For those of you over forty-something have you ever listened to a rapper? To include the younger set , have you travelled to an area where people all spoke a different language or with an accent that was very difficult for you to understand?
If you were immersed in that sort of situation for days on end, then imagine the joy you would feel just hearing someone speaking so that you could understand. Then, imagine if they were telling you that God had loved you so much that he gave his son’s life to atone for your sins. Then they told you that through Him you would have eternal life.
Imagine the feeling that would give you! Imagine the questions it would raise. Are these guys drunk? In Acts we see Pentecost play out. The wind blows, the tongues of flame descend and then people begin to speak in languages they don’t even know. Peter interprets these things for those who are present. In order to make sense of this he quotes scripture.
“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
Wait a minute…did Joel say prophesy? Was Peter saying we should prophesy? I’m all for God pouring out His Spirit on me, but I’m not Isaiah, Jonah, or Ezekiel…how am I supposed to prophesy?
In his book New Proclamation Matthew L. Skinner says, “Peter’s brand of “prophecy” is …the task of identifying our own circumstances as somehow in line with testimony about God from the past and in line with the promises of what God is yet to do.” He goes on to explain that the art of prophecy is in truly believing that the Bible is a message to us in our own time.
We need to be open to a dialogue with the scripture. We need to let the Bible shape and effect all that we see, say and do. We need to stop reading the Bible as if it was just another book of information.
In a course I took on Reformed Spirituality we looked at the practice of spiritual reading. In the introduction to this section of her book Soul Feast, Marjorie J. Thompson asks the reader to consider the different way we would approach reading a letter from a dear friend and a newspaper.
Spiritual reading of the Bible is not going to come from reading to get through a section of text. It is not about how much you read, or how quickly you read. Our intention should be, in the words of Thompson, “simply to sink into the words and open ourselves to their meaning in our lives. How do we go about this?
There are four phases to spiritual reading. The first to read in a reflective way, slowly, pausing over words which seem to catch our attention. The second phase is meditation, in other words, when we find those words which really catch our attention, then give some thought to why this seems important to us…what is the connection between this text and our lives?
The third phase is speaking. We respond to our reading with our emotion in prayer. If the reading has highlighted our current struggles we will call out, perhaps in pain, if it speaks of our joy we will lift our hearts in praise. If you want some excellent examples of this phase, read through some of the Psalms.
Finally we contemplate. After pouring out in words all that we need to, we sit quietly and give time for God’s response to us. We rest in God’s presence and listen. These steps may go back and forth as we move through a text but the process is not complete without all four.
As you can tell from the steps listed, this is not the kind of reading we can fit into the 20 minutes between activities and is best not left to the end of the day. When we make a space available in our day for this kind of reading, the Spirit will lead us in finding the meaning of the text for our lives.
God sent His Spirit to us for a reason. The Spirit is a gift to us which comforts us in our pain, helps us when we most need help, exhorts people to be present with God in answering the call to serve others in the world who are in need, advocates for us and provides the link for us to stay in touch with Jesus and through him with God, and, if we let it, reveals the truth in Jesus.
When God sends out His Spirit, plants spring to life– the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.