Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Hungry, thirsty....empty!

Psalm 1:1-3
1. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2. but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

3. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

When I was a teenager and went to the local Cinema in Clydach - affectionately known as the 'flea pit' - I remember that before the main feature started we would have the usual adverts. When the adverts about food would come on I noticed that I would always get hungry. And when the adverts showing Coca Cola came on with the liquid being poured into a glass with ice cubes in it, I would always get thirsty. Reflecting on this today I have concluded that it wasn't because the adverts were so clever that they made me hungry when I was not, or thirsty when I was not - they were not THAT clever - it was because  they both acted as reminders to me that I was indeed hungry and thirsty and needed to eat and drink.

What has this got to do with the above psalm? I was reading it the other day and got as far as verse 3 when I noticed a response in myself as I read these words:

"He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither." 

The response was to suddenly feel that I was that leaf that was withering, rather than the tree that was fruitful. Why did I feel like that? It is because despite being daily immersed in the water of the word through daily Bible reading and prayer, what I have been giving out is not matched by what I am taking in. I felt - feel - dried out. As I read about the tree drawing up water from the nearby stream, I suddenly felt like that advert in the Cinema, very thirsty, and very dry. I am spiritually withering.

Further analysing this I came to the realisation that given the amount of speaking and writing I do - funeral sermons (sometimes three a week) - the occasional Wednesday talk, Lyfe Group preparation, Sunday morning talk and sermon, searching and collating quotes and illustrations, reading Christian books, writing book reviews and researching for sermons or articles and meeting and talking with various people about the Christian faith - I have slowly been over-drawing on my inner and spiritual resources, I am like a car whose petrol gauge is now close to 'empty'. I need a refill.

I write this not to say 'woe is me' but to point to the power of the Scriptures to speak to us in so many different ways other than just through the intellect.

For a change I am trying to expand my reading beyond the narrow confines of my own Christian tradition - evangelicalism - and drink from the other Christian tributaries which feed the same Christian river called the Church. At the moment it is Roman Catholic theology and spirituality. And what I am discovering is a fresh approach to the Bible which asks the question "how do you feel when you read this passage?"

As part of my upbringing I was taught to distrust feelings and emotional responses to the objective truth of the Gospel. This was neatly summed up with this little ditty by the great reformer Martin Luther:

“Feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God--
Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.

I'll trust in God's unchanging Word
Till soul and body sever,
For, though all things shall pass away,
However as one great Anglican preacher once wrote:

"The correct response to wrong use is not disuse but right use" (David Watson)

So although we must safeguard ourselves from letting our emotions run away with us, or being guided merely by feelings, we are still emotional beings who feel things. To deny that would be to deny ourselves as those made in God's image and likeness. We feel because God feels - love, pity, compassion, anger etc.

So what these Catholic writers are teaching me is this, that truth and revelation do sometimes evoke an emotional response in us and to carefully and prayerfully run with that in order to see if God is saying something to us that our ears and thinking have somehow managed to tune-out. The moment when I read Psalm 1 and 'felt' suddenly spiritually dry was such a moment. God 'spoke' to me and I heard him. Not with my ears or mental faculties but in my heart and through my feelings. In that moment I 'got' what that image was meant to portray and it has given me a fresh way to read the Bible.

So I commend that to you. When you read the Bible don't just think with your mind, but allow the pictures it paints speak to your heart and your feelings. Does the passage evoke an emotional response for you? Why? What does it mean? What is going on in my life right now that this passage really speaks to me about? Pray about it.

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