One of the few true freedoms we have is what we do with our minds. We are free to think about whatever we want. We can go anywhere in our imaginations, which is one of the reasons I love to read. I can go back or forward in time; explore outer space or become embroiled in a mystery. We can create, plan, solve problems – or get ourselves in trouble.
Controlling where our thoughts take us is difficult, but so very important. If we let our thoughts go in negative or destructive directions, our actions will likely follow. (For an in-depth study of this, I recommend The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.) It’s easy to get caught up in worry and anxiety, especially when situations in life seem – or are – out of our control.
What can we do about wayward thoughts and rabbit holes of negativity and discouragement? We can do as Jan Johnson suggests in the Trusting God retreat: make the pivot. As some of the psalmists did, process your feelings with God, rant and rave a little if necessary, lament and cry. And don’t worry – he can take it. Then pivot back to him, remembering the reality of who he is and what he’s done for us. And as always, he’s the one who can help us make the pivot. We’re never on our own, even when we’re down in the dumps or angry at life.
I was happy to learn that some of you signed up for the Trusting God retreat with Jan Johnson and Matt Rhodes. I hope you were able either to listen live or to have accessed the recorded event. I also hope you enjoyed it and benefited from the teaching and interaction.
One lesson really helped me and has stuck in my mind since I heard it from Jan. She told the story of how she mentioned to Dallas Willard that she had been struggling with a pipe and felt the problem was insurmountable. He told her it was never just her and the pipe – Jesus was with her and she was never alone. Then Jan asked attendees to share their problem, phrasing it as “It’s not just me and _______.”
It’s not just me and this computer. It’s not just me and this flat tire. It’s not just me and this tree root. It’s not just me and this person I’m arguing with. What a great way to look at trials and frustrating situations. It’s never just me alone with whatever is going on in my life. God is always with me, always on my side and when I ask, he helps me figure it out – or gives me peace about it.
Learning to trust God is a daily, ongoing process. If you’d like to share something you learned from the retreat or needed to be reminded of, we can help each other along the path to greater trust.
Trust is something we all learn about as we grow up. Playing cards provides a lesson that for many, is hard learned. I remember hearing the advice to trust everyone but cut the cards, meaning you can’t really trust anyone. When my dad worked as a carpenter for several years, he taught me the adage “measure twice, cut once.” I’ve never built anything, but I learned to sew and that’s when I learned I can’t even trust myself. Measuring twice didn’t ensure I could get it right.
Many people have trust issues with God too. We pray and he doesn’t deliver, so we decide he can’t be trusted. Bad things happen so we decide we can’t trust him to always be on our side. Not knowing God very well leads to mistrust; the more we know God, the more we trust him.
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I talk about Dallas Willard from time to time, citing his books and quoting his material. I’d like to share a resource with you that is based on his book, Life Without Lack. It’s a five day, online retreat called Trusting God, presented by Jan Johnson and Matt Rhodes – and it’s free. You don’t have to attend the live sessions; you can access them anytime. It starts next week and you can register here: https://trustinggodretreat.com/signup
Learning to trust God – and learning that we can trust God – is much more important than measuring twice and cutting once. It will make all the difference in how we live as Christians.
Like it or not, we’ve all been forced to slow down during the COVID crisis. Those who have been used to a fast pace of life might be having trouble with staying home instead of keeping a frantic, overloaded schedule. For me, since my chicks left the nest and my husband retired, a slower pace of life is the norm. I enjoy being home and living a quiet life.
One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 30:15 in the NLT: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” Resting and quietness come more easily to us introverts, but perhaps this time of forced rest will be an opportunity for everyone else to practice the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude as well.
Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, is an excellent book explaining not just the disciplines, but the why of them. Jan Johnson, a student and mentee who actively carries on his work and ideas, has published Spiritual Disciplines Companion, Bible Studies and Practices to Transform Your Soul. I only recently acquired the book and naturally chose the section on Silence and Solitude as my starting point.
Our lives will probably go back to at least a semblance of what used to be normal, but for now, let’s take advantage of this time to return to God, rest in him, be quiet and trust, for that is indeed where we find our salvation.
I was never one for memorizing scripture. I didn’t see the need for it, but over the past several years, I’ve changed my mind. I started after I heard a speaker talk about shelter verses. She told us she memorizes a few verses for difficult times, ones she could always rely on for encouragement. Now I look for verses that help me understand who God is, such as Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20.
Memorizing, according to Dallas Willard, is more important than quiet time. It’s the most important way we participate in the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). “Our life takes a godly and good direction when our mind is consciously occupied with God’s written words. Those words then increasingly eliminate the conscious mental contents that would surely lead us away from God” (www.renovare.org).
Our minds are powerful, but easily distracted and even led astray. We need to be careful what we allow in our thoughts and be intentional with what occupies us. By keeping scriptures deep in our minds, “God’s words reside in our body, in our social environment, in the constant orientation of our will, and in the depths of our soul.” Memorization helps us abide in Jesus and his words abide in us (John 15:7-8). Hiding God’s word in our hearts causes his word to become a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:11 and 105). It’s never too late to start and it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. It’s good exercise for the brain too!
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.
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.
Forgiveness is a tricky thing. As Christians, we know we are forgiven, and we are told to forgive in the same way. It’s easy to say, “I forgive you,” but it’s only real if it’s from our hearts.
Dallas Willard, in his book, Life Without Lack, said we make three errors when it comes to forgiveness. First, we tend to believe it requires reconciliation; second, we think we have to forget what happened; and third, we think we have to stop hurting. None of these are necessary.
We forgive by making the choice not to punish or seek revenge, which means we let people off the hook. It lets us off our own hook, too and frees us—from anger and bitterness—and allows us to love them the way God wants us to.
If we wait for reconciliation (which often never comes), tell ourselves we have to forget what happened (can’t do that) and wait to stop hurting (the pain might lessen, but will never go away), forgiveness will never happen, at least not in this life. Forgiveness is God’s way of life and his way to life (N.T. Wright) but doesn’t happen in our hearts without God’s help and much prayer. It is possible, even when it feels like it’s not, if we can avoid these mistakes and trust God to make it work.