Tuesday, June 26, 2012

God Speaks through the Scriptures

As followers of Jesus and students of the scriptures, we recognize the need and desire to live “Christ centered lives.”  Becoming Christ centered means that with Jesus at the center of our life, in the place of control, our will becomes wholly submitted to His.  Our way of doing life finds its direction by an active seeking and knowing of His will and His heart and being willing to submit to Him in that. 

The New Testament – most clearly in Galatians 5 and Romans 8 – describes and calls this way of life ‘living by the Spirit.’  By doing life His way, we reap all benefits and blessings found in Him.  We reap the ‘fruit of the Spirit.’  It’s what comes out of us, what is produced when we live life God’s way.  We gain wholeness, peace, love, and joy in our relationships to God, others, and even ourselves (to only name a few of the many things).

Having our lives transformed into a Christ centered life requires that we hear the voice of God.  We need to hear the voice of God.  We need to know his will for our lives.  We need the wisdom and counsel of God.  We need God’s leadership and direction to guide us in a way that leads to life.

The best way to hear the voice of God is through the scriptures.  God speaks through Scripture.  That truth is so painfully obvious and simple that it’s easy to not see it at all!

In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes to Timothy that all scripture is “God-breathed.”  While much can be / has been made of those two words, I think the important point is that God is present within the written word.  Yes, the scripture filled with human story and experience written by humans and addressed to other humans.  Yet the mystery is that God inhabits those words and uses them speak to us in our present situations.  Much like God breathed into mankind to impart spirit and life (Genesis 2), so to does he breathe into the written word imparting to it spirit and life. 

In Hebrews 4:12 we read that, “The word of God is living and active.”  Through the written word, the Holy Spirit can be actively present and communicate with us.  Through Christian history, ancient believers also saw the word as living and active and a way to actively commune and communicate with God.  Fourth century church father Athanasius said-
“You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.”

Two of my favorite examples of believers hearing God through the scripture are the historical practices of Lectio Divina and Ignatian Prayer. 

‘Lectio Divina’ is a Latin phrase meaning ‘Divine Reading.’  While reading a passage of scripture, as Benedict instructed in the 6th century, we hear “with the ear of our hearts.”  We become attentive to both the presence of God and His ‘still small voice.'  As we read, we take notice of any words, phrases or verses that stand out strongly and ruminate on them, interact with them.  We ask, how does this relate to me and my present space?  What is God saying to me through these words?

The Ignatian Prayer exercise builds off of Lectio Divina.  While reading a passage of scripture (preferably an action story in the Gospels with Jesus) you become attentive to the presence and the voice of the Lord.  Using your spiritual imagination you become a participant in the story and experience it as it’s being read.  Maybe you identify with a disciple, or a person being healed, or a member of the crowd, or even a Pharisee.  Becoming part of the story you reflect on how Jesus interacts with you and ask how Jesus wants to be present in those things in your life right now.

The key in these examples is actively engaging the scripture and seeking / listening for the Holy Spirit in and through the text.

God rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)  God speaks through the scriptures.  I’m always amazed and encouraged to hear of people’s experiences of hearing God speak after engaging the scripture like that.  I especially like hearing those stories from people who were convinced that they were unable to hear from God and now they do hear.

It’s great that we can turn to the scriptures and hear a word from God.  However, it’s when we make seeking God through the scriptures a habit that it changes our lives.  Habits are everything.  A ‘method’ does us little good if it only sees infrequent use.  It’s like eating vegetables as a method to stay healthy, but only doing it once a month.  J

When we develop a habit, it transforms us; it becomes part of our life.  When you have a habit of exercise everyday, you are transformed.  Not only does it become part of what you regularly do –you become fit, have more energy, likely you’re more trim, and are overall more healthy.  That’s really what we’re looking for – not just a method to hear God, but for a relationship with God that leads to a transformed life.

When we are continually, habitually leaning on Him and seeking Him, we come to really know him – not just know about Him, but actually know Him.  We gain his mind.  This is how in 1 Corinthians 2:16 the Apostle Paul can say, “We have the mind of Christ.”  It’s like how a husband and a wife get to really know each other by constantly being in each other’s presence and interacting.  You begin to know how the other thinks.  I just knew that my wife Charis was going to put in a Keith Urban CD while cooking dinner before she even went over to the CD rack.

Imagine knowing Jesus like that – knowing what and why he would do something in any circumstance – knowing both intuitively and from his example.  Knowing him like that, we not only gain his mind, but we also gain his heart. We love what He loves.  Our hearts break for the things that break His.  We have compassion on who He has compassion.

Do you think knowing Jesus like that would change your life?  (That question was rhetorical, by the way.)  J  In knowing him, we can become like him.  Immersing ourselves in His Word, we become formed by Him – formed by His thoughts, His heart, His ways.

I’m particularly passionate about hearing God through the scriptures because of the profound effect that it’s had on me (and on my family).  It has been a life giving and life changing experience.  I’ve had the benefit of learning the scripture since an early age.  When I was in my late elementary and early junior high years I was enrolled in a church program where us kids went through the entire narrative of the scripture over 3 years.  That experience was truly formational and foundational for my life.  God’s word had been planted in me and began to form the way I thought and the way I lived.  Having the Word inside me, knowing the wisdom and counsel of God saved me from so many painful mistakes that so many others around me were making.  It literally has been a ‘Guide for my feet, and a light for my path.’

As I’ve grown older and have continued to encounter God in the Word, I and the community around me can recognize that I’ve continued to grow in character, personal and spiritual maturity.  I grow in wisdom, insight, and revelation.  Jesus living in me and through me becomes more of who I am.  There’s increase in the ways and effectiveness I can minister Jesus to others.  And I continue to avoid a lot of trouble / pain / brokenness by being reminded to follow the Jesus way.  Taking in and internalizing the Word of the Lord continues to shape who I am and how I operate.  I can see the work of the Lord making me into a new creation, moving me forward into his likeness – and I like it.  I’m certainly far from perfect and have a long journey to go, but I’m so grateful for all that God has done already.

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