This is something I’d originally prepared for Adventist Review. I was asked to write something 1200 words long, so I decided to see if one of my biblical paraphrases would fly. It did - under the title "Love Must Be Free" - but not exactly as I’d foreseen, though I am thrilled to have been published for the first time. What changed is that only about a sentence or two of all my background paragraphs was used (they changed the location and could no longer use all 1200 words) and my paraphrase from Romans was slightly abridged, but still unedited. Here is the original 1200 word piece in full. I hope it is a blessing and inspires whoever reads this to give their Bible another good long try on faith, to pray that God will help you creatively fall in love with His Word like He helped me.
Worship Through Words
By Chloe Murnighan
I love words. Due to my personality, I encounter fairly regular feedback about how much I talk and write. Pruning my verbosity is one of my growth areas. Words are not cheap to me, yet they pour out of me. They’re crucial for connecting with people and vital to me in worshipping God through journaling and reading.
An enormous portion of Christ’s earthly gospel ministry was through words. Then it was preserved by word of mouth and writing, which is how we now have the Holy Scriptures – God’s heart conveyed through words – in such plenteous availability that people can take it for granted vs. previously being murdered for its mere possession. And up until December 2013, I also took God’s Word for granted.
Before then, I’d read portions of my Bible, being a lifelong Adventist. But while I wasn’t a stranger to Scripture, I didn’t feel the personal impact from it that I did from other books that had nurtured my relationship with God. And the following concern would occasionally occur to me: I am a Christian who loves God personally. Why do I get more excited about devotional books than the BIBLE? The full answer is another story but here is how I grew to love the Bible: word studies over a backdrop of pain. I’ll explain.
Earlier in the fall of 2013 through a hermeneutics class, I was exposed to Strong’s Concordance and to how easily accessible it is via websites like biblehub.com. My personal method of word studies was kindled in a classroom but is essentially of my own construction; it’s not fancy and doesn’t deal with grammar. I simply take one Bible verse and look up each of its words in Strong’s Concordance, writing everything down as I go. As I write and see the multiple meanings unfold that just one Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word can have, and as I do this for all the words in just one text, a sentence becomes a paragraph. It makes the verse become abundantly three-dimensional and invigorating.
Word studies of Scripture were also healing. In the same semester as my hermeneutics class, I’d dissolved the one official dating relationship I’d had before my husband. The painful memories of our mistakes made me feel as though shattered glass was embedded in my heart and stomach all the time. Such was the unrelenting backdrop for the first verse I ever did a personal word study on: Acts 3:19. It spoke of repentance and “times of refreshing” – experiences I craved. As I wrote it all out, the shattered glass sensation was temporarily smoothed. I did many more word studies that Christmas break, and gradually my suffering dulled. I am no stranger to coping mechanisms both healthy and unhealthy, so I say this with no naiveté: studying the Bible soothed my pain.
But beyond that, word studies greatly bolstered my gratitude for the richness of God’s Word as they stimulated my mind to appreciate the myriad of ways a single verse could be understood and applied to one’s personal life. Eventually, I was moved to painstakingly construct deepened paraphrases of Biblical passages to hopefully convey the newly robust and intricate implications that personal word studies had brought home to my heart from Scripture. I pray that whoever reads this will be encouraged to fall in love with God’s Word like I did.
“Love must be free from hidden agendas. You should not be blindly seduced by persuasion to deviate from the standard of love; instead you should be aware of and repulsed by the inevitable agonies and miseries that always go with evil. Make yourself intimately bonded to what is truly good, like a wound absorbing medicine, whether others understand it or not. Be tenderly present and affectionate toward one another with the cherishing love of a loyal family member. Trust God’s grace by taking the lead to willingly give higher value to other people rather than drowning in your own needs as though God did not die for you as well. Never be reluctant about the best you know you can give, but instead feed the flame of your spiritual ardor so that it is always at a boiling point, ever-ready to serve God by ministering to someone else’s heart. Choose to stay conscious of God’s grace whenever you must wait on Him. Endure it when you feel all options are stripped away. Do not let difficulty separate you from constantly asking God to exchange your wishes for His desires and for more persuasion to trust Him. Participate in both the crises and mundane chores of your fellow believers and be unwaveringly fervent about sharing your hearts and homes with people who are strange to you.
Even when you are bullied, provoked, and hunted, deliberately speak only what is good and kind about your persecutors. Be gracious and do not pray for anything negative to happen to them; pray for Jesus to happen to them. Affirm the gladness of people who have something to celebrate; do not rain on their joy. Smile, laugh, and be exuberant with them! Validate and respect the grief of people who have suffered heartbreak and loss; do not criticize their tears. Hold them in your arms. Cry with them. Be still with them. Do not abandon them. Live with such intentionally sincere love so that no one feels like a dissonant note in the community, but knows they are valued and would be missed if they were gone. Do not exalt yourself, but instead work to understand and identify with people who rely on God, rather than leaning on their own understanding. Do not spend time praising your own intelligence.
Never fight fire with fire, ever. Instead, take thought beforehand to respond to injustice and cruelty with choices that look beautiful and noble to everyone, not just your fellow believers who understand the same things you do. Live so that witnesses are forced to conclude you are blameless and internally absent of self-serving motives. Whenever you have the option, choose to depend on God’s strength and wisdom – rather than your own – to figure out ways of living without causing conflict both to believers and unbelievers alike. Never try to get even when you are wronged, but instead give God opportunity to put His redeeming, sinless anger into action on your behalf. Remember what has been written in the days of our fathers: God has said, “Retribution is my responsibility and I will make it happen perfectly.” Your call is to nurture, not avenge:
‘If the person who hates you and cannot reconcile with you is clearly hungry, dole out some morsels, but do not waste what cannot be recognized; if this person is in a state of restless desire, irrigate his heart with kindness. Once you have done this, it will weigh down your adversary’s internal conflict with coals that burn with the fire of God, which will help to melt their internal fissures closer to a state of wholeness.’ Never allow your heart to be subdued by what is wrong, but win the fight and protect your heart with God’s goodness, whether others understand it or not.”