10 March 2011

Something new at Ladies' Bible Study... Last Saturday...

Let your moderation be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Que votre douceur soit connue de tous les hommes. Le Seigneur est proche.

Araŋ bine-baano ma bangay boro kulu se. A go, Rabbi maan.
(Philippians 4:5)

I remember the first time I ever noticed these words, well, the English ones. I was memorizing Philippians 4 after having read a devotional/bible study book by Elizabeth George (Loving God with all your Mind). I was pregnant with Jonathan and my pregnant self and my malaria prophylactic did not get along so well - I was having some nasty side effects, including panic attack-like symptoms and regular heart palpitations in the wee hours of the morning, every morning. Since it was hard to fall back asleep, I kept myself calm and occupied memorizing these verses and they remain very near and dear to my heart. 
The truth that so imprinted itself on my spirit at that time was that there is this link between ~
 choosing rejoicing, gracious gentleness and thankful petitioning 
instead of anxiety - that feeling of painful suspense, distress and dread about what the Sovereign Lord may have chosen for me in future, near or far.
If and when I make the choice to accept God's plan for my days, God's peace presents and surpasses
protecting my mind... guarding my heart...
Considering the fact that I was dealing with unexplainable-to-me heart palpitations, that last bit was very relevant and very precious.
Thus, in starting something a bit new, something that I knew would be an enormous challenge to this group of women who are mostly unschooled, illiterate and more comfortable with the cultural norm of being told what they are to think and believe, it seemed the place to start.  Listening and/or sharing aloud with others what the Holy Spirit is impressing in their hearts is going to require some risk and a stepping out - perhaps even a leap of faith. Thus, I do believe the Holy Spirit led me once again to this portion of His Word, particularly verse 5. And in the process, God continued His whisperings to me regarding gentleness and how for me and my personality, that specific trait is so key to walking with and in His Spirit. He also reaffirmed that hard is not bad, for difficult is often His path. Perhaps that is why He encourages with the reminder that His burden is easy, His yoke is light and He is ever near - leading, following, and surrounding with His presence.

This past week, instead of preparing and writing out a Bible study (which I absolutely love doing), I prepared simply by spending several hours meditating on and praying through this passage of Scripture. I wanted to encourage these women to truly interact with God's Word themselves, individually - not to simply hear, accept and believe as I shared what God had already taught me or answer questions involving the recall of factual information from our biblical text. So I chose this verse, one simple enough that I could get a handle on in all three languages (albeit a weak one in Zarma), and we worked our way through the verse word by word together, discussing what each word meant, how it was used in their languages, its different contexts and connotations. Only two of the women actively participated (and that included the pastor's wife/my translator, who thankfully, critically thinks about just about everything!). The other three nodded and clicked their tongues (a cultural sign of agreement), but that was pretty much the extent of their participation. A fourth young woman, not actually a part of the ladies' group sat around the corner - but within hearing distance and I could see from her body language that she was listening and following the conversation.
Here's the gist of our discussion. One of the most incredible aspects to me is how Bible study in three languages enriches rather than confuses our understanding :
Let - in English, using the word "let" means that I have the power to stop "whatever I'm to be letting" from happening. In other words, it is well within my capacity to hinder or prevent any manifiestation of moderation... this idea is captured in French with the use of the subjunctive and in Zarma by the use of the imperative where the choice is then to obey or disobey.
Your - indicates possession, belonging. Its use signifies that the word it describes (moderation) is rightfully mine.
Moderation - In the original Greek, this word has great depth of meaning, many nuances and has been translated in several ways : a gentle spirit, graciousness, reasonableness, forbearance, patience, teachability, one who willingly lays down her rights and preferences for the benefit of or to serve another. Most commentators said that there is no English word that accurately captures its essence. In Zarma, the ladies remarked that "bine-baano" has both a strong positive as well as a formidable negative connotation. In some circumstances, gentleness is culturally appropriate, i.e. a mother with her sick child. However, in other situations, to seemingly allow someone to take advantage of you and to do nothing about it is looked upon very negatively.

This began the most open discussion of the Bible study - what are we to do when God's clear command leaves a negative impression on those of our culture? As the ladies readily admitted, the obvious answer is to obey the Lord. But in the moment? That is much easier said than done. This very thing is also why many in this land have a hard time accepting Jesus as someone worthy of following: His humble gentleness is so anticultural.

Be evident - When I see the word evident, I immediately ask myself - what evidence is there that would prove my life as one characterized by a gracious, gentle spirit and moderation? The French word, connue, means something that is known. God wants to be known by us, and wants our lives to make Him known to others. Then I loved this part about the next phrase...

To all - or in the French "by all the men" brought the remark that the definite article the is used. Thus our moderation is to be known and seen, not just by men in an indefinite, general way, but by the specific people whose lives interesect with our own for whatever period of time and each time that they do.

The Lord - Using the title Lord here reminds us that He has every right to command us for He is our master. The Zarma word, Rabbi, is similar to the Hebrew word for teacher and I think it was the pastor's wife who made the comment that the Lord not only has the authority to command moderation in our lives, He also has the power and the might to teach us gentleness, placing us in circumstances or conditions and coordinating events that will be conducive to this apprenticeship.

Is - A form of the verb "to be..." If God was speaking this sentence aloud, He would say "I am... " That is His name! The next word is a description, a very part of who He is...

Near - Traditionally, I've always heard it taught that the word near here referred to proximity in time (when considering eternity) of the Lord's return or to one's departure to be with Him. But near can also refer to proximity of position and this one thought was, I think, the most encouraging thing to each one of us sitting in the church courtyard Saturday afternoon. The Lord is near, right beside me, always. He is the "Near One..." because He chooses to be... because He wants to be... That is amazing love, amazing grace.

We ended the study with a challenge - for each one of us to practice meditating - on this passage or another, as we go about our routines, throughout our days. Our "Near One," is close and wants to reveal more about Himself, His Father, His plan. Next month, each lady is to be ready to share a small testimony of some way Jesus taught her something more of Himself while reflecting on His Word, be it a Scripture previously heard, recently read or already hidden in her heart.

If the Lord prompts, please pray that these women start listening for and hearing God whisper deep within their souls. This is not how they've always been taught and it is, in many ways, counter cultural. Some of these ladies have heard several times that the Zarma in the Bible is difficult to memorize and understand because it isn't how they speak in every day life and so are hesitant to try. Granted - it may be difficult. Yet hard things, those frustrating things which are impossible for man to accomplish independently, are often the ones that cause men to seek Him. I'm confident that God will speak to them in their language His Words - if they can simply be encouraged to try... and once they get a taste of  how God's Word sweetly satisfies, deeply comforts, confronts and conquers our sin and inadequacies, reveals, tackles the hardest questions imaginable... they'll be hooked, for the Bible is active and alive.

And for those of you who already knew and have been praying... thank you. The Lord was my "Near One" through what was an immensely more difficult study to lead because I had to be more flexible; my preoccupation was guiding others to participate and that is much harder than simply testifying of what God has taught me while asking questions to keep the ladies involved. Keep on praying!

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