Words and their combinations have always fascinated me. As a child, I loved reading books and everything else in sight! Not only did I love stories and information, but the editor in me was constantly on the lookout for typos, mistakes, or things that didn’t make sense.
One of those things that didn’t make sense was the “Directions” on the back of shampoo bottles. First of all, who needed instructions on how to wash their hair? It seemed pretty self-explanatory to me. And second, why did they always end with “Repeat”? Why would you need to wash your hair again if you just washed it? Also, with no quantification on the number of times to repeat, if you were to follow these instructions literally, would you be stuck in the shower washing your hair repeatedly for eternity? My 10-year-old mind was very bothered by this!
When God freed His people from their captivity in Egypt, He sent them en masse, on foot, into a desert wilderness. Moving these hundreds of thousands of people would be an extraordinary task, but He would not leave them alone. He gave them visible guidance through pillars of cloud and fire and He also provided food for them.
The majority of this food was a substance they named, for lack of a better term, “manna,” meaning “What is it?”. Manna was “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (Exodus 16:31) Every night it miraculously came down from the sky, coating the ground with fresh, belly-filling and energy-giving nutrition.
At first, the hungry people couldn’t get enough of this stuff, but it wasn’t long before: “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!'” (Numbers 11:4-6)
Like manna, the words of God often seem to repeat themselves. Though there are hundreds of thousands of words in the Bible, many of which are new and exciting during the early years of our faith, the time comes when it all starts to sound the same. It’s tempting to skim (or skip) over passages because “I’ve read this story before” or check out during a sermon because “I already know all of this”.
If you surveyed Christians on why they struggle to spend time reading, listening to, or studying God’s Word (and got them to answer in total honesty) I believe boredom and “It all sounds the same” would be close to the top of the list. With a constant feed of new things to read on the screens of our smartphones, the “same old, same old” of the Bible rarely seems like an appealing choice!
But since “repetition is the key to learning,” it appears God might know what He’s doing in all of this. Just like we learn math principles by repeating them with different numbers and grammar principles by repeating them with different words, our ever-changing circumstances and situations provide us with endless opportunities to apply and re-apply the basics of God’s Word.
I’m convinced we can never hear the foundational truths of God’s great power and purpose in this world too many times. No matter how long we’ve been saved, there’s never a time when we don’t need to hear the gospel of Christ’s great love and sacrifice preached to us. We can never be over-reminded that the Spirit is at work in us, drawing us to obedience and, through that obedience, drawing others to Himself.
Recently, I pulled an old devotional book off my desk and opened it up. A gift from my high school Bible study leader, I read every page of “My Utmost For His Highest” by Oswald Chambers during my first two years of college. As I flipped through the pages, I was shocked to see that the things I had underlined are the same things I might have highlighted today! If I read it all back then, how could it seem so new to me now? With my life and world in a constant state of change, the same words that challenged me 20 years ago are still challenging me now.
After letting it bother me for so many years, this week I finally asked my trusty friend Google about the “Repeat” instruction found on shampoo bottles. Is it a marketing ploy to get consumers to use (and therefore buy) more shampoo or should I really be washing my hair more than once? It turns out there may be merit for some people in shampooing twice as the first wash will “clear away dead cells and waxy oil,”* making it possible for the second wash to penetrate further for a deeper clean.
Because the Word of God is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), even the repeated words are never duplicate. Those “same old” verses and ideas have a chance to be “new” every day because I’m never the same exact person in the same exact situation I was in yesterday! Even if I feel like I’ve heard it all before, the repeat application of God’s words are His purposeful work of penetrating my very human (and very forgetful!) soul and spirit.
So, the next time God gives you some “manna” you feel like you’ve read or heard a million times, instead of complaining, skipping over, or dismissing it, take a closer look and take it in – “Lather, rinse, and repeat!”
(Speaking of repeating… it’s that time of year again! The kids will soon be on break from school and my brain is about to be consumed with writing and planning for our summer SERVE youth group trip. I’ll be back after Labor Day with more of these words, but until then I’ll be reposting some of my favorites from the past two years. Enjoy and thanks for reading!)