Over the years, I have no doubt earned a reputation for being a stickler about words. When I was younger–say, middle school [before the Lord redeemed my personality]–my insistence on constantly correcting others’ conversational grammar and syntax was probably the result of equal parts unbridled perfectionism and acrimonious priggishness. As I have aged–and coincidentally (inexplicably) matured–my ear for noticing and cataloging verbal missteps has only sharpened, but as my experience with infinite Love has similarly grown, I believe I have become more gracious and self-controlled in such instances of language abuse. In most cases, it seems, the potential benefit of a spontaneous Jordan-led “teaching moment” is ultimately eclipsed by the more concrete benefit of uninterrupted harmonious relations.
However, sometimes the stakes are higher.
Because sometimes, our words reveal a problem much more dangerous and significant than a lack of linguistic precision.
According to the Imaginary Rhetorical Institute for Making Obvious Points Facetiously, approximately 100% of corporate gatherings wherein Christians read or discuss the Bible (i.e. sermons, study groups, etc.) are preceded by prayers requesting that the Lord bless their investigations of the Scriptures. This is wholly appropriate and most welcome. If the person who offers the prayer (usually a pastor or teacher) is called upon to do so with much frequency, he is likely to draw from a surprisingly standardized memory bank of pithy phrases and word pictures in making this request. [I speak from experience here.] Unless he is uncommonly attentive to his own speaking patterns, your pastor–who is human and therefore no doubt a “preacher of habit”–will eventually gravitate, naturally and subconsciously, to a select few of his favorites. Maybe he will pray that “our eyes are opened to the truths of the Word,” or that “this passage will speak to our hearts,” or that “the Scriptures will come alive to us in a new way today”–all lovely sentiments that I have heard numerous times.
The problem is that the last example I gave just now is covertly unbiblical.
Now I could launch into an indictment of the modern church’s dangerous obsession with novelty, as indicated by the “new ways” in which we are frequently asking God to speak through Scripture (as if it might one day have something to say that is hasn’t before), but that’s actually not what I’m focusing on here today. [You can chew on that one yourself; now that I’ve gotten you started, I’m confident you can follow the argument the rest of the way on your own.] No, the affront of which I speak can be found in the expression “come alive to us.”
The writer of Hebrews says that “the word of God is living and active” (4:12); he does not say that “the word of God is potentially living and awaiting activation.” It is already living, and it is always living; as the psalmist attests, “Your word, O LORD, is eternal” (119:89). There is no ebb or flow to the infinite vitality of Scripture or its message for us, meaning that the Word of God is always “ready” for you to receive it! Its purpose for existence is to be received as often and as deeply as we will have it.
Of course, if the only problem here were the unnecessary nature of the request, then all my fussing probably wouldn’t be warranted. But there’s more.
See, asking the Scriptures to “come alive to us” betrays a skewed understanding of our relationship to the divine Word. When it comes right down to it, we seem to be implying that we are more alive than the Scriptures. The thought process can be spelled out like this:
I know the Bible is God’s Word, but honestly, a lot of this stuff in here just doesn’t really seem to apply to reality–you know, the thoughts and feelings and struggles and circumstances of my life right now. A lot of times, when I read the Bible, I don’t get anything out of it, because it either doesn’t seem relevant (like the Old Testament) or it’s stuff I’ve already heard plenty of times before (that isn’t always very helpful, really). As a living, feeling person, I wish that God would do something to the Bible today so that I can find something in what we read that can actually make a difference in my real life.
Before we all have a good chuckle over this clearly ridiculous caricature, stop. Is this you? Do you approach your church services, Bible studies, and personal devotions as one trying to salvage “living” truths from the otherwise stale, mundane, “lifeless” Scriptures? Does your understanding of what is Most Real come from your weak fickle heart and subjective experiences, or from the Grand Story of God’s Word?
Are we making demands on the Bible and asking it to align itself to our desires, or are we submitting our desires and aligning ourselves to the demands of the Bible?
I am convinced that the Bible is more alive than we are, and if we intend to receive this life as our own–and indeed we must–then our posture must be one of humble submission to the living Truth of the Scriptures.
When our time spent with the Word feels “dead” or detached from reality, it’s not the Bible that’s lacking in vitality. It’s us. We have to come alive to it.
And that’s something worth praying for. Every time.