Listening to all the words

In a loud or crowded room conversations can be difficult because my hearing is not what it once was. I cope by mentally ‘filling in’ the words I miss, making an educated guess based the context of the conversation.  I don’t always get it right and that can be hilarious and sometimes, unfortunate!  It is better to just admit, “I did not hear what you said.  Would you please tell me again?”

There is a similar problem that can develop in the Christian as she approaches the Scripture. God speaks to us in the Holy Word but we can miss the message when we bring our own conclusions to the text, forcing the words to fit into what ‘we think it must mean’ rather than listening to the Spirit as He speaks to us.  More than a few times I have heard Christians say, “I know the words but I just don’t accept them.”  Or,  I hear others re-interpret passages with tortured logic to forced them into the framework that they have already created.  

I will be the first to admit that there are passages in the Bible that leave me wondering, others that pierce my heart with conviction, others that stretch my faith.
When I read them I have a choice to make.
Will I invite the Holy Spirit to speak to me, approaching the Word with reverent faith?
Or, will I ignore the text because it is ‘hard to understand?’

Let’s go to the Gospels for an illustration of this. When His disciples questioned Jesus about cursing a fig tree that withered he said “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21-22, NIV)  That is a challenging text for me!  My mind immediately forms an objection to the text by insisting that mountains cannot be moved!  If I read it completely literally, I am left with just one conclusionnobody has great faith. Why? Because I know of no recorded instances in all the years of Christianity when anyone commanded a mountain to go throw itself into the ocean.  The second part is equally challenging. “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  I understand those words, too, but I also know that I have prayed about some things with the deepest of faith and have not experienced the answer I sought!  If I read that text and conclude that every unanswered prayer is solely the result of a deficit in my faith I will become afraid to pray at all.

Both of those objections to Jesus’ words grow out of the preconceived ideas that I drag into the text. If that is how I read the Word, I will become partially deaf, missing God’s message.  So, I come at it with prayer, with faith, and with acceptance of something I call ‘mystery.’  When I find my mind objecting, I ask God to grant me insight, to help me to hear the words as He speaks them. While I may not understand why Jesus talks about throwing mountains into the ocean I can hear a teaching about great faith, about trusting Him radically with the obstacles in my life that look like mountains in the way.  I hear Jesus’ invitation to greater faith for the daily needs of my life and focus on Him, not on myself, willing to live with the questions.

Tish Harrison Warren writing about the many ‘deconstructors’ of Christian faith, people who decide to destroy Christianity because they have issues with how other practice it or because of their own inner conflicts urges us to trust both the truth of the Scripture and the voice of the Holy Spirit.  One line she writes needs to be heard – “Many of those who most vocally deconstruct Christianity jettison a thin version of American fundamentalism and mistake it for the whole tradition … what a sinful Church needs is not deconstruction but deep construction. We have to forsake shallow critique to build a more faithful vision of the community of Jesus, but we cannot do it without holding to the deposit of faith we have received from the historic church.”  (Christianity Today, November, 2021, pg. 32)

Are you wrestling with faith? Have you come to a place of questions?

You are not the first.  In John’s Gospel, chapter 6, Jesus said some hard things about being a disciple, about ‘eating His flesh and drinking His blood!’  Many who heard Him, turned away. Even the inner circle struggled. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

The word from the Word is a confession of faith I make. Will you?  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69, NIV)

(Video of this blog at this link)

____________

Lord I Need You

Lord I come I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
And without You I fall apart
You’re the one that guides my heart

Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay

Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher

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