How shall we have our conversation with God?
What I’ve observed over the last several years is that in the life of the church we tend to talk a lot more than we do, and we tend to listen passively rather than actively understand. We refer to Jesus, scripture, and even preaching as “the Word.” Luther called the church “the mouth house” meaning it to be a place where ”the Word” and our words came together. The modern world approached learning “the Word” this way – a group sitting passively, while listening to someone regarded as knowledgable. Now that we are in a digital, active and more collaborative age – that approach doesn’t always connect with people anymore.
In worship we tend to sit and listen more than we actively engage the scriptures. The same can be true concerning Christian Education. For decades we’ve taught the scriptures by way of lecture – that is by a leader talking in front of a group. Even activities designed to reinforce teaching have been mostly one directional – meaning learners do what the leader tells them to do. We have come to understand our best teachers as resident experts. Some have learned much by them, becoming disciples deeply embedded in the Biblical story and their life in Christ. Others have had a more difficult time taking it all in – feeling inadequate. Don’t feel bad if this sounds like you – I went to Lutheran school K-8 and to church almost every week and didn’t feel like I really “learned the Bible” until college. We continue to learn. Part of continuing to wrestle with God means that faith is an ongoing pursuit – as God seeks us out in Christ and we follow him to the cross.
A key moment in scripture comes in the book of Genesis 32 when Jacob wrestles with someone all through the night as he waited to cross the river to face his . In the end he is blessed, and his name is changed to Israel – which literally means, “wrestles with God.” In the morning Israel crossed the river and met Esau whom he betrayed for the birthright years ago. They reconcile. This is the story of scripture – we are the people who continue to wrestle with God. We cross the river on the pathway to reconciliation.
So in this changing age, how can we wrestle with God through ”the Word”?
In our day and time the face-forward lecture style (while still useful and important in some contexts) is only one of many teaching strategies employed that consider multiple intelligences (the ways people learn). Here are five ways that you might want to consider to help your own daily wrestle with God who makes all things new.
Discuss it. Rather than sitting face-forward lecture style, any time people can gather around a circle where they can see one another’s faces a peers and are given opportunities to share, react and respond. The leader is more a facilitator of the discussion than the expert sharing ideas. It is absolutely OK, to go into a bible passage and just ask, “So what is this about?” The leader can shape the conversation by asking open-ended questions and allowing the group to discover insights on their own. One does not need a degree in theology or a working knowledge of biblical languages to do so.
Dramatize it. If I’ve learned anything from inviting teenagers to act out the Gospel readings in worship, it is that by placing yourself actually in the story it becomes a lot more personal. As they have prepared to depict the story, questions about setting, props, mood, movement, interaction and a host of others come to the fore. You don’t need to be a Bible scholar to notice human interactions, fears, conflicts, hopes and faith. Asking then how Jesus interacts, what he does, and thinking about what happens next provides opportunities to further understand and/or ask questions. If you don’t want to act it out, you could outline the narrative points, the people involved, the words they say – and ask what does this reveal about God and us?
Draw it. In confirmation class I have come to enjoy drawing pictures on the dry erase board as a learning tool. We draw out the story together – sometimes I’ve had the students draw, or at the very least help me build the story by offering their input and reading of a passage.
Devote it. Praying the scriptures is a bit of a lost art. One way to encounter the Bible is to react to it – outline it, write down questions, think on the things it reminds you of from your own experience, and then pray about it. This can be a form of personal devotions or in a group with others.
Do it. Many of the scriptures – including many concerning Jesus, call us not only to see God’s love undeservedly given to us, but also call us to action. What if we stopped just listening and nodding our heads? What if we stopped just talking about things, and actually went out and lived differently applying what we have encountered in the scriptures? What if we reflected afterwards on what we did, how it went and what we might do differently next time? My hunch is that our lives would grow deeper in awareness, our families would grow closer together and our communities both inside the church and outside it would grow in meaningful interactions.
Each of these five approaches to scripture – Discussing, Dramatizing, Drawing, Devoting, and Doing – can be done with others at church, but also well beyond its walls. They would really have the most impact if you did them at home or with friends in a group – wherever that group might meet. They don’t need a resident expert or a formalized curriculum. All these approaches require is a burning desire to engage the scriptures and the Christ therein, and taking a little time to do it.
Start by engaging the readings for the coming Sunday. You can get the link to them here:
Worship is the central act of the Christian community. Learning is important too. So is serving. So is community. Together we enter the Biblical story, and it becomes our story. Let’s see where our story leads…
”Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!” (James 1:22 – The Message)