Yesterday I experienced that height of reader’s ecstasy, that incredible moment when you realize all around you has been stripped away, the delightful bliss that infuses the soul of the inquiring mind – in other words, I was sucked into a book. Wholly, completely, for some 380 pages consumed by this alternate reality. While I do not normally find this the place to lay out personal anecdotes this instance is a basic experience many of us share that introduces the topic I want to explore – words, their role, and their power in the Christian life.
What is it that allows a story to draw us in? What is it that makes a storyteller a good one? Many of us have been privy to stories where one person started the story but inevitably had to hand it over to someone else to finish because they were not “good at telling stories.” What is the fundamental difference? All of these questions boil down to one simple, almost disturbing, answer – words. Words shape and define our reality. We think in words, we communicate in words and while we do not necessarily feel in words we almost inevitably find it necessary to place a word on our emotions. However words are not just descriptors, they are dictators, governing our lives. The incredible beauty and also danger about words is that, if we are aware of this truth, we can control the words that control us. Speeches throughout the centuries are remembered today because the speakers recognized the latent power that lies in every word they uttered.
In his book Living the Lord’s Prayer, David Timms captures but one way that words affect our lives as Christians:
“The language that courses through the Christian bloodstream and threatens to undermine the gospel in our lives is the language of law, and many believers demonstrate alarming fluency in this destructive dialect.”
For Timms this “language of law” consists of the “shoulds,” “musts,” and “ought-tos” of the Christian life which he claims should be transformed into the language of grace – “likes,” “desires,” and “choose-tos.” Why do these simple words threaten the Christian life so terribly? Why is such a basic change in words so transforming and freeing? Because words govern our reality.
The reason why changing our language in such simple ways is so powerful is because it is in the context of a story – our story. Words gain power exponentially when they are linked together into narratives and it is primarily through narratives that they work to shape us. Whether it is the consumerist meta-narrative or the Christian meta-narrative, the words that make up these governing stories ultimately lay the foundation for the way we live. Interestingly we live in a post-modern culture which now claims that there is no meta-narrative, and thus that words have no power because their meaning is subject to each individual.
The truth that we hold onto as Christians however runs counter to such a claim – we believe in THE Word:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” – John 1:14,16
In a world that says words do not have power we admit their power, and tremble. We have seen their power used for terrible evil. Yet, as Christians, we remember the true Word who became flesh who now defines our story, who gives shape and meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. The Word dictates our lives and in both fear and comfort we begin to realize that this is one word we do not, indeed cannot, control. Yet this Word has allowed us to have grace upon grace and we rejoice in the freedom of the power of His story. Words have power, regardless of what culture tells us, we cannot escape this truth. But the one Word, Jesus Christ, is infinitely more powerful.
May we, as believers, be comforted and challenged as we continue to live not in a story of our own making, of our own words, but in His story, in the story of the Word, Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace.