A couple of days ago, Morag and I were invited out to lunch in the home of two of our friends. The food was wonderful and so was the company, not just the adult company, but the presence of their youngest child, Harris. As babies and toddlers have a way of doing without trying, he became the object of most of our attention and fascination after lunch was over. I couldn’t help but notice something that reminded me of something I read not long ago. This young child’s words, or more accurately his noises, inarticulate to Morag and I, seemed to have a magical effect! His mother and father knew what these noises meant and duly complied with what was being “requested” or perhaps more accurately “demanded!” That is what reminded me of the book I had read about the development of language. There is a stage at which a very young child thinks his or her words have almost magical power. When they make a noise, any noise, and even more so when these nosies become more specific words, they notice how powerful an effect they seem to have. The thing they need, or want or whatever seems to happen in response to these sounds and words they form. Now of course it is not that the words have magical powers. If anything what has the power is the relationship between the parents and the child, particularly the insightfulness of parental love, care and compassion. That love can interpret what seems like indistinct sounds to onlookers and is moved to very specific and appropriate action.
It disturbs me that over the years I have heard some teaching and preaching especially in the fold of the church which has been my main spiritual home, namely the evangelical/charismatic wing, that almost sounds as though many grown up believers have not moved much beyond “word magic” in their thinking about God. Getting God to do something is often made to sound as though it depends on getting the right words, praying or saying the right formula. If something doesn’t happen, then it is because we are using the wrong approach in the words that we are using in our praying or whatever. How small a god is that – that he apparently needs to hear his worshippers using the right words before he acts or conversely that he can be made to act like an automaton, if the right words are uttered? “Word magic” is not unknown in the Bible. Jacob wanted to know the name of the one he wrestled with one night at the Jabbok river – it turns out of course he had been wrestling with God. Jacob was into magic, into the occult, as stories in Genesis make clear. He felt that if he could know the name of the one he wrestled with then he could use that name magically to control him. Such belief was common at the time. Get hold of the secret name of a person or a god or the city of your enemy and you could control them. But Jacob didn’t need to do that. The only God there is, with whom he wrestled, had already renamed Jacob to call him “Israel.” The reason God gives for the name change is that Jacob had fought with God and man and had prevailed. I can see that Jacob’s cunning and cheating helped him prevail over men, but for a long time I could not see how he had prevailed over God… until it came to me. It was Jacob’s sheer weakness and fallibility, his inability to be anything other than Jacob the cheat, that had prevailed. Our weakness is noticed by the compassion of God. The power in our relationship with God is weighted towards Him always. The power in the relationship is in His compassionate understanding love for His children.
Do you need to get rid of “word magic” ideas of God? A good proportion of you who read this blog will be charismatics, so I know you probably do need to get rid of some wrong teaching popular around that scene past and present: teaching that makes God too small, us too big and ultimately causes more disappointment and loss of faith than any blessing and help it brings. Do you need to get rid of the tormenting notion that someone you loved might not have died if only you had prayed in the way you have just heard at a Christian conference on healing you should have prayed? What nonsense! In fact what blasphemy against the Living God and the love of our Heavenly Father! Friend, child of God, you don’t need to do anything to move God. Our weakness and need of Him, our inability to do life already moves Him. “As a Father pities his children so the Lord pities those who fear him. He remembers we are dust.”
Don’t get over tied up in the right words or the right formulas. Sometimes we are praying most deeply and truly when we are praying in inarticulate sounds and groans. Our Father understands them.
Oh God have mercy on the church when we think we have any other power over God than our weakness! Away with small minded teachings of a tiny God! “Our God is in the heavens, and He does whatsoever He pleases,” says the Psalmist. Fortunately for us, it pleases Him to respond to even our most inarticulate sounds and weakest cries. He understands weakness from the inside, all the away from the weakness of babyhood to heaving out a last breath. So just speak to Him… half sentences are fine; incoherence is ok; no sound at all is just splendid! He just loves His children! He can work out what we really mean, better even than we can work out ourselves what on earth we really mean! In fact with that last sentence I too join the rank of blasphemous charismatic teachers, God forgive me. He doesn’t need to think and “work out” what we mean…He already knows… “Your Father knows…” It is good for that thought to be our spiritual breakfast and our evening supper and our bread through the day.
May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bless you.
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