What if I'm mistaken about hearing God?

Posted by: David Carroll

Beware the Spiritual Panacea

Yes, you may think you are hearing a fantastic promise from God but if you think he is promising no suffering, no failure, and lots of prosperity, you are most certainly not hearing from God’s word. Perhaps you’ve heard the health, wealth and prosperity preachers. They make big money to drive big fancy cars and wear fine clothes and jewelry.  After all, they know the secret, why not flaunt it to help you believe it.

Let’s recall the exchange between Jesus and Peter.

Matthew 16:21-23 (NKJV)

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter was not happy about Jesus being killed (he did not understand the whole story yet, remember he was a little dense headed). This was Peter’s wishful thinking getting in the way of what the desire and will of God was from the foundation of the world.

Beware Satan’s imitation

Satan can appear as an angel of Light, or he can disguise his voice as that of God. When Jesus was tempted of Satan, you know how he knew he was wrong? Satan misquoted scripture. Jesus corrected him. How? because Jesus was quite familiar with God’s word. The only reason I make such an understatement about that (obviously Jesus knows the Bible) is to encourage you that you too can recognize Biblical truth.

What if we’re wrong?

Nobody’s perfect but one.

God’s Word is Key

Fredrick B Meyer’s says

The written word is the wire along which the voice of God will certainly come to you if the heart is hushed and the attention fixed.

Dallas Willard says:

Both in the experience of scripture and of other things—circumstances, our own inner thoughts and impulses, the reading of history or biography—God’s word frequently comes in a way that at least approximates the experience of an audible voice. When examined closely the data of Christian experience reveals that this is much more common than is generally thought. But the audibility of the voice is not anything essential to it, nor does it have any effect on reliability of our experience of the voice. The essentials The essentials remain, once again, the distinctive quality, spirit and content that we have learned through experience to associate with the personal presence of God.

Bottom line: All that is required for receiving salvation and a guiding word, is humility and openness before God’s Word recorded in the Bible. Be much occupied with that.

The Three Factors: quality, spirit, content

Posted by: David Carroll

Last time I wrote about Hearing God, I discussed how there were three lights: circumstances, impressions of spirit, and passages of scripture that must somehow lineup without which, they tend to discount the veracity of whether such a message could be a “voice” from God for you at that moment.

The most important quality of knowing God’s voice is the same as knowing a person’s voice…familiarity. It is our familiarity with God’s voice that allows us to recognize it.

Song of Solomon 2:8; 5:2a (NKJV)

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes Leaping upon the mountains, Skipping upon the hills.

I sleep, but my heart is awake; It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying…

With a human voice, we recognize tone, modulation, style, and tempo. These would be characteristics of a voice produced by vibrating vocal cords. But as Willard says there is also a spirit in a voice that “would be passionate or cold, whining or demanding, timid or confident, coaxing or commanding.”

Matthew 7:28-29 (NKJV)

And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

E. Stanley Jones answers the question “how can we distinguish God’s voice from that of our own subconscious?”

The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks, and it is self authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within it.

Willard says the characteristic spirit of God’s voice is one of “exalted peacefulness and confidence, and joy, of sweet reasonableness and of goodwill. … any word which bears an opposite spirit most surely is not from God.

God’s voice has the weight of authority. God’s voice has energy packed power to effectuate supernatural events. But because God’s voice is so authoritative and powerful, it does not need to be loud.

Finally, content is king. Whatever that voice says, it must affirm
Christ and it must be in complete agreement with the Holy, inspired and inerrant Word of God.

The Three Lights

Posted by: David Carroll

Dallas Willard talks about three lights that form a sort of check and balance whether what we “hear” from God is true or not. They are:

  1. Circumstances
  2. Impressions of the Spirit
  3. Passages from the Bible

It is suggested that when these three point in the same direction, we can be assured it points to where God would have us go. This perhaps sounds too much like a formula or a gimmick which we would not expect to be so simple but let’s examine it.

First of all, there is no doubt you must have a working familiarity and a confidence in the recognition of these “lights.”

What if you read a passage from the Bible, and you felt a clear impression of the Holy Spirit you should do something but the circumstances in your life either would not allow for it or were in some way hindering it. I think this would be a clear indication that God would have you to wait. 

What is the biblical test of authenticity? I believe that it must contain a clear confession of Jesus Christ as Lord

1 Corinthians 12:3 (NKJV)

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

1 John 4:2-3 (NKJV)

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

I know that I have prayed a number of times for God to either open or close doors to make it clear whether to proceed or stop. But how do you know who is opening and closing doors? Is it God or Satan or another person? So Scripture and inner promptings of the Spirit must be a part of the analysis of such door opening and closing.

I think the point is that these three lights do serve to correct each other and perhaps are useful to only that extent. At any rate, these three lights seem to reflect the very things that must go on in our decision making process which is still necessary even when hearing from God.

Redux: Hearing through the Word

Posted by: David Carroll

I know I've made this point before in this series about "Hearing God" but I need to revisit it again because it is so important and fundamental. Everything we know about Jesus comes from the Bible. Most everything we know about the Holy Spirit comes from the Bible. I say most because someone never having heard God's word could still know his conscience is tugging him away from sin and that certainly would be the Holy Spirit. Most everything we know about God comes from the Bible. Again I say most because we can know His creative power by looking around us.

Romans 1:20 (NKJV)

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

So the reason I want to revisit this subject of Hearing God through the scripture is because the written Word is central to knowing God and knowing what He wants of us. Eagerly studying the word of God naturally and practically leads a person to knowing Christ and wanting to be like Him. I've seen the antithesis of this too, even in my own life. Disregarding the daily use of the Bible leads a person away from Christ. I can readily think of a number of individual people who, when I am around them, naturally draw me to Christ. Thinking about why this is so, I can easily point to the fact that they themselves are saturated in God's word, both devotionally and in their conversation. So, it is self-evident that God's word is vital to a close relationship with God.

Dallas Willard recommends reading the Bible with a submissive attitude. He says:

Study as intelligently as possible, with all available means, but never study merely to find the truth and especially not just to prove something. Subordinate your desire to find the truth to your desire to do it, to act it out!

That's the "how" part but regarding what to read, I know have used a "One Year Bible Reading Plan" before but I know I read much of it without absorbing it. On the other hand, I have struggled with the idea of just beginning to read whatever text my finger happens to open to. It's all good, right? Well, Willard has more good advice about "what" to read too.

We should begin with those parts of Scripture with which we have some familiarity, such as Psalm 23, the Lord's Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, or Romans 8.

Do not try to read a great deal at once...It is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every word of the Bible flash before our eyes...Do not hurry. Do not dabble in spiritual things.

The goal is for the truth of God's word to become part of us. That is to say, we need to assimilate the truth and to agree with it. Agreeing with the truth that we know well and can easily repeat is what it means to have the "mind of Christ." Willard gives five progressive steps as a process of attaining this goal when dealing with God's word:

  1. information
  2. longing for it to be so
  3. affirmation that it must be so
  4. invocation to God to make it so
  5. appropriation by God's grace that it is so

Such use of God's word is a discipline. Ingrained habit and self-control are the keys behind such discipline. Everyday, devote yourself to this kind of exercise an you will find yourself being drawn close to God. Close enough to Hear from God.

Communication, Communion, Union

Posted by: David Carroll

This is a fascinating progression. Two can communicate but still be at a distance from each other, even disagree. But when communication becomes intimate, two can progress to a state of communion. Agreement becomes natural, thoughts are shared, one finishes the others sentences. Still, there is the awareness of two distinct persons sharing a common purpose for a time. Union is the ultimate stage of two becoming one, where oneness comes from total commitment and unselfish love and a desire to know and please the other. In union, there is no notion of "mine" and "yours"; it is all "our". This is the meaning of "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Trust is the key to confidence in such a union with Christ. Think about the disciples with Jesus on the sea of Galilee during the storm in that boat being tossed about. Jesus was asleep and the disciples were afraid and woke him crying for him to save them. Jesus rebuked them for their little faith and then calmed the storm. Knowing who Jesus was, and knowing they were in the boat with him, what was there to worry about? Would Jesus go down and perish with them in the storm? Jesus could sleep because he had faith that nothing would happen to him apart from the Father's will. No worries. Apart from falling out of the boat, the disciples were as safe as Jesus was. They could have derived all of their faith from Jesus' faith. They did not need to rely on their own faith because Jesus was in the same boat with them. In a similar way, the one who is in union with Christ can derive all of his faith from Jesus...not only faith but love, power, and peace of mind. Is this not what is meant by "having the mind of Christ?"

1 Corinthians 2:16 (NKJV)

For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

If Christ is in me and I no longer depend upon myself, then I don't just share the same thoughts with Christ, His thoughts are my thoughts. This is the ultimate in communication. There is no more medium through which the communication must travel. There can be no error in transmission.

OK, I must admit, all that seems high and lofty and not practical at all. But you'd say the same thing about a marriage between two lovers so devoted to one another they might describe their union in the same terms. It is the necessity of total surrender to another that is the barrier to believing this can be true.

Willard presents some very practical techniques for progressing towards this union. I'll be studying those next.

The Word of Life

Posted by: David Carroll

God's word has the power to create life. He made the plants and plant life is able to respond in that realm to the soil, sunlight and rain. God created animal life and in that realm animals can do much more than plants. They can eat, hear, and mate with each other. Plants are oblivious to the animal realm and in that sense are dead to animal kind of life. Humans live in a yet higher realm in which we can understand abstract thought such as mathematics, poetry, art and all manner of communication. The animal is dead to this kind of life.

There is an even higher kind of life that we as humans were meant to have--Eternal life. This is the realm in which we hear and communicate with God. God is eternal and to communicate with Him in that realm we must have an eternal kind of life. But since Adam we have been dead to this kind of life. How can we regain it? To enter any life you must be born into it.

John 3:3 (NKJV)

Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

The life creating power of God's word is what makes this new birth possible. Willard says "Without this birth we cannot recognize God's workings: we do not possess the appropriate faculties and equipment. We are like kittens trying to contemplate a sonnet."

1 Peter 1:23 (NKJV)

having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever

The Power of Words

Posted by: David Carroll

Don't think that God's "still small voice" is weak because it is still or small. This same voice created everything, all matter, energy and time and organized it all into the magnificent universe and the marvelous living chemistry of cellular life. How else would he have done it? He is not matter but spirit.

John 4:24 (NKJV)

God is Spirit

John 6:63 (NKJV)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

Words are God's power and we have been made in His image and so when he gave us the ability to speak, He gave us a bit of that same power.

Proverbs 15:4 (NKJV)

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, But perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

My words can harm another person in terrible ways but my words can also build another person up.

If I invent anything or imagine a computer program that will perform some helpful task and then I take those thoughts and express them in words organized in a careful way then I have created something from shear thought and words. No matter how much material I had to push around or how much energy I had to expend, the fact is that the end product would not have exited apart from the original thought. When I speak it is the expression of the mind. In this sense all expressions of my mind are my "words" just as all expressions of God's mind are the "words" of God.

The ancient philosophers spoke of the "prime mover." It was an argument for the existence of God. The fact that things are in motion means that there has been a chain of events in which things are moved by a mover which itself was moved by a prior mover and so on. To avoid an infinite regression, there must be an unmoved mover or the first mover, itself unmoved; this prime mover is God. But how did He do it? He did not touch the thing because that implies a physical action of the mover contacting the moved. Since God is spirit, there is no contact. It was idea, thought, the mind of God, in essence the word of God which did the moving.

Willard speaks of our ability to have a thought and an immediate action. I am thinking as I type this sentence but I am not aware at all of how my fingers tap the keyboard. They just do; I think and they move.

Psalm 33:9 (NKJV)

For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

Great Faith is Easy

Posted by: David Carroll

The greater the faith, the easier it is to exercise it. Think about that. With great faith, there is no need to bother with worry; your great faith keeps you from having to. With great faith, it is easy to believe. I am not talking about great leaps of faith. No a great faith must be in something that is dependable and sure. Does this not describe God?

Weak faith is hard. There is doubt and struggle. It seems as if you have to bolster it with determination and mustering. Who wants that?

Willard reminds us of the story about the Centurion who went to Jesus to ask him to heal his servant who was near death with sickness. Jesus was ready to go to his house to heal the servant when the Centurion spoke like this:

Luke 7:6-8 (NKJV)

Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

Jesus marveled at this man's faith saying verse 9 "I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"

Why did Jesus consider this man's faith as great? It was because of the ease with which he believed that Jesus could heal from a distance by just speaking a word.

Of course, Willard's point is to point out the power of words and how that relates to the better desire to hear words from God and not just receive visions. Words created the universe. Words can build up and words can destroy. Because of the power of words, "that still small voice" of God is what we want to hear.

The Clarity of Words, the Obscurity of Dreams

Posted by: David Carroll

Dreams and visions can be interpreted in many different ways and Willard concludes that for this reason that these forms of communication are inferior to the “voice” of the Lord. There has some scriptural evidence for this in the following passage:

Numbers 12:6-8 (NKJV)

Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.

Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?”

Now the context for this occasion was the jealousy of Moses’ sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron who wanted to hear from God the same way Moses did. Notice what God says about superiority of plain sayings versus dark sayings. If the message is muddled and unclear, it is not from God. If you hear God’s “still small voice,” it will be clear and articulate, you will have no doubt about the meaning. This will be the mark of a mature, conversational relationship with God.

Then what is the purpose of dreams and visions which may not be clear and precise in their meanings? Of course, not all dreams or visions are from the Lord. I suppose some might result from that late-night, fast-food meal you scarfed down right before going to bed. But God says he speaks in dreams and visions and we conclude that where the message is obscure that God is still communicating something. Think about what can occur from having such dreams and visions. I could be struck with fear or motivated to seek and investigate or even to slow down and listen more closely. Certainly these results can be the purpose of God’s working in the life of an immature believer or even an unbeliever. I can think of several unbelieving kings in the Bible whom God gave dreams and motivated them to cease from doing harm to God’s people.

Willard concludes that the “more spectacular is the less mature.” With maturity in the Lord comes that “still small voice.” Why should that be? It is only with maturity that the child of God can be entrusted with the more complete knowledge of the holy.

This could get out of hand

Posted by: David Carroll

All this talk of hearing God could be dangerous. After all, it is possible to be mistaken yet convinced that God is telling you something. I have heard a number of "prophets" in Christian circles who had a message from God for the church. But the message somehow seemed out of character. Typically, this urgent message from an determined individual would emphasize one doctrine or particular phrase from scripture out of context and out of proportion from other balancing doctrines. Of course, this is exactly how cults get started.

So on the subject of hearing God as it relates to individuals, I think we are talking about a personal message for that person's edification or conviction of sin or of guidance. I think it can be a word for others as well but it will always be consistent with God's revealed word and the message transmitted to others in this way will be personal to these others as well.

But a leader in the church should never discourage one from hearing from God. The express purpose of Jesus leaving us the Holy Spirit was for such individual communication. Helping others to hear from God is a wonderful thing. Willard writes of Abraham helping his servant in this way:

How wonderful that Abraham could assure his puzzled servant that God was guiding him back to the city of Nahor to find a wife for Issac! How wonderful that the servant could come to an utterly new understanding of God because he did experience guidance and was indeed guided into knowledge of guidance itself!

Here are the first few verses of that chapter but go read the rest of this story, it will thrill you to see how the servant worked with God who guided him.

Genesis 24:1-7 (NKJV)

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, "Please, put your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; 4 but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac."

5 And the servant said to him, "Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?"

6 But Abraham said to him, "Beware that you do not take my son back there. 7 The Lord God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, 'To your descendants I give this land,' He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.

So the upshot is that we need to help others to hear from God too. This is not a privilege which should be held close because it is too dangerous to be used by the masses. No, every child of God should expect to hear from Him.

Still, small voice

Posted by: David Carroll

God speaks to us in many ways but Willard maintains that it is through our own thoughts and feelings that God speaks most. In this way, God utilizes our own faculties of understanding and emotions. The thoughts I think are my own thoughts but they might originate in the mind of God. I am trying to imagine how I can distinguish such thoughts from God. I think that I must first be a clean vessel, in tune with God's word, and ready to obey his will whatever it may be. Surely then God can quietly slip in to my mind and speak in that still, small voice.

1 Kings 19:11-12 (NKJV)

Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord." And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

Perhaps I should believe that if God speaks that it should be in great dramatic fashion commensurate with God's nature. These pictures that are painted in the natural world of God's creation depict the attributes of God much like you might see part of an artist's personality in his paintings. These things show his power and might but is that a complete picture of God? He is more than power and might.

I remember being in a meeting once with a number of managers and the CEO of the organization. The managers all spoke with confidence, each one trying to upstage the next. When the CEO spoke, I was struck with the manner of his speaking; he spoke in a very quiet and calm tone. The remarkable thing is that the entire room became very still and silent while he was speaking. You could tell that everybody in the room was leaning towards this CEO so as to not miss a word he spoke. The group Point of Grace sang a song entitled "Speak a little softer so I can hear you." Isn't that just like God to cause us to be still so that we can hear Him? Why should he compete with the din and noise of this world?

Help me Father to find those quiet places during the day where I can listen to Your "still, small voice."

Why should I expect to hear from God?

Posted by: David Carroll

God may speak to me but I might not understand the message. I must understand more about Him before I understand what He might say. The wonderful news is that if I seek to understand him he has promised to enlighten me.

Proverbs 2:3-5 (NKJV)

Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, And find the knowledge of God.

OK, so now that I know that God will cause me to understand as I value and seek Him, what else hinders me from hearing God? Am I ready to hear a word from Him? What will I do with it when I hear it? Do I want to hear from God just to benefit personally? What would be God's purpose in speaking to me? One clue is in how Jesus taught us to pray:

Luke 11:2 (NKJV)

So He said to them, "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven."

Before the prayer gets to any of my own needs or desires, it focuses on God's desire. If I am willing to do his will, then God has a reason to speak to me. But if I am only interested in my own comfort or gain, what purpose would God have in speaking to me? Maybe we know this intuitively. Maybe we don't hear from God because we don't expect to hear from Him. Willard writes:

But for a willing walk in conscious, loving cooperation with God, we must come to grips with the issue What are we living for? ... It may well be that I have never come to the place where I can truly say, "I am living for one thing and one thing only--to be like Christ, to do his work and live among his people and serve them and him in this world. My life is to bless others in the name of God." If we have not come to that place, then the question "How do we hear the word of God?" is replaced with "What would we do if we heard the word of God?"

Father in heaven, help me to recommit my life to you. Help me win the battle in my thought life of devoting everything to you every moment of the day.

God speaks through others

Posted by: David Carroll

I like the idea that God speaks to us through other people. Sometimes it is a message we don't want to hear like when someone points out a sin we may have committed against another without even realizing it. I remember once I came down pretty hard on an employee in a public meeting. Although, I had interpreted it as teasing, the employee did not. Another believer who I work with asked me to have lunch with him that day and confronted me with my sin. He quoted:

Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV)

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

He had a word from God for me and boy was I ever convicted. For a long time after that, I had this verse on a post-it note attached to my computer monitor. This was to remind me even during phone calls how I was to control my tongue.

We all at different times have a word from the Lord for each other. Willard points out that the Bible assumes such communication.

1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

When we work together with a common goal, and truly know each other and the will of God, there will be no need for always having to tell each other what to do. The need will be known and it will be done without having to communicate it. Willard calls this type of activity "having the mind of Christ."

1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NKJV)

For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

Lord, help me to recognize your voice in others, whether it be a song or a lesson or an exhortation or even a blessing.

Practicing the Presence of God

Posted by: David Carroll

Willard speaks of three forms of God’s presence with us or three ways in which we recognize this presence. First there is simply a faith that God promises it therefore it must be true. This is accepted without any evidence or sense that God is actually with us. It is blind faith which is not necessarily bad but not very satisfying either.

Secondly there is a sense that God is there in some way much like we might be aware of someone watching us. This can vary from a slight to a strong impression.
Thirdly there is the obvious knowing that God is with us because of what he actually does. The effect of doing is evidenced and unexplainable by our own powers.

I like the picture painted by quote from Brother Lawrence:

I make it my business to persevere in his Holy presence, wherein I keep my self by a simple attention and a general fond regard to God, which I make call an ACTUAL PRESENCE of God; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God, which often causes me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them and prevent their appearance to others.

This describes the rare times when I have felt God’s presence and it is when I am delighting in some truth or beauty to a degree that I am almost overwhelmed by it. There comes almost a giggle which is difficult to suppress. Sometimes I have felt a “rush” of seeming electrical waves coming over me starting at my head and ending in my feet. It  is a moment of ecstasy during which I could no more accomplish or control any other activity but to sit there and delight. These experiences were common when I first became a Christian but have been much rarer for the past couple of decades.

Willard also speaks of a fourth way in which we experience God’s presence and that is in a conversational relationship. This is where guidance can occur.

Romans 8:14 (NKJV)

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

Father in heaven, help me to experience and practice the presence of God. Allow me to enjoy and delight in it.

Never Alone

Posted by: David Carroll

When you think of companionship you think of a friend, a lover, a spouse or even a dog. But even with all of these, we are alone in this world with our hurts, disappointments, and illnesses. Oh, it's nice to have someone to talk to, to sit with you, hold your hand, or even to defend you, but they cannot be really at one with us no matter how close they are. So ultimately we are alone. The proof is death. No one can take that journey with you, you go by yourself.

Willard says that this would be true, but for God. He talks about how God can dwell with our innermost being becoming intertwined with us and enveloping us with his loving companionship. No one else can do this and only with God can we be never alone. Willard says:

The final and complete blessing and ultimate good, the summum bonum of humankind, comes to those with lives absorbed in the Way of Christ--life in the presence of God.

Why do we fear no evil in the valley of the shadow of death? The Psalmist says in 23:4 "For You are with me; Your rod and your staff comfort me." I find it interesting that the final punishment for those who reject God is the ultimate in suffering: aloneness--separation from the presence of God. Apart from God we suffer aloneness. With God we enjoy, true companionship.

Psalm 51:11 (NKJV)

Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 16:11b (NKJV)

n Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Perfect message, imperfect reception

Posted by: David Carroll

When I hear from God, it is not a confirmation that I am worthy or righteous. There must be no boasting that "I have a word from the Lord." How do I know I have understood the message? Was I really listening? Am I muddying the picture by imposing my own desire on top of the content? This is why humility is so important when hearing from God. If there is any self-righteousness, no doubt, it will be put in its proper place by God. In other words, the humility will come whether we start with it or not so starting with humility is a far easier path.

Luke 14:11 (NKJV)

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

1 Corinthians 8:1b-2 (NKJV)

We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.

Willard hopes to answer the question of how can we discern whether we have heard correctly in the coming chapters. In the meantime, I need to work on the humility part.

Lord, help me to have humility. I can't do this on my own, only if You are with me always and only if I am aware of your presence and your help will I be able to "back off" and let you be in control. Help me Lord.

Strong Meekness

Posted by: David Carroll

Is it possible to concentrate on being meek? I think not. Meekness is a result of focusing on something else other than self. There is no thought of the majesty of God speaking to ME! No pride or thought of self, just listening, ready, aware of His presence. If my mind is not busy with my own preoccupations God can sway my thoughts. Willard quotes from George Mueller:

Meekness is a real preference for God's will. Where this holy habit of mind exists, the whole being becomes so open to impression that, without any outward sign or token, there is an inward recognition and choice of the will of God.God guides, not by a visible sign, but by swaying the judgement. To wait before him, weighing candidly in the scales every consideration for or against a proposed course, and in readiness to see which way the preponderance lies, is a frame of mind and heart in which one is fitted to be guided; and God touches the scales and makes the balance to sway as he will. But our hands must be off the scales, otherwise we need to expect no interposition of his in our favor.

Of course the real problem with this is the liklihood that during a time of weighty decision making, I'll be particularly anxious and less able to maintain such a still and sensitive meekness.

Psalm 25:9

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

Father in heaven, help me to apply this to my life, even today. I realize that by asking this, You might even arrange an opportunity to test this. I pray that I will be found meek when you speak.

Love is a way of being with

Posted by: David Carroll

Am I a servant simply following orders of a great and terrible taskmaster or am I a friend who desires to freely cooperate out of genuine love and delight? If all God wanted was a creature to do his bidding I believe He could have created, for all intents and purposes, a living robot. No fuss, no muss. From my puny viewpoint, I know I am not a robot. The question is am I a friend of God? Do I love God? The end effect is the same whether I am a programmed beast or a loving obedient follower—the work gets done either way. If I were God, I would certainly want the loving obedient follower. The bible would indicate this to be true of God as well by virtue of the choices God offers us.

Someone who really loves God and really knows Him and his ways (at least to the extent that one could expect a human to be able to do this) would certainly be able to anticipate what God would desire of him in any given circumstance. Much like two lovers silently are able to anticipate the other’s needs and desires because of their intimate desire for and knowledge of each other. The lovers do not need to be constantly commanding and directing one another; that would almost certainly dampen the relationship. Willard writes:

And so it is in our union with God, a person both loving and beloved. He does not delight in always having to explain what his will is; he enjoys it when we understand and act upon his will.

Perhaps God would like for us to know him well enough such that we would be able to automatically do his will by virtue of thinking His thoughts after him. I don’t think I am there yet. I think God needs to jerk my chain a few more times and bless me a few more times when I get it right. It worked for my dog; he loves me and pretty well can anticipate what I want him to do.

The lover analogy goes too far however. The lovers are equals; I am not equal to…I can’t even say it because the inequality seems to give man too much stature for even being in the same equation. Willard gives another appealing analogy:

The gushing pleasure of a small child who is helping his or her parent comes from the expansion of the child’s little self through immersion in the life of a larger self to which the child is lovingly abandoned. With its parent the child does big things that he or she could not undertake alone. But the child would not even be interested in doing these things apart from the parent’s interest, attention and affection.

That is a nice analogy. Father and child—child totally absorbed in the father’s love and life with no thought of his own. But we love to hear His voice too. That is the lesson today. We need to learn this way to be with God. I’d rather know Him well enough to anticipate Him than have my chain jerked.

God is sovereign but we are not robots. I think God delights in our free will so that our love and desires motivate us to do his commands only because of loving to be with…Him.

Conversational Relationship with God

Posted by: David Carroll

The thing that makes us different from all God’s other creatures is our ability to communicate through abstract language. God created us in his image and since God is a God who communicates and desires fellowship with us, it makes sense that part of the image we would have is the ability to both speak to and hear from God. This is what makes relationship.

I have to think back, when and how have I heard God speak? Never have I heard an audible word but then again I can attest to clearly understanding a prompting or thought or idea that seemed to come from outside me. And even if other people were speaking, perhaps in a sermon or a conversation, it still seemed to come from even beyond them. This is how I have heard God speak.

I don’t listen for this enough; I’d like to hear from God every day, just like I’d often hear from a close friend. I know the scriptures are God’s word to us and I expect His providence to lead me to a verse that is wonderfully suited for me for a moment’s circumstance. What I long for is a conversational relationship with God, like he had with Adam, Enoch, Abraham or Moses. Whoa now, I’m not trying to become a patriarch or anything like that.

I suppose it is dangerous to openly talk about hearing voices especially from God. There won’t be any new revelations or prophecies here. But there will be new directions, new ideas for doing what God has already told me to do in his word. And perhaps some of you will unknowingly be the very physical voice I hear that will be God’s words.

Jesus says:

John 15:15 (NKJV)

No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

Matthew 28:20b (NKJV)

I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Do these promises not apply to all Christians? Are they not what is meant by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? I pray my motives for wanting to hear God are pure and not selfish. I love you Lord. I want to be led by you.

New Devotional Series

Posted by: David Carroll

I just started using a new book for my daily devotional. It is Dallas Willard's Hearing God. In the preface, he talks about Jesus' parable of the unprofitable servant:

Luke 17:7-10 (NKJV)

And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’

When I read this, I was struck immediately with the thought that Jeus is saying this is the way I am supposed to be. Just do my duty and accept God's gracious provisions. Who am I to argue with Jesus own words? But then I remembered that Willard had made the point that God desires us to be more than servants, he desires to be a friend. Now that's a whole other level than just doing what we are supposed to do. In fact, it speaks of a whole new motivation for doing His will. I think Jesus is pointing out that just doing his will is not satisfying. I know when I read that parable at first I was not very satisfied with the picture it was painting.

So here is my new thought that I wrote in my margin: "You can keep God's commandments without loving Him, but you can't love Him without keeping his commandments." I know which side of that equation I want to be on. I think I am going to enjoy this book.

I am going to try to post a “thought for the day” here while I progress through this book. Pray for me that I will be faithful.