I was not very young when I began to really learn my first “second” language. For all of the advantages of learning a language in a country where it is spoken, one of the frustrations was going to church in that language. I hated only being able to understand the word “God” Sunday after Sunday. Because no matter what I had learned during the week, it was a LONG time before I could listen fast enough to hear a new word in a pastoral monologue. And let’s just say that, as far as spiritual feeding and edification goes, being able to understand even three or four words in a sermon is not very helpful!
However, I will never forget the first time I understood every word in a worship song. Let me tell you, I sang and meant every word with great gusto and with tears coming down my face. (I know you don’t have to be in church to worship, but there is something about worshiping with other people, knowing you are joining together with many other people in meaning what you sing, that is very powerful.) The words were, “There is no better God, no bigger God, no God as great as our God.”
Had the song been in English, it wouldn’t have seemed so profound, but there I was able to think about God and proclaim His greatness in, not just one, but two, languages! I was agreeing in worship with people who I couldn’t even have a deep communication with because of my minimal ability in their language. But we WERE worshipping together in that language, and I was excited! I was on my way to fulfilling the wish, “Oh for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise!”
English will always be the easiest and most natural and complete language for me to worship God with. But, I love my brain having access to vocabulary and idiomatic expressions from other languages as well. Sometimes a language will say something in a more picturesque way (and being so visual I love picturing things in different ways).
Other times, well, it’s hard to put into words all the ways that language learning enhances my relationship with God. Unlike LIngamish, I loved studying Greek. I think I should go track down my biblical language professors and thank them for not ruining the process before it got started!
Even though I still don’t know enough Greek or Hebrew to make a huge difference in how I study and understand the Bible (unlike Lingamish I don’t actually use biblical languages on a regular basis), the process was challenging and fun. And it did make a spiritual difference in my life. Just maybe not in the same way that it makes a spiritual difference to scholars who can and regularly do read and study the Bible in its original languages.
I can’t articulate all of how language learning enhances my relationship with God. But I stumbled on this quote which gets at one aspect of it:
It sounds like work, but really it’s just a big, fun puzzle. I love languages. I love writing systems. I love that I will have time to learn more. To see how languages work is beautiful. To understand the order (and chaos) is like appreciating a symphony. If Eric Liddell could say “When I run I feel [God’s] pleasure” then I say “When I study languages I am worshiping.” I am embracing the creative process of a God who communicates with us. Sure, I get some grief for wanting to learn Ugaritic. No one thinks it is practical. “What will you use it for?” I think it is a great misfortune when we believe that only that which is pragmatic is worth studying. Sure, I want to learn Greek and Hebrew to better understand the Bible, to read the OT and NT in their original languages and appreciate the fullness of what is being communicated. But I also want to just savor the language for itself. The language itself, not only what it communicates, reveals to me more of the character of God. And that’s worth all the flashcards and study time I can muster.
I love thinking about how different personalities reflect different external facets of the image of God. The core meaning of being made in the image of God, I believe is the same, but the external expressions of that are so beautifully varied. I have three books which make an effort at exploring this subject (They are: The Love Languages of God, by Gary Chapman; Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas and Soultypes: Matching Your Personality and Spiritual Path by Sandra Krebs Hirsh). None of these books was a totally satisfying read, although I’m not quite sure WHY they all felt lacking. Still, I’m glad I read them (or at least skimmed them), as they do keep my mind going on this topic.
I know worship and connecting to God is not all about me. But, still, when your whole life is about your relationship to God, and you find yourself engrossed in an activity that seems to engage most of the joy-experiencing neurons in your brain, communing with God in that place and time is wonderful. When I’m most spontaneously and creatively being myself, it seems like that is when I’m freest and most spontaneous in my worship of and connection with God. Language study is one of those places (Don’t ask me to figure out how something as structured as the type of language learning I enjoy can feel so spontaneous and creative to me!)
What are some surprising ways and places that you find yourself worshipping God?