How to Hear God (Part 1)

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I started hearing God about a month after I committed my life to Jesus in December 2008. Yes, I do realize how that sounds, but there are things in my life that have happened that leave no room for doubt that this is true. Just read about me and the Marine. When I say I hear from God, I don’t mean that an out-loud voice comes down from heaven. I mean there is a whisper in my soul and, to me, it is often as distinct and loud as a voice from heaven would be. Entire books have been written on this subject (see Dallas Willard, Hearing God) and so I don’t mean to cover it once and for all here.

In John 10:27, we are told that Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Based on this verse, it is clear that those who hear from God:

          1.    Have a relationship with Jesus. (My sheep; I know them)

          2.    Are receptive to hearing from him. (listen to my voice)

          3.    Are willing to walk in faith to follow him. (they follow me)

None of these is easy to simply check off your list. Each requires effort, openness, and attentiveness. I want to explore the first one today and the others over the next two weeks.

So, how do you have a relationship with Jesus? Bob Goff, in his book Love Does, says that he realized at some point during his Christian life that he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, he was a stalker of Jesus. “I collected pictures and gathered artifacts and bumper stickers about Christianity, and I talked about knowing Jesus like we were best friends, when actually we really hardly knew each other at all. And I memorized Bible verses and the names of the books of the Bible in order and the sequence of a bunch of events as well as who was there. At some point I had to confess that I was stalking Jesus. I was actually creeping myself out a little and I realized I was probably creeping God out too.”

Ouch. I get it. I don’t want to be a Jesus stalker. I want to be a Jesus knower. And to know him, I have to be with him and commune with him. Now, let’s just be upfront about this: He is not physically present on earth with us and so this is no small task. This is what I try to do (I stress “try”):

  • I intentionally put myself in the places I have met with him before.  When I am in creation (near the water or watching a sunset) I am overwhelmed by his presence.
  • I spend time with other people who know him.  I have developed friendships with people who have loved Jesus much longer than me. I study them, listen to them, learn from them.
  • I spend time with people who are dying to know him.  I have developed friendships with people who are searching and asking about Jesus. God uses me (and you) to show them who he is.
  • I ask him to reveal himself to me in my day.  This is a simple prayer that I have seen God answer every time I make it.

How do you commune with Jesus?

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Life This Week

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I want to be less self-centered this week. I want to be Christ-centered and other-centered. You know how sometimes you do things for other people and you view them as a departure from what you had planned or expected that day? You had a list of agenda items and that one act of service threw you off, and you feel a little less accomplished for the day? Serving that person was an interruption. I think maybe we’ve got this whole thing backwards, like the agenda is the departure and interruption, not the other way around. Perhaps “I am a servant” is the answer to that ubiquitous question, “What do you do?” rather than the answer to “What are your hobbies?”

God is very clear in Isaiah 58:6-7 that fasting from our own agendas and plans so we have room to serve is what he considers obedience. He is also very clear that what comes from this serving is freedom and light instead of the night and darkness slavery to our agendas brings.

“…[I]f you spend yourselves in behalf of
the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the
noonday.”  (Isaiah 58:10)

Here’s what I’m doing this week to refocus and stay centered on what God has for me:

I’m wearing a servant’s towel. I’m shifting my whole view so that my job is servant. In everything, what if I were servant instead of achiever/accomplisher?

I’m spending myself. I’m not a half-way kind of person typically. But, I must say that I tend to stop short of spending myself fully. I hold some back. What if I instead believed God’s word and spent myself on behalf of the hungry?

I’m singing “Overwhelmed” out loud to God. This song by Big Daddy Weave has captured me. And I’m singing it.

I’m praying for someone. I don’t mean in my alone time (which I will also do), but I mean if someone needs prayer, in faith and with their permission, I’m praying with them right then and there, whether I’ve got the right words or not.

What does your week look like?

Could you change your answer to “What do you do?”

How to Pray with Someone

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My step-father is a quadriplegic and cannot move a muscle in his body other than those in his neck. What this means is that someone has had to feed him every bite he eats. Someone must put him into bed and get him out of bed. Someone has to brush his hair and brush his teeth. Every single thing he needs to do in his life, someone else has to do it for him.

But, my step-father does something that is really remarkable. He races sailboats. He is the skipper, the director, if you will, on a sailboat during regattas. The way this works is that he has a chair fastened to the back of the boat and he gets strapped into that chair for the duration of a particular race. The interesting part comes when he is put onto the boat. Four grown men lift him out of his wheelchair, one guy under one arm, one under the other, one guy under one leg, and one under the other. They carry him this way down a very narrow dock, with water on both sides, and then they transfer him to a couple other guys who are on the boat. During the transfer, my step-father is over the water being moved from one set of arms to another while these men carefully step aboard the boat. The boat is in the water, don’t forget, so when you step on, it moves. Eventually, the men maneuver my step-father to his chair. By the end, these men are sweating and out of breath.

I have watched this process on and off since I was 10 years old. Shirts come up, people lose their footing, sunglasses fall into the water. And every time, no matter how many times I have seen it, I cringe, watching through half-closed eyes, thinking, “They’re going to drop him!” But, they never have.

I wonder if my description reminds you of a story we read in Luke 5 when some men carry their friend, a paralyzed man, to where Jesus was teaching in a home. The problem was that it was too crowded and they couldn’t get their friend into the presence of Jesus. So, they climbed up the roof and lowered him down to the floor. Can you picture what this must have looked like? I picture four men who pick up their friend, one man under one arm, another under the other, one man under one leg, another under the other. While carrying him, instead of walking down a narrow dock with water on both sides, they climb up a roof. They are sweating and out of breath. They lose their footing, and their sunglasses. When they finally get their friend up onto the roof, they begin the process of lowering him to the floor below. I imagine some kind of harness and pulley system. I imagine them breathing heavily, worried. I imagine others watching and thinking: “They’re going to drop him!” But they don’t.

When the man lands at the feet of Jesus, Scripture says: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” And later, he heals the man completely so he can walk again.

So, what does this have to do with prayer? I read something not long ago about a man dying of cancer who said that the the pain from his cancer overwhelmed him so much that he lost the ability to pray. When friends came to visit and asked what he needed, his answer was prayer. Some people in our lives have lost the ability to pray. They are in too much pain. They are overwhelmed by suffering caused by financial, relational, or emotional stress, by poverty, by joblessness, or by hunger. Or, maybe they don’t know how to pray and they are stuck. Often, though, we decide not to pray with people (preferring to do it in our head or alone) because we are worried about our words. We think we are not eloquent enough. We don’t pray as well as some other person we know. We don’t know enough Scripture. We fumble for words when put on the spot. We will be clumsy and awkward and embarrassed.

Have you ever seen four men carry a paralyzed man onto a boat? Or up onto a roof? It is the most awkward, clumsiest thing you will ever see in your life. In the story told in Luke 5, when the men carried their friend up onto a roof so that they could place him in the presence of Jesus, Jesus did not compliment their technique. He did not say, “Wow, what a pulley system you have put together!” or “You are strong and graceful men!” What Scripture tells us is that “[w]hen Jesus saw their faith, he said ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’”

It’s not our words. It’s our faith. It’s not the words we say in prayer. It is our faith to bring people into the presence of Jesus. There are people who have lost the ability to pray and they need not our words, but our faith. Our most powerful prayers are not necessarily the most eloquent, where all the words are right. Our most powerful prayers are the ones where we use the full measure of our faith even if it is clumsy and awkward, in order to present someone at the feet of Jesus for the help only he can give.

How do you do this when Jesus is no longer physically present on this earth? You don’t have to pick anybody up, but you could:

  • Hold their hand.
  • Put your arm around their shoulder.
  • Describe Jesus to them based on what you know from Scripture.
  • Say, “Lord Jesus, we are in your presence. Thank you for life. Forgive us for the ways we fall short. We need your help, healing, and peace as we struggle with [insert whatever the need is]. Deliver us.”

Is there someone you could help carry or walk with into Jesus’ presence?

Picture source: Mary Warren, The Lame Man Who Walked Again (Concordia, 1966)

Life This Week

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I was mesmerized yesterday as I watched waves crash over this rock on the Michigan shore. The rock has been smoothed and is no longer sharp like the others just out of the water’s reach. It made me think of God’s grace – his unmerited favor – that not only provided a way for our salvation through Christ, but also conforms us into the image of Christ. I stood with my arms outstretched, my mouth open, my eyes lifted. “Wash over me, God! Wash over me with your grace! Conform me into the image of Jesus! Smooth out my edges. Wash over me!” To be washed, we need to be near the water. Here’s what I’m doing to stay near this week:

I’m praying Psalm 42:1-2. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Wash over me, God! Wash over me!

I’m remembering who God is. I’m reading a section of Psalm 104 each day. Monday: 104:1-4; Tuesday: 104:5-9; Wednesday: 104:10-13; Thursday: 104:14-18; Friday: 104:19-23; Saturday: 104:24-27; Sunday: 104:28-35.

I’m reminding myself what Jesus says of me, because I believe in him. I am free. I have the Spirit within me. I am being transformed into the image of Christ. (John 7:37-39; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

What does your week look like?

How are you staying near to God?

How to Be Present

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Non-presence. It is an epidemic. Sometimes I wonder if being present in a particular moment is even possible. So many thoughts and tasks, ideas and ideals, and cares and concerns pull me away. I am constantly greatly tempted to check email or Facebook or Instagram in the middle of a conversation with someone, while driving, and when I’m trying to enjoy being outside. Why is this? Why am I so distractible and tempted out of the moment? I don’t know why. All I I know is that when I’m not present, I am less grateful, notice less beauty, and feel less peace. When I’m not present, I’m not loving the people in my life well because I’m only giving them a shadow of myself, not my whole self. When I’m not present, I am unlikely to encounter God.

I started doing a couple things this week essentially by accident, but they have really helped me to be more present:

     1.     On my drive to work, I give myself permission to run through all the thoughts that come into my brain. Instead of fighting them off or distracting them with music, which is what I usually do, I let them in and process them. When something I need to do comes to mind, I dictate a note about it into my phone and then move on.

    2.     As I approach people to meet or speak with them, I pray first. Just a simple prayer: “Father, help me be present. Let me see you here.” Realizing God’s presence in every encounter has made each moment alive, full, and surprising.

There are obvious things to do to remain present, like not checking my phone during conversations with people or when I’m seeking time with God. But I need more and so far these two things have been working.

How do you stay present?

Are there things you could do that would help?