Spiritual Insanity

A few years ago, a twenty-eight-year-old woman shared with me what she called her “unseemly struggle:” she was dissatisfied … with most everything. Growing up, she had simple desires for life: a decent husband, a nice family, and a moderate house.

restless couple

Soon after college she married a good guy; they both found jobs in their fields; they bought a nice house; and within a few years they had a healthy baby boy.

She had every significant aspiration she had ever desired. Yet she was restless.

So they bought a new car, repainted the house, added granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. They were promoted. Her husband got an MBA. She quit her job to become a full-time mother. It felt good. For a bit.

Soon she felt restless all over again. “Is this all there is?” She saw the same unease in her friends, pursuing raises, cars, promotions, and kids. Then she heard an Einstein quote,

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

She said to me, “I wonder if we’re all spiritually insane.”

What’s So Important About Hearing God?

For God does speak–now one way, now another–though man may not perceive it” (Job 33:14).

Humanity was created to be in a relationship with God; not God as a simple supplement, nor God as mere miracle worker. God created us to know him personally, as a father with a child, friend to friend, and even (breathtakingly intimate) as a husband with a wife.

Hearing God in Conversation

At the beginning of time, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the cool of the garden. That’s what we were made for.

When humanity disobeyed God, we didn’t just break a rule, we broke a relationship, exactly—exactly!—like when a spouse commits adultery. And that broken connection with God shattered our rapport with him. The root of all relationships is communication and we lost our ability to hear God.

Oswald Chambers said, “If you are not sensitive enough to detect His voice, you will quench it, and your spiritual life will be impaired.” Failure to hear God harms our wellbeing!

At immeasurable cost—the cost of the cross—God entered into history and acted to save us. But save us for what? Just to be good little boys and girls? No! The God of the universe saved us to restore our relationship with him. And that means communication…

“…So that we might know him” (Phil. 3:10).

My book Hearing God in Conversation was released early by Amazon last week (surprising my publisher). I wrote it to help reconnect us with the creator, to embrace his repair of our impairment; to hear his voice in our daily lives, to grow in intimacy with the One who loves us.

And to rediscover a conversational relationship with God.

When God Seems Silent

Of all the ways God speaks, the one I like least (and fear most) is his silence. The absence of his voice seems to come at the moments I most desperately long for a word. In those moments, his silence feels like God at his cruelest.

When God Seems Silent

We cry out to God, we promise to do exactly as he says, and we get silence. It hardly seems fair.

Paradoxically, God often speaks the loudest in his silence. But his words do not always come as a voice. They come as action. Later in life, when we remember the silent voice of God, it is those “words” we come to treasure most. His Spirit breathes life into our lives, and his silent words somehow take shape in our hearts.

Learning to hear God is not a gimmick. We can’t force God’s hand, and we certainly can’t force him to speak. He doesn’t respond to our incantations like a dog to his master’s command.

He is God, and he speaks in the moments that he determines best and with the methods he knows we need most. And some lessons need the laboratory, not the lecture hall.

God is always speaking—always! But some words need to be shown, not told.

Hearing God: Learning to Recognize His Voice in Meditation

God speaks time and again—in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14).

Core to the nature of the human race is a desire to hear God. Well, more than mere desire. We crave a connection with the divine, somehow to see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s an inborn, inherent ingredient of our humanity.

The cacophony of voices

Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. It’s not that he doesn’t speak to us, it’s just that we don’t recognize it when he does. Oh, sometimes he breaks in through writing on the wall or thorough a speaking donkey, but mostly he speaks in a still, small voice.

We miss his voice because it is drowned out in the sea of other voices. The cacophony of sounds, like an orchestra tuning, obscures that still small voice. Stomachs growl their hunger, bosses bark their orders, and that insult from twenty years ago still shouts its condemnation.

How do we begin to recognize God’s voice? In meditation. Christian meditation trains our ears to distinguish God’s voice—that one instrument—amidst the orchestra of others. And once we learn to recognize God’s voice, we begin to hear it “time and again, in various ways.”

To hear God’s voice, we need to learn to meditate. Unless, like Balaam, you have a talking ass.

Hearing God: Conversation Is the Point

When I was growing up, my dad taught me to sail our small Sunfish sailboat. We took month-long summer vacations, and we always camped on lakes, so we could challenge the wind every day.

Father son sailing

I probably sailed with my dad for a hundred hours before I took the boat out on my own. My dad would have me handle either the sail or the rudder. Of our many hours sailing together, I’ll bet his actual instruction time totaled an hour, two at the most.

He might say, “Pull in the sail a bit,” or, “Turn a little more to the left.” (My dad didn’t care much about proper nautical terminology.) Those short comments took mere moments to say, and Dad didn’t make them often. Mostly we just sailed together for hours and hours. And bit by bit, gust by gust, wave by wave, I learned to sail.

Instead of instructing, Dad mostly just chatted.

He would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d say, “A pirate!” (of course) and he’d heartily agree (“Yo, ho, ho!”). He’d ask why I had yelled at my sister, and I’d ask why he got angry at my mom. We’d talk about books we were reading, sermons he was preparing, which girls I found interesting, and what it would be like to sail across the ocean.

Our relationship with God can be like that. Conversational.

Courage and Cowardice

The worst riot in Detroit’s history broke out the summer of 1967: forty-three people were killed and over eleven hundred injured. As the violence escalated, my father packed us kids into the station wagon and drove us in to the center of the action (every other car was headed out). Police tried to wave us away while we witnessed looting, fights, arrests, and arson.

Courage and Cowardice

My father was fearless and he passed that recklessness on to us kids.

We grew up with a daredevil streak. By the time I graduated from high school, I had broken my left leg twice (and my nose once), cracked multiple ribs, had the tip of a finger chopped off in a lawnmower (don’t ask), fractured my kneecap, and my many stitches give me a Frankenstein look. We knew all the names of the ER nurses, their kids, second cousins, and pet goldfish.

My father could have driven us to our doctor blindfolded. Though he never tried.