Here’s something I’m learning about the Bible: context can be quite the bulldozer.
Maybe you’ve been there too. Have you ever found yourself flattened by a passage of Scripture you’ve read multiple times just because of who you were with or what was happening in your own brain at that moment?
On Friday afternoons, I go with a few people from my church to spend time with the children of local refugees. These kids hail from countries all around the world, from Burundi to Iraq to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Last week I was charged with teaching the kids about Pentecost, which I must say is a daunting passage in any language, for any age group. Tongues of fire over people’s heads? The Holy Ghost whipping through the building like a holy hurricane? I can’t say I quite grasp it all myself. So how on earth could I explain it to a group of thirty international kids under the age of ten?
As I was reading the Bible story to the cheerfully squirrely kids around me, this verse struck me in a fresh way:
Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
The magnitude of that day all suddenly struck me in a new way. Pentecost was God’s way of saying, “I see you. I love you. I speak your language.” He didn’t just come for the elite, the religious, the ones born into the right class or social rank or pedigree. He came for all of us. For the wild, vivid patchwork we call humanity. And he wants to communicate with each of us in our heart-language.
As I looked at the precious faces around me, it occurred to me that some of these kids have gotten the message that Christianity is for Americans, that Jesus spoke English and probably had blue eyes. That he’s for other people, not for them.
But Pentecost proves otherwise.
Here’s what I told the kids, and what I’m still preaching to myself: When the Holy Spirit came and infused Jesus’ followers with other languages, it was God’s way of saying, “I came for you. I speak your language.”
I looked into the kids’ eyes, willing the message to sink in deep: The Holy Spirit is God saying, “I love you” in your own language.
I looked at Nguen and Pacifique and Aiysha and I prayed they would believe it. And never forget it.
Then we asked the kids: How do you say “I love you” in your language?
The room was filled with a chorus of voices:
Wo ai ni
Phom rak khun
I have to admit that sometimes I’ve asked the question myself: Does God really love me? Does he speak my language? Oh, sure, I’m confident he’s fluent in English. I’m not afraid he’s up in heaven with a Hebrew-English dictionary, scrambling to translate my prayers. But sometimes I wonder if he gets me, if he has anything he wants to tell me in my heart-language.
Maybe you’ve been there too. You feel like you weren’t born into the right family or you don’t talk like the other Christians or you just don’t fit in. Or maybe you wonder if God gets you, quirks, weaknesses, flaws, and all. Pentecost is God’s way of saying he wants to connect with you. He wants to whisper to you in a personal way—in a way uniquely designed for you to understand.
And today—this could be your own Pentecost. He comes to light a little flame inside your heart. He comes to whip love through you like a holy hurricane.
He comes to say “I love you” . . . in the way your heart can hear it best.