Here are our latest prayer points. We need much prayer and support to get through the next month. Shalom!
Today I saw my results for the 6 subjects that I just completed this semester for Bible college. Did much much better than I was expecting, especially in Social Ethics, Pentateuch (in Hebrew), and Romans. THANK YOU, יָהְוָה. You are so good to me and Your grace abounds! And a COLOSSAL thanks to my wife and girls are also in order, who put up with husband and daddy being incognito for a fair bit of time. I looked today at my average grades for Semester 1 2013; S2 2013; and S1 2014. Effectively, my average has increased from a middle-credit average of around 72% to a distinction level (around 76%). I don’t have any real understanding as to why but it’s encouraging to see myself grow like this.
This coming week signals for me the end of my Bachelor of Theology, with only 4 more subjects to go: Apologetics; Former Prophets (in Hebrew); The Synoptic Gospels; and Guided Spiritual Formation.
“What is real?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you’re made”, said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you when a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real”.
“Does it hurt?”, asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes”, said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are real you don’t mind being hurt”.
“Does it happen all at once like being wound up or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints, and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand”
- Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit.
During my very brief inter-semester holiday break I’ve been doing some reading on the Psalms (as I’ve mentioned here before). In Psalm 1, King David mentions how he meditates (הָגָה, hagah) on the Law (תוֹרָה, torah) both by day (יוֹם, yom) and night (לָיְלָה, layelah). I was quite interested in some comments that Eugene Peterson made about the word Law in Hebrew. It turns out that Torah derives from the Hebrew verb ‘throw’ (ירה, or yarah). It is the 3rd person feminine singular Hif’il imperfect of the verb. What on earth does that mean? The Hif’il form of verbs is reflexive, which means that a person receives the action, kind of like (not exactly) a passive construct. With yarah in this form (becoming torah, תוֹרה) It indicates a person receiving something thrown at them, like a blunt object. In an ancient culture like Israel’s that would indicate someone being hit by something like a shot-put or discus. The emphasis of a Hif’il verb is not who does the action, but who receives it.
I find this interesting because it seems to be that the role of God’s word is that it is meant to kick a punch, like a discus or a shot put. In the context of Psalm 1 and biblical and Jewish thought in general, all of God’s word (not just the Law, or the torah) is like this. While there are countless words of gentle wisdom and solace in the Bible, it’s there to give you a punch in the unmentionables and wake you up. If you read it like you might read a quotation from a fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant, you best be warned because you’ll find yourself rudely awoken, like skittles at the end of a bowling ball alley.
Yet what Peterson also mentioned (and which I found as well in my study of Hebrew) and which I also found fascinating is the verb to ‘meditate’ (Psalms 1:2). That, in Hebrew, is the verb √הָגָה (hagah). It means to moan, growl, utter, rumble, meditate, and muse. In Psalm 2:1 it is also used to describe the way the nations ‘plot’ in vain (literally growl in wain) and in Isaiah 31:4 to describe what a lion does after conquering its prey. Interesting that when David meditates on the law, it is akin to the same thing. Peterson notes that this implies that it is not merely knowing the law or doing it that it essential for observing God’s word. Rather, “it involves murmuring and mumbling[the] words, taking a … physical pleasure in making the sounds of the words, getting the feel of the meaning as the syllables are shaped by the larynx and tongue and lips” (p. 26 of Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer). This is why Jews today speak and sing in their synagogues the Law; for them it is rhythm and life. If I’m not mistaken, they call it ‘shuckling’, see the video below. In modern Protestant thinking (influenced by the anti-emotive thinking of Anglo-Saxon culture) this has been lost and people can reduce things too crudely down to mere Bible verse memorisation. Or we just do it privately so that no-one else can hear it, as we’re influenced by individualism. That has its place, but in Jewish thought it so much more than that.
What Peterson says of memorising torah by speaking it is wonderful: “This is not so much an intellectual process … as it is a physical [one], hearing and rehearsing these words as we sound them again, letting the muscles sink into our muscles and bones. Meditation is mastication” (ibid.). I don’t think many Christians today think like this, particularly since the Hebrew Scriptures are not exactly the coolest thing in town and idiotic publications like ‘The God Delusion’ cause even people of faith to doubt the goodness and truth of the Bible’s timeless truths. If that is you then fear not, because you can start now. When you read the Words of God, speak them out- perhaps even put them to a tune. Close your eyes and say them slowly and say them over and over and over until they become a part of you, a joyful delight. They can be hard- particularly because they may come at you like a discus and hit you in the gut! But the point is that as you muse and groan over them they will become, gradually, a part of you and to shape you. I often do this in my private devotion time and it really has an impact. It can feel odd at first, especially with a text that seems jarring and clashes with how we think. But it does start to slowly get into you, bone, marrow and sinew.
Hope fully this will give you more joy and delight in reading God’s Word. It’s not there to be read the way a news anchor blandly reads out tomorrow’s weather forecast. It’s meant to be etched deeply into the fibre of your being because it’s so alien to how we ‘naturally’ think in this life. Besides, if God’s Word is not a delight to His people, then how can we expect others to hear it speak and apply it to their own circumstances?
Stay joyful and Torah-saturated :)
I first met Franklin about a year ago, when he introduced himself to me on Facebook. He’s Christian, African American, in his 20s, with same-sex attraction. His father has been absent from his life for some time and he currently lives with family members who consistently put him down. He’s become withdrawn and hardly attends church. He is constantly driven by workaholism in a desire to prove himself, though privately he hates it. More than anything, he wants to be rid of same-sex attraction: his addiction to porn only brings shame and a heightened sense of self-loathing that drives him forever away from God. His prayer life is almost non-existent and when he prays he chronically doubts that God will – or wants – to answer him. And why not? So few others (especially his father) have ever stuck around to listen to him, appreciate him, and give him what he wants when he’s asked for it. It’s driven him to such a pit of despair that he doesn’t even think he’s saved.
Franklin has, like many others, come to me for help with his problem and has been very open with me about where he’s at. The problem is when he opens his heart there’s little else he wants anyone to do about it. When I and others have tried to ask about the deeply painful stuff that undergirds the surface problems (anger, lust, bitterness), Franklin runs away. Whenever anyone tries to comfort him, he sabotages the attempts with angry, cynical asides about himself and others. Or he tells those trying to help him to not ask questions or give advice but to ‘just listen’. Or with others he tells them he doesn’t want to think about the deeper stuff, but just wants someone to ‘discreetly’ give him hugs; if those demands aren’t met he feels put out, pushing away and ‘dumping on’ those who have patiently tried to help. Or the advice to trust God with all the pain just gets far too personal and difficult, and so he grasps at what what he knows by trying to find comfort in others.
Sadly, people like Franklin are very very common in the world of helping those with unwanted same-sex attraction. So often they claim to seek help, but only want that assistance on their own terms. I only worked in a ministry role for 2 years and 2 months, helping those with unwanted homosexuality and in that time I’ve had two people suddenly storm out and end sessions because things became so emotionally difficult. One even moved away to another city and was never contactable again, and ironically he was someone who had been asking for help numerous times from others, suggesting that he never settled down with anyone to help him for any real considerable amount of time. Little wonder he wasn’t progressing in his holiness journey. Once upon a time with my own counsellor I would do the same thing: tell him I had every intention of making another appointment time and then never getting back to him. (Praise God he was wise to my schemes and kept bringing it up, as much as it embarrassed and infuriated me.)
For those trying to help sexually and emotionally broken people this kind of behaviour is not uncommon. How often do they get people asking for ‘support’ and when you reply to make a time and motivate them to walk the hard journey of change and then they don’t reply? Then in about 6 months’ time, they contact you again and the pattern resumes? Or the journey constantly stalls because the suggested work isn’t done and every meeting is tabula rasa, as though you’re starting from scratch again? It’s not likely that those seeking support actually intend to do this but it is frustrating and slow-going. I know when I started dealing with my own issues I was very much doing the same thing with my counsellor, which I now wish I hadn’t! My own experience with healing is that I was stopping myself because I was crippled by fears that the healing process would kill rather than help me.
For those reading this post and who are seeking change but are finding themselves stuck or not progressing, chances are you’re slowing yourself down. It’s so important to admit this and confess it, and stop living in self-denial; otherwise you’ll only frustrate yourself and others will genuinely wonder if you’re really serious. It’s also advisable to not put a concrete timing on your healing (I’ll only do this for 9 months and if I’m not healed by then …). It’s so important to ask God to examine your heart and truly reveal what’s going on so that you will be free from self-deceit (Ps 139:23-24) and to pray not doubting God’s power or willingness to answer (James 1:5-8). Where there is doubt, you can bring that to God that He may forgive and help your unbelief (Mark 9:24). God is very willing to answer those prayers and the reality is that it is not Satan really who often prevents us from progressing: it’s usually ourselves. But like Franklin we often have understandable reasons for sabotaging our journey and pushing God away: because that’s all we have known from others who’ve abused us. But the great news is that God is not like that, and nor are all others even though our past and our circumstances might tell us otherwise. There, then, is another prayer: that God will show you His true kindness and that of others, so that the sabotaging self-deception will clear away so that you will grow and regenerate. It IS hard (especially at first) to do this and be consistent, but if you keep it up you will notice God answering the prayers and you will start to delight in him they way a prisoner serving a life sentence is told that he can go free.
The question I ask of those who are double-minded in their healing is: what do you really really want, and what are you prepared to sacrifice if that’s what you really want? The answer to that question usually makes all the difference.
But if God is for us, then who on earth?! (or under the earth, in the earth, or above the earth) be against us? That being the case, let go and let God. Christ be with you with all the philia (brotherly) love in the world, and big hugs to you.
The double-minded nature of those seeking healing is much like the sentiments expressed in this song: