God SpeaksLorna Johnston
/Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Have you ever marvelled that God speaks to us? Not only that—he speaks to us in such a way that we can understand and in ways that are relevant to our daily lives!
Romans 1:19-20a says:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.
God uses his creation as a megaphone to shout, “I am here.” It’s not uncommon to hear people describe feelings of being closer to God in nature.
But God has spoken even more directly than this to us. He gave us Jesus—the Living Word of God. John 1:14 says:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Imagine being Jesus’ first disciples—walking and talking with ‘the Word become flesh’. God speaking live and in person! But Jesus ascended to heaven over 2000 years ago. I can’t touch and feel and interact with him the way they did—but I can read about him. And when I can read the accounts of God’s interactions with people through history, as recorded in Scripture—our Bible—God speaks to me.
God speaks through Scripture. It is in fact a core means by which God makes himself known to us—a communication initiative of God toward us. Scripture says this about itself in Hebrews 8:12:
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Not only that, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 adds:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Since you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing that you have a Bible (or two!) available to you. You can pick it up and read (or listen or watch) God’s words to you whenever you wish.
Have you ever just stopped and said thank you to God for the gift of Scripture? For the gift of speaking to us?
But of course, one of the challenges we must face for God to speak to us through Scripture is that we are confined to the languages we know. The original texts of Scripture were given in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I speak none of those languages. You may not either. But Scripture, when translated into the languages of the people of the world, has proved to be a powerful conduit through which God speaks and draws people to himself.
8 Conditions that Impact Scripture Engagement
Bible translators have recognized 8 conditions that, when they are all met, greatly increase the likelihood that deep spiritual impact will result from interacting with God’s Word. I have listed them below. You can read more detail here: The Eight Conditions of Scripture Engagement.
- Condition 1: Appropriate Language, Dialect and Orthography
- Condition 2: Acceptable Translation
- Condition 3: Accessible Forms of Scripture (text/audio/stories/video etc.)
- Condition 4: Biblical Background Knowledge of the Hearer (how much can they easily understand when they read or hear scripture)
- Condition 5: Availability
- Condition 6: Spiritual Hunger
- Condition 7: Freedom to Commit
- Condition 8: Partnership Between Translators and Other Stakeholders (i.e. is it perceived to be locally owned)
When these eight conditions are strong, people are able to connect with God through Scripture. When they are lacking, the ability to listen to God speak through Scripture declines.
Why am I telling you all this?
I have a King James version Bible sitting on my shelf in my office. It’s the one my parents gave me as a child as I began to read Scripture. It was a struggle at times to understand what was trying to be communicated. Over the years I have read many versions of Scripture, and each has enriched my understanding of what God is speaking through Scripture.
The same challenge is true for your neighbour who thinks and processes important matters (like who God is!) in a language that is different than yours. Strengthening the weakest of these eight conditions creates a fruitful environment for people to ‘hear’ what God is speaking to them, and for that hearing of God’s Word to produce greater fruit.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to provide some thoughts that will help you wrestle with and gain capacity to address these 8 conditions. We’ll try to answer some of these questions:
- How can I know what language my neighbour uses to consider spiritually important matters?
- What translations are available in what languages? How do I know which one to use? Where do I get them?
- Should I use text or video or story?
- How can I start a spiritual conversation to see if people are interested in exploring Scripture?
We hope that these blogs will equip you and give you courage to introduce your neighbours to the God who speaks.
Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams -- Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC) and Loving Muslims Together (LMT). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.
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