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.
I love the book of Job, even with its agonizing length. And I have to admit, after all these years, I still struggle with wanting to know God’s will for my life rather than just wanting to know God. Thanks for your wise words, once again…
I’m the same way: I usually want answers more than I want God.
When I write, I often write about things I only see dimly. I WANT to want God more than I want guidance or His provision, but I’m weak. So really, when you read my writing, you are overhearing my discussions with God about my own shortcomings; and you are overhearing me preach to myself 🙂
But God’s answers really are: Our greatest need in this world is for Him.
Michael Knower, MD
Thanks, Sam. Too often our [first person plural] seeking God’s “will” would be more accurately described as seeking God’s endorsement. He does not need my information or my advice.
Love that way of looking at it: our demands for answers really are demands for His endorsements of our faulty agendas.
Thanks once again for your insights! I believe this is a Season in which God is definitely calling His people to a deeper place of Intimacy with Him! Thoughts come to mind of Moses who – the Bible says – talked “face-to-face” with Jehovah God. However, we hear Moses later asking God to give him better understanding of God”s “Ways” and He expresses his desire to know God MORE!
A few years ago I had an “Encounter” with the Lord; not a dream or a vision. It was like He drew back a curtain and allowed me to look into “His Heart of Love!” As I have heard others say, there is no way to actually use “words” to describe such an experience!! But, I was overwhelmed, humbled, and thought of the verses describing the 144,000 in Rev. which says “they follow the Lamb wherever He goes!”
This Encounter changed me! Especially since then I have been far more focused on HIM, and have given prayer and much thought as to the many ways in which we Christians tend to focus on everything EXCEPT HIM! HE IS A PERSON! The night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples this: “I no longer call you Servants, but FRIENDS!!” Now, I focus less on “evangelizing” than on “people ‘KNOWING JESUS” — including those who already belong to Him!!
I am 84.5 y.o., live alone, have several physical problems & handicapped, no longer drive or attend church. (Retired nurse; past ministry with my husband – who died 28 years ago). My heart longs to be with Jesus! He is “all my dreams come true”! I call “dying” simply a “time of Transition”
Thank you for sharing your story, how God moved you into closer intimacy with Him.
May we all be so moved!
And may we all LONG to be with Him.
I just read this post this morning and found tears running down my face. I still don’t understand why the tears, but I’m used to that being my response to almost any strong emotion! The tears were in response to Mary’s quote about Jesus calling his disciples Friends. But I know that this is all a part of an ongoing conversation with God; your post Sam, Mary’s sharing, the timing of me reading all of this in order to be open and receptive to it. Thank you so much for doing what you do, sharing the way you do, so that we can all learn from each other, it is very precious. Last night I was asked, “So what is God wanting to you to do with this?” and I had no answer. This post is shining a light for me to follow, the answer isn’t quite here yet, but you’ve illuminated a next step. thanks! Andrea
Thank you for sharing. I love God’s timing, and I love how interaction with other believers move us to tears, like Mary’s comment about friendship with God.
I wonder what God is up to in you? Maybe those tears are an inner, God-inspired, longing for more and a deeper friendship with Him? I hope so, and I will pray now that it IS so!!
I worked with you for years! I’m so glad to hear and see you following God’s calling and am encouraged by your own courage!
Thank you for your words of wisdom and encouragement!
I remember you very well and it’s great to be in contact again. Thanks for reaching out.