Last week I drove the church van as a group of us from Dulce went to Hinton, Oklahoma for the Native American ministry retreat. It was a long trip, which gave me a lot of time for thinking, and one of the things I found myself thinking about was language. We have lived in Dulce a bit more than 2½ years and when I think about it I have learned about 30 words in Jicarilla, or about one word each month. I have never been much of a student of languages, and Jicarilla is hard! I can't make my tongue do the right things, or as someone teaches me a few words I find I am overloaded and the new words just get all tangled up in my brain.
As an example here is the opening line to I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, as transliterated in Jicarilla, and without a few markings that I don't know how to produce on my keyboard:
Shi k'adi Jesus bi ke' hi shal go
But I have also noticed progress in the fact that I find there are some Jicarilla words I occasionally use around the house without thinking about them a whole lot. So while on the one hand I seem to struggle greatly with the Jicarilla language at the same time I am aware that I have actually learned a few things well. Perhaps not very many, but a few. I doubt that I will ever reach any kind of fluency but I do think my practical knowledge of Jicarilla will continue to slowly grow.
When we come to have faith in Jesus and begin to grow as Christians one of the things that happens is that we begin to learn a new language. There are words that we learn quickly, and there are others that take a long time to understand well. Some of the easier words are faith, grace, forgiveness and prayer. And while their basic meaning may come easily, our understanding of richness of their meanings will grow for years.
Harder words include things like providence, salvation and justification. But gradually learning the language and how the meaning of the words fit together is of great value in understanding what it is that we believe in when we say things like "I have faith in Jesus," or "Jesus is my savior." Many parts of the Bible can literally come alive as we learn the meaning of the words and then understand what God is showing us through them. And understanding the words leads to our understanding our beliefs, which leads to being able to share those beliefs with others, which may be the way that God is going to awaken faith in that other person.
So as you read your Bible be a student of the words on the pages. Seek to learn the basics of the language and then move on to the more complicated words, just like I continue to learn those Jicarilla words that tie my tongue in knots. If you are having some trouble learning the language then seek out someone who already knows it well and ask them to guide you. And in the words of 2 Peter 3:18, day by day "may you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.