How Do We Hear from God today?

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Through the past two blog posts , I have held up a vision of the God who speaks in various ways and we as His people hearing from Him. That is the vision I want to put in front of us. The prophets heard from God, and their hearing is unique from ours as authoritative Scripture. However, their hearing is not unique from ours in that the Bible tells us the people of God will relate to God as He speaks and we respond.

So, how do we move from the vision of what this is into the reality of hearing God in our everyday lives? Let me suggest a few ways.

Cultivating relationship with God

While it is possible that God will interrupt our lives when we are not looking for Him, I believe the ordinary and regular way that God speaks to us in the context of an ongoing intimate relationship with Him that is cultivated day after day.

In Scripture, we encounter strong relational metaphors for God and His people

  • Parent –child relationship (“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” – Hosea 1:1)
  • Spousal relationship (“‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me “my husband”; you will no longer call me “my master”’” – Hosea 2:16)
  • Friend relationship (“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends” – John 15:15)

It is within this ongoing relationship with God that we learn to hear His voice.

And so, if we really want to hear the voice of God, we must do whatever it takes to draw near to God, to become familiar with who God is, to read Scripture and pray, to gather in worship and meet with others who are like-minded, so that we might build relationship with God and become more familiar and comfortable in His presence. The more we are with Him, the more likely we are to hear His voice. The less likely we are with Him, the less likely we are to hear His voice.

The words of the prophet Jeremiah have been helpful for me in this way:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

So of primary importance in hearing God is knowing God, and cultivating relationship with Him.

 

Learning to Listen

Second, I would suggest we need to learn how to listen for God. When you want to ride a bike, you have to learn how to do it. I still remember my parents and my older brother helping me learn to ride a bike with training wheels and eventually getting a new bike. I still remember teaching my own children how to ride a bike.

If we have to learn how to ride a bike, and we experience some bumps along the way, how much more should we expect that we need to learn how to hear God? Let me suggest four practices that I think will help us cultivate a listening relationship with God

  1. Read Scripture slowly and reflect upon it: If we want to hear from God, then the easiest place to begin is with the Bible. Since we know the Bible is trustworthy and authoritative, we can readily learn to know the character of God and the quality of His voice by reading the Bible. However, let me make one qualification about this. We need to not only read the Bible, but reflect upon the Bible. Many times we read the words of Scripture, but do not let them really trickle down into our lives. We need to slow down and prayerfully read Scripture, pondering the truths into our souls. The longest of the psalms, Psalm 119, is an extended reflection upon the power of the Scripture to shape, guide, correct, and enlighten our lives. We need to let it have its way in us. When reading Scripture, if we want to hear from God, we should read a passage, then take time to read it again, reflect upon it, and let it shape us. If you like to write, you may want to journal about it. If you are a verbal processor, you may want to talk with a good friend about what you are hearing. When we approach Scripture, we should ask, “what does this mean?” But the Scripture has not had its work in us until we ask the next question, “what is God speaking to me personally in this?”
  2. Take time in silence and solitude with God: Think about Peter in Acts 10. Three times God gives him a word with a vision about the inclusion of the Gentiles. Peter was on the roof in the middle of the day. He was undistracted by others and by the hustle & bustle of life so that he could be attentive to God. Without silence and solitude we will not hear the voice of God. It would be like every time you wanted to talk to your best friend or spouse you turned on the television, the radio, and the blender all at the same time. If you really want to have a conversation you need focus and attention. Few things help us with this more than silence and solitude with God.
  3. Talk with God through your day: The first two practices, reflective reading of Scripture and solitude/silence, must happen at a set time and in some place. But this third practice leads us to learn how to hear from God all times and all places. In his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul instructs them to “pray continually” or “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17, NIV and NASB). The life of hearing God must continue into our lives beyond set times and places. Some of the best guides on this are two men from vastly different times: Brother Lawrence, a 17th century French monk, and Frank Laubach, a 20th century missionary and worldwide ambassador for literacy. Both of these men learned how to cultivate everyday conversation with God, both speaking and hearing. I would encourage you to read their books, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God and Laubach’s Letters by a Modern Mystic and Games with Minutes. Hearing God does not mean we withdraw from life but that we engage in life with God. We can begin to converse with God in the midst of our activities, work , and other conversations. Let me use an example from my own life. Not too long ago, I was was in a long planning meeting with others, trying to work together to come toward a strategic plan for an initiative.  My first inclination, if I am honest, was to present my best thoughts and hear others’ thoughts so that we can figure this out together at a purely human level. Unintentionally, this was largely a work on the horizontal plane of human relationships and strategies. About two hours into the meeting, I began to realize that what we most needed was to hear from God. What was God speaking to me and to others in that meeting? What was it we most needed? I began to talk a little less, and listen a little more, both to God and to everyone there. I found the surging of my own desire to be heard and my own longing for people to hear and agree with my points began to settle down. I began to ask God, what it was He wanted to do. The heavens did not rip open and neither did an angel open the door to the meeting room, but I did sense that God was stirring us into a specific direction for the conclusion of that meeting and next steps. I sensed I could join in with God in that as I tried to listen to Him while engaging in the conversation. 
  4. Obey what you hear: Finally, let me urge us to the simple practice of obedience to what you hear. The reason God speaks to us is to draw us close relationally, but also to draw us deeper into the life He has for us. One important practice for us is to obey what we hear God speak. The Apostle James describes how important this is in his letter to the early church. He writes: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:22-25). When you hear God speak, obey it. If it is a dramatic thing, ask God for confirmation in His word, through wise counsel, or through your circumstances. But whatever you do, do not fail to do what God speaks into your life. The more we fail to obey, the less likely we are to hear God in our lives. First, we will stuff our ears and dull our hearts through disobedience. Second, He will not entrust us with a word, but will take it and give it to another. The word given is a word to be responded to. Hearing God means obeying God.

Now, one of the saddest moments of my young life in bike riding came shortly after I learned to ride and was given a new bike for my birthday. I was turning from the steep slope of our driveway to the sidewalk in front of our house, and I completely wiped out. The new bike had a few scrapes on it, as did my elbows and knees. Now, I had a decision at that moment: should I give up bike riding forever or should I dust myself off, get on the bike, and keep learning how to ride? Thankfully, I took the latter course, eventually, learning to ride smoothly. As time went on, I learned how to ride with no hands and do some simple tricks on my bike to impress my friends in grade school.

If we have to learn how to listen to God, should we not also expect that there will be bumps along the way? When those moments arise – when we don’t hear correctly, or we’re not sure if it’s us or God, or when we get confused in one way or another – we have a decision: will I give up on developing a conversational relationship with God or will I confess my confusion or failure and try to keep learning? I hope you’ll choose the latter route so that as God speaks to us His people, we will have ears to hear, and lives ready to walk with God wherever He calls us. We may not end up looking like Hosea or Jeremiah, but we will become more truly ourselves as we step more deeply into the adventure of life with God.

Returning to Square One: Eugene Peterson on the Essence of Christian Spirituality

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Last Friday, I read a pointed, pastoral call to basic attention to God and His word throughout our lives, and it resonated so deeply with me that I wanted to share it. These words come from Eugene Peterson’s essay “Back to Square One: God Said (The Witness of Holy Scripture),” included in a collection of his writings, Subversive Spirituality.

Peterson refers to “Square One” below, which he describes earlier in the essay as “the place at which we realize that there is a huge world that we have not yet seen, an incredible creation that we cannot account for…There is far more that we don’t know than what we do know” (21). It is the place we encounter our limitations, or human finitude, and begin to learn of God and listen for God. In particular, Square One is where we attend to God’s Word in Scripture, “listening to God call us, heal us, forgive us” (27), and respond to God.

That is the background to what Peterson writes in the final two pages:

I want to simplify your lives. When others are telling you to read more, I want to tell you to read less; when others are telling you to do more, I want to tell you to do less. The world does not need more of you; it needs more of God. Your friends do not need more of you; they need more of God. And you don’t need more of you; you need more of God.

The Christian life consists in what God does for us, not what we do for God; the Christian life consists in what God says to us, not what we say about God. We also, of course, do things and say things; but if we do not return to Square One each time we act, each time we speak, beginning from God and God’s Word, we will soon be found to be practicing a spirituality that has little or nothing to do with God. And so it is necessary, if we are going to truly live a Christian life, and not just use the word Christian to disguise our narcissistic and promethean attempts at a spirituality without worshiping God and without being addressed by God, it is necessary to return to Square One and adore God and listen to God. Given our sin-damaged memories that render us vulnerable to every latest edition of journalistic spirituality, daily re-orientation in the truth revealed in Jesus and attested in Scripture is required. And given our ancient predisposition for reducing every scrap of divine revelation that we come across into a piece of moral/spiritual technology that we can use to get on in the world, and eventually to get on without God, a daily return to a condition of not-knowing and non-achievement is required. We have proven, time and again, that we are not to be trusted in these matters. We need to return to Square One for a fresh start as often as every morning, noon, and night.

[From Eugene H. Peterson, Subversive Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 30-31.

(You may also enjoy the article I wrote for Preaching Today, Remembering Eugene Peterson: 10 ways he shaped my pastoral ministry.”)

Power in Prayer: Learning to Pray with St. Paul

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a teaching series entitled “Power in  Prayer: Learning to Pray with St. Paul.” This series is the first of a three-part series related to our 40th anniversary as a church. Since the earliest days of Eastbrook, prayer has been profoundly important and vital to our life as a church. It was often said that we wanted to be a church that could only be explained by the power of God.

As we move forward we want that to continue to be true. We believe that prayer is the heart of what it means to live with God, live as the church, and live on mission in the world. In this series, we will explore three basic aspects of the life of prayer so that we might be rooted in life with God and bearing fruit for His kingdom.

August 17/18 – “Prayer as Living within God’s Love” (Ephesians 3:14-21)

August 24/25 – “Prayer as Life-Shaping by God” (Colossians 1:9-17)

August 31/September 1 – “Prayer as Power for Mission with God” (Romans 15:23-33)

How Do We Listen to God in Prayer?

As we journey through our Summer of Prayer at Eastbrook, there are many approaches to prayer that we have touched upon in our series “Great Prayers of the Bible.”

When we pray, we voice our needs to God. However, another important aspect of faith-filled prayer is listening to God. Listening to God enables us to enter into agreement with God and His purposes. Just the other day someone asked me: how do we listen to God in prayer?

davidpicDavid Bryant, a leader in prayer movements and prolific author on the topic of prayer, speaks to this in his book With Concerts of PrayerIn that book, Bryant encourages us to listen to God in four specific ways (page 200). I have shared these in previous messages but wanted to post them here so people could return to them:

  1. Study the Scriptures – Familiarize yourself with the mind, heart, and character of God through His inspired word. This is the foundation stone and basis for our life of prayer. When we listen to God in Scripture, what we pray for, the way we pray, and our expectations of the answers to prayer are brought into alignment with God.
  2. Be aware of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in your life – All who come to Jesus Christ by faith are now temples of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and strengthens us for daily life with God. Because of this, we need to grow in awareness and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives. As we listen to the Holy Spirit in us, we begin to grow in awareness of how God is at work, which inspires our prayers.
  3. Learn what God is doing in the world today – Some of the most powerful movements of God happening today, are happening off the radar and in unexpected ways. When we pay attention to what God is doing around the world, it shapes not only how we live, but also how we pray. It lifts us into a greater awareness of what God is doing and how we can talk to Him about it.
  4. Talk to others about what you want to say to God – It is common to pray with others, but it is important to also talk to others about what we want to talk to God about. When we share our approach and thoughts about prayer with others, we also enter into a listening relationship that leads us closer to the heart of God with others.

A necessary tool for the journey of faith is a prayer that agrees with God through listening to His plans for all situations.

Great Prayers of the Bible

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a teaching series entitled “Great Prayers of the Bible.” This series accompanies our Summer of Prayer at Eastbrook by examining great prayers from both the Old and New Testament so that we might grow in our life of prayer, individually and corporately.

Our life with God is shaped by the way we pray. Prayer is the basic communication with God in speaking and listening that is as essential as air, food and water to our biological life. Prayer is simple in the sense that every human being feels the pull to communicate with the divine, often whispering or shouting prayers unbidden. At the same time, prayer is complicated because we often don’t know how to approach God or what is okay to do.

In this series, we will spend the summer learning to pray through the examples of great prayers found throughout the Bible.

June 2/3 – “Prayer that Pleads for the Lost: Abraham” (Genesis 18:16-33)

June 9/10 – “Prayer that Intercedes for God’s People: Moses” (Numbers 14:1-23)

June 16/17 – “Prayer for Our Desires: Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10-20; 2:1-10)

June 23/24 – “Prayer of Repentance: David (2 Samuel 12:15-23; Psalm 51)

June 30/July 1 – “Prayer that Listens: Elijah” (1 Kings 19:1-18)

July 7/8 – “Prayer for Deliverance: Hezekiah” (2 Kings 19:14-20; 20:1-7)

July 14/15 – “Prayer of Dependence: Habakkuk” (Habakkuk 3:1-21)

July 21/22  – “Prayer of Renewal: Daniel” (Daniel 9:3-19)

July 29 – “Prayer of Dedication: Nehemiah” (Nehemiah 1:4-11)

August 5 – “Prayer of Surrender: Mary” (Luke 2:46-56)

August 11/12 – “Prayer in Weakness: a father of an afflicted boy” (Mark 9:22-25)

August 18/19 – “Prayer as Mission: The Early Church in Acts” (Acts 1:24-25; 4:23-31; 7:60; 13:1-3)

August 25/26 – “Prayer as Worship: Revelation” (Revelation 11:15-19; 15:1-4; 16:5-7)

Still God


This weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series “Still” by looking at what it means to move from the agitated stillness of our humanity into the peaceful stillness of God. I walked through Elijah’s story from Mount Carmel to Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 18-19 in order to look at three essentials of encountering God in His stillness.

You can watch the message here or subscribe to our audio podcast, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site.

If you’re interested in getting to know us more at Eastbrook, please take a moment to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Vimeo. You could also join our community by downloading the Eastbrook app.

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Still

Still Series GFX_16x9 TitleIn our frenetic world, many of us struggle to find time to do all that must be done in a pace that doesn’t break us. Rest is sometimes a word with which we have a love/hate relationship. The prophet Elijah was a godly person who struggled at a particular season of his life with these same things. We want to look at this strained seasons of Elijah’s life in 1 Kings 19 in order to see what it means to live into Psalm 46:10, which says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Join us over these next two weekends at Eastbrook Church for our new series, “Still.” You can follow along with the series via our web-site, our Vimeo page, our Facebook page, or by downloading the Eastbrook Church app.