Circumstances, commitments, and surprises (the unpleasant kind) overwhelmed me the past six weeks. I had too much to do and too little time to do it. Forces from competing goals pulled me in opposite directions.
Two weeks ago I arrived home from a retreat in Colorado, physically and emotionally drained. But I woke up the next morning in an adrenalin-induced frenzy, desperate to prepare five new sessions for a retreat that began in four short days.
The retreat topic was Hearing God. I’ve been waiting (impatiently) for years to offer a retreat on how to recognize God’s voice, but commitments (and bad surprises) had frustrated my attempts to plan it. I was woefully behind and anxious about the few remaining hours I had for preparation.
When I woke up that feverish morning, I sensed God say to me:
“If your retreat teachings are the greatest talks you’ve ever given, but no one hears my voice, the retreat will be a dismal failure. If you give the worst talks you’ve ever given, but people actually hear me speak, the retreat will be a roaring success.”
I sensed God invite me to take two days off from any retreat work—half of my limited, remaining prep time—and simply to give “my” retreat to him. The word seemed unwise, irresponsible, and a little crazy.
Because everything about Christianity seems crazy
Our biggest problem in our Christian walk lies in our distorted thinking. In fact, every single problem we have arises from our wrong interpretations. Spiritual rebirth is a radical retooling of our minds.
Christianity means a profoundly different grasp of reality. It means that circumstances, events, disappointments—and even our deepest woundings—all reflect a deeper undercurrent of spiritual forces; a revolutionary reality that requires spiritual-eye-transplants to recognize. Not just another pair of Walmart reading glasses.
Worldly wisdom dictates that ministries adopt the latest growth strategy; it orders bloggers to leverage social media for greater impact, and it compels spouses to learn their love languages.
All that worldly advice contains seeds of wisdom, but it also—simultaneously and insidiously—waters the weeds of our inner-destruction.
Our default human inclination is to operate as though success in life (from ministries to marriages) depends on our efforts. But the lesson of Gideon’s three hundred soldiers is that success depends solely on God, and it is precisely in our weakness that he is strong.
For the Hearing God retreat, I needed a transformation of mind, not more hours of preparation.
Jesus always attacks our natural thinking
And I mean he attacks it. Head on. He shocks us, astounds us, pleads with us, and convicts us. Why do you think he was crucified? Didn’t he just preach a message of love? No! He preached a message of complete abandonment of the way the world thinks. He said:
- If we really want to be great, we must stoop before stinking, dirty feet.
- Whoever wants the richest of lives must totally and deliberately lose their own.
- If we wish for a flooding of wisdom we must concede our overflow of folly.
- Whoever wishes to feel worthwhile must admit to God their unworthiness.
- The way up is down.
Everything Jesus said was revolutionary. He was an anarchist about every “normal” operating principal of life. What makes sense to the world makes no sense inside the gospel; and the message of the gospel is sheer craziness to the world.
It’s not an evolution
Jesus never offers a nuanced perspective. He isn’t a vitamin supplement. He doesn’t merely spice up a tasteless dish. Instead of adding a dash of reality to our lives, he crucifies and buries our old perceptions to let his spiritual reality be born into new being.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Transformed” means metamorphosis, like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
We need must hold a funeral service for the earthbound caterpillar of our worldly wisdom so that a metamorphosed spiritual mind can be born, sprout wings, and fly.
My limited retreat preparation lacked everything I’d ever studied on public speaking. Instead of hearing eloquence in my teaching, people heard God in their personal prayer. I think I did too.
“And I mean he attacks it. Head on. He shocks us, astounds us, pleads with us, and convicts us. Why do you think he was crucified? Didn’t he just preach a message of love? No! He preached a message of complete abandonment of the way the world thinks.” – Well said
Hi Jeff, thanks!
I really find that times of listening to God virtually guarantees a change in how I think.
But there’s quite a bit of work left!
I have learned that my preparation for preaching is much more about getting to where my heart resonates with His…all the homiletics, study, brilliant illustrations etc… are not the urgent need…it is the tuning of the heart…something I wasn’t taught at Bible College. That often leads to wasting “study” time on heart time…counter intuitive but absolutely vital…
Counter-intuitive indeed. That means something good is happening.
Thanks for this! I’ve been feeling tied down lately with interpretation, context, hermeneutics, etc, which are all necessary, but it’s true that if we don’t find a passion for the text, our need for the words, it won’t be worth hearing. Anytime that it gets to be about us and what we can do, it’s prideful legalism. Jesus came to explode legalism with this crazy thing called grace. You’re so right – it’s all about metamorphosis of being, thinking and doing. Isn’t that what being “born again” means in essence?
It’s funny how the phrase “born again” is scorned in today’s society. And yet everyone is frantic, depressed, confused, and lost.
I would think the idea of a huge reset, a reboot, would be great. Even better, to start over again by being born again.
We were caterpillars and now butterflies. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.
I was at that retreat. You’d never know you were so “poorly” prepared! I’m still meditating on what I learned about my own heart and God’s purposes in the “follow the clues in your emotions” exercise. Thanks, Sam!
Thanks. It really is about hearing God and not man (at least not THIS man!).