God’s Grammar

I’m a words guy. I write for a living, read daily, and genuinely enjoy talking about geeky stuff like semiotics and etymology. In short, I think words matter. Without the right words (or gestures, or symbols), we couldn’t communicate ideas, express love, or teach our children to maneuver through this world.

When God wanted to disrupt the selfish plans of the people of Shinar – who wanted to make a name for themselves by building a tower “with its top in the heavens” (Genesis 11: 1-9) – he didn’t smash their walls or call down fire from the sky or open the earth under their feet. He just confused their language. He took away their ability to communicate, and the people abandoned their plans as hopeless.

Like city-building, every task requires its own grammar: a set of words and symbols or way of communicating that allows coordination and progress. Football teams have a grammar in the form of complex plays and words that take on special meaning in the context of a game – like “downs”, “yards”, and “quarterbacks”. The corporate world is rife with jargon, too. Visit any board room in America and you’re likely to hear about “low-hanging fruit”, “ROI”, “the bottom line”, and “employee engagement”.

Without a basic understanding of a task’s grammar, you’ll never realize your full potential in that context. Step onto a football field without an understanding of your role or the rules of the game and you’ll be crushed by a linebacker before you know it. Same goes in the board room: try engineering a contract without understanding the basic language and rules of business and you’re liable to find yourself broke, out of a job, or worse.

Relationships, too, have grammars, each one distinct from all others. I talk and act differently with my wife than I do my friends and family members, for instance. April and I have expectations, behaviors, and even words that define and propel our relationship forward.

The same is true of your relationship with Christ: it comes with expectations, and a language of the soul all its own. It’s for this reason that it’s so urgently important that, as believers, we spend time daily in God’s Word and in prayer with our creator: because without actively seeking to understand God, we can never hope to satisfy our half of our relationship with him.

You don’t have to be a spiritual wordsmith to communicate with God, or to have a relationship with Christ. Your Godly grammar will be different than mine. But without some common language between the two of you, a relationship can’t exist.

Jesus taught his disciples about the importance of being able to “talk the talk” in the fourth chapter of the book of Mark, beginning in verse 10:

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?”

Take some time to learn God’s language. Study his word. Pray to him. Talk with other believers.

There are countless online resources that can help you out. I’ll recommend two, in particular, of which PJ and I are big fans:

  1. YouVersion.com, where you can not only read the whole Bible online, but also hear it read aloud and read notes and verse-specific insights from other readers.
  2. DailyAudioBible.com, which offers a daily podcast featuring the spoken word of God in numerous languages and an online community devoted to the diffusion and understanding of the gospel.

How have words impacted your life? On what resources do you rely to help you understand God and his plan for you?

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