I arise today...
Through God’s word to speak for me...
The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)
Clearly we want God’s word to hold a central place in our lives, speaking to hearts and guiding us through whatever circumstances we may face. I am struck today, however, by what this particular line does not say about God’s word.
It does not say: “God’s word to be read by me”
Of course we must read and study and meditate on God’s word, but I think the writer of this prayer is getting at something a bit deeper. We must remember that the Word became flesh, not text. Even the pages of Scripture cannot fully contain the Living and breathing Word of God, incarnate in the person of Jesus our Lord. We may find God’s word primarily in the Bible, but reading the Bible alone is not sufficient. If we are not careful, the Bible itself may become an idol. We must not merely read the word with our eyes and process it with our minds. Rather, the Word of God is something that we must embody in our hearts and lives. Since it is God’s word which breathed life into us, every breath we take and every word we speak should flow forth from the Living Presence of God’s word dwelling within us.
It does not say: “God’s word to be spoken by me”
We are very good at quoting scripture verses when they suit our purposes. More often than not, we use them as ammunition in our political battles or to call someone out for a particular behavior we do not like. Yes, we are to proclaim the words of Scripture and preach the Good News of Christ wherever we are, but there is a big difference between “speaking the words” and having the word speak for us. In speaking the words, we tend to filter the words through our own lens, our own stories, and our own particular system of beliefs or ideologies. These lenses are conditioned by our families, our culture, our denominations, and countless other influences which can easily manipulate the word for their own purposes. Our lens is not always bad, but we must be aware that we have a particular way of interpreting and understanding that may not be the same as the way someone else sees it. They are not always wrong and we are not always right. Sometimes, by God’s grace, we may both be right, from different perspectives and in different circumstances. God’s word may indeed be a sword, but it is not ours to wield. When we allow God’s word to speak for us, we give up our agendas and remove our lenses so that others may encounter the Living Word for themselves. As Philip told Nathanael about Jesus, “Come and see” (John 1:46). The world doesn’t need our “opinions” about God’s word. They simply need to “come and see” God’s Living Word for themselves. #unfiltered.
It does not even say: “God’s word to speak to me”
God’s word speaks to us in many ways, but again, I think the prayer is getting at something a bit deeper. Often when we go to Scripture, we are looking to get “a word from God.” Even better if that word just happens to be a word for someone else and not for me, particularly if the word challenges our beliefs or behaviors. My preaching professor, Dr. Ellsworth Kalas, used to say that “If you do not know a passage or a topic well enough to sit down at a kitchen table and have a conversation about it, you do not yet know it well enough to preach.” This was his way of saying, in part, that we should preach without notes, as if we are simply having a conversation with the congregation. I think it speaks to all of us, however, in that God does not simply speak his word to us, in the moment of our devotional reading, and then allow us to close the book and walk away until next time. Instead, God’s word should go with us. It doesn’t just speak to us, but it becomes a part of us. The rhythms and melodies of Scripture become part of our everyday actions and conversation, not because we are always trying to quote what we read or what God spoke to us in our quiet time, but because they have become a part of us, like that song we can’t stop humming because it is stuck in our heads. “What comes out of the mouth flows from the heart,” Jesus says (Matthew 15:18). Likewise, James writes:
We praise our Lord and Father with our tongues. And we speak wrong words about people with our tongues, even though they were made like God. Praising and wrong words come out of the same mouth! My brothers, this should not be so. Do good water and bad water both come from the same place?
If God’s word is to speak “for us” and not merely “to us”, it must first become a part of us. It is Living Water that gushes from within us; the source of every word we speak. As we arise today, let us not seek to speak for God, but rather allow God’s word to speak for us.
1. Do my words sound like something Jesus would say? What specific words of Jesus are reflected in my everyday speech?
2. What lenses or filters influence my understanding of God’s word? How might I intentionally see God’s word through the lens of another so that together, our eyes may be opened even more?
3. Reflect on a circumstance when you could feel God’s word bubbling up from your heart like a fresh-water spring and you knew it was God, not you, who was speaking life into that situation.
Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:
... I arise today,
Through God’s hand to guard me…