Say the Words

For the week of November 13, 2021 / 9 Kislev 5782

Two men, sitting on some stairs, talking

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 28:10-32:3 (English 28:10 – 32:2)
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13-14:10 (English 12:12 – 14:9)

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Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity” (Micah 14:3; English: 14:2)

There’s something that has always bothered me about the day I came to know Yeshua as the Messiah (check out my faith story here). Over forty-five years later, I am still impressed by the compelling godly presentation given to me by this person whom I just met that afternoon. God used an hour and a half intense conversation to completely transform my life. Still, there was something about what I was asked to do I have wondered about since then. This is the first time I am seriously working through it.

After providing a convincing case for the validity of the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures, sharing the prophecies about the Messiah, and explaining the need for forgiveness as provided by Yeshua’s death, I was invited to say a prayer. The prayer was to include my admitting I had sinned against God, acknowledging that Yeshua (we called him “Jesus” back then) died for my sins and that he had risen from the dead. Then I was to ask Yeshua to take over my life (or something like that). Based on everything I was told that day, I felt I had everything to gain and nothing to lose. So, I prayed the prayer. I remember how I had a sense that something special had happened, though I was not fully prepared for the wonderful transformation I was going to experience over the next few days and weeks.

However, despite the great positive change I experienced that day, you may be surprised to learn that I have wondered how legitimate it is to ask someone to pray a prayer that he or she has next to no real grasp of. While I accepted the possibility of my being a sinner as it was explained to me (breaking a commandment of God is a sin; people who sin are sinners), did I actually believe that when I said this prayer? I knew next to nothing about Yeshua before that day, yet I was praying to ask him into my life. Did I mean it? How could I? It was all completely new to me.

Despite whatever level of understanding I had in the moment, the words given to me to say were true. They were true about me; they were true about God. There’s something about the power of words apart from our full understanding of them.

Up until now, I have assumed that for our words to be legitimate, they have to be authentic. To be authentic, I have to honestly mean them, which necessarily includes fully understanding them. But is that really the case? From when our children were very young, we taught them to apologize to each other. The offending party needed to say, “Please forgive me for” – and then name the offense. Then the offended party was to say, “I forgive you.” I am well aware that neither party had a full grasp of the interchange, including the probability that they were just mouthing the words. But apart from learning the importance of apologizing, forgiving, and being forgiven, the words of regret and forgiveness effectively served to preserve relationship. Another example is in the promises we make. We often have little grasp of the implications of those promises, but they carry weight regardless. Further, kind words, such as compliments, have a strong positive effect on people, regardless of how sincere they may be.

You might think, “But God sees through our insincerity. What good is parroting what someone else tells us to say especially when God knows all?” I would agree in the case of complete hypocrisy. But how much sincerity and understanding is necessary before God responds to our words? Apparently, not much. This brings to mind the oft-mentioned parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32). What did it take to provoke his father’s generous response? After not caring about his father at all and exploiting his resources, the son’s return was more about himself and his own suffering than a true change of heart. And yet, as soon as the father saw his wayward son approaching, he ran to him and enthusiastically restored him to the household with great celebration.

So, as we read in this week’s Haftarah (reading portion from the Hebrew prophets), it doesn’t take much to return to the Lord. Restoration to God just starts with a simple prayer. He will take over from there.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


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