“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” (1 Cor 13:11 TNIV)

Last week we had the privilege of looking after a toddler for the day (an exhausting but enriching and fulfilling occasion!) and once again I pondered on language development. It always fascinates me to hear children learning to speak: from stumbling words, often mispronounced, to short sentences, not always grammatically correct, but understandable to their nearest and dearest, to full sentences, readily understandable by all. Language is such a powerful tool.

This week I have been back in the cut and thrust of school life, dealing again with fresh-faced Year 7s and discussing with them the origins of language (answering the question ‘Why doesn’t everyone speak the same language?’ as found in Genesis 11:1-9 TNIV) and the many reasons for learning other languages, as well as encouraging those pupils about to tackle GCSEs by showing them strategies for improving their fluency in another language. One of the keys to this, in the prosaic terms of the examiners, is to use ‘complex language’ or, less prosaically, ‘words that make you stand out from the crowd’.

When we are children, we use baby words. Our vocabulary is small and repetitive. The toddler we cared for has learnt the phrases ‘I’m tired’ and ‘I’m hungry’, but she hasn’t quite got to the stage of saying what she would like to eat! As we grow, we learn the great glory of new words, especially synonyms which are nuanced to give us a slightly different shade of meaning. Broadening vocabulary is, I believe, something that should continue throughout life. There are always new words out there to discover which can enrich our experience.

Language is all about communication. But, as Eugene Peterson points out, in ministry ‘communicating clearly not what we are after. What we are after is creating new life.’ (Eugene Peterson, ‘Subversive Spirituality’) He is not advocating confused language, incidentally (the plain English campaign has a lot to commend it!) But he is saying that words can be the doorway to creativity (God, after all, created our whole universe through words, saying ‘Let there be light’ and so on, and Jesus is known as the ‘Word of God’ – see Genesis 1 & John 1).

I’m not a big lover of cats, but one of the things I’ve noticed when visiting my aunt who loves cats is how a cat purrs contentedly when being stroked. A purr can be quite a loud noise, but it indicates contentment to the point of ecstasy. That’s precisely how I feel when I find words used which open my understanding and deepen my knowledge of God. Writers and poets who use words in ways that create ‘light bulb’ moments for me. ‘Ah, so that’s what it means!’ Those moments are to be cherished.

I love music, but it’s usually the lyrics of a song which create that purr of contentment in me, because I’m a person who loves words. It can be just a phrase which moves me from fog to clear understanding: ‘Embracing mundane’, ‘reckless abandon wrapped in common sense’, ‘manna became man’ are just a few examples (from the songs ‘Wondrous Love’ by Aaron Shust, ‘Somewhere in the Middle’ by Casting Crowns and ‘Final Word’ by Michael Card.) On Matt Redman’s album ‘10,000 Reasons’ it was just the one word ‘magnificent’ in the song by that title: a new adjective to describe God that helped me to see Him in a bigger way.

The spark for these musings came from the song ‘No One Higher’ by Aaron Shust. The chorus of that song goes:
“And, Lord, we stand amazed in Your presence,
Astounded by Your mercy and love,
Our hands are lifted high in surrender.
Your grace for me is always enough.
And there is no one higher than our God.
There is no one higher than You.” (‘No One Higher’, Aaron Shust)

‘No One Higher’, Aaron Shust)

‘Amazed’ is a word we often use when talking about our reaction to God. But ‘astounded’ is not one we use all the time. It means to be shocked or greatly surprised. And somehow, that seems exactly the right word to use to talk about my reaction to God’s mercy and love. I’m shocked by it. It’s not what I expected or deserved. It surprises me. It astonishes me. It takes the wind from my sails, bowls me over with gratitude. I’m a mere mortal, a sinner by birth, and yet the Almighty God lavishes His mercy and love on me!

So today, take the time to be astounded by God’s mercy and love. Don’t take them for granted, but let His majesty and greatness take a hold of your life and fill you with awe and wonder!