Communicate with Word Pictures Like Jesus
Learning and teaching difficult concepts takes mental effort and discipline, but is facilitated by the use of word pictures. It is one thing to be told of God’s love, but those words take on new meaning when we read stories and parables about God’s love for us. The entire of the Bible is rich in such word pictures. Indeed, the descriptions of individuals and events throughout Scripture are meant to help us understand God and His ways. Far from trivial and mundane, the powerful truths in God’s Word are often revealed in the rich language of “word pictures” or metaphors. And until we take a good look at those pictures, we might miss out on the real message God has for us, as well as insights into how to apply those truths in our daily lives.
Jesus – The Master of Word Pictures and Story Telling
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. – 1 Corinthians 10:11
The best and most familiar examples of Biblical word pictures are the parables of Jesus. Who cannot be moved by the love of the father who went running to meet his penitent, prodigal son returning home after squandering his inheritance. What a powerful example of the love God has for His children, even when they stray from His love.
Rich Visual Images of Old Testament Stories
The Old Testament stories are rich in word pictures that teach us of God and His ways. The story of Abraham being told to sacrifice his long awaited and only son Isaac is a picture of what God would later do on our behalf. Isaac was spared, but Jesus, God’s only begotten son, died horribly on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. Another incredible insight into the depths of God’s love for us.
Colorful Word Pictures of the New Testament Authors
The writings in the New Testament are equally compelling in their authors’ use of word pictures. Take for example the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Ephesians chapter 3. It is rich in metaphors which you can see in the following verses:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:16-19
That’s a lot to say in two sentences! But don’t let the length of those sentences get in the way. The word pictures are terrific! There are six of them suggested here: God’s glorious riches, Christ dwelling in believers’ hearts, believers being rooted and established in love, grasping how wide and long and high and deep is Christ’s love, and being filled with the fullness of God.
Techniques for Gleaning Truths from Word Pictures
If you were teaching the above passage, you might have your group read it aloud. Point out the word pictures Paul employs. Then ask members to focus on the first metaphor in verse 16. Ask group members to draw a picture or write a description of how they visualized God’s “glorious riches.”
After they have taken a minute or two to do this, ask them to take turns sharing and explaining their pictures. They may have visualized overflowing treasure chests, priceless jewelry, a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end and much more. Encourage them to react to each other’s ideas, and as the discussion progresses, the images will build on each other until the group has developed a fabulous picture of God’s riches stored up for them in heaven, available in a multitude of dazzling colors and shapes.
Repeat this procedure with each of the subsequent word pictures in the passage, and the result will be a lively and fun discussion that actively involves group members. This is of much greater value than simply lecturing the class from your own notes and experiences. And all will benefit from each other’s insights and collective experiences with the truths of God’s Word.
Use the same approach in your group Bible study any time you are dealing with a colorful or poetic passage.
Basic Steps for Using Word Pictures
- Read the passage aloud and listen carefully to discover the word pictures used in it.
- Give members time to visualize and develop the word pictures.
- Have members draw or write their personal responses to each one.
- Encourage the group members to share and discuss their pictures, allowing their imaginations to take the discussion even further.
- You might even try reading the passage aloud again, this time inserting some members’ responses or holding up their drawings.When using this approach, it’s important to take all suggestions seriously, even the ones that seem far-fetched or funny. One woman in our group, responding to the phrase “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19), visualized a water balloon. After the laughter died down, the group began discussing the image and found that it provided helpful insights. Our lives are as limp and shapeless as empty balloons if we don’t have God’s Spirit filling us.
- When God begins to pour his nature into us, we will be surprised how we can be stretched far beyond the capacities we thought we had. And we will feel ourselves “fit to burst” with a sense of joy and fulfillment when we find that God is beginning to give us his own character and to include us as partners in his own purposes. Though visualizing Paul’s word pictures seemed like playing, the approach produced serious benefits for our group. It jarred us out of our traditional ruts of interpretation, forced us to avoid pious platitudes and allowed us to hear God speaking afresh.
(Adapted from: http://www.intervarsity.org/studentsoul/item/word-pictures)