Hearing God in Conversation

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 ride the wind every day.

Father son sailing

I probably sailed with him for a hundred hours before I faced the wind on my own. During those hours, my dad would have me either manage the sail or handle the rudder. Of the hundred hours sailing, I bet his actual instruction time totaled one hour. Two at the most.

He might say, “Pull in the sail a bit,” or, “Turn a little more to the left” (yeah, I know, starboard and port, but my dad didn’t care much about proper terminology). Those short comments took mere moments to say, and he 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 seamanship.

Instead of lessons, we mostly just chatted.

He would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d say, “Be 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, what girls I was interested in, and what it would be like to sail across the ocean.

Our relationship with God can be like that. Conversational.

Should We Ever Wrestle with God?

In the movie The Princess Bride, the evil genius Vizzini repeatedly (and inappropriately) exclaims, “Inconceivable.” His partner Inigo Montoyo finally responds, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Like that criminal genius, Christians use religious jargon repeatedly and inappropriately. I often want to say, “I do not think it means what you think it means.

I struggle with the phrase, “wrestling with God.” arm_wrestlingChristians use it to describe an intentional long night of pleading with God for his help. The phrase refers to God wrestling with Jacob (Gen. 32:22-31), but we use it the wrong way; let’s “Stop saying that!”

I used to work in a ministry with a man who loved the phrase. If the finances were low, he’d demand an evening bout of wrestling with God. When members failed to follow his messages, he’d insist on an upper room experience of battling with God.

My friend used the phrase as though we needed to get God’s attention, as though we needed to place a shot across God’s bow. We’d argue with God, make our pitch, and try to persuade him of our plans. Maybe we’d fast.

It reminded me of the priests of Baal as they cut themselves on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). I wish I’d said to my friend, “I do not think it means what you think it means.

Our phrase may seem noble or heroic to us, but an African American preacher understood God better when he preached, “Your arm’s too short to box with God!”

What’s Your Legacy?

Babysitting two grandsons Tuesday morning, I felt discouraged. Not with them; they were great. Not even with changing their diapers—although I’m a rank diaper amateur. I was discouraged because of a dissatisfaction with how my time was being spent.

I left the business world because God led me to something new. Now I sense a God-given, heart-gripping, compelling to write, to offer new perspectives on how our beliefs drive us.

So a few months ago I decided to spend more time writing. And how have I done? Rusty TypewriterThe short answer is, “Badly.” So is the long answer. Instead of writing more, I’ve written quite a bit less.

And I feel sort of useless. Hmmm, not useless; I feel wasted (no, not that kind of wasted), like I’m squandering my time, letting it be filled with activities while the mission that drives my heart lies abandoned.

Interruptions intervened, friends had urgent needs, I preached sermons and spoke at retreats, storms dumped snow, taxes were complicated, and diapers stunk. My writing was rusting.

So I re-visited my priorities to sort out how my life can make a difference. Then I read,

[Our] battle is not against sin, or circumstances, but against being so absorbed in our service to Jesus Christ that we are not ready to face Jesus Himself (Oswald Chambers).

I’ve been more interested in my ministry to God than in God himself.

The Hidden Secrets of Belief

Many years ago, I worked for a struggling company. Our architecture was outdated and sales revenue plummeted. Investments in new architecture meant expenses skyrocketed. We were hemorrhaging money with no doctor in sight.

And then our president had a heart attack.

Our parent company asked me if I would consider becoming president. I was flattered by their great offer (and impressed with their great wisdom), but when I prayed I sensed God say, “No.” His word felt clear and strong, and I declined.

Instead, I suggested a new vice presidentDemotion r1 that I had recently hired and who had become a friend. Our parent company agreed, and my friend became our new president.

The next day, my president-friend began to attack me. In the following weeks, he reduced my pay, took away my office, demoted me, and publicly belittled me. *

My friend’s blitzkrieg movements stunned me. I was paralyzed and bewildered. Each new day brought a new disappointment. Every way I turned saw ambush and embarrassment. All of this came from a friend I had helped promote.

And God seemed absent, at least silent. I felt abandoned by God to a betraying friend who appeared intent on my professional destruction. I had voluntarily obeyed God by declining a promotion. As a result, I was demoted, humiliated, discouraged, and scared.

What kind of God would do this to someone who tried to obey him?

I’m Learning To Budget My Brain

Every December I invest fifteen hours or so to plan my life for the next twelve months. I review my current activities, I add some items, remove others, and I prioritize.

Then I literally budget how many hours each week I’ll invest in each area. thinking-man r1Last year I decided to write a book, I budgeted hours for it, and it was published last December.

For the last ten years, I’ve budgeted about five hours a week in a small non-profit group. While planning this year, I began to question that investment. They are a great group, but I’m not sure I’m making a difference. I wondered if my weekly five hours is bearing fruit.

Actually, I did more than wonder. I obsessed. When my wife asked what to do for our weekly date, I talked about my question. While washing dishes, I mused on my concern. I emailed friends, talked with strangers, and tossed and turned all night. Obsessing.

A weekly five hour duty was grabbing fifty-percent of my mind. Probably more. I beseeched God how to budget that time. I just wanted an answer to my question.

Instead of telling me how to budget my time, God told me to learn to budget my brain.

How Scary Are The Tests Of God?

It is natural to shudder when we think about the tests of God. They seem so scary. Yet I believe the tests of God are the key to hope and joy. Let me explain.

I began flying lessons in 1997. These lessons taught me to take off and land, to navigate using aviation charts, and to communicate with air traffic control.

I particularly liked learning to land.flight-training-night-1-lg

On my second flight, my instructor Jayne pulled the throttle to idle and announced that my engine had just died. She asked what I was going to do. Throttling her was not an option because I hadn’t yet learned to land. But I was strongly tempted.

Soon a pattern emerged. She’d kill the engine, I’d want to kill her,  I’d look for a place to land, and we’d practice standard engine-restart procedures. Then we would circle down to the landing site until Jayne said we would have made it (or not). Then she’d re-throttle the engine, we’d climb, and we’d review what I had done.

Jayne drilled the engine-out procedures so thoroughly into me that I could have done them in my sleep.

Though I never tried.    

My Journey into Learning How God Gives Direction

I used to be a partner and employee of a successful software company. Eight years ago I heard God tell me to leave it. But he didn’t tell me where to go.

I asked five friends for help. We met and prayed together monthly for a year. In the end we all agreed I should leave; and we had no idea where I should go.

So I left the company and prayed more earnestly for direction. In fact I pleaded.

I heard nothing. Silence.

Have you ever felt this same desperate desire for God’s direction, longing for a word?

Let me tell you what God did for me.