This series is expounding some of the Bible passages that have been most significant in my own faith journey. –JB
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
From my point of view, my “faith awakening” moment reading Acts in college was rather drastic and unusual. Oh, but there’s a long parade of people who had similar sudden “conversions” or awakenings in history! Augustine heard “take up and read” and opened Romans and was forever pricked by the Spirit. John Wesley describes his heart being “strangely warmed” as he heard the preface to Romans. The Ethiopian eunuch Philip encountered in Acts was immediately baptized along the road after he heard a passage from Isaiah unpacked. The church was born when Peter’s sermon resulted in thousands of people being “cut to the heart.”
For these reasons, one of my life verses that is most foundational for my thinking is Hebrews 4:12. This scripture makes very clear that God’s Word — and by that I mean the canonical Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments — has a life of its own. It’s alive and active. It’s not dried ink on a page. It’s dynamic and potent. I don’t believe its just the words themselves and the truths found within. I believe the Living God, the Holy Spirit, is at work in, around, above, below, and through the written and preached word of God. The Hound of Heaven is on the prowl in every casual devotional reading, in the half-hearted Scripture reading, in the best and worst of sermons expounding the Holy Text.
I’m convinced that when I opened the Book of Acts that evening that revolutionized my faith, I didn’t just encounter an inspiring story; I encountered the Living God that night. The Holy Spirit illuminated the text in a way that penetrated my inner being. My thoughts and attitudes of my heart are laid bare before my Creator and I experienced a deep shift in outlook. This is not the popular “Aha moments” Oprah celebrates. This was more like the encounters men and women have with angels in the Bible that don’t leave them going, “Aha,” but rather knocks them on their face prostrate, blinded by the light, and requiring a “Don’t be afraid” to get their bearings again.
Hebrews 4:12 is absolutely foundational for my preaching ministry as well. I shudder to think that I am responsible for crafting a perfectly organized and brilliantly conceived sermon that can address all the various needs of the congregation each Sunday morning. I flirted with the idea that I was responsible for preaching life-changing messages for the first year of my pastorate, and I almost collapsed under the burden and pressure. My saving grace each Sunday is the conviction that the power is not in my organization or delivery, but in the Word of God that is powerful and effective, alive and active, and able to pierce souls even on my worst Sundays as a preacher. Oh, I take my role very seriously, and am not making excuses for not working hard on my sermons. I’m just saying that I know where the ultimate power is found.
(I might also mention the parable of the growing seed in Mark 4:26-29 that also reminds preachers that the “seed”, or Word of God, is going to sprout and grow “all by itself” and is not dependent upon whether or not the sower (preacher) sleeps or gets up. Hmm…maybe I’ll sleep in next Sunday and test this!)
Yes, this is a truth worth pondering and celebrating. It may seem like a “magic” reading of Scripture…but its just admitting that Scripture reading is (at least) a two-way conversation, with the reader/hearer, the Word itself, and the Holy Spirit who is present illuminating the text, convicting or convicting our spirit, and sealing the message on our soul.
As I tell our congregation regularly as I begin sermons: “You better be alert, for the Living God is among us and this may be your day to be cut to the heart. Let all who have ears to hear, listen up.” This reverence for the living voice of God at work through the written word is also why our church invites people to stand (in awe!) during the reading of God’s Word.
So, the Word of God is alive and active….and that’s a big deal! :)