Not a matter of talk, but of power

emptywords“You’re so real,” is something I hear often. Often it follows my saying something that the person never expects a pastor to say.  Being authentic is important to me. Eugene Peterson, tells the story of Charity’s visit with her Christian grandmother. The morning after she arrived, she crawled into bed, cuddled up, and said, “Grandmother, let’s not have any god-talk while you are here, OK? Let’s just keep it real.”  I’m with Charity on that!  God-talk that is inauthentic kills any hope of real relationship! Peterson observes, “She was onto the fact that life leaks out of what we say… teach and pray- especially when we are using the sterile life-less language that objectifies words like God, Jesus, prayer, believe – we are left with nothing but god-talk.” (The Pastor, a Memoir)

So what is God-talk?  It is that kind of religious words that refuse the gritty reality of real life. God-talk does not allow for fear, confusion, sorrow, or doubt. God-talk consists of endless Bible quotations and stories that the person has heard a preacher on the radio. God-talk robs our Lord of His majesty and mystery by reducing Him largely to mottos and slogans. Yes, those who speak it are often saying true things but in a way that is not engaged with their world. I stood at the bedside of a dying man yesterday. God-talk would have had me saying things like ‘It is the will of God,’ ‘Jesus never fails.’  True, enough.  But, the man did not need platitudes. He needed the Word lived with empathy, with caring, and a genuine prayer for his heart to be held safe, for Light to shine in his dark place.

Do you know that Jesus is just as much Lord of our broken, doubtful, insecure, neurotic, temptation filled days as He is of the days when we are living on the “hallelujah side” of life? When I hear somebody desperately trying to out-talk their circumstances with blustery words of faith – “I just know God has a real purpose in this and I’m so excited to see how it all works out” – while I know they are deeply depressed and wishing to run away; it breaks my heart. They might find the support they need and certainly will connect with the Holy Spirit’s comfort if they will confess the truth about life as they know it, their emotions, and Who God is.

Since Bev’s death I have lived with a whole lot of God-talk which I patiently endure.  Most people expect me to say things like “I know she is in Heaven,” or “I am a peace with it all.” So, when I admit that prayer is difficult, that I sometimes feel deep anger at God for allowing her to be taken from me so soon, I see surprised, if not shocked, responses. I believe that only when we are honest with ourselves and with the Lord can we really find His healing. Only when we are willing to face those things we think and feel do we open our lives to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah had a terrible assignment from God. He was commissioned to preach warnings of judgment to Judah in the years before her destruction by Assyria. God-talk was not his method. His message was uncompromising – “Death, murder, rape are going to befall you who ignore the living God!” His sermons rubbed sores onto the national conscience. Did he love his ministry?  He felt the pain of rejection and hatred and complained honestly to the Lord. “When I speak, the words burst out. “Violence and destruction!” I shout. So these messages from the Lord have made me a household joke.” (Jeremiah 20:8, NLT)  At first glance his complaint seems shocking, a faithless statement of despair. But, this is really an amazing indication of the depth of intimacy he had with the Lord. His prayer was so much more than mere God-talk.

Christian, do you desire to know Him in that way?  Then, do not let yourself hide real emotions behind happy, sappy, pious “everything is wonderful” platitudes. We need to believe deeply in a Person who loves us all of the time. Our walk with Him will take us through the valley’s shadowy path and along the ridges of the peaks of glorious triumph. Job recounted his sorrows and then declared: “Still, I know that God lives—the One who gives me back my life— and eventually he’ll take his stand on earth. And I’ll see him—even though I get skinned alive!”  (Job 19:25-26, The Message) His declaration does not mask his pain and sorrow; it is wrung from him like sweet juice squeezed from a grape!

When someone begins to share their pain are you just ready to listen and slide a shoulder under the burden to help carry it; or are you quick to distance yourself, protecting yourself with a cliché – ‘just trust the Lord’ – as you pray a quick, insincere prayer?

In the Decalogue, the Lord forbade using His Name in vain. It applies to god-talk that is only lip deep, without heart or mind. Immerse yourself in worship. Make laughter and tears the language of your prayers. Confess His Glory with groans and shouts of joy. Push past the vanity of god-talk and get to know, really know, the One who is life.

Here’s word from the Word! It’s real. It’s blessed. Live it. “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” (Ephesians 6:13-18, The Message)


I Stand In Awe

You are beautiful beyond description,
Too marvelous for words,
Too wonderful for comprehension,
Like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom?
Who can fathom the depth of Your love?
You are beautiful beyond description,
Majesty, enthroned above!

 And I stand I stand in awe of You,
I stand I stand in awe of You,
Holy God, to whom all praise is due,
I stand in awe of You!

Mark Altrogge© 1987 Sovereign Grace Praise (Admin. by Sovereign Grace Ministries)
CCLI License # 810055

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