In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – Saint John
It has been said that 125 people died for every word of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in WWII. It is a thick book of 720 pages. Words can kill.
I remember what a coach said to me about my body when I was a boy that caused me to be insecure until this day. Words can scar.
A President can give a speech that causes the stock market to soar or tank. A dictator can boast of weapons of mass destruction and war is the result. Words can influence.
A poem written on a napkin and slid across the table can make a heart warm and eyes brim. Words can move us.
I have a note written by my oldest son taped inside my Bible that he sent me on pastor appreciation day many years ago. Every time I read them, my eyes leak. Words can be treasured.
I love words.
I read the little bird tracks across paper, I write them longhand in my journal, and I type them on this computer. I listen to them intoned by a professionally trained actor as he or she reads someone else’s words. I speak them every Sunday morning. I listen to them every day in coffee houses around where I live.
I love words. I love listening to them in a song from a lover or protester. Words can be a salve for a wounded heart.
Words can transport me to another planet when I read C.S. Lewis’ science fiction classic Perelandra. Or, thanks to Larry McMurtry, I can find myself in a dusty border town in Texas called Lonesome Dove. I can laugh at the outrageous characters dreamed up by Flannery O’Connor or feel a tear tracked its way down my cheek at the last scene of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
In so many ways words are my world.
But no words—written or spoken by great authors—compare with the Word of God to bring lasting change to the culture, guidance to a government, or gentle encouragement to a frightened heart.
My wife and I visited an elderly saint in our Church who had broken her hip and was in the hospital. Her daughter was by her side and waved us in.
We washed our hands, walked in, and when this octogenarian saw me, she raised her spindly arms up, tethered with tubes, as if a small child wanting to be picked up and held. I took her knobby hands in mine and assured her of the prayer support of her church family.
Her chest moved up and down with a deep guttural rasp. Every exhale was loud and labored. There was a wild look of concern her eyes; the look you might expect from someone who was uncertain about their next breath.
Her daughter asked if I had a Bible. I felt a rise of embarrassment flush my face and shook my head.
“She’s been asking for a Bible and the hospital staff couldn’t find one. Mom wants to read the twenty-third Psalm,” her daughter said.
“Well, I think I might be able to recite most of it,” I said with more confidence than I had any right to possess.
I put my right hand on her warm forehead and held her hand left hand and began to recite, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
The precious saint closed her eyes and her breathing slowed. I continued, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul…”
Her breathing was as gentle as a baby’s now. I looked at her daughter and tears were streaming down her face.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Give us this day our daily bread. He anointeth my head with oil.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
Surely mercy and goodness shall follow all the days of my life
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen
I glanced at my wife and her head was cocked to one side like a puppy listing to a squeaky toy. I knew I had botched the verses.
“Did that sound familiar?” I asked the saint. Her eyes grew misty and she slowly nodded her head.
I tried to wrap up the visit so we wouldn’t tire her out. She grasped my hand tightly and said, “Pastor, I have confessed all my sins to Jesus, and I am ready to go.”
I smiled and said, “It’s not the time for that yet.”
She said, “Well, stay or go—either way, it’s fine.”
Her words fell like notes from lover’s ballad to my heart. Words of love and longing. Words of surety. Words of knowing. She knew The Word that became flesh. And that made all the difference.
I love words.