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. A suicide note left by a teenage girl, “They said…,” then she took her life. 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. The president can give a speech that causes the stock market to soar or tank. A dictator can boast of weapons of mass destruction and a war is the result. Words can influence.
As a pastor and a writer, I wrestle with words, most days the words win. But I love words. I read the little bird tracks across paper and electronic books. I write them longhand in my journal. 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 various coffee houses around where I live. I even speak a few caffeinated words myself.
I love words. Words can be a balm or salve for a wounded hearts. I love listening to them in a lover’s ballad or even a protest song.
I can be transported to another planet when I read Peralandra or 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 track its way down my cheek at the last scene of 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 a 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 waived us in.
After washing our hands, we walked in and when this octogenarian saw me, her knobby hands, with tubes taped to them, rose to reach for me. Holding her hand, I asked her how she was and assured her of the prayer support of her church family.
Her chest moved up and down and a deep guttural rasp escaped with every exhale. It was as if she were pushing a piano off her chest with every breath. Every exhale was loud and labored. There was a wild look of concern the saint’s eyes. What you might expect from someone who was uncertain about their next gasp of air.
Her daughter asked if I had a Bible. I felt a rise of embarrassment flush my face and said that I didn’t have my tool box with me. She said the hospital couldn’t find one and that her mother wanted to read the twenty third Psalm. I said, “Well, I think I might be able to recite most of it. Would that be okay?” The saint nodded her head.
I put my right hand on her forehead and held her hand in my left hand and began to recite, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
She closed her eyes and her breathing grew quiet and serene. 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. 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…and Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 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 knew I had botched the recitation. She opened her eyes and looked at me and I asked, “Did that sound familiar?” With misty eyes she slowly nodded her head once. 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 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. They reminded me of the Apostle Paul who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Words of love and longing. I would be so blessed to brim with such faith. May it be so in my life now and when my day of labored breathing comes.
I witnessed the power of the Word of God to transport a saint to a green pasture and still waters— if for only a moment, but she is ready for that pasture to be her home.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.