shema



“I love you with my whole head.” Not a very romantic idea, but sometimes it’s all we’ve got.

I recently went from a light and consoling place in prayer to a strange, different, and uncomfortable place without any feeling. If you have never experienced this phenomenon, let me tell you a little bit of what it is like.

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Yep. That’s it exactly. Nothing. If I were a refrigerator, someone pulled the plug. Now for those of you who have never had any particular FEELINGS associated with God or prayer, this state might feel normal. But, for better or for worse, I have always been blessed, so I had thought, with an actual deep, passionate love for God, His word, the Church, praying, singing, all things that have to do with my faith. So I have felt the things of God with deep emotion and with my whole heart. Pure sweetness. This dessert experience was something a kin to “Elvis has left the building.” It felt like I was totally alone, with no consolations, and very confused. It left me more than a little shocked, bewildered and, well, in the dark.

BUT! What I have learned through this “blessing” is this: Keep on doing what you know to do. Keep on praying even if you feel like no one is listening. Keep on singing whether your heart is engaged or not. Keep on reading His Word and saying, “Jesus, I trust in You,” whether you do it with your whole heart...or just your whole head. Obedience is NOT an option. You do what you do out of faith.

Because, as I have stated before, faith is NOT a feeling.

Let me share with you some amazing truths found in God’s word, locked inside the meaning of a little Hebrew Word, Shema...truths that have helped me to carry on in the darkness.

“Biblical Hebrew includes only about 4,000 words, far fewer than the 100,000 or more we have in English. Because Hebrew has so few words, each is like an over-stuffed suitcase, bulging with extra meaning that it must carry in order for the language to fully describe reality. Unpacking each word is a delightful exercise, seeing how the ancient authors organized ideas and sometimes grouped concepts together in very different ways than we do.

For example, the word shema (pronounced “shmah”) is often translated as “hear.” But the word shema actually has a much wider, deeper meaning than “to perceive sound.” It encompasses a whole spectrum of ideas that includes listening, taking heed, and responding with action to what one has heard.

For instance, in the English, we read Deuteronomy 11:13 as, “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today…” Literally, though, this verse reads, “And it will be if hearing, you will hear…”

And after Moses recited the covenant to the people of Israel, they responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey” (Exodus 24:7, NIV). But the Hebrew here actually reads, “All that God had said we will do and we will hear.” The two verbs here are really synonymous—to hear is to do, to be obedient.

Grasping the wider meaning of shema yields insights to other biblical mysteries. In the psalms, David pleads, “Oh Lord, please hear my prayer.” But he wasn’t accusing God of being deaf or disinterested. Rather, he was calling on God to take action, not just listen to his words. When the angel appeared to Zechariah to announce that his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with John, he declared that their prayer had been heard—that God was answering the barren couple’s prayerful longings to have a child. (Luke 1:13)

Understanding the word shema also helps us see why Jesus often concluded his teaching with the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” What he really meant was, “You have heard my teaching, now take it to heart and obey it!” He wants us to be doers of his words, not hearers only --James 1:22. (An excerpt from the book Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan, 2012)

And that means, just like what I tell my kids--you listen and you obey whether you FEEL like it or not. Because feelings will come and they will go…

“...but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

If you find yourself in a similar place this prayer might just be for you:

Dear Lord,

I know You hear me, even when I don’t think You are listening. I know what’s in Your word, and I trust that You are and will be true to Your word. Help me to listen to You and obey, whether I feel anything or not. Help me to do what I know to do, to keep my eyes on You, to keep my head in Your word, and not to listen to the enemy of my soul, even though his words often speak so loudly to me. Lord, HEAR (shema) my cry, and answer (do something!) because You hear me. Help me to love You with my whole head, even if I can’t with my whole heart. Jesus, I trust in You.

I ask this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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