Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting Quiet With God in a Noisy World

How Can We Hear from God if We Never Stop Yacking at Him?

I know that it is easy pickens to try and make negative statements about our current culture and yearn for the good old days.  In fact, I'm about 100% certain that folks have been so yearning since Able yearned for the days of the garden before his folks messed it up.  For the most part, I am cynical of too much judging of today in light of yesterday.  For instance, here are a few surprising things you may not have known:
  • The percentage of the average paycheck being spent for gas is about the same today as 50 years ago, but we now drive twice as far on that same amount of expendable income.
  • Child abductions are about the same now as in the 1950's.  In fact most crime is about the same as the 1950's
  • Lots of people had all kinds of sex outside of marriage in every culture in every century.  (Not saying it isn't worse now.  Not a lot of data from prior centuries.  No Cosmo to take the polls).  But the Bible kind of suggests that our current circumstances are not completely different.
  • We are currently living in a time of peace.  Annual deaths as a percent of the population due to war are very low by historical standards.
I could go on, but you get the point.  However, I would love to hear from you if you have any basis for disagreeing with this idea:  We are completely different today in terms of how much time we are having our senses assaulted, particularly our ears.  Sure babies made noise, and kids, and farm animals, but I'm thinking that it wasn't non stop.  When the sun went down, I think it got very quiet in most homes.

This long introduction is just a set up to this:  I believe that it is very hard for most Christians to tune out all that noise and get quiet with God.  Moreover, I think we have been taught to pray at God, not to enter into a conversation with God.

In reading a dozen or more books on prayer, many by authors that I really trust, the advice is to make lists and create methods to remember the way we want to pray.   We need to:
  • Keep a prayer list.  Chuck Swindol says that his is so long that he divides up what he is going to pray about by days of the week.  For example we might pray for family on Monday, Christian friends on Tuesday, Missions and Missionaries on Wednesday and so on
  • Keep a prayer journal.  Write down our praises and our requests, our intercessions and the answers to our prayers.  Keep notes on our reading and our insights.  
  • Pray the Lord's prayer, says Larry Lee in the classic "Could You Not Tarry One Hour."  Others suggest praying God's names, the beatitudes, one Psalm or Proverb per day, or the armor.  
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of the above.  I have used virtually every one of these as prayer time methods to keep me focused and on track.  I use some today.  But what kind of friend does all the talking?  Especially if the one doing the talking is praising, giving thanks, asking for help, and requesting counsel?  It would seem that the "conversation" would need to be two way to have any chance of being meaningful.

Many, many times throughout the Bible we are scolded for having our ears closed, and our spiritual eyes as well.  

Isaiah 6:9 
He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
    make their ears dull
    and close their eyes.[a]
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

If we are going to open our ears and eyes, we are likely going to need to set it as a priority, understand why we need to do so, and then practice.  Not unlike the steps we would take if we do all the talking in a relationship with one of our friends or family currently.

For example, if I tend to take over conversations with a certain friend, I might first come to see it as an issue.  Then I might determine that I want to change the behavior.  I'd need a good reason.  What better reason than that I would like to have a truly intimate relationship where I was much more interested in him and his life than always blabbing about mine?  Then I would need to remind myself before each meeting, possibly have a few tricks to keep me on track, and then try and try again.

Hopefully you have been reading between the lines above and have quite a good list of reasons why you should listen to God more and talk less.  Two really good ones are to establish greater intimacy, and because He says so. 

What about methods.  You undoubtedly know the items at the top of the list for ways to have a more effective prayer time, but just as a reminder:
  1. Pray early - First thing when you get up, before you start cranking up the to do lists.
  2. Quiet place - What ever happened to prayer closets.  Look for no noise, no distractions, and certainly no smart phones.
  3. Same time, same place - Routine helps to establish a habit
  4. Set length of time - This lets the family know that you are not available for that amount of time each day
Now let's examine a few things you may not have heard before.  Have an agenda.  You might even establish the agenda the night before in a shorter prayer time with the Lord.  What are you most interested in learning or discussing with your Heavenly Father?  If you don't set the agenda the night before, set it prior to your prayer time in the morning.

Next, work on blocking the noises in your head.  I recommend against the Eastern methods of chanting or humming or swaying.  But rather, try to keep in mind the old saying that you can't truly hear from the other person if you are speaking or thinking about something else.  Possible have a mental image of God.  Not the old man in the shiny white clothes, but an image of pure love. 

Give God time to answer.  We all know people who don't answer right away.  And then some folks ponder for a longer time than we would like, only to tell us they need to think about it some more and get back to us.  There are many possible answers that God may give you that may not seem helpful.  But, of course, they are.  In fact the answer may come back later in the day, and it can come in many formats. 

Some of the ways that you may hear from God include:

  • The specific word of God in the Bible is your best source of an answer
  • The Holy Spirit's guidance through interpretation of scripture
  • Your hearts yearning or an urging inside of your soul to do something that is clearly within God's will
  •  Circumstances may arise that open or close doors to certain options
  •  Dreams and visions are not an uncommon way for God to speak to us
  •  Angels bring messages to us all the time.  Sometimes it is just more obvious than others
  •  The wise counsel of others around us helping us to assess all of these 
  •  The inspiration of teachers and their prophetic voice regarding scripture
  •  The still small voice of God 
Many of the methods that God speaks to us are controversial.  But every one on that list has multiple scriptural examples, and there is no reason to suspect that any of these aren't being used by God today.  But let's take that last one, which for some reason is the most controversial of all. 

For the purposes of this post, I'm going to agree that God is not going to speak to us in the same way that he did to Moses or Paul.  He sure could if He wanted to.  Can I get an Amen?  But I suspect that he will leave such dramatic instances for dramatic purposes.  

Rather, I'm talking about an experience that thousands of folks claim to have had.  The voice is commonly described as maybe audible or maybe not.  The key is that there is much more than a hint or an urging or a feeling.  I have personally experienced this on two occasions.  In both instances, the information or directions to action that were "spoken" were specific, Biblical in all regards, and outside of the scope of anything I would have thought of, expected, or planned to do. 

Without using this space to go into the specifics, I couldn't be more certain of the source of the words spoken to me.  I am as certain of that as I am of my salvation.  There can be no other explanation for either the content of the words or the results that flowed from them.

So, maybe the most important exhortation that I can bring to you is this:  When you open your ears to listen, be prepared to hear.  Have faith that God not only answers prayer, but that he may do so in ways that are supernatural and unexpected.  

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