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?

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10 years ago

I needed this so much tonight, this and the last posts on this subject as well. Thank you for allowing Him to speak through you!

10 years ago

Yes! Yes! Yes!!! Great post. You did such a fine job at articulating the need for both the closet and church community. I’m bookmarking it in my “must read over and over again”!!

10 years ago

This post struck a chord deep within me. I’ve been in both ditches. I have mistrusted everything that I heard as an individual and became dependent on other people in an unhealthy manner. I have also withdrawn myself from people with the “justification” that I needed to learn how to listen to God on my own. Neither of these worked well for me–I found myself floundering and disillusioned about whether or not I could ever truly know the voice of God. It became easier for me to simply barge ahead and take control of my life than to wait to hear something that I didn’t really trust would ever come.

In my return from my independent choices that wrought havoc with my life, I found myself shocked to realize that I had no idea if God was even speaking to me at all. As I’ve begun listening more closely to His voice, I find that the community around me are the ones who clarify what His voice is. They affirm what I hear from Him. They point out what I am too afraid to acknowledge. And I find myself beginning to crave that quiet voice.

Thank you for writing these posts. I just found them this morning…but I will be back! 🙂

10 years ago

Yes! As in all things, balance . . . For me the key has been learning to take what I hear/read from others and laying it out before God and asking His Holy Spirit to guide me in discerning what to keep and what to discard . . . Then ultimately He is guiding me, but I’m still (hopefully) learning from the input of others.

Marlene Stoltzfus
10 years ago

Amen. This is what I meant when I wrote that I feel the inner words, but as only part of the myriad of ways in which to know and hear from God.

There is such interplay between individual and group, for vibrant communities are made of vibrant individuals; yet a community deeply shapes and affects the individuals that make it up.

10 years ago

I had to wonder something as I read… Does the Bride of Christ always have a perfect ‘ear?’ Is SHE always a perfect receiver (phone analogy from your previous posts)? I heard you emphasizing bringing our perceptions of God’s voice to the community and gauging the truth of it by her, but I’m thinking that she is sometimes inaccurate too. ????

10 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nisley

Oops! I think you were alluding to that in the last part of your post. Jesus uses individuals to speak to the whole. “He will use me to speak to us. He will use us to speak to me.”

10 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nisley

Good question, sis. You are right; the church isn’t inerrant yet. She is still broken in places, and especially in local stripes or congregations she will be slanted in certain ways.

I am still in the best place for vitality, protection, and sanctification when I submit myself to Christ in her (where else would I go?) until she receives greater enlightenment; or rather, till we receive it together. I can call on God to bring her–and me!–to greater truth and holiness which, ironically, often happens best when I stay engaged…

10 years ago

This seems easy to write about but based on experience there are times when the voice of God and community seem at complete odds. When they don’t seem to be in tandem. What to do then when you listen to all the voices and wonder just what is the voice of truth in the situation?? I believe the older I get the less I want to live trying to live “perfectly determining the voice of God,” but rather living and breathing in His daily presence and walking in His Grace. A way that neither calls for “absolute knowing” on the part of the community or myself but a grace that opens the door to hearing the voice of God in you and I in ways that may not always seem to jibe. Trusting that though God is great enough to know and establish all things yet ( now we see thru a glass darkly, but then face to face, then shall we know even as we are known) HE does not become known to us in a way that is fully complete on this earth. That will happen one day and until then we will bless each other abundantly if we learn to recognize that God will speak to me and you in different ways that may not always seem to be in tandem. And both may be the voice of God. I didnt grow up thinking this, but after a difficult situation have come to think of this differently. That said I am willing to hear otherwise. 🙂

10 years ago

Yes! I have found this very true in my life. I have heard God’s voice alone with my Bible, but so often what I hear is repeated by His Body.

From the beginning of creation, we were made for relationships and communication. So thankful for God’s design.

10 years ago

I am pondering this series that you have done on the Holy Spirit…processing.This is such a huge subject.

I agree that the Holy Spirit does work through the corporate body, but since coming into Anabaptist circles I have heard some startling statements regarding this…Like rather than just acknowledging that the Holy Spirit works through the corporate body, I have heard it stated that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the corporate body.(Woah, buddy. Yeah…that was my reaction.)

Or the statement… that if the voice you are hearing in your closet isn’t in tandem with the corporate body, you just pull up your boot straps and step into line. (I’m all for submission in the body of Christ…but that has to include a submitting one to another!)

I think we care so much about this subject, mostly because we really aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit. (I am totally cringing because I just actually said that.)

– Are we really living, moving & having our being in Him?

I think that is at the center of the issue right there.

10 years ago

Well said Shari! We need to hear God, but we also need to hear each other.

10 years ago

This is something I have been wondering and wondering about. You talk about a body, and I immediately think about authorities in the body. We hear that authorities are to be submitted to, that God speaks through them, that they are for our protections and that we step out from under that authority and protection at our peril.
And I get that. For good authorities. But what if they’re wrong? What if they’re selfish? What if they’re evil or hurtful? How do we respond then? Does God really speak through authorities all the time? How do we act when they do wrong? Or are wrong?
I know that we must still love. And care. And be respectful. Because we’re called to do that for everyone. But do we obey? Do we even stick with them? (be they the body with authority, or the authorities in the body?)When does the time come to part ways? Or disobey? Does it ever come? How do you know?
This community thing is so wonderful when it works, but what about when it doesn’t?

One part of me loves what you say and says, “Yes, I need to listen to people! I need community!”
And the other part says, “People can hurt you. What do you do then? When do you pull back and break off the relationship because you’ve been hurt too badly?”

I’m sorry, this seems only tangentially related, but I am wondering.

Mama Zook
10 years ago

such a great post, Shari, we are so needful of each other! When we isolate ourselves from receiving word from God from particular sisters and brothers in the church we are actually crippling ourselves. God’s richness is available to us through sometimes very surprising vessels!

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