[image by friend, Joe Cebulski]
Are you getting the picture? Words wield formative power over us. They shape who we become. We’ve all been subject to words that have caused pain and sorrow. The Scriptures encourage us to be peddlers of words that give life, not death. One of my favourite verses from the Bible in the past few years has been Psalm 18:24, “God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to His eyes.” [MSG] This verse, for me, is a reminder of a couple important realities in life, namely, that God is always authoring stories with peoples’ lives. Stories full of wonder, adventure, hope, joy, meaning, purpose and transformation! The second thing that I’m reminded of is that He is willing to write those same themes into our lives - should we let Him - by opening our hearts to Him and trusting His good intentions for us. Let us not say, as Chris Martin solemnly does in the ‘Cemeteries of London’ from Coldplay’s most recent album Viva La Vida, “I see God come in my garden, but I don’t know what He said, for my heart it wasn’t open . . not open.” Thirdly, by implication, this verse reminds me that, with God working in us, we can work with Him to co-author the lives of others through our actions and words. This is a most fearful responsibility and truly an immense privilege.
This is how we feel the weight of the world.
When we recognise our responsibility to bring true life and transformation to the world, as God works in us, it’s not long til we realise we are God’s best hope for the redemption of all things. Every action taken, and yes, every word spoken, either contributes to the redemption of the created order or it’s destruction. We build God’s ‘Kingdom’ one brick at a time by our direct involvement in bringing life to others - whatever that means for them, in their skin. I love the endless examples of Jesus stopping - noticing, seeing - random people on the sides of the dirt paths he walked and responding to their cries for help. What they seemingly most oftentimes desired was either freedom from a deep personal wound / spiritual plague or to be restored to full physical health. I am comforted by Jesus’ response to them by meeting their immediate felt needs, but He was ALWAYS offering more - more of Himself to those hungry and thirsty to receive. There is always more you see . . always more.
Prior to sensing God’s leading to move to N. Ireland in 1999 I had been on two short mission trips to the country during the first half of 1996. The first trip was through my undergraduate, Taylor University, in January of that year. The second trip was with my (then) girlfriend’s university, Indiana Wesleyan, in May - only four months later. As a little aside, I proposed to my girlfriend on that trip at the base of a beautiful mountain range along the sea called the Mountains of Mourne in Co. Down. Score! During those two trips our teams worked with an organization called Project Evangelism. Now, the director of that organization is named John Moxen - a truly inspiring and unique man. He resembles a miniature Alfred Hitchcock with his bald head, protruding belly and big lips (he says this about himself!). Originally from Liverpool in England, John has spent nearly forty years in N. Ireland serving the people of this island and bringing hope. One of his most famous sayings, which I will never forget goes like this, “The Bible is not just black ink on white pages . . [with a hush] . . it’s the living Logos.” I don’t know how many times I heard those very words roll off those lips of his, but they have always stayed with me.
There is a difference you see, between reading words - reading the Bible for instance - and actually seeing yourself as living the story - playing an active role in the unfolding of the story of all Creation. We can be passive observers, wishing to be absorbed into a dynamic, enthralling tale of exciting acts and meaningful connection, or we can truthfully be written into it by the Author of Life. That is the invitation God extends to each one of us no matter who you are or what your particular backstory is; you too can play an active role in this unbelievable (but that’s why we want to believe it, isn’t it?) and thoroughly engaging tale revealing itself in humanity. Not only are we invited into an already unfolding story but we’re invited to co-author our own with God. This is more than amazing - God has given us freedom to be actively involved in our own personal development. We can choose, with God, the kind of person we become. This comes about through the daily, minute decisions we make like who are those people nearest our hearts; what we watch, read, listen to and ingest and how we invest ourselves utilizing the gifts, strength and wisdom we’ve been given. We have been entrusted with so much, and our words, chiefly illustrate our readiness to partner with God in His work here. The Bible aptly describes this reality in the book of Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” [NIV]
Words, words, words - there is no shortage of them! In a consumer culture built upon capitalism, advertising and marketing play crucial roles in convincing us we are generally unhappy about not owning something that catches our interest. The [empty] promise that comes with that sense of unhappiness is that once we own the item, we’ll be happy again. This psychological game is (mostly) common knowledge. The point is that words can help promulgate false modes of thinking like this and generally distract when there is an abundance of them. The Scriptures shed light on the potential disasters of an overly wordy existence in Proverbs 10:19 when it states, “The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.” [MSG] Well-known author, Henri Nouwen referred to this ruinous employment of careless speech in his book The Way of The Heart - Desert Spirituality in Contemporary Ministry when he named our contemporary society a “wordy world”. He had noticed an alarming trend within himself and much of American society to avoid silence in an effort to elude loneliness.
Nouwen, along with others contributing to a deeper awareness of the spiritual life like Dallas Willard, note the immense importance of employing the practices of silence and solitude in order to make space within ourselves for God to rush in. I’ve even heard Dallas Willard state that these two disciplines are foundational to the person wishing to emulate Jesus Christ. Silence and solitude are the cornerstones of a dynamic, enriching life because it’s in silence and solitude that we learn to hear the voice of God, enriched by being thoroughly saturated in the words of Scripture. Silence, does in fact, help us ‘tune in’ to God and become more aware of how He is at work within and around us. I am no expert practitioner of these two foundational elements of a thriving, full life of faith in Christ.
I struggle to implement them into my daily routine like anyone else, but that doesn’t diminish the necessity of constantly revisiting them as intentional disciplines to practice. Any way in which we can simplify and de-clutter our lives - in any sphere - can only be helpful. The trend in the West is in the opposite direction, no thanks to technology (which I enjoy fully). That these things are so accessible make being disciplined all the more difficult. As illustrated in our long Christian heritage, silence and solitude are places of transformation. It’s the person who escapes the clamoring voices within our culture (as a regular practice) that re-enters it and changes it from within. I was struck by this quote from Winston Churchill recently which alludes to this very reality,
“Every prophet [one who communicates God message] has to come from civilization, but every prophet has to go into the wilderness. [S]He must have a strong impression of a complex variety and all that it has to give and [s]he must serve a period of isolation and meditation. This is the process by which ‘psychic dynamite’ is made.”
God’s words are living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and He is still in the process of creating the world through them. He is bringing dead things to life and creates new realities out of nothing. He is still speaking to all of humanity - even in silence. God is constantly inviting us out of the ruckus of our overly inflated ‘busy-ness’, to get away with Him and be re-created from the inside out. To the one who has entered silence, words are far more revered and respected. In our use of language (as in everything) - informed by silence and solitude - God is inviting us to be co-authors of His new world which is coming into being, one life at a time. The power of this story He is writing with our lives is evident in the degree to which we imagine, and allow, ourselves to be a part of it. The Author is making all things new. He’s inviting you to be written into the next chapter of humanity’s history-in-the-making.