As many of you know, Michelle and I are learning a new language – Sesotho. We have been living in our village – Molumong for 5 months now. Acquiring a second language is interesting, frustrating, and rewarding all at the same time. Not only do we have to become like children, we also have to put ourselves in the position of saying something wrong – really wrong – like when instead of saying, “I am going to teach students how to design clothing.”, I said, “I am going to teach students how to take their clothes off.” Not the best thing to be saying.
I came across something interesting this week. In Sesotho, we have a verb, “ho utloa”. It is pronounced “hoe oo-tlwah”. I first learned that it means to understand. I have learned this week that it is what I would call a contextual verb. I don’t know if that is a proper linguistic term but let’s just go with it. So, what I mean is that I discovered that not only does it mean “to understand”, but it also means to feel, to hear, to taste and to obey. What? This one word means all of these things? When using the verb while touching, or listening, or eating, or being told or directed, it is understood in each context. When I thought about it – in each context, it made more sense. If someone here asked me to give them the blanket, and I sit still with a smile on my face failing to give the blanket to them, I have not understood. If I pet the horse’s coat and can describe how it feels, I have felt or understood the way it feels. If I listen to neighbor calling a greeting to me from across the valley, and I respond, then I have heard and understood him. If I drink the motoho (soured porridge) but don’t wince at the sourness (and fear what will happen inside when I swallow it), then I have not understood or tasted it. If the chief tells me that I must take my animals away from the village to graze in the designated grazing lands and I allow my animals to remain with me in the village grazing on the hills around my home, I have not obeyed or understood what the chief has told me. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. And as I even talked with God about it, He opened the thought up more clearly.
I can know or know about something – book knowledge- and not have true understanding about it if I haven’t actually felt it, heard it, tasted it, or allowed it to change something in me or guide me to a different behavior. Ho utloa – to understand, to feel, to hear, to taste and to obey. Where has God directed me through His word about ho utloa?
To understand: In Ephesians 1:4ff, Paul tells us that, “even as He chose us in HIM before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before HIM. In love, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of HIS will, to the praise of HIS glorious grace with which HE blessed us in the BELOVED.” We can be told over and over again that God chose us and some people will say yada yada yada. But do we UNDERSTAND that GOD CHOSE US BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD AND ADOPTED US AS SONS? Creation is a huge thing – a miracle beyond man’s understanding – but GOD CHOSE US BEFORE HE EVEN DID THAT! “In the beginning God created…” We know those verses but do we UNDERSTAND that even before those words, HE HAD US IN MIND. Do I understand it? How do I know? What does it change in me? Do I tell others about their being chosen?
To feel: God brought to my mind Joseph and the coat of many colors. This may be abstract but stick with me. In Genesis 37 we are told about how Israel loved Joseph so much that he had a beautiful, colorful robe or coat made for him to wear. Most of us know how the story progresses but stop for a minute and put yourself in Joseph’s shoes or coat so to speak. As he slipped that colorful coat up onto one arm and then the other, as he adjusted it onto his shoulders and felt the weight of it as it fell down his back skimming his legs, as he grabbed the front and pulled it around himself. What did he feel – what did he understand? Did he feel or understand not only the weight of the physical coat but the weight of what others would see? Did he feel or understand his father’s love for him? When I think of what the colorful coat might point to today, I think of the NATIONS – the many colors of those people not yet reached with the story of Christ. When I slip that coat on, the coat that shows God’s abundant love for me, do I understand the weight of it? Do I feel the weight of what God’s love calls me to do? Do I buckle under the weight saying not me! Or do feel and understand God’s love as I pull the coat around me and move to take this love to others?
To hear: In Matthew 13:14ff, Jesus is telling his disciples the purpose of parables. Jesus spoke of Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled when he told his disciples the people, “…will indeed hear but never understand, you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart had grown dull, and with their ears, they can barely hear, and their eyes have been closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” The Message says it even more clearly: “I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again: Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in the ears so they won’t have to listen; they screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face to face and LET ME HEAL THEM.” Do we hear or understand that? God wants to HEAL us. HE, the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE – HE WANTS TO HEAL US! Search HIS word – not only that but He wants to adopt us, bless us, love us, care for us, provide for us, cleanse us, and SAVE US! Do I, do you, do we HEAR and UNDERSTAND this? More importantly, Do THEY?
To taste: Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in HIM!” When we taste something, we are experiencing it – understanding it. We are having a personal experience. We can read through all of the wonderful recipes in the most recent cooking magazine but not until we get up, go to the store, buy the ingredients, bring them home, follow the directions and see it through, do we get to actually taste or understand what we have read in the recipe. It’s the same way with our relationship with Christ. If we don’t act on what we’ve read in HIS word – let it change something in us or motivate us for HIM, then we really don’t understand or taste that the Lord is good. If we don’t take what HE has quietly spoken to us and move on it – call that friend, send that card, pray for our coworker who doesn’t know Christ, hug our child, then we haven’t understood or tasted that HE is good.
To obey: John 14:15 from the Message, Jesus said “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.” This is also known as obedience. This is the verse that knocked me down some time ago and now is my life verse. If I am told to do something, I can either obey or not. Even God gives me a choice. But just as Jesus spoke those words, he followed them with a promise in verse 16ff, “I will talk to the Father, and HE will provide you with another friend so that you will always have someone with you. This friend is the SPIRIT of TRUTH…” Also known as the HOLY SPIRIT. So it’s not like most of our earthly fathers saying, “It’s my way or the highway!” He’s saying that he wants us to do what he has told us – it is following Him. We can follow any popular human who is the current fountain of wisdom and get nothing or we can follow Christ and HE will send us the Holy Spirit to be our friend and guide us through the mountains and valleys of this life.
Ho utloa – to understand, to feel, to hear, to taste or to obey.
Ke khetha ho o utloa.
I choose to utloa Him.
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