For believers who rejoice in a personal relationship with God through Jesus, reading the Bible and prayer are necessary and life-bringing, like sunshine, fertilizer and water to a growing plant. This is basic! Even if we sometimes rush by them in our daily lives, underneath we know they are precious treasures, gifts by which we know our God better, draw near to Him and grow in likeness to His Son. They are the way we communicate with the Father. And the more we grow in them, the more we experience our God through them, the more we crave them.
But here in 89% “Orthodox Christian” Romania, such a concept seems utterly alien to some, a reality that Anca and I confronted firsthand last night at evangelism, in the lives of two very different women. The first, a simple and unpretentious young woman from the countryside, actually felt disqualified from praying.The obstacle? Not her sinfulness, but what she considered her stupidity. She just couldn’t seem to memorize those fancy prayers in the prayer book!
The second woman saddened me even more. In contrast to the teachable peasant woman, this woman was wary and knowing. She refused our tract without even looking at it, probably spotting us as non-Orthodox believers (Orthodox people don’t go witnessing) on sight. A cynical smile played at her lips. She was intelligent, articulate and educated, but in spite of that, clearly molded in her thinking by the warnings of the priest. For her the Bible was simply too dangerous to open. Yes, the Bible could be read and explained in the church by those wise enough to do so safely, but to read the Bible on your own was to risk great doctrinal deviation or a devastating fall into sin. And the hint within her words was clear. She knew we had already fallen into that trap!
Anca and I did our best with both these women to challenge their thinking, although with more visible effect in the first case. I listened and felt God’s hand on the conversation as Anca explained to the peasant lady in a simple but charming way that God doesn’t really want us to mimic the prayers of others or recite poems to Him. He just wants us to open our hearts. Before we moved on, Anca was able to simply share the gospel of salvation, and we left her, hoping the Holy Spirit would water the seeds planted.
With the second woman, it was harder. There was greater resistance and more distractions. Still we tried. Anca admitted that we don’t always understand the Scriptures, but gave her own testimony of finding great joy in them. I tried to share what came to mind: like her own little girl who throughout our conversation kept interrupting her play to climb into her mom’s lap and hear her voice, even though some parts of our conversation was beyond her understanding, so we, if we love God, will hunger for His Word, even if some of it still mystifies us. I’m not sure how strong the illustration was, but it seemed the theme of the evening for all our conversations was calling people to relationship with God as a loving Father. So I pray the Lord will, in spite of her pre-programmed scepticism, graciously provoke the woman with even the weakness of our words, to open a book that is truly dangerous only to sin, Satan and human pride.
To think on: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105)