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Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Power of the Word

I am reading through Paul Tripp's Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands for one of my classes this spring semester. It's an excellent book, and something he said in the second chapter really struck a chord with me:
Scripture declares that personal transformation takes place as our hearts are changed by God's grace and our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit. We don't change anyone; it is the work of the Redeemer. We are simply his instruments.
The overall biblical model is this: God transforms people's lives as people bring his Word to others. (p18-19)
This resonates with me for several reasons. First, I have a tendency to think that my capacity to help people change depends on me - on my ability, my training, my knowledge of what to say or do in a given situation. I naturally tend to think that my effectiveness as a Christian hinges on my level of skill, and so I end up viewing myself as a practioner. The problem with this is that a) I'm never going to be prepared for every situation, and b) I'm always going to make mistakes, even where I think I've got it covered. This attitude tends to produce fear and paralysis on my part - I know I'm not up to the task, and so I'm afraid to even try.

Second, what Tripp is pointing out here is that we are not the ones who change people. Christ is. And the way God works - the way he "applies Christ" to create meaningful change in people's lives - is through his Word. This resonates with me because I've been seeing this in my own interaction with others lately. Here's an example.

The other evening an unbelieving friend was over for dinner - I'll call him Brandon. Now, every night after we finish eating, we read a chapter or two of Scripture and talk about it with the kids. And since we had recently finished the book of Job (yes, my kids wanted to read it), now were about four chapters into the next book they were interested in - Revelation.

You can see where this is going. Revelation is fairly straightforward for the first several chapters. But then it starts getting weird. And this particular night we're reading chapter five, about the Lamb being worthy to take the scroll, with its seven seals. So as we are turning to the passage, I just keep thinking, "What on earth is Brandon going to think of this? I mean, he's probably going to ask if I have an autographed copy of Left Behind or something. He's going to think we're whacked, that Christianity is just goofy..."

In reality, however, he didn't think that at all. He was fascinated. He asked tons of questions. And that's when it really hit me - there is something about God's Word that goes where my own words cannot.

Now this is not to say that we don't need to explain the Word to people. But Brandon and I have had many conversations about Christianity - we have talked about doctrine, about salvation, about the church, about my personal experiences with God, all of that. But none of those things move him the way God's word does. I can tell him about God's Word all I want - at the end of the day, though, it seems to be the actual hearing of God's Word that makes the most difference. And I think that's how God intends it.

In his book, Tripp goes on to quote Eph 4:11-16, which starts with this:
It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...
Isn't it interesting that each of those roles - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers - all have a Word related dimension to them?

Now, Tripp goes on to talk about the way we should use the Word - it's not an encyclopedia or self-help manual. It's really more of a story, where Christ is the center of attention - we find ourselves in the story, but it's not primarily about us, about meeting our felt needs.

How we use and apply the Word is certainly important, but I don't really want to tackle that aspect of things right now. Instead, I find myself wanting to think about how to increase the role of the Word in our lives. How do we make the Word play a bigger role than just church on Sundays? How do we go about integrating it into our lives so that as people rub shoulders with us it just naturally oozes out?

Obviously, spending daily personal time in the Word is probably a good place to start. And family time reading around the table wouldn't hurt either. I wonder what else we could do though? I know that when we tend to get together with other believers for fellowship, the Word rarely plays a direct role. Could we think of ways to change that? What ways could we make our lives (particularly as we interact with others) more 'Word centric'?

I'm afraid I don't have a lot of answers here, just questions. But it seems to me that the more we can make the Word a part of our lives, the more it is going to impact us and those around us. I'm not really talking about carting our Bibles around with us every time we run to Starbucks (although that's not necessarily bad). I'm just wondering what we can do in our personal, family, and community spheres of existence to give a greater priority and visibility to God's Word. Anyone have any suggestions?


At 3:02 PM, February 11, 2006, Blogger Nozza said...

Tough one Christian...other than what you have already mentioned, nothing else comes to mind.

I guess just getting amongst people and living out our faith, loving God and loving others, will always make people question what it is that makes us different, and then we can look to the Word.

How did Jesus do it? Relationships first, then those that showed an interest stayed, and then Jesus taught them. I am reading a book at the moment called 'Permission Evangelism' that really is shedding a new light on the subject of sharing my faith. I would recommend it to everyone. It deals with the fact of what you were saying in your post - it is the Spirit who works the miracle in someone's heart, not us.

At 1:19 PM, February 13, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

Christian, I think the point you mention regarding the bible as a story more than an encyclopedia or self-help book may play a key role in answering your questions. I don't have any definite answers myself, but I have been beginning to see the effects of the bible as "story" rather than "systematized theology" or a "how-to manual" having a much bigger impact in my own everyday view of the world, which naturally effects what comes out of my mouth and my relationships with other people.

You mentioned Tripp's reference to Ephesians 4, which fits right in with this I believe. In a story there are different characters who have certain characteristics, personalities, gifts, responsibilities, etc. Paul presents us with the idea that, at the least, within the church we all have different roles to fill . . . to be faithful to this, we have to understand the story we are in, then we have to figure out what character we are, then we need to play that part.

I would also argue that as humans created in the image of God, we naturally filter in life in a story form . . . even us analytical engineers. So it probably shouldn't surprise us if we can read a 1,500 page systematic theology and then still have problems applying that theology to everyday life.

Our God is a covenantal God and He is a Triune God, which, I think, complicates things very quickly if we can't read His Word as a story. A God who is One in Three and Three in One, doesn't lend Himself well to man's logic, nor does His Creation if it truly reveals anything to us about who our God is.

So, maybe I can make my point this way: If we can find our places in the story, I think we will begin to see more faithfully, God's soverignty and providence worked out in every trial, victory, relationship, meal, or mundane task that comes our way, and we will be better fit to act out God's Word at every point.

Which of course means we need to read God's Word more; but also we need to listen to it differently, we need to read it to each other, we need to re-tell it to each other on a regular basis, we need to read it to our children, we need to pray through it, we need to hear it preached as a story from the pulpit . . . and we need to be a little willing to read and study other stories.


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