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

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

Mennonites and music

Confession: Sometimes I love being Mennonite.

This is not a popular thing to love nowadays, and I confess I don’t love it always. Sometimes I do.

Our congregation has been working for some time on hammering out what we call our “covenant”—our statements of faith and practice. This spring we had four issues at hand: music, media, roles of men and women, and personal appearance. Anyone interested in a topic was invited to sign up for a small-group discussion.

We held the discussions, hashed the issues, wrote proposed statements, and brought our work back to the congregation.

This was FUN, and one of the best things about being Mennonite.* No overseer hired to command us; no man permitted to fend for himself. We believe that truth is held by the body; that the Holy Spirit can be discerned corporately; that we hear from Him silently in our hearts and out loud in the voices of our brothers and sisters. When Scripture says “all of your children will be taught of the Lord,” and “I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” we do not hear “therefore the body has nothing to say on the topic,” but “therefore the body has everything to say on the topic.” All of you. I love this.

After our preliminary work, we held an intense congregational work session for the weekend, our beliefs and statements strengthening. We didn’t agree on everything. But in the end, our amended statements passed unanimously, and were incorporated into the covenant.

I know this is an asset of coming from a small, new congregation. Some of you from the hundred-and-some-year-old churches never had the opportunity to influence your statements personally. But I’ll hazard a guess the group that wrote them hashed them copiously.

We can be stubborn as pigs, but we believe in His voice through each other.

Here’s what we agreed about music:

We affirm and embrace our musical heritage of congregational a cappella singing in harmony. We desire to practice music among us in a way that worships God and builds the community, that our souls and spirits might be enlivened. We believe that music should be aesthetically pleasing, lyrics should be true and honest, and that the combination of the two should be redemptive. We encourage our members to train their ears and hearts to enjoy and express music that is excellent and orderly.

Believe it or not, this is all we have on the topic. To some of you, the statement will seem very prim. To others, hopelessly loose. Where are the prohibitions?

I’ll tell you—silently in our hearts and out loud in the voices of our brothers and sisters.

*****

*Second only to our great cooking, of course. Heh.

Does your church talk about issues? Which ones?

Preschool training

Confession: All I wanted was to raise kids who were polite and well-mannered; intelligent kids who knew how to think.

Well.

*cough*

They know how to think.

You may well say it was a trifling goal, a sideline aspiration. (Most of mine are.) I agree with you, but I still wouldn’t have chosen this Regan-path for myself. I didn’t want my child to be the one for whom hushed, impromptu parent-teacher conferences must be held in hallways and empty classrooms. I imagined him the head of the class, not the head of the outlaws. I imagined no fuss, no worries, and above all, no punching.

I signed up for a tour of sunny Spain and ended up in northern Saskatchewan, where punching is par for the course. As well as lying, petty theft, time-outs on the playground, and smiling threats on the lives of loved ones.

regan age 5I would like each of my children to be imbued with a large dose of Normalcy. My second son has it in stripes, interspersed with Devilry, Brilliance, Freakishness, and Disconnect.

I receive daily opportunities to lay down my idol of Well-Mannered Kids. (Or it lays down on its own, Dagon-style, smashing face first to the ground.)

I am learning to pray things that won’t be polished and articulate no matter how hard I try. I think when the Holy Spirit translates them to the Father they sound like

 

Please, please keep my boy.

Please, please sanctify his mother.

And I am learning, painfully, to do this–

open my hands

Words from a friend

“In the beginning, O God,
your Spirit swept over the chaotic deep like a wild wind
and creation was born.
In the turbulence of my own life
and the unsettled waters of the world today
let there be new birthings of your Spirit.
In the currents of my own heart
and the upheavals of the world today
let there be new birthings of your mighty Spirit.”

– J Phillip Newell

My grandpa went Home last night.