Our minds are amazing. Using our imaginations, we can go anywhere. I’ve always loved reading, because through stories, I vicariously experience so much I never could in real life. Now video games and the Internet have taken the place of books. Instead of the stimulation of words, people’s minds are visually transported to worlds that seem more reality than fantasy.
What we dwell on becomes our reality, so it’s extremely important we keep our minds in the right place. And where is that right place? Many would argue the Bible and its stories about a supernatural, all-powerful being is a fantasy, but God is the only true reality. We live in a world constantly trying to pull us out of God’s reality into distortions and deceptions, which makes keeping a grip on the truth difficult.
The way to stay firmly in touch with reality is to immerse ourselves in him – in who he is, what he has done and what he is doing now, in this world and in our lives. He is always present with us, but to stay present with him takes some effort. Consider memorizing favorite verses, especially those describing him, such as Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:5-11.
As we keep our minds on him, he brings the reality of himself into our lives. He becomes our reality and our life. And that’s the best place to be.
A lot of things compete for our attention. We are probably more distracted in 2019 than people have ever been. Our minds often flit from one thing to another throughout the day. If you were asked to catalog how many minutes you spend on each thing you have to think about, would you be able to mark more than 10 minutes on any one thing?
What is on our minds and what we spend time thinking about determines, in large part, the direction of our lives. Those who think about money or fame go in that direction. Those who think about themselves most of the time will naturally be involved in what they want and what pleases them.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus means he is our focus; he is the main thing on our minds, all day, every day. This takes a bit of effort, considering all the distractions we face. But if we make ourselves aware of this, set our minds every morning to turn our thoughts to Jesus several times every hour and pray before every task, we’ll be well on the way to including him in all aspects of our day.
As Brother Laurence said, “The most holy and important practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God – that is, every moment to take great pleasure that God is with you.”
Like me, you’ve probably experienced times when you haven’t known what to do. Sometimes it’s a tough decision; sometimes it’s a fork in the road with no indication of which way to take. A long time ago, during one of those times when I was frustrated, feeling a little hopeless and had no idea which way to go, I found a verse in a book I rarely read, that provided not the solution, but words of great encouragement to my soul. I don’t know why I turned to 2 Chronicles that day – maybe it wasn’t an accident – but that’s where I found a guiding principle for the rest of my life.
Chapter 20 tells the story of when Jehoshaphat faced a huge army and was understandably alarmed (NIV). Other translations say he was afraid. He admitted he didn’t know what to do, but he did know who to turn to. In his prayer in verse 12, he said, “…we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” Then God spoke through Jahaziel, telling them the battle was God’s, not theirs. Their response was to worship God, who gave them victory over their enemies.
Perhaps admitting we don’t know what to do is a good first step, as the admission causes us to stop relying on our own power, turn our eyes to Jesus and lean on him. Following the advice of the psalmist in 46:10, we can be still, know he’s God, praise him and let him win the battle for us.
The third basic guideline to keep in mind when hearing from God is to be humble, but not, as Dallas Willard reminds us, to be humbly arrogant. This attitude mistakenly asserts we aren’t important or good enough to hear from him. But the truth is, we are important enough – so much that God gave his son’s life for us and chooses to inhabit us as a living temple. “Obviously then we are important enough for him to guide us and speak to us whenever that is appropriate.”
Alternatively, Dallas reminds us, “his speaking to us does not in itself make us important.” It doesn’t make us righteous or right. It doesn’t even mean we have heard him correctly. Rather, “his speaking to us only gives us greater opportunity to be and to do good and greater responsibility for the care and guidance of others.”
If we are all hearing from him regularly as part of a mature, loving, relational, conversational relationship, it will be normal. We won’t feel the need to share it with everyone, because as with most of us, what happens in relationships stays private. We won’t need to parade his communication to others, as if it’s unusual or a badge, or that he somehow singled us out.
“In seeking and receiving God’s word to us therefore, we must at the same time seek and receive the grace of humility. God will gladly give it to us if, trusting and waiting on him to act, we refrain from pretending we are what we know we are not, from presuming a favorable position for ourselves in any respect and from pushing or trying to override the will of others in our context. (This is a failsafe recipe for humility. Try it for one month. Money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work!)”
I highly encourage you to read this book – it contains many more valuable insights on hearing from and listening to God.
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.
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.
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.