Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Choosing My Words Carefully

(submitted by Kerry Patton)Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; Sing the glory of His name; Make His praise glorious.  Say to God, “How awesome are Your works! Because of the greatness of Your power Your enemies will give feigned obedience to You. All the earth will worship You and will sing praises to You; They will sing praises to Your name.
Psalm 66:1-4 
What do words mean?
Words have meanings…or at least they used to.  In my opinion, the accepted meanings of words are becoming watered down and corrupted with other understandings.  Of course, this isn’t a new situation.  The evolution of human language has been occurring since human beings first uttered words to one another.  However, lately I have been thinking about how certain words are used.
Recently, I was speaking with a group of people when a car backfired nearby.  KA-BOOM!  It sounded like a gun had gone off. One of the young ladies with us exclaimed: “That LITERALLY scared me to death!!”to which I replied: “I bet it didn’t.”Missing my point, the girl argued emphatically: “It did so! That scared me so bad!”“Well, it scared me too,”I replied. “But I didn’t actually DIE…and neither did you…literally.”“Well, no…”she sheepishly conceded, realizing the problem with using literally…figuratively.  And she isn’t alone.  We all are prone to emphasize what we say by coloring our speech with words that exaggerate for the sake of communicating emotion, sensation, or other experience.  
Here’s another perspective:  I’ve noticed that at times I will speak to the ladies at the local cafĂ© or restaurant in a level of familiarity that is perhaps excessive. When my tea is refilled, or when the ketchup is brought for me I may respond with “Thank you dear.” Perhaps it isn’t so inappropriate, but my struggle is – “dear” is an expression generally reserved for my wife, where “ma’am” should be enough when addressing others.  Granted, it is common to speak this way in the South, and it is a term of endearment that is used to be respectful and kind… however, it just seems misplaced to me, so I’m working to change my habit.
I experience similar discomfort when I encounter words that we commonly use to speak of our faith, or even worship God himself being used casually in the secular context.  “Awesome”is an example of such a word.  Today, awesome is largely used to express something that is exceptional; very good:  
“You scored 40 points by yourself? Awesome!!”
And while we would be correct to say our God is exceptional and very good, these would not be the Biblical connotations where God is described as awesomein Deuteronomy 7:21: “the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God…”Here the word for awesome is “Yare” which communicates a sense of fear, terror, awe, and reverence. Perhaps this is why author C.S. Lewis, in his book The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobewrote of Aslan, a lion whose character represented our Lord Jesus: 
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
I summarize Merriam-Webster as it describes awesomeas: inspiring awe – such as an awesome task/responsibility; a place of awesome beauty, or informally, to describe something that is terrific, or extraordinary. The root of the word awesome is “awe” which originally meant “terror.”  Hence, awful meant to be “full of awe” or “full of terror.”  So, to see or contemplate something as “awesome” was to be stricken with terrorby what one saw or contemplated.  In this context, to consider the might, power, righteousness, and holiness, and the potential wrath and judgement of Almighty God…one might indeed proclaim that “Our God is LITERALLY an AWESOME God!”  In Isaiah 6:3 we have seraphim worshipping around the throne of God saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory…”How then can I in a moment of excitement watching football exclaim: “Holy Cow! Did you see that??” Shouldn’t “holy” be reserved for Him who is...Holy?
I have no desire to become spiritually legalistic concerning the practice of faith and speaking or writing.  But I am trying to grow up in every aspect of my life and the faith.  So, the consideration of these things awakens me to the reality that I have been using words and phrases that are usually very personal or sacred in ways that are neither personal nor sacred.  I feel it important to be more selective and intentional about words I use to worship God…that I may be using thoughtlessly elsewhere, and how I might better speak of the things I am enthusiastic about that are…and are not God.  

Father, I have no doubt that I have been careless with your name…and I realize that I can take for granted the same words that I use to bring you praise by using them to describe the mundane, and the secular. Help me to be more careful with how I express myself in all situations.  And continue to help me as I seek to keep the things of God sacred to myself and my family.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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