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Posts Tagged ‘listening to God’

Holidays are over and my boys headed back to school this week filled to the brim with adolescent reluctance.  Now they are in high school there is less drama and screaming in getting back into routine, but there’s certainly a whole lot more sighing and rolling of the eyes.

Just as they have grown taller over time, so too have their questions evolved. It can be daunting as a parent to be asked certain questions.  When they were very young, the questions about sex were difficult, but at least they had their funny side – “Mum are those lions on TV fighting?” (son 1) – “No, they are just playing!” (son 2).  Phew, that time I didn’t need to say anything at all, just quickly change the channel!  But I have found the theological questions are often the hardest to answer.  As little guys, there was the “So who is God?”  This one was easy enough.  But then came the brutal follow up question: “But who made God?” and things started to go downhill from then on.

Recently another theological question arose during a car trip to the local shops.  “Why do Christians believe different things, and why do they disagree so much?”  Now where do you begin answering a question like that?

The first thing that came to my mind was a day long ago when I was home alone as a fifteen year old.  A sweet looking elderly lady with a woolen skirt, sensible shoes and a wide welcoming smile came to the front door.  She was clutching a booklet with what looked like happy people in a tropical garden on the cover and began talking animatedly about paradise on earth and God’s kingdom.  She seemed friendly and harmless enough so I told her I had recently become a Christian myself and shared with her how happy I was with my new-found faith.  Strangely, my enthusiasm for God seemed to dial down the radiant smile on her face.  She continued with her heaven on earth spiel and I continued telling her about my discoveries about God.  As we talked, it became glaringly obvious that we were both coming at this Christian thing from a very different angle.  I was willing to accept our differences and call it a day, but she continued relentlessly, becoming less friendly and more red in the face as she went on.  Eventually, when open hostility took over and the sweet-looking lady turned very sour, I shoved her back out the front door, closed it with a thud and stood feeling stunned, confused and shaken. A few minutes later the tears came.

That was the day I discovered that not everyone professing to be a Christian is full of the unconditional love and acceptance we expect, and that beneath certain inviting smiles lurks a whole truckload of secret agendas and control issues.

Recently I attended a Christian Women’s Conference in Sydney. The keynote speaker was an entertaining and intelligent woman and I enjoyed listening to her words of wisdom.  But towards the end of her final talk, she made a comment that jarred against my spirit.  Describing how we listen to God and are guided by Him, she encouraged us to read God’s Word, but to guard against such things as listening for his voice in other ways, seeing him at work in circumstances, or of taking notice of mystical things such as dreams and visions. Now I’m sure we have all met people who have gone a bit too far down the “mystical” path and have left reality far behind, but her tone was verging on mocking and allowed no room for those who may have had genuine mystical encounters.  As she spoke I recalled the heavy sprinkling of mystical experiences throughout the Bible  – for example the promises in Acts 2:17 that: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’.

I sat squirming at this point as I just happen to be one of those slightly weird Christians who do have the occasional mystical encounter – a sentence may pop into my mind at just the right moment to steer me out of trouble, or a dream predicts a pivotal event which is ahead and prepares me for it, or I meet a new person and inexplicably know about a secret battle in their life which helps me treat them with an extra dose of sensitivity.  During times of illness, stress and grief, these “mystical” experiences have given me the strength and hope to keep on going. I know not everyone experiences God the way I do, but I suspect some of you reading this will relate to what I’m describing. We all have our own stories to tell and it’s captivating to listen to each story with an open mind and a gracious and humble heart.  Our stories are as diverse as we are –  and are uniquely ours.  To listen to a well educated and well meaning woman of faith denounce these experiences as silly in a room of a few thousand left me feeling utterly deflated.   I half expected everyone sitting around me to hear the undignified slow squeak of a balloon losing its air.

So I gazed at my son with his important question, sharing his concern for the confusion and pain that arises between those of us who profess to share a common faith.  I answered along these lines:

“You know when we go out together, we head down to the bookstore and buy a book each and then go and chat in the café?”

“Yes” he replied.

“And you know how your brother hates bookshops, and when we get together we go for a walk in the bush and look at all the different types of birds, and take some photos?”

“Mmm”

“Well I think it’s like that with God too.  Each of us are different.  He loves us all, and he knows exactly how to communicate with each of us.  Some of us are academic, logical and structured  – others are emotional, creative and messy.  He relates to each of us where we’re at.  Different churches reflect these different ways of relating with God.  The problems start when people of one style of faith begin to judge and criticize people of the other types.  If we could only accept our differences, get on with our own journey (or as I read in Romans recently “tend to your knitting”) and leave others to tend to theirs, we would fully express what it is to be a Christian.”

It was the most honest answer I could come up with on the hop and I hope it reflects some of the truth around this complex issue.  He seemed satisfied with that for now. I’m sure another question will come up soon and I will try to answer.  In the meantime, I will keep on listening for the answers, which I know will arrive in their own unique, quirky and God-inspired way.

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit…  So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.  Romans 14:10-12 (The Message)

 

 

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Every now and then I experience something quite mysterious. Sometimes it’s a strong sense of knowing what is about to happen, a sense of impending doom or nervous anticipation depending on what is ahead.  Sometimes it’s a still small voice, fresh, surprising and way outside the boundaries of my usual  flow of thoughts.  At other times it’s a dream holding a startling truth I haven’t been brave enough to face, or just a vivid picture in my mind in my waking hours.

Quite often I ignore these mysterious happenings altogether, wondering if I’m going mad.   But then in hindsight I kick myself, realising the crazy little voice was actually a glimpse of something quite extraordinary and I missed the mark when I ignored the prompting.  I suspect you may read this and relate. Possessing a ‘sixth sense’ or strong intuition is far more common than we may think.

We are currently in the latter stages of a large renovation to our home.  Now we are about three-quarters of the way through, I’m getting impatient with the waiting.  The first couple of months were exciting with the house growing by the hour and our dreams unfolding before our eyes, but over the past month things have slowed down.  The scaffolding which at first looked to me like a symbol of promise and growth has become stifling, like prison bars encircling us.

At Christmas we had a much-needed pause from the noise and dust, but after a brief re-appearance in January, our builder vanished again.  He is hard-working, professional and reliable, and when I was told he had gone away on holiday without mentioning it, I was a little taken aback.  On hearing the news that crazy little voice whispered to me “He’s had a death in the family – he didn’t plan on this”.   I enquired further with the building team and was told again that no, everything was okay, he had just decided to take a holiday.

My impatience has risen over the last week as my list of questions and building ideas has lengthened and still no returned emails or telephone calls.  This morning he was nowhere to be seen and I again asked the question of his team of builders.  However, this time the answer was different.  A family member had passed away and he had been forced to rush off overseas unexpectedly.  Aha! Once again, the crazy little voice had been correct.  Thankfully my nagging suspicion that the voice may hold some truth had prevented me from venting my anger, leaving the ranting and raving voicemail message which was on the tip of my tongue at one point.

This story may seem trivial, but so many of the misunderstandings, conflicts and fall-outs in our relationships stem from trivial things – an unkind word, a thoughtless gesture or being so focused on our own issues that we can’t see the other person’s point of view.

I often wonder if God gives me extra assistance in this way because he knows what a mess I can make of things when I overreact to situations and fail to see the problems of other people and the whole ‘big picture’ view.  We all wear blinkers to a degree and see only our unique little corridor of the world.

My note to self today is to keep listening to that intuitive inner voice and to remember that there is often more to peoples’ actions than meets the eye.  The pain and struggles of others so often aren’t immediately visible.  It takes an extra measure of grace,  kindness and crazy little voices to notice them.  God walks ahead of us just as he walks beside us.  His wise promptings can help us avoid unnecessary problems, pain and hassle.  It’s always worth pausing, taking a breath and being brave enough to listen to that crazy little voice.

 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.   Deuteronomy 31:8

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I’ve been reading a wonderful old book – HINDS FEET ON HIGH PLACES by Hannah Hurnard.

It’s a parable about the journey a girl called ‘Much Afraid’ takes with The Shepherd from the Valley of Humiliation to the High Places.

A crippled, ugly and fearful girl is gradually transformed as she follows the Shepherd and learns to listen to his voice.  At the end of the story her name is changed from ‘Much Afraid’ to ‘Grace and Glory’.

Now some old books are a bit old-fashioned & irrelevant to our lives today – but not this one!  I believe ‘Much Afraid’s’ journey is very similar to the journey each of us must take when we come to know God.

Hannah was inspired to write the story in 1949 on a 3 week visit to Switzerland after her father died.  She was heading back to Israel to continue her missionary work but took some time out to allow God to speak to her in the beauty of the Alps.

She was blessed with a breathtaking view out of her bedroom window of mountain ranges, snow peaks, a lush green valley and fields of colourful flowers.

On 31st May Hannah celebrated her 44th birthday.  However, she awoke to a disappointing thick curtain of mist outside her window.  The mountains, valley and colourful flowers had disappeared.   If someone had never been there before they would never guess what lay beyond the mist.  Hannah felt that all she had loved and rejoiced over was gone.

As she gazed out at the mist she heard God speak to her and recorded his words in her journal:

‘But it is all there’, says the loving Lord, ‘though you cannot see any of it, for it has been completely blotted out and apparently vanished into nothingness.  But, remember, nothing is missing.  It is invisible now but it is waiting to become visible again…. Believe steadfastly in the invisible things.  For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.’

There are times in our lives when we all must walk through the mist.

One time in my life which comes to mind was when my two boys were under two.  I had begun restoring a shaky relationship with God and was making baby steps in attending church after years of absence.  I was feeling really happy.  Then one afternoon while I was preparing dinner I had a call from my doctor to tell me I had cancer and I needed emergency surgery.

It was one of those times when I felt like God had vanished – that he had forgotten me – or perhaps that he wasn’t there at all.   The mist rolled in and everything I thought was certain became uncertain.

Perhaps you have been there too, or perhaps you are in the mist right now?

These are the times when we need to hold on tight to the truth.  Hannah couldn’t see the magnificent mountains outside her window, but they were still there.  In the same way, no matter what you are going through or will go through, God is still there.  He is working behind the scenes to transform you and give you the strength and courage you need.

As Max Lucado puts it:  “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way”

Jesus knew what it was to walk in the mist.

If we look at the last supper in a purely physical way, what do we see?

A kind, loving, inspirational young man in his prime – a light in a dark world – about to be betrayed by one of his close friends – to be tortured and killed like a criminal when he had done nothing wrong.

Had God forsaken him?   Had God made a mistake?  Was He powerless to stop this tragedy?  Or worse still, had Jesus put his trust in a mythical God?

If we had been there it would be easy to think so.

Yet behind that mist of sorrow, pain and suffering was an amazing plan – far bigger than our human minds could comprehend.

If we dare to look beyond the physical, we see that it wasn’t a mistake at all but God’s powerful hand reaching out to reconcile mankind to himself.

God had the victory that day over sin and death – and he continues to have the victory in each of our lives if we let him.

We just need to keep trusting him, looking beyond what we can see with our eyes, and focusing on Him.

Perhaps you’ve lost hope.  Perhaps you feel God has let you down, or even that’s he doesn’t exist.

I pray that God will clear away the mist and give you a new perspective and a renewed confidence in his love for you.

No matter how dark today may look, the light will return.   Remember the words Hannah heard in the mist that day:  ‘Believe steadfastly in the invisible things.’    Do this and the victory is already yours.

The Lord God is my strength and he will make my feet like Hinds Feet, and he will make me walk on the High Places.    Habakkuk 3:19

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The afternoon is grey and I drive the boys to the shops.    I cave in to their pleas for some Pokemon cards, heavy with ‘working in school holidays guilt‘ after leaving them with a friend for the day.    I never go to the shops on a Tuesday afternoon and am pleased that it is quiet and there are plenty of parking spots.

I notice the sun is shining now, but I still feel grey.   Where has the colour gone?   Each step is an effort and my mind is foggy.    I can’t remember what it is like to have energy and motivation.   The grey is like the mist of  a London evening, chilling my lungs as I breathe it in, cold and damp against my skin.   I recognise this greyness – the exhaustion, the depression and the burn-out.

I’m praying for help to climb out of this invisible pit, as I take my sons’ hands and enter the shops.  I  hunt for some change for the Pokemon cards and head for the bread shop.   I can’t even think what I need to buy for dinner.   I’m longing for a sign, a kind word, or a bolt of lightening from above.

Then I hear a voice, calling my name.  A bright, clear and familiar voice.  It’s my friend and she is holding a bunch of bright orange flowers toward me and saying something incongruous. 

I just bought you flowers.  I left work, as I felt the urge to buy you flowers.  God told me I had to buy you flowers.   And here you are!

I am stunned and feel shaky.  I can hardly find the words to thank her.   I stare at the vibrant orange of the gerberas and roses, so rich and deep – warm colours which rapidly invade the greyness and send the mist scurrying away.    Around me all the colours return – like a black and white movie screen slowly transformed into radiant Technicolor.

I try not to cry as I hug my friend, my face relaxing into a smile.   She has to get back to work and I hold the flowers in my arms.   The boys and I go to a cafe where I have a warm, comforting cappuccino and we laugh together. 

Many years ago, after re-discovering God after a long absence from his presence, I went shopping for a new dress.   I had been invited to a wedding, and I had recently lost a lot of weight, and had no idea what would suit me.   I asked God to come shopping with me and to tell me which dress to buy.   Crazy as that sounds, I set off with complete confidence.  

At the first dress shop I found several dresses and tried on the first.   It was shorter than I usually wore,  shiny black and fitting, with a white spotted collar just off the shoulders, and I wasn’t sure.    I asked God what he thought and stepped outside of the cubicle where the mirror was.     I heard a booming male voice behind me:

That looks wonderful.   You must buy it!

For a moment I thought God had actually spoken out loud, but I turned to see my old Sunday-school teacher, who was waiting for his wife.   He smiled widely and continued to tell me how great I looked and urged me to buy the dress.   So my decision was made and I had many fantastic evenings in that dress!

Sceptics would say my encounters with God are coincidences and may even suggest that I am naive and even a little mad.  Yet I could write pages about similar incidents when I’ve asked for God’s help and he has come through for me, regardless of whether I’m facing terminal illness or the trivialities of  everyday life.

My friend who gave me the flowers, and my old Sunday School teacher, are both sensitive and intuitive people.    I’m so grateful that my friend listened to God on that grey Tuesday afternoon and brought the colour back into my world.    Imagine the impact we could have on one another and on a suffering world if we truly listened to that inner voice, and acted on the promptings in our spirit.   Next time you feel the urge to show some kindness, even if it’s slightly outside your comfort zone, take the plunge.  You may actually be acting as the hands of God and touching somebody who really needs it.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.      Hebrews 11:6

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