Hearing God

You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives~ Deuteronomy 5:24 NASB

 Most conversations about hearing the voice of God go in one of two directions. Some confidently claim that they hear from God all the time about every minute detail of their life. God speaks to them audibly on every topic imaginable, from the serious to the mundane.

 These lucky people do not weigh the pros or cons of any decision. They don’t agonize over which job they ought to take or whom they should marry. They don’t even worry about where they should go for dinner. They have all the answers because God tells them exactly what to do all the time.

 On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who awkwardly confess that they have never heard God speak. They read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis but they admit that they have never actually heard from God. These folks typically feel like second-class citizens when compared to the first group. In their most honest and raw moments they wonder if God really loves them or if they are even Christians.

 I believe that God speaks to all of His people at least some of the time. I also believe that there are situations when we don’t hear God’s voice because we have preconceived notions about how we think God will speak. Those biases can interfere with our ability to hear what God is saying. We want (and sometimes even demand) an audible voice when He is intent on using another, more subtle approach to speak into our lives. Following are the most common methods God uses when He has something to say.

 The Bible- Psalm 119:105, 2nd Timothy 3:16

 Contrary to what you might have heard, the Bible is still God’s preferred means of communication with people. God will never tell anyone to do anything that directly contradicts biblical teaching. If you want to hear God speak to you, begin there.

 People- 1st Samuel 25, Acts 17:16-33, 2nd Samuel 12, Judges 1:8-9

 When God wanted David to understand that his craving for vengeance would lead to his destruction, God chose to speak those words through the quiet wisdom of a young woman named Abigail. When God wanted to proclaim the reality of His existence to the people of Athens, He used the words of Paul to communicate that truth. God still uses men and women to communicate truth to one another. For that reason, it is critical that we prayerfully evaluate the encouraging as well as the not-so-encouraging words of our friends, family members, pastors and even the people we don’t really care for. Sometimes when people speak it’s not them speaking, but God speaking through them. We will do well to listen.

 Strong impressions and still small voices- 1st Kings 19: 11-18, Acts 15:28-29, Acts 16:6

 In my experience, God seldom says, “Do this” or “don’t do that.” But he does speak to His people through impressions or a strong sense that we should or should not do something. The only time we should ignore those impressions is when the activity or course of action we are considering violates clear biblical instruction or principles.

 Circumstances- Exodus 2:5-8, Acts 8:1-8

 Little in life is more frustrating than feeling we are being forced into a course of action by circumstances outside of our control. Thankfully these situations are not always the tragedies they seem to be at the time. Sometimes seemingly adverse circumstances are really the just the hand of God guiding us towards His will for our lives.

 I honestly do not know if God talks to some folks more than others. It’s certainly possible; God deals with people as individuals and He is free to do whatever He pleases. I do know that God is good and that He never leaves us alone. I also know that if we need direction He will give it to us, but that direction may not come in the form we are expecting. It is our spiritual responsibility to keep our hearts and spirits open to God’s will in whatever way He chooses to reveal it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Root of All Misery

 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will~ Romans 12:2

 Those of us in the Western world are blessed to live in what could be called the very best of times. Despite all the political and social turmoil, it is without question a fantastic time to be alive.

 Human ingenuity has allowed all sorts of regular people to live at a level of comfort and ease that was formerly unknown, even to the wealthiest and most privileged in earlier times. The magnificent wonders of coffee, central air, disposable diapers, hot showers, automobiles, smartphones, and pizza delivery never fail to blow my mind and remind me exactly how fortunate I was to have been born in the 20th century rather than the 18th or even the 19th.

 The marvels of our era make it possible for almost anyone to satisfy nearly any craving or whim with very little effort. And yet, inexplicably we are perhaps one of the unhappiest cultures in the history of humanity. Untold millions are hooked on things that people in other times would have viewed as extraordinarily strange—activities like shopping, social media, online pornography and Candy Crush Saga.

 Millions are dependent on mind-altering substances both legal and illicit. Some are so lonesome and socially isolated that they are willing to pay strangers good money just to hear them talk. Divorce rates have been soaring for decades and nearly two-thirds of adults say they are unhappy with their lives. Loneliness, discontent and addiction are not exactly the hallmarks of a happy, well-adjusted society.

 Some have observed the conundrum of blessing and misery and concluded that the problem lies entirely with the blessings. This crowd chooses to go the monastic route and shed the stuff. I do not take issue with this logic. No rational believer would quarrel with the notion of casting off a materialistic mindset. Jesus was painfully straightforward regarding his view of materialism when he admonished two brothers arguing over money with this warning:

 Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions~ Luke 12:15

 Nothing good has ever come out of unrestrained materialism. However, I do not believe that materialism is the source of our misery. The stockpiling of material possessions is more of a symptom of the problem than the actual problem.

 The problem is focus.

 The blessings of our age come with a tendency to focus all of our attention on ourselves. The dark side of cozy houses, career opportunities, universal human rights, central air and pizza delivery is that these things can easily cause us to think that we deserve more of the same. Getting our needs met, having our preferences filled, and seeing our rights recognized can easily become the driving force in our lives. When these things become the driving force in our lives we become wholly self-focused, and self-focused people are miserable.

 Jesus assures us in Matthew 10:39 that if we voluntarily give up our life, (i.e. our rights, convenience, comfort, preferences) for His sake we will find authentic peace and lasting joy. Conversely demanding more life, (as in more rights, convenience, comfort, preferences) leads to self-focus and self-focus is the root of misery.

 The solution to our conundrum is two-fold. First we must train ourselves to recognize the conveniences and comforts of our time for the mind-blowing blessings from God that they really are. The proper response to hot showers, universal human rights, electric blankets and pizza delivery is awe and gratitude to our great God for allowing us to experience these profound blessings.

 However, gratitude alone is not enough. We also need to get outside of ourselves. We accomplish that by using what we’ve been blessed with to serve God and people. Serving breaks the bondage of self-focus and materialism and enables us to see life, people and our own selves from God’s perspective.

 Serving accomplishes yet another even more significant purpose. It molds us into the image of Christ. Jesus was the ultimate servant and the standard for all things good. When we serve like Jesus served, our love and good deeds draw the unbelieving world to faith in our God. Our world becomes a much better place with a little less of us and whole lot more of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Original Gateway Sin

When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him~ Acts 13:45

 A few years ago, I was at a seminar with some other women from our church when a woman about my age walked into the conference room. I observed immediately that was that she was pretty and well put together. She was tall and thin, with cute clothes, shiny hair, smooth skin and a warm smile. She confidently approached our group and introduced herself. Within minutes it became apparent that she was not only gorgeous with great taste in clothes, but bright and articulate as well.

 She was well spoken but did not dominate the discussion. She asked everyone in our group questions about themselves and then listened intently to the answers. One of the woman in our group inquired about her husband and kids and she graciously showed us some photos of her extraordinarily attractive husband and perfect little boy and girl.

 She talked about her ministry activities and her reasons for attending the seminar. She went on to share how she planned to use what she was learning to start a ministry in her local church that would bless the community. All in all, the woman I met that day was gracious, attractive, thoughtful and engaged in the world around her.

 And for one brief moment that I am not proud of at all, I loathed her. I mean I really loathed her. Not only did I loathe her, I brutally judged her.

 In the span of about three minutes, I became smugly certain that there was absolutely no way that woman could possibly be the real deal. She must have a raging eating disorder, be a horrible Mother, a gossip, a liar, or a terrible friend. There had to be SOMETHING wrong with her. There was simply no way anyone could possibly be that beautiful, that thin, that kind and be blessed with that cute of a husband without having some sort of loathsome dark side.

 Just as I was preparing to share my opinion with the others in our group, the ugly truth and a giant load of conviction hit me like a ton bricks. Pious, Jesus loving, church-going, Bible-study leading, me was firmly in the grip of the foulest and most treacherous of all emotions.

 I was jealous.

 Proverbs 27:4 makes this observation concerning jealousy:

 Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood. But who can stand before jealousy?

 The self-deceptive nature of jealousy makes it infinitely more dangerous than anger or wrath. Jealousy is the original gateway sin. If left unchecked, it becomes a frontrunner to all sorts of other sins because jealousy convinces us that the anger and wrath we feel are justified. Jealousy dupes us into believing that the innocent person on the receiving end of our bad behavior is somehow deserving of our actions.

 Jealousy gains a foothold in our hearts because we focus far too much of our attention on what other people have rather than what God has blessed us with.Our misdirected attention inevitably leads to resentment and lack of gratitude as well as jealousy. Such was my experience at the conference. I became so fixated on what that other woman looked like and what God had blessed her with that I forgot all about all about the abundance of good things in my own life. My willful amnesia was followed by a shocking lack of gratitude for everything God has done for me.

 At the root of jealousy is lack of faith and belief in God’s goodness. Jealousy overcomes us when we doubt God’s ability to work with what He has given us. We forget that God gifted each one of us our own set of abilities, or we decide that that those gifts are not good enough to do anything significant with. Either way, it’s a terrible sin and the birth of a jealous spirit.

 No one in the history of forever has ever done anything out of jealousy they felt proud of. For that reason alone jealousy should be avoided at all cost. The key to avoiding jealousy is to take our focus off ourselves and other people and keep focus on God and the good things He’s given us. When our eyes are on God and our focus is on our own unique set of blessings, we cannot help but be a blessing to the rest of the world.

Five Mistakes Even the Best Mothers Make

Having a young child in our home for the first time in nearly a decade has driven me to do and think about things I haven’t thought about or done in a very long time. Things like chore charts and discipline methods, dance lessons, parent teacher nights, Disney movies, themed birthday parties, homework, sleepovers (ugh), and the social politics of fifth-grade girls (more ugh).  

I read parenting books compulsively and am far more attuned the parenting I see going on around me. I will shamelessly ask anyone I meet who has adopted or fostered an older child for advice. My hope is that I will glean some wisdom and insight that will empower me to maneuver this latest challenge God has placed in my life.

One question I typically ask Mothers of older kids is:

Is there anything at all you wish you could do over?

 Even the Mothers I have admired most confess at least a few things they wish they had done differently. After countless conversations I have concluded that even the best mothers would like a second chance in at least some areas. Following are five mistakes even the best Mothers make:

 Failing to become a student of your child-

 Many of the older Mothers I have spoken with deeply regret not understanding who their kids really were and imposing their own goals on their kids. I am convinced that the number one responsibility of a Mother is to assist her child in knowing and understanding him or herself. Kids need to be aware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  It is not a Mother’s job to decide what a child should do and then guide them toward her goals for their lives, but rather to observe her kids and help them to dream dreams and form goals based on their own unique talents and abilities.

 Thinking bad behaviors are cute-

 Intense competitiveness, smart mouthing, nitpickiness, precociousness with the opposite sex, melodrama and enhancing the truth can be oddly charming on adorable little children. Those same actions become less charming and even offensive when you’re dealing with an older kid or an adult. The next time your little cutie gets cozy with the boy or girl next door, saunters out in a skimpy ensemble, demands they win for the hundredth time, tells you a whopper of a tale, or says something saucy, try and imagine what that behavior might look like on a fourteen-year-old. Any seasoned Mom will tell you that it’s easier to break a habit in a child than in a teenager

Disregarding the spiritual-

 Every human being has a dark side. It’s our nature. Belief in the God of the Bible has helped keep the ugly side of humankind in check for eons. Taking your kid to church and teaching them to apply Christian principles to their lives will go a long way in helping to keep narcissism, greed, violent tendencies, and self-interest from spiraling out of control in future years.

 Not finding out what they really think-

 Even the best Moms can be guilty of telling kids what to think rather than finding out what and why they think what they think. When we push our views without listening to theirs we drive wrong thinking underground where the wrong thinking becomes embedded in their character. Ask questions to discover what your kids believe about issues. Don’t jump to correct every little thing they say or they will shut down and stop talking. Instead, ask them further questions about why they think what they think and then gently help them see the eventual end game of a faulty belief system.

 An unwillingness to change your mind or admit wrong-

 Admitting we got something wrong and changing course in front of our kids is one of the most uncomfortable and humbling things in the world. We have to do it on occasion because it is extraordinarily prideful and foolish not to. It’s not as if they won’t figure out on their own that we don’t actually know everything. Kids desperately need role models who are willing to humble themselves, apologize when wrong and change course when necessary.

 One truth I am relearning is that good parenting is not really about being perfect (whew!). Good parenting is about loving our kids enough to help them discover who they really are and what they might be good at. It’s about modeling grace and humility. Good parenting is about looking ahead at what present behavior might eventually become and loving our kids enough to educate them about the God who loves them even more than we do.