Here in Hungary, you can spot an American (at least one who has moved here recently) fairly easily. We are often known for smiling too much. I’m certainly guilty as charged. This is not to say that Hungarians do not smile – many have beautiful smiles they enjoy showing, and are quite warm when they desire. But some people believe Americans seem to smile a suspicious amount – as a default, and it may build a sense of distrust, as if we are trying to hide something or be deceptive.
I think this may influence the way we share or preach from scripture in public worship as well. I tend to get enthusiastic when I’m sharing from the Word of God. Sometimes, it’s a genuine excitement. I pray that this is mostly the reason, in fact. But I confess – sometimes it is probably because I’ve been conditioned to present the Word in a particular way. In more formal European liturgical services (and probably some liturgical services globally), the Word may be presented in ways that seem devoid – or even actively seeking to avoid – emotionally charged enthusiasm. I’m actually partially drawn to moments of formal, liturgical style readings. I do think American experiences of life and religion are sometimes painted with an overly whimsical (we’d graciously call it “hopeful”) paintbrush. We can make it seem if an authentic religious experience must always be accompanied by an emotional high – which is not a biblical expectation, and is actually discouraging to those from cultures where smiles are not as easily manufactured.
No matter what our experiences, or nationalities, we would all agree that scripture is revealed to us as something that is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is meant to bring and sustain life – when by the Holy Spirit it becomes more than simply words on a page. We hear phrases like “…man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God..” (Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3), and we are drawn into the mystery of this living Word of God. These are not magical incantations, meant to be wielded by us in some sort of “cosmic-self-help” effort. Yet these are also not simply written sentences for us to only read, comprehend and mentally give assent to. These words are an invitation to transformational relationship with the Divine.
Lately, our oldest daughters have been studying the relational and psychological impact of different modes of communication. We were reminded that face-to-face interaction and conversation is the best way to deepen and strengthen relational bonds. That video chatting is preferable to audio, and audio preferable to texting – when we want to nurture a relationship. At the same time as we understand these truths, we get excited that Biblical texts have become more accessible over time. We have gone from being forced to memorize scripture, to having published copies, to having many translations, to having portable Bibles, audio Bibles, and now we can have many translations loaded on our screens. The same screens we have formed neurological patterns for surface connections with many shallow relationships. Do you see the potential issue?
I’m not against having a Bible on your phone/device. I use mine every morning, as I spend time in prayer and writing a daily poem in response to a lectionary passage. But if this is the only, or primary interaction we have with scripture – consuming a “verse-of-the-day”, or even more, digitally and moving on – we shouldn’t wonder why many of us don’t find ourselves “hungry” for the living Word of God. If you don’t read scripture regularly, and you’ve tried an app like this, only to find it unsatisfying – please – don’t assume the issue is with God’s Word being “dormant”.
What if we took steps with scripture similar to the steps we might recommend to young people feeling relationally shallow in their friendships? We’d tell them, “You should meet face to face, and talk with your friends.” Hear this invitation today – take a step closer toward a face to face, or hearing, of the living, spoken, Word of God aloud. Read the words of Jesus aloud yourself. Read the gospels together with a group of people. Hear the prophets proclaimed by someone also seeking the living Word of God.
In our family Bible times, we begin by having everyone turn to the same scripture. But before we begin to read the passage for that day, I invite everyone to set down their Bible. To close their eyes, relax their bodies, and take a deep breath. To purposefully set aside other thoughts, and even the desire to “get through” this. We invite the Holy Spirit to enter into this moment. We ask for God to open His Word to our hearts. We ask God to open our hearts to His Word. Then – we are ready to hear the Word together. Our effort does not force the Word to come alive, and God does not depend on our preparation. But we enter these moments on purpose, out of Love and desire to deepen our relationship and stir a hunger for the Word that is living and active.
How might such a reminder be an invitation to you in your approach to God’s Word this week? What methods have you found that help stir and nurture a Holy Hunger for the Word of God in your life? Need a place to start? Try John chapter 1. I would include a link – but then you might just click it. Instead – join a friend and read the words off the page aloud…