In 1989, the software company I worked for was suffering cash dehydration, basically dying of thirst. A multi-year sales drought had dried up our bank accounts, and our formerly cash-rich owner was scraping the bottom of his dusty cistern.
I was asked to demo our software to the only sales prospect we saw on our bleak horizon. If the demo failed, I would lose my position, my paycheck, and my prestigious corner cubicle.
The night before my demo, I had dinner with the client’s consultant. Over lobster bisque, the consultant told me that our competitors had badly bungled their demos by showing off “cool” but unneeded features. When the client asked to see solutions to their current problems, our competitors ignored their requests and continued to present their wow-factors.
The consultant suggested I start my presentation by asking the client to describe their current needs. He proposed that I use the remainder of the demo to show how, and to what degree, our software would solve their issues.
I did. They liked it. We got the deal. And I kept my cubicle.
What does demoing software have to do with hearing God? Everything.
It’s a Battle of Wills
In 2008, I faced a life-changing decision. I had just left my job (because I sensed God call me to), but I didn’t know what to do in its place. I desperately wanted God’s guidance. I asked for direction, begged for wisdom, searched the Scriptures, asked friends, and read spiritual books. I was tempted to email Dr. Phil.
All I got from God was silence.
I read Paul’s prayer that we be “filled with the knowledge of his will” and I prayed fervently (and a little self-righteously): “God, that’s what I’m looking for. I just want your will.”
Finally I sensed God break through my hailstorm of beseeching and said: “Sam, you aren’t looking for my will, you’re looking for your own.” His answer didn’t come as handwriting on the wall, just a slight tug on my heart. But it was a tug from God.
I instantly realized I wasn’t seeking His will. I only wanted answers to my driving question “What now?” What if God’s will in that moment had nothing to do with my burning question?
Everyone Does It
It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer us. He does. But our fixation on our agendas deafens us to his messages. It’s like asking God for instruction on how to redo our closet while he’s building us a mansion next door. There we are, out shopping for doorknobs.
If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, won’t he also know what is best? Yet we hijack the conversation, certain that our narrow-minded-questions are just what we need:
- There’s a fork in the road ahead. We ask, “Should I turn right or turn left?” God answers, “Turn around.”
- A ball is curving its way toward us. “God, should I swing at this pitch?” God says, “Uh, you’re playing soccer.”
- We fast, pray, and beg for guidance: “Should I ask this girl to marry me?” God rolls his eyes. “You’re an eight-year-old boy. Go outside and climb a tree.”
Besides, if God is so wise and powerful that we need his help, he must also be wise enough to do things we can’t understand. We can’t have it both ways. If he is beyond us in power and goodness, then he must (by definition) act in ways that bewilder us.
Missing the Real Issue
There are times when we are desperate to know God’s will: How do we help our handicapped daughter with her lack of friends? How do we handle a son who has become a drug dealer? In these time, God’s silence seems criminal. His seeming lack of guidance is agonizing.
The entire book of Job is dedicated to the topic of conversational hijacking. The first twenty-nine verses give a thumbnail sketch of a brief moment in history. The next thirty-six chapters paint multiple pictures of people hijacking the discussion. Job keeps asking, “Why, God, did you allow this to happen?” And his friends keep telling Job that he must be a miserable lout.
No one actually seeks God’s will—neither Job nor his counselors—because they are so caught up with their own dogmatic agendas.
Finally, the youngest counselor speaks a word from God that breaks the conversational deadlock. He tells Job to stop controlling the conversation: “O Job: stand still and consider the wonderful works of God” (Job 37:14).
God never answers Job’s question, “Why did you do this?” God never breathes a hint of an echo of a shadow of an answer. He does something else instead. When Job gives conversational control back to God, God simply reveals himself.
When Job sees God, he drops all his pretentions of control. He responds, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). In seeing God, Job is completely satisfied. He never needed the answer he thought he needed; he needed God alone.
We can hijack the discussion, or we can have God.
So God, let’s talk. Uh—you first.
Calvary Church of Valparaiso IN has asked me to lead their men’s ministry in a Hearing God Conference in their church building Friday and Saturday, November 12-13, 2021. The very reasonable price of $25 includes breakfast and lunch on Saturday and a copy of my book, Hearing God in Conversation.
For more information about the men’s retreat, Click Here or on the image Hearing God image.