In recent months our daughter Emily’s bedtime routine went through a change. She stopped reading from our children’s Bible storybooks and began to read from her own Bible (in the slightly easier-to-read NirV translation). Each night, she and I lie down on her bed as she tucks herself in and I read to her roughly a chapter of Scripture. We started with narratives she knew well enough from the Bible storybooks (Esther, the first half of Daniel), moved on to read through an entire Gospel (Matthew) and then worked our way through Acts. Now we’re back to a Gospel as we work our way through John.
There may be no better way to read the Bible attentively than to read it aloud to your child. In that context, the parts we might like to weed out are glaringly obvious and have stubbornly strong roots. The “hard sayings” seem ten times more difficult when you have to attempt an explanation to your own flesh-and-blood in purple jammies.
At the same time, the exciting truth of the Gospel also seems clearer by night-light and blankie. The innocence of Emily’s questions, the pure receptivity in her eyes, might make one long for a similar eagerness in the Sunday morning crowd. To each verse, each story and conversation, each hint of unfathomable mysteries, she gives undivided attention.
A few weeks ago we were in the middle of one of Paul’s missionary journeys, following the apostle and his companions to Philippi in Acts 16, when we came across an astonishing word. Acts 16:10 on its own looks benign enough—“After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them”—but to Emily it was a mind-blower.
She practically jumped out of bed.
Luke, the narrator of Acts, had switched from a third person description of Paul’s activity to the first person. Interpreters assume, with good common sense, that at this point Luke himself was with Paul, so includes himself in his story through the word “we.” Setting aside the pride I felt at my seven year-old picking up on this sudden change in narrative voice, it’s worth adding that Emily had grasped something about not only storytelling but the Christian life itself: it’s much more exciting to be a participant than an observer.
As we continued to read the book of Acts, each time we came to a new use of “we” Emily’s ears would perk up and she would be even more attentive than usual. To think that the author of this book was with Paul made the whole thing more real. Paul wasn’t just a mythic missionary figure who dropped out of heaven; he was a real traveling companion to his partners, a real guy tromping through real territory telling real people about a real Jesus. Luke was no longer an anonymous voice delivering a story from on high; he was a real adventurer for the gospel, living to tell the story of the events in which God had graciously placed him.
This first-person language is offered to us too. We do not follow Jesus as mere spectators. Just think: we can be every bit as involved in living for Christ as Luke and Paul. What might that mean?
To be a participant in this gospel work is first of all to know that in Christ (his life, his death on the cross, his resurrection and ascension), God has addressed us. Our sins have been dealt with. The invitation has been extended to us. Second, participation is to respond in faith to the life Christ has given us. We can open ourselves up or close ourselves off to him. We can accept him or reject him and his grace. And day to day, to be a participant is to allow God to use us, working out his plans in and for us through the Spirit’s daily activity. For each of us, God’s gift is to invite us in and let us live—each day, each decision, whether big or little—for him. It would be sad for any of us to fail to see this call to live for him as the gift it is.
For Emily, too, I hope the message about Jesus will always be as alive as it was when she first noticed in the pages of Scripture that wonderfully inviting little word “we.”