To nestle in his presence

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Psalm 32:8-10

God loves to talk to his children, though to some of his best friends he is inexplicably silent for most of their lives, and their roots grow deep.

Some of you have cried for years for God to speak to you and heard little, while others seem to keep up a daily correspondence. Some of you feel a ‘sense’ that comes over you, while others quote him verbatim and affirm he said it That Way.

Some of you have been hurt by people who used God’s voice as ammunition in an argument, or a shouting fest, or a church split. Some of you are afraid to repeat anything he told you because—what if it was just your imagination?

Did I mention that learning to hear God is a journey?

My dad was right; it takes time to learn to hear him. And you will make a lot of mistakes. It’s okay. Keep listening. He is so good.

I have missed him often, disobeyed him often, and still he offers me the precious gift of his voice. Sometimes it comes in power; sometimes in quiet sweetness. Sometimes it makes me weak in the knees with glory; sometimes it is the most natural, simple thing in the world, when he helps me learn what to cook for lunch, or how to get started on a project, or not to forget that item at the store.

His words do not come to me in English, but in a shape. Each time I speak them to someone else, I am conscious that I am decoding and must be careful; I can never say them quite like he did.

He speaks in so many ways. Only once in my life do I remember begging God for a sign—one dark evening when I was a teenager, facing a nearly insignificant decision that I knew would have bearing on all the rest of my life. He gave it to me in the stars. Once he showed me a woman with the saddest eyes I’d ever seen: showed her to me so sharply that I stopped walking in the middle of the fairgrounds and knew I was to speak to her. It has haunted me always that I walked away. (I disregarded his voice and he didn’t give up on me; can you believe it?) Once he lifted a taboo, and then spoke to me the sweetest words of my life.  More than once he’s made me laugh aloud—like the time I went to him with a decision and he said “What are you asking me for? Your husband already told you to go for it.” More than once he’s wakened me from sleep when I asked him to. Many, many times he is my reminder, the quiet voice intruding on my thoughts to tell me what I must learn or do. Many times his words are simple joy, and leave me smiling. Many times they are so sharply sweet they leave me weeping and worshipping.

He is so good.

How to hear him?

I can’t sit here and tell you “Now if you just open your heart wide and say the right words and clear your mind of all distractions… If you want it bad enough… If you persist in prayer until he answers…”

No. In fact, trying to completely clear our minds can result in the most ludicrous of ideas. Anything pops into them when we try so hard to empty them. And if we succeed in shutting down all thought, we are simply caught in a great paralysis of holy nothingness. Sometimes our silence shuts him out.

Other times our noise takes over. We are so desperate to hear from him that we cut ourselves off from him—screaming into the sky while he stands waiting at our elbow.

If you can, start your conversations with him by bringing your mind to rest on this simplest of truths: He is right here. Otherwise your spirit is still on the wing, flitting about trying to locate him. Let your heart return again and again to nestle in his presence. God is delighted with the smallest of faith, and loves to reward it.

There is much of his voice that you’ve already heard. Start there.

I like what came out repeatedly in your stories. While you are thinking, he speaks to you. While you are moving, he steers you.

There may be times you will need to hear specifically from him before you act, but may I suggest that they are few? He has given you everything you need for life and godliness. He already told you how to love him supremely, how to love others sacrificially, how to conduct yourself in relation to friends, enemies, difficulty, celebration, government, ill health, an evil world, hard work and joyful play.

Live. Act. Walk forward—always listening. He will be with you and teach you everything you need to know.

*****

I am grateful to have said all on the subject that I feel I ought. I am tired. I feel a great need to grow in Jesus—and though I have told the truth as clearly as I know how, I know that some of what I say is slanted because he is not done teaching me.

Hope and courage!

Shari

Closets and community

This summer I heard a woman strongly caution against receiving truth from flawed sources. As in other people. “Anyone we allow to speak truth to us,” she said, “becomes our god.”

With all due respect, this cannot be so. Everything good speaks truth to us, albeit imperfectly—even the sky. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth wisdom. (If the glory of God isn’t truth, what is?)

Her point was that we can unthinkingly internalize what others tell us about ourselves, particularly when they offer us condemnation, because—well, it must be true. At least part of it is true, so without going to God to see what he has to say, we just swallow it. And choke. She had a very good point, but the reaction is a ditch all its own: when I allow only God himself to teach me truth in the security of my closet.

It only sets me up as the god or idol, speaking truth to myself. “But it’s not me, it’s the Holy Spirit,” I may object. Yes; and is it not the Holy Spirit telling that other person what to say to me too? If they might be slanting things, might not I as well? Or am I more equipped than they to hear him with clarity?

When I close my ears and eyes to all voices but the silent voice of God in my own heart, I close off at least ninety percent of his messages. The trees are saying “He made us! He’s good!” My daughter is singing, “Pwaise ye da Lord.” My husband is saying “Honey, I think you could grow in this area.” My friend is saying, “Are you sure you’re right on that?” My Sunday school teacher is saying, “God is good all the time! All the time God is good!” My neighbor is saying, “You people look like you have it together all the time. Do you struggle?”

God speaks in countless ways,

often using outside instruments to capture my attention.

If I really want to hear from God, I must open myself to hear him anywhere. From anyone.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (I Thess. 5:19-21)

I am Anabaptist, so of course I’m going to say this—but I believe it with all my heart. One of my best paths to sanctification is through my brothers and sisters. I can’t say yes to God and no to his family. I must learn to hear him with them, and from them.

God’s place of energy, purpose, and passion on earth is his church.

In Ephesians, Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Submitting to one another? When I’m filled with the Spirit?

Yes! Particularly then!

Let’s not create this enormous divide between God’s voice in community and God’s voice in our hearts. They ought to match; they ought to work in tandem; here a little and there a little.

God’s voice is always true.

True blue, as we say. True to his name, true to himself, true through and through. God’s voice lines up with God’s voice; it cannot be otherwise. Therefore there should be no fear in opening his revelation to the input of my brothers.

If I am uncertain of his speaking, what better place than here to bring it for clarity? If I am certain of his speaking, what better place than here to bring it to fruition?

Think about a hydrangea blossom. Alone, I am a single bloom. My relationship with God is intimate, delicate, a simple picture of beauty.

hydrangea one

But together! All the blooms connected, growing together into a full-orbed majesty! (though slightly wilted in this photograph) Here the vibrancy of a single bloom is accented and cherished–as well as lost, immersed, saturated in the whole.

hydrangeas all

There is a place for me here, joy and space and vitality. There is a gap when I pull away.

I must bring my perceptions to the body

if both I and we are to be fruitful and growing.

How will Jesus speak to the church if individuals are not open, listening for him? How will he speak to individuals if we cut ourselves off from his place of focus and passion on earth?

Hear him when he speaks. Crave it. Seek it. Love it. Listen for it when you wake up and when you go to bed; when you are alone and when you sit with the congregation.

He will use me to speak to us. He will use us to speak to me.

*****

As always, I welcome your thoughts. Have you found this true in your life?

Static

Once upon a time, Mr. Alexander Graham Bell (whom we shall call God for short) picked up a telephone and spoke over it to his assistant, Mr. Thomas Watson. Did Mr. Watson hear the famous words ring out, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you”?

He did not.

In fact he heard nothing. Perhaps a little static.

God tried the second time. What did He say? We will never know. Neither will Mr. Watson. He did not hear what God said the second time, nor the third time, nor yet the fourth time. He heard only the words that worked at last (the who-knows-how-many-nth time) when at last both ends of the telephone and every bit of the line between were finally in synch, and recorders of history set down for all time the utterly insignificant message, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.”

God speaks. No doubt about it. And since He is the perfect speaker, we tend to assume that when He speaks, there can be no second opinion on the matter. This is true, with one caveat: I am not a perfect receiver.

Mr. Bell’s half of the conversational attempt may have been flawless; this did not help Mr. Watson. In fact, I suspect there are plenty of unrecorded stories from the interval in which the invention was almost working, the interval in which Mr. Bell said with perfect clarity, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you” and Mr. Watson was certain he heard, “Masser Dobson—Shtay there—I’m going to shoot you.”

God speaks perfectly. No doubt about it.

His words should always be received with humility.

Spirit wisdom

Sometimes God’s voice is misunderstood.

And from your stories, I know you know the other half of this truth.

Sometimes God’s voice is unmistakable.

Confession: I am crying now because this is the part that feels too big for my small fingers to type. The Lord Jesus has given us His Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is perhaps one of the most abused, most misunderstood, most desired, most sidelined parts of our theology. I cannot teach you on him; but I ask you to open yourself to his teaching of himself. From the stories you told me here, I can tell that you already are doing so; they are beautiful.

If you belong to Jesus, you have access to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

1 John 5:6-10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. – It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Romans 8:9, 14-16 Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.

The Holy Spirit empowers.

Hebrews 10:14-17 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for… This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

The Holy Spirit purifies.

John 16:7-15 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment… I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.

The Holy Spirit speaks: reproving, guiding, and revealing.

John 14:25-26 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

The Holy Spirit comforts and teaches.

1 Corinthians 2:9-12 As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

The Holy Spirit enables us to know and to speak the hidden wisdom of God.

The Holy Spirit moves within the mind of God,

and within the heart of his people:

a divine intercourse.

I John 2:20, 27 But ye [an Old English plural pronoun] have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things… But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

The Holy Spirit is given not only to an individual,

but to a collected body in which he dwells.

2 Peter 1:2-4 His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.

Together, we are given by him everything we need. Everything!

Sometimes God’s voice is unmistakable.

*****

So why don’t we hear Him always? More next time.

Further reading: The Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, by Francis Chan

Uncertainty

“To this man will I look,

even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit,

and trembleth at my word.” Isaiah 66:2

I remember being a little girl, wondering when I would hear God speak. Would he speak out loud? What if I missed him? What if he asked me to do something really weird and embarrassing as a test of faith—stand up and prophesy Quite Suddenly in the middle of church or something?

My dad said that it took time to learn to recognize his voice.

Learning to hear God is a journey.

As I grew older, I found that people “hear God say things” that don’t come true. I had one single friend tell me that she knew how many children she’d have and what their names were going to be, because God had told her. I had another friend tell me she had felt quite certain God told her something wasn’t going to happen; when it did, she confessed her faith took a serious hit.

I couldn’t understand this, and it worried me. What were they hearing?

Did people understand the words of Jesus when he walked here? I ask you.

He spoke them out loud, with an audible voice and clear pronunciation in the language they knew well. He spoke to crowds of people who could have corroborated the account, and to a few close friends who could have understood him in context. Over and over and over, they got it wrong.

–They thought he was going to set up an immediate kingdom on earth (Acts 1:6-8)–

–They thought he was talking about not bringing any bread (Matt 16:5-12)–

–They thought he said he’d destroy Herod’s Temple and rebuild it in three days (John 2:18-22)–

–They took him to mean that Lazarus was sleeping, not dead (John 11:11-14)–

–They were offended at his talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (John 6:51-66)–

–And sometimes he wrapped truth in parables to mix things up, so that only those would understand who were supposed to understand (Mark 4:9-12).

His parents didn’t get him (Luke 2:49-50); the Jews didn’t get him (John 8:21-27); his closest friends had enormous blind spots.

“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” (Luke 18:34)

Sometimes God’s voice is misunderstood.

Especially when it tangles with our longings.

*

How in the world? I thought. How in this world of godly predecessors setting broken track records am I ever going to be sure I hear Him right?