Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hearing God's Voice

This blog post has been a long time in the making.  It's been sitting in my mind for a long, long time, but it seems to be a hot button of sorts.  So, I sat on it.  Until now.   

See...I never had anyone teach me how to hear God's voice.  I grew up knowing that I was supposed to follow God's voice...that His sheep know the sound of His voice...that I should heed the "still, small voice."  But, truly, I wasn't sure what all that meant.  I don't blame anyone for my ignorance in this area, because time has shown me that it's not a skill to be taught but rather one that comes by practice and by getting to know the One speaking.  It is similar to how a mom can identify her child's cry, even in a room with 1000 other children making noise.  This cannot be taught by a book or sermon or college degree.  It comes only by daily, even moment-by-moment contact.  It is in practicing the presence of another.

And here is the problem that I've seen.  I've listened to sermons, been in Bible study discussions, and heard experts saying that God does not speak in such-and-such a way.  For example, I was in a Bible study last year when everyone got onto the subject of hearing God's voice.  And my attention was grabbed by an unanimous conclusion that we should only read the Bible in absolute context.  In other words, if God was speaking about the wall of Jerusalem being rebuilt, then that's all it means.  Reading it out of context and thinking, "God is telling me that he is going to rebuild me" was deemed out-of-context and not-how-God-speaks.  This sounded right.  It sounded churchy and good.

But the problem is that over the past several years as I had grown closer and closer to God, I had heard His voice in multiple ways, some of which would have been considered out-of-context.  So, with a roomful of well-meaning people agreeing that God indeed does not speak in those ways, I began to doubt my spiritual ears.  Am I making this up?  Am I taking things out of context to suit my own desires?

At that point of doubt, my spiritual hearing flatlined.  Yes, I could still read direct passages, such as "Love one another as I have loved you," and I could apply that to my life, knowing full well that God Himself had spoken it.  And there is absolute merit in that.  Really...if we all would simply read passages like this and DO them, we'd be far beyond where we now are.  But there was more, and I was missing it...because I had begun to doubt my own spiritual hearing.

Sometimes God has to remove every prop in your life in order to get the company down to just Him and you.  If you've ever gone through a stripping like this, you know how excruciatingly painful it is at the time.  I once read a missionary biography, where she talked about God taking out all other human props in order to place her in the arena alone.  Really, can you think of a better way to multiply our dependence on Him??  And this He did with me over the past 2 months.  And in the hollow, in the extreme silence of being alone in that arena, He fine-tuned my spiritual hearing...teaching me again the sound of His voice (after all, if He's the only other person left in the arena with us, it's just plain clear-as-a-bell whose voice we are hearing).  I practiced listening...learning His voice with bold assurance.

And I came out the other side with his strength pulsating in my weakness.  And His voice was unmistakable.  And nothing...truly NOTHING comes close to the down-in-the-depths joy that bursts upon hearing His voice.  To then convey it to others and say, "God told me such and such" is like translating a 4D movie into a primitive stick figure drawing.

So, I sat on this and turned it over in my mind.  I so badly want others to experience this hidden layer...the place where the treasure is only found by those searching desperately for it.  And yet translating it all from the multi-colored, multi-faceted spiritual experience into flat human words is enough to make me put it off.

Until now.  Because now I am 1000% sure.  I no longer doubt my spiritual hearing.  And this I want to share as best as I can for those wanting more.

So back to the comment about not taking anything out of context...  In one aspect, I do agree.  We are sinful creatures by nature, and we can very easily justify just about anything.  We are good at this, right?  We could, no doubt, read a Scripture and twist it to fit our situation and be completely wrong in that.  We could read about God telling Noah to build the ark, and we can take that out of context to mean we are supposed to own a big boat.  You know I could write out thousands of such things that would be out of context.  But, that is not at all what I'm talking about.

Hear me out on this one.  Was God not out of context when He spoke to Moses in a burning bush?  Seriously.  Think about that.  A bush is burning but not burning up, and Moses said He heard God speaking in it.  Let's apply some "context" here...  Is this how God usually speaks?  Have you ever heard God speak through a burning bush?  Has anyone ever before or since heard God speaking through a burning bush?  And why did He choose to speak in a burning bush, when He could have just spoken in an audible voice without the fanfare?  And what about the guy who heard the donkey speak...or the king who saw fingers appear and write on the wall...or Saul being blinded by a light and hearing the voice of God while going about his usual business?  What about the missionary who didn't know whether or not to leave China during a war crisis, and she prayed for wisdom, opened her Bible and read, "Flee Egypt," and off she went?  All of this sounds strangely unusual and hopelessly out of context, no?

And yet God did it.

Why is it that we put God in our human boxes?  Why is it that we limit Him to our own understanding?  No wonder many of us don't hear His still, small voice.  We have so limited Him in our minds that we miss Him.  And, as my friend Kerry said in a nationwide conference, "If you don't believe God still speaks, then don't expect Him to speak to you."  I believe many of us completely miss Him due to either being so busy that we cannot hear amid all the other noises or simply confining Him to our own painfully tiny boxes.

He said in James that if we want wisdom, we only need to ask Him.  BUT (and He puts a condition on it), we must EXPECT Him to answer.  If you don't expect Him to answer, then why ask?  Seriously, is it just talking to the ceiling?  It is just some wishful thinking that we throw a prayer up and hope that maybe He throws some good luck our way?  The power of prayer is grossly, and I mean GROSSLY, underestimated.  He says for us to expect Him to answer.  When this truth hit me, it changed my praying, and really, it changed my life.  I began to get very bold with God (He does say that with a clean conscience, we can absolutely come boldly to Him...where in the world is our boldness??).  I'd pray for Him to give me wisdom and direction in something specific, and then I'd say, "Now, You tell me to expect You to answer.  And I'm expecting...seriously, I'm expecting You to give me clear, without-a-doubt direction here."  And I learned that God LOVES when we take Him at His word.  He shows up when we expect Him to.  It's like a delightful game of hide-and-seek.  He says that when we seek, we WILL find.  I think He loves to tuck treasures into hidden places that will only be found by those who expect to find.  He seems to get pure joy from seeing His children discover hidden treasures, and I can tell you that being on the seeking-and-finding side of things, it is phenomenal and will forever ruin regular boring life for you.  There is thrill in this seeking and finding.  And most of us miss it entirely.

He sends answers to me in all kinds of ways.  Just recently, on a day when I felt gutted and asked Him to remind me that He really was still there and that I really was still loved, He sent me a heart-shaped leaf on my back porch (the only leaf that strangely wasn't blowing away on that breezeway on our hill).  Yesterday when I was deep in thought over some issues, He spoke to me through my oldest daughter as she was telling me a lesson she learned about paper mache.  Right in the middle of my contemplating, she walked in with, "Mama, guess what I learned?"  She went on to explain how she learned to do something better on her umpteenth time to make something.  And as she was speaking, the Holy Spirit was inside me, saying quietly, "Listen...this lesson she is telling you about is applying right now to the very thing you are struggling with inside."  He really will and DOES carry on an ongoing conversation with us if we are simply tuned into that frequency.  If we are seeking, we really WILL find.  And his voice is truly clear when we have learned what it sounds like.

When we were getting serious about our move to Texas, we were contemplating three areas...El Paso, Dallas and Hill Country.  We were needed in El Paso to help with some needs of extended family.  The Dallas area held other family and friends.  And we were also drawn to the beauty of Hill Country.  So I began to really pray for God to open the door where He wanted us to be.  I prayed boldly, telling Him that I expected Him to show us which area of Texas He wanted to place us.  In the weeks following that, over and over I read Scriptures about the hill country in Israel.  Now, if I were to simply keep that in context, believing that it was ONLY talking about the hill country of Israel, then I would have missed the hidden treasure in those verses.  Yes, it was about Israel, but during those weeks of sincerely seeking God about where He wanted us to move, He used those verses to pop off the page and be seen as a treasure-hunter finds clues to the whereabouts of his treasure.  He continued to repeat this in other verses, other books of the Bible.  And one day he showed my husband and myself the exact same Scripture on the same day, completely independently of each other.  So, we pointed our feet toward Texas Hill Country.  Once we stepped in faith, other doors began to open in miraculous ways.  And when people asked if we were sure we were supposed to move to Texas hill country, we could say without a shadow of any doubt that yes we knew.  Ever wonder where boldness in following God comes from?  It comes from knowing His voice.  

So, if I were sitting in a Bible study about listening to God's voice, I would have to respectfully disagree with the majority on this one.  Because I've heard His voice, and I know it.  And if He chooses to speak through Scripture about Israel's hill country
or a beautiful bird's feather
or a breath-taking sunrise after a night of storms
or a long-awaited rain on dry ground
or the growth or lack of growth in tomato plants
or a child talking about paper mache
or a gorgeous cerulean blue piece of yarn that is tied together in 20 knots
or a cat blissfully sleeping next to an allegory of the hardships of following God...
He IS speaking.  It is our ears that need to be attuned to His voice.

Then we need to boldly cling to what He has spoken and walk it out in simple faith, but that will be another blog post for an other day.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Clearing our Land

I find it intriguing how what is going on around me is often a reflection of what is also going on inside of me.  It seems as if oftentimes the spiritual is expressed in the physical.  For example, when we spent 5 years living in the desert, I went through a spiritual desert experience...dry, thirsty, weathered.  Then we moved to our little house in the woods, which was situated down in a little hole of sorts, and it was there that I went through a long valley experience.  It's hard to tell from the outside what is going on on the inside, so this valley was known only by me.  Then God began to bring to my attention many verses about moving me, and then He led us straight to Texas Hill Country.  And this time, it's not a desert, and it isn't a valley.  Our home sits atop a hill overlooking Hill Country.  It's beautiful, and a constant light breeze rises up the hill and across our property.  

I stand at a new place in my life, and I look out across this breath-taking land, and I wonder what God has in store for me here and what this season will hold.  And, I find it intriguing how once again the goings on in my spiritual life are reflected in what is happening around me.  For the past year, I have made notes of the many Scriptures God has brought to my attention, and a running theme is obvious.  (If you aren't in the habit of writing down what God brings to your mind and what Scriptures He gives you, you really need to get a notebook and keep track.  It will amaze you as you see it repeating certain things.)  And for the past year, in Scriptures He's shown me, books I've read, and sermons I've heard, He continues to bring the theme of rebuilding the ruins, replanting the desolate places, setting the captive free.  

We needed to bring in people to clear our land here on the hill.  And for one long day, they worked.
On the upper part of our property, they uprooted trees and removed brush and anything that wasn't useful.  I stood on the back deck and watched, and that still voice of my Shepherd spoke of the uprooting in my own life...the many years of knocking down.  The desert and the valley were both seasons of knocking down, clearing out, dropping me to my knees, grating to the bare ground.

The following day after the land was cleared, an off-and-on gentle rain created the perfect conditions for burning the piles of brush and trees.  I watched those flames, and I remembered the prayer I had prayed several years ago, asking God to knock me down to nothing and then build me back the way He chose to.  I had no idea then how long that process would take and how intense it would be.  And it all was pictured right there in that fire on our hill.

It smoldered for what seemed like forever, often reigniting even in the rain.  Some things just don't go down easily.  To be utterly consumed takes time.

When the landscapers came back, they were able to bring in a Bobcat to level a huge section of land.  You may see ugly dirt, but my eyes of faith see a fertile Back-to-Eden garden overflowing with homegrown goodness.  It's there, though I cannot yet see it.  Because...understand this: the deserts appear, and we stumble through them...and the valleys come, and we walk through shadows.  And then our Shepherd places us in a place filled with brush and bleak dirt but whispers into our spirits that the desolate one will have a new name...she will be called Care For and Not Deserted.  And He knocks down the brush, burns the briers, consumes to ashes.  And then He levels the desolate land and breathes into us the hope of the future replanting.  It IS coming.  He's faithful.

And simultaneous to our land-clearing was also our dog situation.  Our 2 labs moved onto our new property only to find no fence.  So, weeks of waiting on a fencing company to get around to us meant that our dogs spent much time in their kennel.  Though we walked them several times each day, the confinement of their small kennel was difficult.  I leaned down to speak to them quite often about their future fenced yard, but they lost much pep and spunk while being in their kennel.  Again, this was such a reflection of things going on inside myself.

But God is good, and one day the fencing people showed up, and the fence I had been promising our dogs soon took shape.  And it happened quickly.

On the day that we could finally let them run loose in their new fenced area, the younger dog ran and ran with such spirit that the children and I couldn't help but to laugh.  My daughter said, "I hadn't realized how sad Macy had become until I saw her so very happy in her new yard."  It's words like these that hit me sometimes.  Sometimes we too are imprisoned somehow.  Cells come in all shapes.  But God is a Deliverer.  He sets the prisoner free.  And when He brings that release, our hearts thrill, for freedom is indeed a powerful force.

 I'll close this with a handful of photos from the most recent birthday celebration.  Here's my Asian princess discovering crepe paper to help decorate.

Birthday boy chose his meal to be grilled steaks, mashed potatoes, garlic tomatoes, homemade rolls and a fruit salad with mangoes, kiwi and strawberries.  The birthday person is always given the choice to have whatever meal they any restaurant or at home.  I find it interesting that not one child has ever chosen a restaurant meal for their birthday.  They always want something at home.  Home has a strong pull on the heart.

Big sister surprised him with a spider-themed treat.

And look at his reaction to the cake that big sister baked and decorated for him!  Seriously priceless.

Lovin' how the sports mode on the camera will get great action shots like this one...

And this, my friends, has been just a slice of what is going on in our world.