Growing Edges

The theme of this issue of Perspective is “The Word of God.” Because of our multi-year work in creating The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible, we have given a lot of attention to the Word of God written, the Scripture. And how vitally important this reality is. Scripture as the Word of God written anchors us by giving a blueprint for how God has spoken to his people throughout biblical history. But the Bible itself uses the Word of God in two other ways as well. There is the Word of God living, the debar Yahweh, and there is the Word of God incarnate, Jesus.

The Word of God Living: The Debar Yahweh

The debar Yahweh, the living Word of God, brought the universe crashing into existence. God said, “Let there be light,” and light came into being. The same for sky and sea and land and the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom and the human species. God speaks and it is … God speaks and it is … God speaks and it is. This is the living, acting, creating, forming, transforming Word of God which is sharper than any two-edged sword; capable of dividing soul from spirit, joints from marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

This living Word of God, this debar Yahweh, is the “Thus saith the Lord” of the prophetic tradition. The prophets were not really religious soothsayers or social critics or village cranks. They were ordinary people who encountered face-to-face the One who, as Amos puts it, “made the Pleiades and Orion” (5:8). Old Testament professor Howard Macy says that these “encounters were blind-siding, breath-sucking, gut-jarring; they were full of energy, creativity, and crazy surprise; they intermingled fear and attraction, tenderness and amazement.” Abraham Heschel writes, “To the prophets, God was overwhelmingly real and shatteringly present. They never spoke of Him as from a distance. They lived as witnesses, struck by the words of God …” They fed off God’s living word to them. God was shatteringly present to them; the debar Yahweh had come to them; and their entire lives became oriented around this stunning reality. As a result they received what Walter Brueggemann calls a “prophetic imagination,” the capacity to see what is yet possible through the power of God, “It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God.”

“And here is the really shocking news: all Christians are called, in some measure, to prophetic life and witness. Out of the humility and generosity of his great heart, Moses had wistfully exclaimed, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29). Well, with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost God did exactly that. The prophet Joel had promised a day when the Spirit would enable all God’s people to dream dreams, to have visions, and to prophesy, and on that Pentecost day Peter declared that Joel’s promise had indeed come to pass. At Pentecost God initiated a universal, revolutionary community of prophets. In Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet Katherine Marie Dyckman and L. Patrick Carroll write, “All of us Christians, not just some ‘specially chosen’ are called to be deeply united to God in prayer and to speak out of that prayer with some strand of prophetic voice. Everyone is called to be both mystic and prophet.”

What we need to understand is that God is still speaking. The debar Yahweh is still active and alive, creating and recreating, forming and transforming. God is “our Communicating Cosmos,” as Dallas Willard puts it. Now, I am fully aware that there are those who feel that with the full Scriptural canon we no longer need the living voice of God, the Kol Yahweh. And while I can appreciate such a position I will simply respond with the words of William Law, an 18th century Anglican writer, in his book The Power of the Spirit, “to say that because we now have all the writings of Scripture complete we no longer need the miraculous inspiration of the Spirit among men as in former days, is a degree of blindness as great as any that can be charged upon the scribes and Pharisees.” My friends, God is a continuing, communing, speaking Presence with his people. Here. Now. The Word of God living.

Jesus: The Word Made Flesh

But there is more. Not only is there the Word of God written (Scripture) and the Word of God living (the debar Yahweh) there is also the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. This is of enormous importance for our day. People need a living Savior that speaks life into us here and now.

John, in his Gospel, makes a conscious parallel to the creation narrative of Genesis when he declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Gen.1:1,14). Jesus is the eternal Logos, the Word of God incarnate. And just as in Genesis where God spoke the universe into existence, so in John’s Gospel Jesus brings about his great “signs” by speaking. To the lame man Jesus says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” … and so he does; Jesus calls out to Lazarus in the grave, “Lazarus, come out!”… and so he does. God creates by speaking; Jesus creates by speaking.

On the Mount of Transfiguration God’s voice came out of the cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved … “listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5; bold added). The writer to the Hebrews tells us that in past days God spoke to his people through the prophets but now he is speaking through his Son (Heb. 1:1). And here is the great, good news: Jesus is alive, he is here to teach his people himself. Jesus functions among us as Prophet, Priest, and King: our Prophet to teach us, our Priest to redeem us, our King to rule us.

When Jesus was among us in the flesh he described himself as the Good Shepherd and that “his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (Jn. 10:4 NIV). And in resurrected form Jesus declares that he is “standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Rev. 3:20).

So, my friend, hearing Jesus’ voice is not all that elusive or complicated. His grace comes right up to the doorstep of our souls. We are not here talking about a complicated exercise for the spiritually elite. No, it is more like just getting up and answering the door.

Meekness Opens the Door

Perhaps more than any single thing meekness of spirit opens the door onto this life of hearing Jesus’ voice and obeying his Word. Meekness is a real preference for God’s will. When this holy habit of mind is in us our whole being becomes so open to God’s impressions that, without any outward sign, there is an inward recognition and choice of the will of God. God guides us, for the most part, not by visible signs but by swaying our judgment. When we wait before God weighing sincerely in the scales every consideration for or against a particular course of action, and in readiness to see which way the preponderance lies, a frame of mind and heart is created in which we can be guided. God then touches the scales and makes the balance to sway as he wills.

The experience and counsel of John Woolman may help us here. These words from his Journal were penned, as he put it, on the twenty-eighth day, fifth month, 1772: “O, how safe, how quiet, is that state where the soul stands in pure obedience to the voice of Christ and a watchful care is maintained not to follow the voice of the stranger!”

Starting Soon: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? Choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

Learn more >