Listening to Jesus, Part 2

Last week I shared with you Dallas Willard’s first guideline for hearing from God, that it is part of a mature, loving relationship with him. The second of the three guidelines “concerns the relationship of our personal experience to the contents of the Bible and, by extension, to the lives of the saints and heroes of the faith throughout the ages” Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God).

In other words, we shouldn’t assume we are any different from anyone else who has heard from God. Giants of the faith, both past and present, were/are human, just like us. Being human didn’t prevent them from hearing from God and neither does it keep us from it. This also means had we been in their shoes, our experiences would have been the same as people such as Moses, Elijah and Samuel. As we read their stories, we can look for the ways God communicated with them. We can “prayerfully and boldly” use our imagination so our brothers and sisters from ancient times come alive and God’s communication becomes more evident and real.

God is relational and conversational. He can and does speak to us – to any and all of us.

Next week: a caution for humility.

Listening to the Still, Small Voice

As I’ve shared with you in previous posts, listening to others is an important part of relationships. I hope you have been able to practice servant-listening on your friends and family and to help bring this lost art back in vogue.

We also need to practice listening to the voice of our shepherd. In John 10:27 (NIV), Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” We can only learn to recognize someone’s voice by time spent together, listening and becoming familiar with them.

Many misconceptions surround this topic, which is why I recommend the best book I’ve ever read about listening to God and of course, it’s by Dallas Willard. It’s called Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

The first thing to know about hearing from God is that it’s “not just to hear the voice of God but to be mature people in a loving relationship with him.” Hearing from God is only a part of the relationship.

A great way to prepare to hear from him is a beautiful song from Mercy Me: Word of God, Speak. I recommend listening to the song, reading the book, and in the stillness of a quiet, humble heart, begin listening to his still, small voice.

Next week, more about how to listen to his voice.

Playing a Role

Another questionable (to me) phrase that keeps popping up lately is that we have a role to play in life. Even my favorite author, Dallas Willard, mentioned this in his incredible book, Hearing God: “God’s world is an arena in which we have an indispensable role to play.” If Dallas were still around (he died in 2013), I have no doubt he wouldn’t mind me asking him what he meant by that statement, because he followed it up with this: “The issue is not simply what God wants but also what we want and will. When we accept whatever comes, we are not receiving guidance. The fact that something happens does not indicate that it is his will.” He’s speaking in the context of how God communicates to us.

How can we play a role in God’s arena, but still have a voice and a will of our own? Playing a role seems to imply a few things – it was given to us, like getting a part in a play; we have a script; and we are expected to play out that role the way the director wants us to. I can accept that God works out circumstances in our lives for his purposes, for example, when my husband became president of GCI. I believe he was like Esther, moved into a position to help our denomination through some difficult times. Did he have a script? I don’t think so. Did he still have to make decisions, albeit guided by God, and make choices? I believe so.

Just like in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George’s family and town would have been greatly diminished had he not been born. I think George did have an indispensable role, but it was as he learned who God is and began to participate with him in the wonderful life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Out of God’s Way

Does God really want us to get out of his way? You’ve probably heard this and silently agreed, believing, as I have, that getting the self out of the way is the humble, Christian attitude we are all to possess. While it’s true that we are to die to self, meaning we die to our natural, carnal desires by being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), are we in God’s way? I submit the answer is no – no more than a child is in the way of a loving parent.

I rank this phrase right up there with being used by God to accomplish his will. Saying we are in his way implies we are a hindrance. This not only can make us feel guilty and worthless, but it casts God in a bad light. God’s sole purpose is not simply to bring glory and praise to himself, as though he’s a giant egomaniac, and he sees us as preventing this. I’m pretty sure getting us out of his way is the farthest thing from his mind.

God created us to be in relationship with him. He loves us so much, he has gone above and beyond to ensure we have everything we need for lives of godliness and to bring us to the measure of his fullness (2 Peter 1:3 and Ephesians 3:19). We are not hindering his will, not preventing him from receiving all glory, praise and honor; rather we are participants in the life of Christ, in his love and grace and his master plan of a beautiful eternity with him. In fact, God has gone out of his way to put us in his way, right next to his heart, where we all belong.

Reminders of Grace

I’ve always loved flowers. A lot of people do, but most only think of them when they need a gift or when tending their gardens. But have you ever considered that flowers are a gift from God? The greatest detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, who rarely missed a clue, noticed this about flowers: “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes).

And what a sweet little extra they are. The variety and complexity of flowers are astounding. But they are more than embellishments and extras to life. Dallas Willard said they point us to grace: “Beauty is, above all, a manifestation of grace, of abundance and generosity. It’s the reason why God placed flowers on the earth: to have little voices calling to us constantly about grace” (Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews and Talks).

I know this is true when I drive, or rather inch along, on the California freeways. The wild sunflowers I see on the side of the road when I and a few thousand of my fellow drivers are stopped in a traffic jam lift my spirit and remind me of his grace. I hear God saying in their beautiful petals that he is good, kind and loving, even amid the hardships of life. Grace, like flowers, are everywhere, if we will open our eyes to see and appreciate.