Hearing God to See Him

Thirty-three years ago I took a woman to a Gilbert and Sullivan play as a first date. Before the evening of our get-together, I had a collection of facts about her: she was a farmer’s daughter, she was a Social Worker, and she was cute. After the evening of our get-together, I told my parents that I had just met the woman I would marry.

Seeing

What happened during those few, short hours? I had known she wanted to be a missionary, but over a glass of wine, she told me of her longing to help internationals. And I fell in love. I didn’t get new information; somehow, something I already knew became real.

She breathed life into the facts I already possessed. A personal connection trumped my data.

Western nations—Americans in particular—are information junkies. The Self-Improvement market guzzles ten billion dollars a year as we gather more info on health, personal finances, and relational well-being. Yet we remain over-weight, under-saved, and highly-divorced.

Christians likewise are data collectors. We download hundreds of sermons, stockpile libraries of books, frequent retreats, and memorize verses. Yet we remain anxious, timid, and lonely.

We don’t need more information; we need what we already know to become real.

What Does God Think of Us?

When I first began Beliefs of the Heart, all my blogs were videos. Below is my very first take, shot and published March 19, 2010. I’m on vacation, and I hope you find my first blog interesting.

It asks the question: How does God think of us? What does he see that we don’t see? Scripture’s answer is surprising.

(My early production standards were simple: If it recorded, ship it. See if you can identify out dog Puzzle, the gale-force winds, and the reversing dump truck).


Length: 3 minutes 27 seconds

Hearing God’s Guidance for Our Lives

Let’s admit the plain  fact that most of us want to hear God’s voice for one simple reason: Guidance. We’re looking for an answer or some formula that will provide us with a clear choice between competing options.

fork_in_the_road

But God rarely limits his guiding voice to a formula. Rather, like a master painter, he uses an artful mix of brushstrokes and palette, sometimes speaking, other times orchestrating, oftentimes through counsel, and frequently even in his silence.

God’s primary purpose is to deepen his relationship with us. He doesn’t give us a paint-by-number scheme for guidance. Each of our lives is his masterpiece, and each masterpiece is painted with different colors and varying brushstrokes. Let’s not limit God’s guidance to dime-store paint kits.

Let me walk you through a bit of God’s guidance in my journey. As you see God’s painting of my life, I hope you will recognize his brushstrokes in yours as well.

Hearing God in the Multiplicity of His Methods and Moments

Most believers I know long for—and long desperately for—God’s voice, but we don’t hear his voice because we are unaware of the lavishness of his methods and moments.

Scripture says, “God speaks in many and diverse ways, but nobody notices (Job 33:14). We miss his voice because he’s not a paint-by-number God. He speaks in ways we can’t imagine.

rainbow

Far too often well-meaning people describe conversations with God with unhelpful, misleading examples. Their exchanges with God sound like dialogues written by master playwrights:

I asked God: What should I do with my life?
God answered: Are you willing to take a risk?
I replied: Yes, but I don’t know what to do.
God said: Move to Timbuktu.

When people tell these stories, we think, I never hear God so clearly. Let me tell you a secret: neither do they. At least not most of the time. Those stories are usually shorthand summaries of hours spent reading Scripture, reflecting on his words, praying, getting Godly nudges, and recognizing God’s voice in circumstances and through friends.

Because God speaks through his infinitely imaginative, artistic mix of methods and moments.

Hearing God in Reflection

Many years ago, I lived in London with a bunch of friends, working in campus ministry. One of my friends spent a couple hours with Dr. John Stott, an internationally-known pastor with a church that also ministered to university students.

Rodin-The Thinker

Dr. Stott and my friend discussed prayer. Dr. Stott confessed that his best prayer time is spent in thinking with God, reflecting on scripture passages, and meditating on eternal truths.

My friend argued that the best prayer is found in corporate worship, enthusiastic singing, exalting in the presence of God, shouting his praises, singing, dancing, kneeling, and bowing before the throne of God. We considered Stott’s “prayer” of reflection too intellectual, too shallow, too unenlightened, and perhaps unspiritual. We chuckled.

In fact, I’d say we snickered.

By the end of his life, Time Magazine identified Stott as one of the 100 most influential people in the world; he had written over 50 books; and he had helped hundreds of thousands of people —probably millions. And we twenty-something neophytes snickered at his shallowness.

Thirty-five years later, I’m rethinking spiritual reflection—actually practicing it—and it is rich beyond belief. Stott was oh-so-very right, and I was oh-so-very wrong. Spiritual reflection is one of the deepest ways to connect with God that I’ve ever experienced.

I love to brainstorm, whiteboard, and creatively go after innovative ideas. I love doing this with friends when considering anything, so I am trying it with God. And I love it.

Spiritual reflection is connecting me to God, and I’m hearing his voice.

It’s All My Mother’s Fault

Two months ago I got pneumonia. It took me three weeks before I thought to ask for prayer. For twenty-one days I asked not a soul: not my family, friends, church, or wife. I didn’t even ask me to pray for me. Finally, in a burst of spiritual spontaneity, I asked a friend in a PS tacked onto an email, and he asked my church. In less than a week, I was feeling considerably better.

My 23 year-old mom on her honeymoon.

My 23 year-old mom on her honeymoon.

Coincidence? After all, I had also finally visited my doctor, then taken a course of antibiotics, and I had rested for three and a half weeks. That’s probably all it takes anyway.

Yet it left me convicted about my lack of prayer. I seldom initiate intercession. If someone else asks me to pray for them, I usually do so (often, though, with just a hasty word or two). Rarely do I have the idea to pray for someone else, as in, “Hey, let’s pray for your work situation that’s causing such angst.” The idea of intercession doesn’t cross my mind.

Last Wednesday, my email reader Outlook stopped syncing with my Gmail accounts. When I woke up, I noticed synchronization errors and tried to fix them. I spent the next ninety minutes googling the error message, and changing port numbers and encryption methods. Nothing worked. I restored all my original settings, and the same error message mocked me once more.

I chatted with my wife for a bit (mostly about my morning’s irritations) and headed back to my synchronization headache. On the way, I remembered that I’m trying to remember to pray for help. So I dashed off a quick prayer, God, I’m frustrated; please fix Outlook for me.

When I got to my desk, Outlook and Gmail were syncing great once again. Coincidence? Maybe.

The Self-Love Trap

I had a high school friend who was insecure, socially awkward, and overweight. He envied the skills (and good looks) of classmates; he vilified himself for his frequent social blunders; and he castigated himself for his shortcomings.

Sad student r2

My friend, however, was in the top five percent of the honors class of a magnet, honors high school; he just never reached the top one percent. And he was the second chair trumpet of a nationally recognized orchestra; he just never made first chair.

Despite his many successes, he saw others do better and it discouraged him. My heart went out to him. We became friends, and in the lunchroom I listened as he told story after story of how students, teachers, and his parents misunderstood him.

His discouragement deepened into depression, and he finally sought a counselor. The counselor said his problem was self-hatred, and that he needed to grow his self-love.

I thought he loved himself too much.

And I still think so