by Eleonora Scott
God has used heart language to encourage worship in one context. Scott offers principles for those seeking to begin the process.
Photo courtesy Eleonora Scott
My team and I long to see God’s kingdom purposes become a reality for the culture in which we work. Our philosophy of ministry is to go in obedience where God sends, to look for what God has been and is doing there, and to join him in what he is doing. Of course, we have in mind some of what God desires for the culture in which we serve—locals becoming passionate disciples of Christ committed to God’s kingdom purposes, going and making disciples of all nations.
We believe God wants to share himself, to help locals understand who he is and what he is doing, and we believe that the primary way God chooses to do this is through his word in people’s heart language. Heart language is the language in which people feel most comfortable relating to others and thinking deeply. In this article, I share how we have seen God use heart language to encourage heart worship in our context and ten principles for doing mission in many contexts.
Look for How God Is Working in the Culture
How do we start in a culture which doesn’t yet have a Bible that is easily understandable? How will people be motivated to read and use scripture if they don’t like to read as part of their culture? And how do we encourage our friends to use their own language for faith-related activities in contexts in which this is not normal?
As we asked God our questions, he opened our eyes to see how he was already working in the culture. He had especially gifted our national friends with musical ability. Perhaps music would be the vehicle through which our friends could use their heart language with God.
Remember that Relationships Are the Soil in Which to Plant Seeds
In spite of the lack of access to vernacular scripture, there are committed Christians in the culture in which we work. They are educated, multi-lingual, and they struggle with reading the scriptures in the national language and in English. These were the friends God had given us. Because relationships are so important in the culture, we started with our closest friends who had musical gifts. We began with asking them two simple questions: “Do you pray in your own language?” and “Why are there no worship songs in your language?” We planted these seeds and then waited to see what God would do.
Prayer in the Heart Language Opens Doors
Some of our friends began to use their own language to pray, and this motivated them to pray more often and to encourage their friends to pray using the heart language. We soon asked if our friends wanted to have a Bible study together about worshipping God in their heart language. The response was very positive, so we organized a heart language worship song-writing seminar, and invited our closest friends.
Use a Multi-Lingual Approach
The first seminar was very encouraging. Twenty-three participants came! Using a multi-lingual approach, we sang and studied the Bible together, and had great discussions. We discussed their heart language, how it was God’s gift to them, and how it could be used to glorify him. By using more than one language in this context, and by encouraging group discussion in the heart language, our friends could see equality among languages such that it raised the status of their heart language.
Let Biblical Truths Take Root
Our friends came to see that God loved all languages, and that he wanted to be worshipped in all languages. However, they feared that their language would not be suitable for worshipping God. It was not “normal” to use their heart language in church, so they had reservations.
For example, they wondered whether it was appropriate to refer to God as “you” in their language. They were afraid it would be disrespectful. After some discussion and looking at examples in the Bible, they were still hesitant; it was a new concept that they could refer to God in such a personal way. But as they realized God wanted to be their friend, they discussed the possibility that their heart language could free them to talk to God as they talk to other friends.
Encourage Nationals to Ask God for Help
We discussed whether their heart language would be appropriate for singing worship songs to God. Since no one had written any worship songs in their heart language, this was an important step of faith. We asked if they believed that God would give them songs to worship him if they asked. Because some of them had already seen God answer their heart language prayers, they believed he would. So they asked God for songs with which to worship him, and they broke into three smaller groups to work.
Be Ready to Witness God’s Power
To our complete amazement, within a couple of hours the groups were ready to present their songs. We had hoped for some ideas or choruses, but God had quickly given them songs to praise him. Tears streamed down my face as I heard them sing to God for the first time in their language:
Now I’m free!
I have a new life
because Jesus has changed my life
into something meaningful!
What a privilege to witness this! The group discussed singing the songs at a street concert the following Friday, and meeting together again in one week. We told them we were happy to meet if they wanted to continue. We gave thanks together and went our separate ways.
Expect Opposition and Resistance
We went to the street concert full of anticipation, but they decided not to share the new songs. The song leader was ill, and the rest of the group didn’t feel confident. Tears streamed down my face again, this time out of disappointment. If they were not motivated to sing the songs God had given them, how would they be motivated to do other faith-related things in their heart language? And if they were not comfortable using their heart language with God, how would they understand the personal relationship God desires to have with them?
Remember that God’s Strength Is Made Perfect in Weakness
The next day, only four of our national friends came to the session. We cried together in disappointment and prayed that God would show us what he wanted to do. It was a beautiful and vulnerable time, a time of outpouring to God, and a time of God giving visions and words of comfort and encouragement.
Our national friends believed that even though there were only four of them, God would give them a song if they asked. So they prayed, and God in his grace gave them another song within a couple of hours. It was a beautiful song, an anointed song:
We will praise you!
We will worship!
We will lift up Your Name above all names!
Lord, take our hearts,
our lives –
we give everything to You!
Thank You for everything You’ve done
May our lives be filled with Your glory!
The group believed that God gave them this song to share with others. God also gave them the motivation to do so. They arranged to sing it at church the next day. They taught it to their friends and sang it at the next street concert. And the locals responded very positively, making comments such as: “I can’t believe how close I feel to God when I sing to him in my language,” “I feel free in my spirit when I worship God in my language,” and “It is better to use our own language to worship God—it is the fragrance of our land.”
Trust God to Bring about His Purposes in His Time
We met again the next week, and God gave our four national friends two more songs. They soon began encouraging other friends to ask God for songs. As we left for furlough just a few weeks later, our friends sang us the tenth song at the airport. And since that time our friends have been working on getting the songs written and are now moving toward making a CD. This is an important step in helping others see that it is good to use their heart language for heart worship.
Recently, I got a call from one of my national friends who shared that a group was going to sing the songs at a local youth center, but the electricity was out (as it often was for hours, or even days at a time). The group prayed using their heart language. As soon as they finished praying, the electricity came back on so they could have the concert. After the concert, they received positive feedback regarding the songs. The team felt very encouraged by the power of God at work in their lives through their heart language. Since that time, our friends have also been featured on the radio.
Praying and worshipping God in one’s heart language has great impact on a community. In fact, it is very important to the task of mission.
When people use their heart language, they are freer to share with God everything on their hearts. They grow deeper in faith, feel God’s presence with them, and sense the kind of relationship he desires. It prepares people for the intimacy that friendship with Jesus demands and creates a thirst for knowing more of God, which prepares their hearts for greater discipleship. This also helps prepare hearts to hear God speak back to them in their own language as scripture is translated into the heart language. Finally, as they hear God speak in their heart language, their heart worship may lead them to understand God’s heart for mission. May all the nations praise him!
Eleonora Scott and her husband, Graham, are members of Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia having served in Southeast Asia. They are working toward doctorates in Biblical Studies, serving in an Asian church, and training cross-cultural workers in SIL Australia’s EQUIP program.
EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 36-41. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.