Ever since leaving Duke, I have found it hard to read the bible in a personal way. I usually wonder what the meaning of the text is, or what would commentators think about this or that particular verse. It’s more than just a lack of confidence in addressing a passage on my own. It has more to do with not being able to read the bible devotionally.
Preaching hasn’t made this any easier. I find it hard to read a passage without thinking, ‘where’s the sermon in this?’ or ‘what point can I use in this?’ This insight isn’t new. I have struggled with this for nearly 7 years. Normally I think of this when I read what should be a ‘convicting’ passage. I think through for a sermon where my listeners may need to hear God’s convicting word without stopping to think about how this might convict me, too.
But today I thought differently about this inability to allow the text to speak to me. I think the seeds for my thoughts began the other day when I read Sally‘s reflections on how the doctrines of sanctification and justification need reversing in the light of women’s stories. In short (and apologies to Sally for any oversimplification), the way we tell the story is that we need to be broken of sin and pride (justification) before we can be restored to God (sanctification). The reverse gives testimony that women are often broken already and need healing and restoration first. Of course, my orthodox mindset wanted to argue, but her post touched me in a way that I had to admit that this is true not only for women. There’s a lot that could be said about my life that would fit Sally’s reflection. How much does God need to break down those who are already broken, demanding an account for each sin before we get a whiff of his love? Or does he reach out and tenderly pick us up while we are hurting?
That leads me to today. I am preparing for a mid-week Advent service for tomorrow. The Old Testament lesson is Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11. The images in this passage are phenomenal – the sights, the smells, the hope that leaps off the page. It’s a beautiful passage. As I read it, I skipped right over one of the most beautiful: ‘to bind up the brokenhearted’.
Actually, I didn’t skip over it. I thought how that would make a great prayerful image for reflecting on those who need to the love of God. I made a mental note, and after a few minutes where my thoughts had left that image, something brought me back there. Something triggered Sally’s post, and suddenly, I realised that never once had I imagined that that verse could be for me. It did not occur to me that my heart would be one of the ones God would want to mend.
I have struggled to hear the voice of a God who wants to bind up my brokenheart. This is particularly true recently, where the voice of God tends to sound more like those who, even when trying to be encouraging, seem to add on extra guilt. I swing back and forth between trying to believe in a God who wants me to use the gifts I once thought had and to ministry I once thought I was called on once side, and then on the other, those who preach the cross as hardship but sound more like they are saying ministry is about maintaining what we have been given. [That may not make much sense without specifics, but at the moment I would rather not give any.] Also, the voice of God tends to strike more at my insecurities. OK, if it’s not God, when I pray it’s very good imitation!
So, for the time being, God may well want to bind up brokenhearts, but I am hard pressed to hear that he wants to bind up mine. Perhaps as I make my way through this prayer service and Advent, Isaiah will begin to speak to me. I hope I will eventually hear his words not only as hope for others for whom I am leading, but hope for myself.