The Words of a Lover

July 20, 2018

One of the most difficult things I’ve ever done is teach a Bible study at the Samaritan Center (SC), a drop-in center for the homeless. Some participants could not read, others could read a little, and still others had college degrees. I had to get right to the point without any flowery language. I had to let them see that God could meet them in their street-level needs. I needed for God’s words to them not to sound churchy but to be as gritty and down-to-earth as possible.

I found The Message to be inspired by a similar spirit. Here, for example, is Proverbs 3:5-12:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;

don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;

he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Don’t assume that you know it all.

Run to God! Run from evil!

Your body will glow with health,

your very bones will vibrate with life!

The Message was written, we’re told by its author, Eugene Peterson, in the context of “two language worlds, the world of the Bible and the world of Today.” This meeting ground is the context for every human encounter with God’s Word: Every Bible study leader is, in effect, a Bible translator like Eugene. And, given Eugene’s premise of these two language worlds colliding, every Bible translator is, in effect, a cross-cultural missionary—moving back and forth between these two worlds, revealing the one to the other, and making the passage meaningful even to the street-dweller.

Here’s Proverbs 3:5-12 again, carried by Eugene and me into the language world of my friends who were homeless:

5Trust God from the bottom of your heart;

(just like you do everything from the heart-gut)

don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

(even though you manage so cleverly on the streets by your wits)

6Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;

(sleeping in drainage ditches, dumpster-diving for food)

he’s the one who will keep you on track.

(someone will hire you; you won’t get arrested, shot or cut)

7Don’t assume that you know it all.

(even though you’ve seen it all)

Run to God! Run from evil!

(Run to SC; don’t accept drugs one more time)

8Your body will glow with health,

(you won’t be one of the many annual deaths we see at SC)

your very bones will vibrate with life!

(you’ll have energy to get up tomorrow)

Many times as months passed, when one of our doubters or objectors railed against God or life in general, one of our folks would quip, “Don’t try to figure out everything on your own.”

None of us can afford to let one word from God go over our heads; all God’s words and ideas must capture our hearts, penetrate our minds, and embrace our guts. That’s what the words of a lover do, and God is the ultimate Lover.

Jan Johnson has authored many books including When the Soul Listens, Enjoying the Presence of God and (with Dallas Willard) Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice. With degrees in Christian education and spirituality, Jan teaches spiritual formation at Hope International University and Azusa Pacific University, and is a regular presenter at retreats and conferences throughout the United States.

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