in the moment with a song. And so it became this and we’d go round and round like that. 

Sarah Taylor: Oh my word. That’s amazing.

Sally Lloyd Jones: It was so beautiful. And we realized not only did we have so much fun doing it because we’re, we just, it felt like, well, it was worship really.

And. What was so wonderful about it was it had a shape to it and you knew you were just really following clues and I felt so honored to be able to read my work. So I was performing in a different way than they were performing, but we’re all sharing what the work that we’ve worked hard to refine and it in that context, it was just so magical in the right sense, you know?

And we did it. We’ve done it. We did it in New York. When my new book came out, the The House, That’s Your Home. We did it in a beautiful church in New York. People came out from a really cold winter night in February and we had probably like, maybe I think 500 people and it was the most, and yet it felt very intimate and it was just, we hoped to do it again because it was so much fun, you know?

And it, again, it’s so interesting. I’m technically, the stuff I’m reading is for Children. And yet, you know, a lot of what I was reading was, came from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, which are, is a book of very, very short thoughts to, you know, make your heart sing, to encourage you. And I wrote it for my niece who was being bullied, and I wanted her to know, this is what God says about you, not what the bullies say, but I found that adults love that and use it as their devotional.

So I would read very short excerpts in between solves and the interplay between word and music was just wonderful. And it just felt like the most natural thing in all the world. And, now I realize what they’re doing. Amy Grant and Ashley Cleveland, they’re each telling stories in their song and it’s an, you know, a picture book.

What I do is a is a story told in two languages, word and image. Well, what they’re doing is a story told in two languages, word and lit, you know, and music. So in the end you realize the reason it works is cuz we’re, we’re actually doing the same thing in our different ways. So that was, it’s been wonderful. It’s been a such a lovely adventure. 

Sarah Taylor: I love one of the pre-scripted questions that came with this interview that says, Do you feel that music and theology go hand in hand?

Sally Lloyd Jones: Yes. I love that question. I made them ask yes to ask around questions so you can answer them well, isn’t it? But the thing I think that comes from JI Packer who said, All good theology should end in doxology.

And I know that’s true, really. When we’re, well, what do we do when we’re really, we, you know, there are love songs that aren’t there. We just, everything in us goes towards what we can’t even express. And song is part of that. And I think if, you know, it just fits, doesn’t it, that your theology leads to worship.

You know, if God loves us with a love like that, that won’t let us go, that loves us so much that, you know, he doesn’t, he doesn’t just look down from heaven at the mess we’ve made. He comes down. And not as a judge to punish us, but as a rescuer to save us. Well, that’s not the picture of God that you mostly hear in the media.

That’s the God we believe in and we worship. And when you, the more you get to know that story, the more you will have to sing. You can’t help it, can you really? 

Sarah Taylor: Right. I mean, that’s the God that I long to worship and I think sometimes when my worship stops, that means that I have the wrong view again of who he is.

Sally Lloyd Jones: Yes. Yes. Isn’t that the truth? And it’s, again, it goes back to what we were talking about earlier, when we don’t believe he loves us. We, you know, and everything is coming against us to not believe that. 

Sarah Taylor: Would you say that’s just part of the battle that we’re in until we finally see him face to face? 

Sally Lloyd Jones: I think so. I mean, you know, you meet people. I met someone this summer who is 85, Dale Brener. He’s like a professor of Old Testament theology at Fuller. He’s one of the most joyful men I’ve ever met. One of the most humble, and really what I would say is, he’s just completely taken up with the love of God. He just loves.

That’s his whole, and I just, I saw that, like I can hardly remember what he was talking about. He was a wonderful teacher. But the thing that has stayed with me is that, the way he was, and it’s like a wonderful image of if we let God change us, that’s the hope that we can end our lives like him. Like just in love with the Lord and beautiful, you know, it’s, there’s nothing more attractive is there? When you see .

Sarah Taylor: That’s a beautiful note for us to end on. Before I let you go, tell me about this retreat center in Texas, this storytelling thing. Are you guys gonna do another one? 

Sally Lloyd Jones: Well, the retreat center’s called Laity Lodge and it’s wonderful and anyone should go there because it’s in the heart of Texas and they have the most incredible speakers and musicians and.

But in terms of our con, you know, the story in the round, we prob, I mean there’s been talk of us traveling around to do it. So we’ll go anywhere that we’re invited, I think. Well, we hope so, . We’re just working out, I mean, Ashley and I are completely, madly keen to do it, but of course Amy Grant is, she has a lot more.

Going on than, you know, in terms of that, than we do . So, you know, I’m there. I’m right there. And if I get on a, a tour bus with Amy Grant, I’m, I’ve told my friends I’ll be so obnoxious. They won’t want to be my friend anymore. . So, I mean, both Ashley and Amy tease me because I’m so, it’s, I’m so very excited by the whole thing, you know, cause it’s new to me and I never in a million years imagined I’d be up there next to rock stars. You know? 

Sarah Taylor: Yep. . I love it. 

Sally Lloyd Jones: It’s funny.

Sarah Taylor: Sally, thank you much.

Sally Lloyd Jones: Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much. You make it easy. Good. Interviewers make the interviewee look clever. So thank you, Sarah. 

Sarah Taylor: Oh, Sally. Well, I’ve got, I’ve got your book at home. Read it with my daughter and we love it.

Sally Lloyd Jones: Oh, I’m so glad to hear it, and thank you for taking the time.

Sarah Taylor: We’ll link you up to all of Sally’s books in the show notes. And thank you to Rebecca Beckett, our content coordinator, Luke Swanberg, Scott Karow of Terra Firma, and of course, thanks to you for listening. I’ll see you again in two weeks.

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