We’re in to week #3 of our New Church Journey Program called, Shift: Small Changes. Big Difference. This program follows the story of Jacob from the Old Testament. This week’s topic is “Shift of Focus.
Genesis 29:1-20: This week’s story involves Jacob meeting his future wife, Rachel, for the first time. He meets her by a well of water with a large stone over its mouth: “And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel…that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.” (Genesis 29:10)
One challenge that I find a lot of people have is finding real meaning within the Lord’s Word. Many people know and believe that the Word is a holy book; they know that it is filled with wisdom and offers guidance in all areas of life. And yet, you’re not alone if you sometimes struggle to find this wisdom and guidance. In our story for this week, the “Well” with the large stone over its mouth represents the Word of God and times when that Word appears closed to us. We might be thinking, “How can there be Divine wisdom within the violent and often immoral stories of the Old Testament?” Or, “I believe in the Lord’s Word, but I’m not finding any light or guidance for the hard situations I’m facing right now.” There seems to be a rock, preventing us from drinking from the water of life. (John 4:14)
The first thing to recognize is that learning to ”drink from the water of life” is a process. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you have times when you do not find the Word of God inspiring; we all have times like this. Part of the process of life is going through times of drought; we have times when we see things clearly and other times when we’re in the fog.
Having said this, I want to mention three things that a person needs to do if they want to allow the Word of God to “open” in their life. How do you allow Jacob to, “Roll the stone from the wells mouth?” Books could be written on each of these points. So I will be brief and hope that people feel free to ask questions and add their own ideas to this list.
1. Understanding the Style the Word was written in. This is a big one. There is wisdom and guidance that you can gain from reading the Word of God on a literal level. This is why even simple people and children can benefit from it. However, in order to open up the Word more fully a person needs to understand that the Word of God was written in the language of correspondences. All of the literal stories and images in the Word “correspond” to spiritual realities that have to do with your own spiritual growth, the Lord’s heavenly kingdom, and ultimately the Lord Himself. A bit of a difficult idea to get your head around if you’re unfamiliar with it; but here’s a good passage to get you started. I like the example of hieroglyphics:
“Heretofore the spiritual sense of the Word has been unknown. That each thing and all things in nature correspond to spiritual things, and in like manner each and all things in the human body, has been shown in the work on Heaven and Hell (n. 87-105). But heretofore it has not been known what correspondence is; yet in most ancient times it was very well known; for to those who then lived, the knowledge of correspondences was the knowledge of knowledges, and was so universal that all their manuscripts and books were written by correspondences. The book of Job, which is a book of the Ancient Church, is full of correspondences. The hieroglyphics of the Egyptians, as well as the fables of most ancient times, were nothing, but correspondences. All the ancient churches were churches representative of spiritual things; their rites and the statutes according to which their worship was established, consisted of pure correspondences; as did all things of the church among the children of Israel. The burnt offerings, the sacrifices, the meat offerings, and the drink offerings, with all their particulars, were correspondences; likewise the tabernacle and all things in it; also their feast, as the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of tabernacles, and the feast of the first-fruits; also the priesthood of Aaron and the Levites, and their garments or holiness. What the spiritual things are to which all these things corresponded has been shown in the Arcana Coelestia, published at London…Since then, Divine things present themselves in the world in correspondences, the Word was written by pure correspondences; and because the Lord spoke from the Divine He spoke by means of correspondences for whatever is from the Divine falls into such things in nature as correspond to Divine things, and these then store up in their bosom Divine things, which are called celestial and spiritual.” (Swedenborg – True Christian Religion 201)
2. Study. There’s no getting around the fact that if you want to understand anything, you need to put the time and effort into learning about it. As a Pastor, I always find it both humorous and frustrating that people complain about not finding wisdom and guidance in the Word of God when they aren’t taking the time to read it! You wouldn’t expect to both understand and see the practicality of calculus, world history, or biology without taking the time to study them; why should the Word which contains infinite wisdom be any different? Jesus Himself spent much time studying the Scriptures.
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6)
3. Motive. For me, this one is perhaps the most interesting. The entire purpose of the Word of God is to help you change. The Word was given by God to help you become a better and more loving person. This means that the Word is only fully opened to those who approach it with a humble desire to amend their life. Read this passage several times and it will hopefully change the way you read the Word of God:
“To the extent that someone is under the influence of self-love and love of the world, and of the desires that go with these loves, the Word is to him closed up. For those loves have self as the end in view, an end which fosters natural light but extinguishes heavenly light. As a result people see clearly the things that belong to self and the world but nothing whatever of those that belong to the Lord and to His kingdom. When this is so they may indeed read the Word, but their end in view is the increase of personal position and wealth, or that they may be seen by others; or else they read it because it is the done thing and therefore merely from force of habit, or they read it as a religious duty, but without any amendment of life in view. To these people the Word has in different ways become closed up, for some so closed that they do not wish to know anything at all apart from that which their own teachings – whatever these may be – declare….People like these can see nothing at all of the truth contained in the Word and do not wish to see it. Instead they adhere rigidly to their own doctrinal opinions….So the Word has been closed up. Yet the Word is such that it is open right into heaven, and through heaven towards the Lord, and is closed only in relation to man, that is, insofar as he is subject to the evils of self-love and love of the world where the ends in view of his life are concerned, and is subject to false assumptions resulting from those evils. From this one may see what is meant by ‘a large stone over the mouth of the well’. (Secrets of Heaven 3769)
Do any of these passages speak to you or bring up questions? How else to you think the Word of God is “opened” to us?