[I’ve put this up before but I don’t know where. [There’s no cure for my lack of discipline.]
A while back I wrote this to a dear God-loving friend. I’ve doctored it only a little.]
Dear…I am a weak one! I confess that I didn’t become weak all by myself—I had help and continue to have help being weak. Still, I wrestle with so much that I am sure I should have outgrown. I’m speaking the truth here: the only thing that keeps me on my feet and in the adventure is that I’ve been privileged to hear and come to know the gospel about God and I have a small handful in my life that [toward me in particular] embody the truth and goodness of that gospel.
I love it that you have the sense of the “poetry” of God and his gospel. Poets [good ones] work with words in a way that even philosophers don’t. Their aim is measurably different and they give us words that enable us to express truths that run around in us as a jumble of feelings and part feelings and half-wishes. They help us to give form to them without systematizing them or making them or leaning heavily on the rational.
With well-chosen words they show us unseen facets of things and they do this by their gift as “seers” and by their word choice. The refuse to “specialize” as they speak. Robert Coles, Harvard child-psychiatrist, medical professor and literary figure, reminds us that 1st year med students spend a lot of time telling one another about the patients’ autobiographical material but a 4th year student’s language becomes altogether clinical and about the medical condition of the patients. The first year students “story,” they “preach”. The 4th year students “lecture”.
I’m not suggesting I’m an expert in this particular area [or any other] but I’ve lived long enough and listened closely enough that I’m sure that in my experience I find the same is true with people who newly hear the Story of God, his biography. Later, under a steady diet of explanation, exegetical endeavor, particular doctrinal stresses, dry lexical emphasis, schooling at a particular school—with a steady diet of these their speech and their expectations and responses become merely descriptive, clipped, “to the point”, “proof-texted” and when they speak they “lecture”. I’m certain that I myself could not live—continue to live—on that. I myself would have no energy to stay on my feet with a strong feeling of assured hope. With my make-up I’d trudge my way through life and whatever else would be true my faith wouldn’t be contagious with what other troubled people need—troubled people like me.
I get it, of course, that some doctrinal truths should not be denied or sidelined. I don’t mind that—in fact I’m happy about it because some doctrinal truths are the foundation on which everything else rests. These are the massive, bed-rock truths about God as he has shown himself in the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures, culminating in an unending climax that is a Person—Jesus Christ. That’s the Story, how we go about telling it is profoundly important. Even if it’s badly told it has power as long as it is the Story that’s being told, but there’s no point in being silly about this—how it’s told makes a difference because how it’s told is how it’s heard and how it’s heard is how it’s believed and how it’s believed leads to how we feel about it and how we feel about it is how we act on it.
You are blessed with gaining the sometimes wild and always roomy, free, glorious aspect of it via this way of hearing. Words create moments that won’t exist until certain words are spoken.
I told an assembly a while back of the prayer in a little book of prayers I have. A young boy [maybe 9] must have heard that God needed volunteers to help him save a world. He wrote, “Dear God, count me in. Your friend Herbie.” The response from numerous people focused not on my overall message which moved in that direction but on Herbie’s marvelously phrased response to God’s call. One [a God-loving wife of a shepherd I know], out of two pieces of thrown-away wood and white paint, even made me something to hang on the wall with Herbie’s words on it. [It hangs upstairs on the wall of my daughter Linda.]
I heard others shout it over at one another on their way to Bible class and a number shook my hand and one of them, a mature man of God, tearfully repeated it and said, “I want to be counted on.” The point I wish to make is that—please reflect on this for a while when you have the time—something happened when those words went out into the air, something that wouldn’t have happened if they had not. Herbie’s words gave us the speech with which to express a sense of things we already possessed but hadn’t been able to express well. It was what we truly wished for but his words set the wish on fire, they drove it home and opened not only our minds but our mouths, “we are a people of utterance.” In rebuking leaders In Jeremiah 2:6-8 God says, “They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ ” We are to be a “saying” people.
Words. The right words do it even better than the poorer words [though we’re not to despise the tongue-tied or slow of speech—Exodus 4:10-12]. It doesn’t matter that the exhilaration of the moment passes away after a day or two—the memory remains and lovely vivid memories, memorably expressed, continue to bubble around in the subconscious, affecting us at the conscious level by shaping us.
Nothing is ever the same when such things happen. No wonder Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit and life.” No wonder he said, “The truth sets you free.” No wonder Paul said in [1 Corinthians 1.21] that God in his wisdom purposes to save the world by a preached message.
But we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that words themselves do that—only gospel words do precisely that because they are based on and shaped by actual events of which the words are an expression. It remains true, however, that if the events are never made known they have no effect on us—“faith comes by hearing the word of God” [Romans 10.11-17].
We need no pretense of gallantry in behavior—tough times are real and they tire and test us [and they are experienced as “more” real for countless oppressed and suffering]—but God and His Story, they’re both real too. We are “a people of utterance” and we should thank God for people he has gifted [Christian or non-Christian] with speech who can teach us how to speak—to speak tenderly, memorably, clearly, passionately, joyfully about matters that are worth talking about.
And, of course, we should thank God for those who speak truth and enable us to grasp and rejoice in truth for if what we speak passionately, memorably, clearly and joyfully is not true…
If we are to be “freed” as Jesus had in mind (John 8:32) it must be TRUE and it must be foundational!
(Holy One, please fill our hearts and our imaginations with your mesmerizing gospel and the words to express it. This request in the Lord Jesus Christ.)