How to Hear God (Part 3)

IMG_0459

Over the last few weeks, I have been writing this series called How to Hear God. I’m not professing to have many answers, but just want to explore what Scripture says about this topic and what my learning has been over the last several years from others and my own experience. Still using Jesus’ words recorded in John 10:27 (“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”), this week, I’m focused on “my voice.”

If you’re like me, you have voices talking in your head all the time. Wait, that sounds weird. You know what I mean. You have your own voice that reminds you to do stuff, or that you’ve forgotten something. Sometimes that voice soothes you (“everything is going to be okay,” “I’m okay,” “I’ll get through this.”) You have the shaming voice that points out stuff you have done wrong or pretends to tell you truth about yourself even though it’s not truth at all (“that person would never like you;” “you’re a failure”). Sometimes that voice is a parent’s voice, or a teacher’s voice.

Then, there is this other voice. God’s voice. I believe there are ways to distinguish God’s voice from the other voices bouncing around inside. Here are a few of the identifiers for me:

God’s voice leads me to glorify only him.  Any voice that glorifies me or another person, or deifies a problem I am having, is not God’s voice. (Is 45)

God’s voice is consistent with Scripture. When Scripture speaks to a particular issue and I hear a voice that contradicts what Scripture says, it is not God’s voice. (John 14:26)

God’s voice aligns with his character.  God is holy, merciful, loving, present, faithful, great and awesome, mighty, grace-giving, and good. (Psalm 99; Deut. 4-7; John 3:16; 2 Th 2:16; Psalm 100) A voice that is inconsistent with these character traits is not God’s voice.

I cannot generate God’s voice. There are times when I need or want to hear from God and I don’t. I have tried really hard to generate God’s voice so I would be comforted or guided. But, I cannot generate his voice. If I have generated it, it is my voice, not his.

God’s voice does not use words I use.  Any of the times I have heard God’s voice in my heart or spirit (not sure where it actually touches in), the words are not my words. If someone else heard them, they would not claim, “That sounds like something you would say.”

God’s voice points me toward love and servanthood. God’s voice has always pointed me to him or others in love and in service. He does not ask me to seek revenge, hold a grudge, turn my back, or judge. (1 John 4:7-21)  He corrects me, yes, but he does not shame or condemn me.

Why does knowing God’s voice matter? Because I want to follow him. Knowing his voice is the first step. Next week: how do I follow?

Have you heard God’s voice?

How do you distinguish it from other voices?

Advertisements

How to Hear God (Part 1)

photo 1

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?

How to Pray with Someone

IMG_0305

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)

How to Be Present

IMG_0149

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?

How to Quit Stuff

IMG_0175

There are many verses in Scripture that encourage us to stand firm and not give up (Acts 20:24; 1 Corin. 15:58; 1 Corin. 16:13; Gal. 6:9Eph. 4:1; Heb. 12:1; 2 Peter 1:10), so the idea of quitting seems contrary to how we are to be as followers of Jesus.  But the Scriptures make clear that we are to stay firm in our faith, our calling, and doing good.  I do all kinds of things that do not squarely fall into these categories.  Does that mean I need to quit them?  Bob Goff says he quits something every Thursday; it’s part of his rhythm of life.  I love this idea because I am often overwhelmed by busyness and stretched thin by various demands on my time, sometimes to the point that I cannot manage to take care of basic things in my life.  But I needed to think through how to quit stuff, so I came up with a series of questions to ask and bring to God in prayer to figure out whether a certain activity is something I need to quit.

Does the activity:

  • bring me life or drain me?
  • create space or demand space?
  • refresh or tire me?
  • enable or inhibit my ability to live out my calling?
  • build my faith or undermine it?
  • calm my mind and heart?
  • trigger discontent with my life?
  • lift me up or bring me down?
  • cause me to be more loving or more judgmental?
  • lead me into a particular temptation?
  • make me less or more likely to hear God’s whispers?
  • take time away from a family member or friend who needs me?

Sometimes a “no” to just one of these questions leads me to quit that particular activity.  Sometimes the answer is not that clear, but learning to ask the questions is a game-changer.

Is there something you need to quit?

What other questions would you ask to determine if you need to quit something?

 

How to Find Rest

IMG_0180“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Jesus’ words, Matthew 11:27-30)

When I read this, everything in me cries: “Yes!  I want that! But how do I do it?”  Resting is not easy for me.  I have lived most of my life believing one of the greatest fallacies ever conceived – that action and movement are superior to rest.  Rest is built into the way we and everything else was created.  Sleep.  Night.  Fallow fields.  Winter.  To ignore rest is to live in constant battle with the way we were made, like walking uphill, against the wind.  How to rest in our world is tricky.  And somehow, the harder I try, the more difficult it is.  For me, rest comes only when I create an environment that enables rest.

So, here are some things I do to find rest:

Remind myself who I am, a created child of the living God, and who God is, the creator.  Otherwise, I am compelled to think I  hold the world together and without me, things would fall apart.

Recognize that I have limits and that rest is good.  Otherwise, I ignore the need for rest or reject it as a weakness.

Stop doing things that feel like work or make me anxious.  Otherwise, deep breaths don’t come and my mind continues to run.

Do only do those things that give me life.  Otherwise, I will not be filled and restored.

Release my to-do’s and anxious thoughts by briefly writing them down as they come to mind.  Otherwise, these will flood my brain and all hope for rest is lost.

Eat regular meals and favorite foods.  Otherwise, I am distracted by my hunger and my body is uncomfortable.

Surround myself with scents that I only use during times I rest or before I go to bed (black cherry, vanilla, or sun and sand candles; lavender and chamomile lotion).  Otherwise, my body thinks it is time to move, to go, to act.

Wear comfortable clothes.  Otherwise, I am distracted by discomfort.

Exercise.  Otherwise, my body does not know what to do with the energy it produces.

Listen to sounds or music I associate with rest.  Otherwise, noise can clutter my mind and make frantic my thoughts.

Be with people with whom I can be fully authentic and comfortable.  Otherwise, I will be concerned about saying or doing the right thing at the right time.

How do you find rest?