Easter to Pentecost: Heart Language
by Chris Foxton
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
I enjoy reflecting on Pentecost, not just because you have Peter trying to clear up accusations of early morning drinking or listening to readers hilariously mispronouncing those who came from Crete, (editor’s note: it is pronounced ‘cree-tans’!). It is because Pentecost is a moment where the Gospel message is made accessible to everyone. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descended upon the early believers and they went out proclaiming the Gospel message in the languages of those around them. Those experiencing these events were now hearing about God’s deeds in their own heart languages.
In the Resonance multicultural worship band, of which I am a member, we recognise that a person’s heart language is important. This is the place where a person can connect to God on the deepest level. We believe that helping people engage with God in their own heart language helps people who, otherwise, may never really come to understand what Jesus has done on the cross. This can sometimes be difficult because of language or different cultural barriers. For those who are already Christians, heart language is also important as it is the way that they are able to engage with God most naturally.
One experience that stays with me is going to a church in the Netherlands where there were Christians who had fled Syria. I was working with two brothers who had lost family members whilst escaping their home country, teaching them worship songs from both western and other cultures. One of the songs we had selected was in Arabic. It was called 'Anta Atheemun', a song that declares the holiness of God. In that moment I could see that it was the first time that they could truly engage with the worship since leaving Syria, as they worshipped God in their own heart language. The brothers were able to enter a place of worship more easily than any of the other songs we had been teaching them, which were mostly in Dutch and English. These brothers were having to cross the barrier of learning a new language and culture, which was hindering them being able to enter that deeper place of worship.
I sometimes wonder if Pentecost never happened, would we require our Bibles, prayer and worship to be in Hebrew today (the language of the Old Testament)? For most people reading this, their heart language is likely to be English. Imagine having to learn a new language and engaging in new cultural practices to engage with God. This is something that the Resonance band comes across often when we visit churches across the UK. Christians who have left their home countries for a variety of reasons, including some who are fleeing persecution, tend to receive a warm welcome in church communities (and it's important that we recognise this is a good thing!), but in many cases they find it difficult to take part in worship with the rest of the church community.
Our western culture doesn’t necessarily connect with everyone and Christianity can sometimes feel like a ‘foreign Western religion’ to those from other cultures. We should be recognising that Christianity is a universal faith that brings together all nations and cultures in glory to worship God. Perhaps a challenge that we as a church face, in the context of a multicultural society, is how do we ensure that everyone has an opportunity to engage and worship God in their own heart language?