Friday, November 19, 2010

A Whisper in the Wind

This discussion on hearing from God has raised a raft of questions for me. I’m shy about sharing some of them, because I’m not sure they even make sense. Both the questions and the answers are still incubating. But Jenifer’s comment on my November 18th post, interestingly enough, speaks to the first of my questions, recorded in my journal on November 15th.

Jenifer says: “God is always speaking to us. Sometimes it is in the big things and sometimes it is a whisper in the wind. The more aware we are of Christ in our daily activities, the more we will notice when He speaks to us.”

My November 15th journal entry asks this question: Does God speak specifically to me every day, or are there only some times when I need to hear specific words? Are there some days when we just walk together in companionable silence?

Jenifer’s statement is obviously true, and I want to especially note her reminder that “the more aware we are of Christ in our daily activities, the more we will notice when He speaks to us.” But how does God speak? Is it always specific?

So here’s my mind trying to work out this truth:

God speaks all the time.

I know He does. He thunders on the mountaintops and he whispers in the wind. But what does that mean? Does He speak specific words in those sounds? Or does he just give us an intuitive sense of who He is—a majestic, powerful God, or an infinitely gentle One?

Psalm 19:2 says that the heavens declare the glory of God, day after day and night after night. God speaks to us constantly through the natural world.

He speaks constantly through His written word too. Every time we open the Book we read God speaking, even if nothing we read connects specifically with where our minds are at the moment.

And I’ve also come to believe that He is constantly whispering “I love you” in our hearts, as if those words are constantly being broadcast on some kind of spiritual airwave. Whenever we happen to tune into that station, we hear them.

But the kind of speaking I’m trying to listen to right now is more personal, more specific. How often does God want to take one of His eternal truths and apply it to my life, for a specific reason, at a point in time? How often does God want me to experience this kind of realization of Him?

God also speaks specifically at particular points in time and space.

One day when I was walking alone along a forest trail, He pointed out a flower that He said He’d put there just for me. I needed a flower that day, but I didn’t want to pick it because then it wouldn’t be there for someone else. He said, “It’s yours. Pick it. I can make more.”

When I was in agony over some things that were happening, or NOT happening, in my church, I wondered if God’s Spirit had departed from us—given up on ever being able to use us again. I picked up the Bible and read Haggai 2:5: “Be strong, and work, for My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

And every time I ask Him for a random word, for no specific reason except to be reassured He is there, I hear an instant response: “I love you.” I know that’s true, but for some reason it surprises me again every time He says it.

So maybe my question about how often He speaks specifically is nonsense. Maybe I just need to keep my ears tuned, as Jenifer has said, and let Him speak however He wants.

Maybe I need to hear His voice in the thunder, the wind, the giggles of my grandchildren, the sigh of a friend, but also make my ears available for a specific word that says, “This is the way. Walk in it.” when I turn from the left to the right.

Thanks, Jenifer, for stimulating my thinking about this.

And, Kristen, God does use you. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Amazing Truth!

The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Psalm 25:14

God confides in us. That's amazing!

One more blog post from my personal journal, to show how God has spoken specifically to me in the last week:

I think I’m getting more of a sense of God’s urgings, in even the littlest things. I may be wrong about these urges, but I don’t think it will hurt anything if I step out on faith, as if they are from God. This morning I picked up my Bible from the nightstand and Prison to Praise was under it. I felt I needed to pick it up too, as if God might want to say something to me from it.

I always think it’s best to read my Bible first, before any other book in my quiet time, but this time as I asked God where I should read I felt Him say to read the book first. I turned to my bookmark and started reading [the author's] chapter on the power of praise—really the heart of his message. It was a powerful read, and again I sensed the urging of the Spirit to blog a passage from the book. So I got up and did it, afraid if I didn’t obey immediately it might get lost somewhere in the shuffle.

My blog posts are coming so much easier and more frequently since I relinquished my right to play Spider Solitaire! I’m convinced I can’t develop the discipline to do what God wants me to do until I exercize the discipline to quit doing the other things that get in the way. So I wonder if that blog post has a specific purpose in God’s Kingdom, since it seemed so specifically inspired? I might never know, and that’s all right.

Later I added this:

I said above that I might never know if the posting of this blog was God’s idea, but in the depth of my spirit I asked God for some kind of confirmation. A little while later I checked my e-mail messages and got this message from Lisa:

“I really enjoy reading your blog. In fact, I sent part of it to a friend who is feeling overwhelmed today. Thank you for posting this! I want to always bring the sacrifice of my praise to Jesus.”

I learned several things from this experience:

I was reassured that God does speak to us specifically if we make the effort to ask Him for specific wisdom AND if we take the time to listen for Him to speak. He spoke to me in prompting that blog post. He spoke to Lisa, asking her to send it to her friend, and He spoke encouragement to Lisa’s friend through her obedient action.

I realized that when we feel God’s prompting, we need to obey instantly. If I had waited to write that blog post, it might never have happened. I know, because I’ve lost good ideas like that before. The idea comes, and I think I’ll do it later, and it never goes any farther.

If Lisa had not responded immediately to send the message to her friend, she might never have done it, and her friend would have missed that blessing.

Lisa was doubly obedient to God’s prompting. Her encouraging message to me had impact because she sent it right away. If she had waited a day or two, I would not have had the specific confirmation I asked God for.

I also saw a demonstration of God’s love here. God went out of His way to encourage Lisa’s friend. He prompted me to write the blog post. He prompted Lisa to read it, and then to send it on to her. When God goes to a lot of trouble to say, “I love you,” the message is powerful. This friend of Lisa’s must be greatly loved by God, and He wants her to know that.

Next post will move away from these personal experiences. I want to talk about three other ideas before I leave this subject. I want to discuss how God speaks, what kinds of things He says, and I want to ponder the “sound” of His voice. I hope those discussions will help answer the question, “Is it really God speaking to me?”

I love the comments I’m getting. If you have something you’d like to share with others, please e-mail me (see the sidebar for my address). I can then include your comments in the body of the blog posts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Not About Sofas

So I’m having fun with the current topic of hearing from God. I think I'll post some examples of the experiences I'm having. Here's one from a week or so ago:

I am looking on Craig’s List for furniture for our front room. I find an ad that looks promising, contact the person who is selling, and make arrangements to go see it tonight. She is leaving town in the morning for ten days and has to get rid of her things before she moves permanently at the end of the month.

On the way to her house, I begin to wonder if God might have a greater purpose in the encounter. I ask God to guide and use the situation for His purposes.

We meet, and I look at the furniture. It’s not what we’re looking for, but my spiritual eyes have been moved to a bigger goal than finding a sofa.

I ask her if her move is a happy one. She says yes, that she travels a lot with her work and she’s hoping to settle in this new city. I tell her I will pray for her on her trip, that God is going with her and that He loves her. She receives the message with a smile.

For the next several days I find myself praying for Jill (not her real name). I feel this contact is definitely of the Lord, probably just for the prayer and the word God wanted her to have.

I love this new awareness that God wants to be intimately involved in my life, speaking to me and letting me hear Him, using me for His purposes.

Every day, not just now and then when I remember to ask Him if there’s anything I can do.

Every contact we have with anyone, God is there, and we need to be alert to it.

Now, I need to see if I can remember this the next time I get a phone call from a telemarketer. I wonder if anyone ever tells them that Jesus loves them?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Even in the Silence

Yesterday, after posting the Praise Power message, I opened the novel I’m reading (Yes, I’m one of those confused, neurotic people who have at least five books on the go at once.), and found the following passage. It seemed to fit so well with yesterday’s post, I thought I’d quote it for you.

While We’re Far Apart, by Lynn Austin, is set in WWII, so it made good reading over the Remembrance Day holiday. I recommend it for the picture it gives of life in the U.S. during WWII, for both Jews and Gentiles, and also for its honest examination of the age-old question, “Why Did God Let This Happen?”

From Chapter 23, pp204-206:

“Do you think it does any good to pray, Mr. Mendel?”

The truth was that he was still too angry with Hashem to pray. But just as his newspaper photos had fueled Esther’s fear, he saw that his lack of faith would have an influence on her, too. It would be very wrong to lead these children into the dark, hopeless world where he lived. Should he tell them not to come anymore? No, Jacob had grown very fond of them. They were the only bright spot in his life right now. He groped for a reply.

“Sometimes, Esther, it is wrong to judge the effectiveness of prayer by looking at the immediate results. Do you know the story of Joseph from the Bible?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment, “You mean the boy with the coat of many colors?“

“Yes. Exactly so. In the story, everything looked very bad for Joseph—sold as a slave by his own brothers, living far from home. He was even locked in prison for a while, falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. His father feared he was dead.” Jacob had to pause as grief strangled him. He closed his eyes, thinking of his son and the cart full of Jewish corpses, thinking of the detectives who had come to his apartment making false accusations. The police wanted to put Jacob into prison, too, for a crime he did not commit.

“All that time,” he said when he could speak, “all that time Joseph prayed, and it must have seemed like Hashem wasn’t listening.”

“Is that God’s name, Hashem?”

“No, Hashem means ‘The Name.’ One of the Ten Commandments says it is wrong to take His name in vain. We believe that His name is so holy that we must never speak it. Instead, we say Hashem—The Name.”

“So, Joseph prayed to Hashem?” Esther asked.

“Yes, I am sure that he prayed something like, ‘Get me out of this prison! Get me back home to my family!’ Hashem may not have answered Joseph’s prayers the way that Joseph wanted Him to, but it turned out that Hashem had a very good reason for keeping him in Egypt. Of course, Joseph could not see how it was good until many years had passed. But Hashem was at work all that time, raising Joseph up to become a leader in Egypt. And when famine came to the land of Israel, Joseph’s family came to him there and were rescued.”

Peter wrote something on his piece of paper and pushed it across the table for Jacob to read: Mama used to tell us that story. Jacob thought of Rachel Shaffer and his own Miriam Shoshanna, and several moments passed before he could speak.

“Hashem may not answer our prayers the way we want Him to,” he said, clearing his throat. “He did not deliver Joseph from prison right away. But Hashem was there with Joseph, even in the silence.”

“Is that true, Mr. Mendel? Does God—Hashem—really hear our prayers?”

Esther and Peter were looking to him for answers. And for hope. He felt none. Why had he ever opened his door to them? Should he lie?

“’The righteous shall live by faith,’” Jacob finally said, remembering the rebbe’s words. “Faith is believing, even when you cannot see it. Like Joseph did. He never stopped believing in Hashem. And in time, his prayers were answered in ways he never could have foreseen.”

Do you see how this fits with the Praise Power idea? Or is it just me?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Praise Power

I've been re-reading an old book called Prison to Praise, by Chaplain Merlin Carothers. He is reminding me of a great truth I need to hear repeated again and again. He says:

Jesus didn't promise to change the circumstances around us, but He did promise great peace and pure joy to those who would learn to believe that God actually controls all things.

The very act of praise releases the power of God into a set of circumstances and enables God to change them if this is His design. Very often it is our attitudes that hinder the solution of a problem. God is sovereign and could certainly cut across our wrong thought patterns and attitudes. But His perfect plan is to bring each of us into fellowship and communion with Him, and so He allows circumstances and incidents which will bring our wrong attitudes to our attention.

I have come to believe that the prayer of praise is the highest form of communion with God, and one that always releases a great deal of power into our lives. Praising Him is not something we do because we feel good; rather it is an act of obedience. Often the prayer of praise is done in sheer teeth-gritting willpower; yet when we persist in it, somehow the power of God is released into us and into the situation, first in a trickle perhaps, but later in [a] growing stream that finally floods us and washes away the old hurts and scars.

Philippians 4:6 says: Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.

Ephesians 5:19-20 says: Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 says: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit.

Do I really believe these truths?

How often do I quench the Spirit by my lack of vision and lack of faith?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Approval Ratings

I’m in an introspective mood. Maybe it’s the influence of what I’m reading. John Eldredge’s book, Walking With God, journals his experience of listening to God and walking with Him on a daily basis for one year.

I can only take so much of this kind of navel gazing before I get bored, or uneasy. If I were John Eldredge I’d be wondering why that’s true. He’d probably say I’m afraid to look under the hood (see page 60, “Being Willing to Have a Look”), so, before I give up on this approach, I probably need to look at a few things.

The thing I notice right now is that I am constantly trying to impress myself. Or impress others with myself. Wanting them to know how witty I am, or how inteligent, or good, or clever, or right, or even how beautiful. If there’s a group picture, I look for myself first. I want to know how good I look. I’m usually disappointed. I keep expecting that someone as special as I am should look more beautiful than I do.

There’s something wrong with living this way. It’s not how Jesus lived.

Jesus never tried to impress anyone. Why? Because He knew who He was. He had this quiet, sure confidence about His identity from the beginning. You see it when he was 12 years old, in the forthright and matter-of-fact way He asked and answered the questions of the religious rulers in the temple. You see it, especially, in the way he responded to His “parents” when they asked where He had been. “Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49)

Jesus was God’s son, and as such he had His Father's approval. He needed no other affirmation than that.

Because of Jesus, I am God’s child too. That’s my identity. That’s the reality of who I am. I am accepted in the Beloved. When I live in this reality, the affirmation of others, or even of myself, is not necessary.

There is no room for pride in that vision, or insecurity, or guilt. It’s just the way it is. Everything I am and have comes from Him and belongs to Him, and that’s enough.

I want to live in that reality.