Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"Hearing" God

If you knew today was your last day to be alive, what would you think about? What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Your answer may not be the answer to the proverbial what is the meaning of life. But it probably could become the meaning of many of our lives. 

I think I know - I would probably wish I had not missed out on some of the important times in the lives of the people closest to me. Others would say they would wish they had pursued the life God had intended for them to live. Others would consider in this critical time whether they even knew God at all. How can we live a life that is purposeful and without regret? In a small church gathering I attended recently, one man stood up and said that none of us know how many days we have left on the earth. Another man spoke up and said, “I know ..." Everyone leaned in, intent on gleaning some gem of truth from this seasoned saint. His answer was simple: "We have today.”

In 1 Cor. 2: 7-10, Paul turns us away from the foolishness of this world and toward the wisdom of God. Paul refers to “the things God has prepared for those who love Him. These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” In verse 12, he says, “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” If we have God's Spirit, can we expect to hear from Him? You may think the idea of hearing God is like an auditory hallucination ("You're hearing things."), but the Spirit of God is called "the Counselor" in scripture. How can He be our Counselor if He does not speak to us? He is not “the Listener.” He does listen ... but He also still speaks. For many of us, the wisdom of this world did nothing but put us in therapy! We needed the Counselor all along. 

So we must ask if God actually wants to show us things like He showed to the people of the Bible. Dreams like Daniel? Visions like Peter? The audible voice of God like Moses? Considering Moses, we can stand by, (like the people of Israel) and allow another person (like Moses) to encounter God, or we can press in (like Joshua) and seek God as truly the only One whose opinion matters most. (More on this later.) To be clear, certain mental disorders like bipolar can coincide with auditory hallucinations. Sleep deprivation can even cause visual hallucinations. So it is very important for us to confirm with pastors, mentors or close Christian friends to help analyze (confirm, test, etc.) what we are sensing, maybe even a doctor or counselor.

Some will say that people today cannot actually be led by the Spirit. That may have happened in Bible times, but certainly not today. However Romans 8:14 says, "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God." Galatians 5:18 tells us to "walk in the Spirit." And Jesus himself taught us to follow his voice. In John 10, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, saying "my sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand." What a promise to you and me!

In whatever form it takes, how do we learn to follow God's leading, his "voice"? Just as it is with people, intimacy with God takes time. Paul set aside three years after meeting Christ to prepare before he began his public ministry. Likewise, it will usually take time to nurture and grow in our own dynamic and interactive relationship with God. Some of us would call these times of seeking God "quiet times." Consider that there are two very meaningful ingredients to a rich quiet time with God: Quiet and Time.

1) Quiet - Jesus refers to what some would call a prayer closet. That doesn’t mean there is a magically enchanted power in the spot where you keep your shoes and hang your clothes. Jesus is referring to privacy in a space where we continually meet with God. Jesus drew away from others for his own time with his Father. And in reference to the events around Moses's life, the Psalmist calls us away. “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!”  
A favorite song of mine on this subject is "Come Away" by Jesus Culture.

2) The next ingredient: Time - If we make space for God, He makes space for us. As John Piper says, “When God draws near, hurry ceases. Time slows down.” Obviously, this will run contrary to how some of us live. For me, the more electronic opportunities I have 
(especially smart phones), the more hectic and scattered my life becomes. It takes an incredible amount of restraint for me to live, with my various goals and ambitions, and yet take ... time ... out ... to rest. But it is crucial for me to rest and be satisfied within the boundaries that God is laying out me. But time is what it takes. 

Like a teabag that must soak for a while as its flavor gradually flows into the water, this simply should not be rushed. Some call this meditation. One meaning for the Greek word "meditation" is "to mutter." It is the repeating of the good words of God that eventually soak into our very being, changing us. What do we meditate on? A great place to start is with the Bible ... the living Word of God. We drink deeply and are nourished by God's Word. Some of us need to disconnect from our phones and find real life with God. If our society is a desert, God's Word is like a phone booth leading to life. This is the real lifeline.

And this helps us sort out counterfeit wisdom from this parched world. Jesus warns: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come… and will deceive many,” in Matthew 24:4-5. We need to gauge what we are feeling in the spirit with the Word of God. If what we are feeling is contrary to scripture, we are not listening to the Holy Spirit. We must also be wary of thinking every thought during a quiet time is from God. An error I hear from dear and sincere friends is what I call the open door / closed door method of decision making. They say things like, “I will just give it a try, and if the door is not open, it must not have been the will of God.” So how then do we do this? I can only speak to my experience.

Often, I will have a certain feeling or a peace as I am praying. Or I will sense God is speaking a word or a short phrase to me. But then I will need to take the time to flesh out the meaning or meanings of what God is really saying. This can take hours, weeks or sometimes months to fully embrace the extent what God is truly saying. A few things have taken me years to interpret what I felt was from the Holy Spirit. We need sober discernment for this type of spiritual leading. Timing can be the most difficult thing when it comes to undertstanding God's leading. But he will lead you, through His word and/or your spirit being led by His spirit. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). “Grant that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened to know our hope and our inheritance and the love of Christ that passes knowledge and be filled with all the fullness of God." To "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that (we) may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 1:18 and 3:19)

Moses had the people of Israel, on one hand, and Joshua, on the other. What must it have been like to know that God wanted to spend time talking personally with Moses—sharing His own intentions and feelings? These are the things Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians that no eye has seen and no ear has heard. What was it in Moses that caused God to call him? It wasn’t because Moses eagerly enlisted at God's beckon call. And it wasn’t because of his even temper. Our word ‘intimacy’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘innermost.’ So intimacy implies a high level of transparency in a relationship. Moses was real with God, brutally honest with God and passionate about the things that burned in his heart. And this is the reality God is calling us into today. Can we be intimate in this way with God, our Father?

The people of Israel were not intimate with God. They stood at the entrances to their tents, onlookers, watching in awe as Moses entered the Tent of Meeting. They saw the distant cloud of God’s presence but did not hear the intimate conversation. All they knew of God’s words were what they heard second-hand from Moses (Ps 103:7) But one detail in this story people often miss. Joshua never left the tent. What did Joshua see? What did he hear? Later Joshua encountered God, or should we say God encountered Joshua in his greatest time of need. Joshua didn't need a telephone in the desert. He had a direct line with God, his own walk with God. In Our Story in Exodus, Matt Chandler writes, “What might change in our life if we really believed… in our guts that God sees us and He hears us? What sin might we walk away from? What confidence might we gain? What if we truly believed that God keeps his promises? How might we mine the Word of God for His promises? How might we cling to them when things are dry or stormy or dark?” 

I will say it again: Don't do this alone. Seek out pastors, mentors or close Christian friends to help analyze what you are sensing. Go slow as you develop this over time in your life. Remember, "stop" and "wait" are verbs. Wait on the Lord. He loves you and has your best interests in mind.

Let's remember: We have today, and we have our own walk with God ... Let us make the most of it. Let’s live the life God is calling us to live. 

Looking for some feedback from you here. Leave a comment on our Facebook page and tell how you are led by God. I purposefully didn't give a big variety of examples here. How does the Father speak to you? http://www.facebook.com/davidswensen

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