“And you shall again obey the Lord, and observe all his commandments which I command you today.”
“How do you guys react to the word ‘obey’ in this verse, I ask. “Does it make you feel good, bad… do you find it uplifting… attractive?” I continue.
People were at first afraid to be critical of the Bible, but gradually heads are nodding “no” and people admit they didn’t like the word—and not just because they are criminals!
“It makes me feel small, like I’m being talked down to,” one guys says.
“Sounds really hard,” says someone else. “Something I’m going to fail at.”
I point out that in fact this word, shama in Hebrew, is poorly translated. It literally means “hear.” I have someone re-read the verse replacing hear for obey:
“And you shall again hear the Lord, and observe all his commandments which I command you today.”
Everyone likes this much more. Hearing is more about living in relationship with someone living, who keeps speaking. Everyone appreciates the benefits of being guided by God’s voice described in the next verse.
Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good… (Deut 30:9).
We talk about Moses’ teaching that hearing the voice of God can lead to breakthroughs in every area of our lives: our families (the offspring of your body), our financial life (the offspring of your cattle) and survival/subsistence needs (the produce of your ground).
Hearing God’s words for us “today” is about walking in God’s presence, over and over again. Hearing includes paying attention to what is written in Scripture, but most importantly being turned towards God in relationship.
If you hear the Lord your God to keep his commandments and his statues which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.
People are deeply encouraged by the next verses, that describe God’s word as easily perceived and very close.
For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it… But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it (Deut 30:11-14).
People agreed that when something is in your mouth, it’s really close! Some chuckled and looked surprised… intrigued. I imagine they’re fantasizing about crack/meth pipes, beer bottles, Mexican food… If God’s Presence is actually that close!
Most people on the margins, and especially habitual offenders see Christianity as too difficult for them. I could see visible relief on people’s faces, and then began thinking about how people could actually experience God’s closeness right then and there, before having to go back to their cells.
“I think God wants to show us how close he is right now by healing some people. Anyone here experiencing physical or emotional pain?” As I spoke I got an impression that someone had pain in their upper left ribcage—kind of a strange place for pain I thought, probably just my own imagination.
I invited people to put out their hands and practiced a version of healing prayer I’ve been doing a lot lately.
“If the word can be in our mouths, then why not invite God’s healing presence onto our hands? Then we can place our hands wherever it hurts and experience God’s nearness right now-- even on our hearts if we’re experiencing anxiety or emotional pain. Put out your hands if you want and let’s pray,” I suggested.
Everyone’s hands were out and I invited God to anoint our hands, to send the Spirit onto our hands for healing. I then told people to place their hands wherever it hurt. The men put their hands in various places: some on their lower backs, others on their necks, hearts, knees, sides. I invited them to repeat a prayer we regularly use: “This healing belongs to me because I am a child of God. I receive my healing now as a free gift in Jesus’ name.”
When we finished this quick prayer I asked people to check out their bodies. Immediately a number of people said they felt better.
A Mexican farm worker in his early twenties said his back pain completely left. A middle aged Caucasian man who said he was a diabetic and had a wound on his toe that might lead to amputation said he felt tingling all over his toe and the pain was all gone. The Native American guy said his upper ribcage was the same. I told him that God can work through our own hands, but likes us to receive from others. We gathered around him and prayed some more and he felt relief.
“I can breath much deeper,” he said with a smile.
“This is efing tight” says a young guy with a recently shaved head to my right. He kept moving his head back and forth, a big smile across his face. “My neck was all stiff and painful. This s**t is cool. I really like this church.”
Later at our English service at Tierra Nueva a few in our community experienced healing as we repeated the same Bible study and prayers. I am continually amazed and deeply thankful for God’s closeness as our Savior and Healer. God’s word is very close, ready to guide, help and prosper us, whenever we’re in need.