Getting Ready to Hear from God

“. . . in the liturgy from the past, I am reminded that wisdom from God has been around a long time. My words aren’t revolutionary. I can be helped by my brothers and sisters from the past. . . the words penetrate. They break away the hardness of my morning heart and get spiritual warmth pumping through my veins, showing once again it’s worth persevering in this liturgical pursuit, this routine.”* – Matthew Molesky

It’s a chilly morning. For the first time in weeks I reached for a sweatshirt before I sat in the chair with my Bible, pen, and fresh cup of coffee. Then, with my body warm and comfortable, I began to address my heart.

Do you, too, sometimes find you need to warm your heart before you’re ready to hear from God?

My heart gets ready when I read from the writings of Christians in ages past who had a longing to know God, feel his presence, and follow his direction. Some have written memoirs or left diaries or devotionals that give us windows into their hearts. The spiritual journeys of others can inspire our own desire to grow.

Here are a few of my favorites (would love to see yours in comments!):

Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer

The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence

The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee

Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon

My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers

After I read a short passage from one of these authors (or others like them), my heart is ready to turn to the Bible and to respond to its Spirit-guided message for today. The warm-up time is worth the effort!

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16a

Not much new there.

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” -Charles Spurgeon

We were driving home from church last week, and I asked my husband, “What did you think of the sermon?” The message was based on a very familiar passage from the Sermon on the Mount, so, after thinking for a minute, he said, “There wasn’t much new there.” I agreed.

Every pastor reading this is cringing at this point, but the story didn’t end there. We began to talk about certain points this pastor made, and I acknowledged there was one point that was my “take away” for the morning – something that I needed to hear and to pay attention to in my life. Then Warren said he really had one of those, too, and his take away was specific to him. We had a great time talking about what changed for us as we listened to and processed that message.

What just happened? The Holy Spirit showed up. He took an old message, a familiar passage, and applied it in a new way in our hearts. The scripture is the same we had heard from our childhood until now, but our life circumstances are different, the problems we face have changed over time, and our hearts are more or less receptive at any given moment.

So we need to keep going back to the Word of God. True, it’s an ancient book, but it’s not a dead book. It may be old, but it never gets old. It refreshes our souls in new ways and with new emphases over time.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

Does it matter today?

“Every Christian should have a passion to please God. We are to delight in honoring Him. It should be our greatest desire to please our Redeemer.” – R. C. Sproul

Sometimes it’s hard to read Old Testament passages without tuning out. I had that challenge in my reading this morning. I was in Deuteronomy and Moses explained that when the Israelites got settled in their new land, they were to take the first portion of their crops (“firstfruits”) and give it to God. It was a way of acknowledging his provision of their new homeland.

Last week my husband and I moved into a new neighborhood in our old home state of Michigan. We believe God has brought us here. How do we acknowledge that in a way that would be parallel to the Israelites offering the first portion of their crops after arriving at their new home?

I don’t imagine I’ll ever offer literal firstfruits to God. We don’t have a garden, and our lawn is not even doing very well at this point! So, how can I show the same attitude God expected of Israel, but in a different way? I asked God about that. Here are two ideas that came to mind:

Donate to an organization helping those who have no homes.

Make our home a place of hospitality – sharing food and friendship with others.

The Bible is applicable to our lives every day. Sometimes we have to ask God to enlighten us to see how we can accomplish the goal of his original command. Let’s think more about that next time we find a text that seems out of touch with today’s world. It probably has a connection we haven’t seen yet!

“And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. . . “ – Deuteronomy 26:11a

Stretching Our Minds

“We are in a time when thinking rightly is more important than ever. The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well.” – Dallas Willard

When is the last time you read or watched something that stretched you? That challenged your thinking? Getting out of our comfort zone can be good for us. If we agree with what we read or see, our faith is confirmed. If we disagree, we grow stronger by thinking through the why’s of the beliefs we have.

For example, I’m not Catholic, but I listen to a Catholic radio station. There is much I can learn from my Catholic brothers and sisters. The programming helps me recognize my points of view and, at times, causes me to modify my long-held perspectives.

A couple of years ago my husband read the Koran from cover to cover. He wasn’t thinking about converting to Islam, but he wanted to have a first-hand knowledge of the teachings Muslims believe and follow. His commitment to learning about others’ beliefs opens doors of conversation he hadn’t had before.

Are you stuck in a rut with your thinking? Venture out a bit! Read a book, watch a YouTube video, or follow a blog that comes from a point of view different from yours. Then talk about it with someone else to explore new ideas and see how they fit with your own. If you’re like me, these experiences will drive you to the Bible, our source of truth, and will probably foster new relationships. Our minds are gifts from our Creator are meant to be used for his purposes in this world. He made them stretchable for a reason!

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, “ – 2 Corinthians 10:5

When Discouragement Hits

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” — Corrie ten Boom

I know a lot of people who are discouraged, some even depressed, stressing over financial setbacks, health issues, or relationships. Others have a more general anxiety about the world – political unrest, environmental issues, global conflicts.

Paul’s writings helped me to think more clearly about these things recently.

He begins by warning his spiritual son Timothy that things are going to get difficult, and people are going to continue to behave in sinful, ugly ways (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He then gives Timothy some instruction.

First, he says not to get caught up in the horrible condition of the world around him. Be aware, but not obsessed. Instead, he says Timothy should follow Paul’s example:  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Maybe we all need to look for those who are living God-centered lives in difficult times and follow their examples. They may be people we know personally or authors we read or teachers we listen to. Let’s find people with one foot planted in this world and the other in Scripture and listen to them.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to keep following what he knows to be truth: “. . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Essentially, Paul says, turn your eyes to good role models and your heart to God’s truth. That advice will preserve us from discouragement when times are tough. I’m working on that. You, too?

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:21

Sacred Imagination

“Oh, how I love your law!  I meditate on it all day long.” – Psalm 119:97

Do you sometimes feel there’s more your could get out of reading the Bible, but you just don’t know how? Many have realized through the centuries there are gifts of understanding God wants to give us that we won’t get by reading and study alone. Let me share what may be, for you, a new way of engaging with God through his Word. All you need is some quiet time and your imagination.

We can engage our imaginations by mentally placing ourselves in a biblical story. Recently I read the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet while he was dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-50). Then I decided to relive the story in my imagination. I saw myself in the place of this unnamed woman. She had a tarnished reputation, but she loved Jesus a lot. I imagined what she must have been feeling as the men around the table watched her anoint Jesus’ feet with her tears, knowing many of them were judging her. As I walked through the story in my mind with emotions fully engaged, I began to feel the weight of guilt she must have felt about her past and then the lightness of joy of hearing Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven. . . Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” 

Want to try it? Next time you read a biblical narrative, enter into it, imagining the surroundings, the other people, the smells and sounds, and sensing your own response as the story unfolds. Imagination is a gift from God. If we let him, he can use it to teach and transform us.

Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God, but God’s means of manifesting himself to us.” – Christian Wiman

We are what we read.

I will delight in your statutes;
   I will not forget your word.
– Psalm 119:16

Did you ever notice that, if you’re reading a good book, your mind returns to it as you go about your day? You want to know what happens next. You think about ideas the author plants in your mind. A good book affects us.

The same thing happens when we read the Bible with open minds. With purpose, With understanding.

We don’t read the Bible to make us feel good. It might not.

We don’t read it because we are ‘supposed to’. Though the discipline of reading the Bible even when we don’t feel like it is a good one.

We read it to find what it reveals about God and his plan for this earth, for us. 

We sometimes approach the Bible intellectually evaluating whether we think it is true,

deciding whether or not we will accept its directives or explain them away,

judging whether it is outdated or applicable,

concluding whether it is meeting our needs or not.

Or we expect it will give us information or direction or that it will provide inspiration or comfort. 

Maybe the best way is to approach the Bible with curiosity. What does it say? What does it reveal about God? Or the universe? Or relationships? Or success? Or wisdom?

Read humbly,

without judgment,

anticipating that it will have something to say to us personally,

willing to accept whatever message it gives,

willing to submit to its commands,

to claim its promises, and

to absorb its words until it changes us from the inside out.

               

“In our reading of this book we come to realize that what we need is not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves, but formational, shaping us into our true being.” – Eugene Peterson

Expectations!

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, . . . She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” – Proverbs 3:13 and 15

We bought a pail of sand for our grandson from a rock shop in Colorado because we had been told there were stones to be found in the sand if the recipient was willing to dig for them. He was!

One by one a wide variety of rocks were found – everything from tiger eye (his favorite) to obsidian to geodes. Each was greeted with appropriate appreciation and, sometimes, awe. As his treasures were washed and laid out on a towel to dry, I thought of how different the result would be if he had not been willing to take off the cover and begin to dig.

Why did he bother to open it? Because he expected to find something. He believed if he dug deep enough, there would be treasure.

I couldn’t help applying that thought to the Bible that sits next to my chair. Why do I choose to turn the cover and read it every day? Because I expect to find something. Something I will value, something that will please me, something that will correct me, something that will add to my knowledge or will give me direction. And I am never disappointed!

Do you see what I mean? The treasure is there, but we have to be willing to dig for it. So, let’s keep reading God’s Word, believing he has a message for us there every time we open it. Soon we will have a collection of understanding, promises, and encouragement that will make us wise and our lives beautiful!

“Our pursuit of God is successful just because he is forever seeking to manifest himself to us.” A. W. Tozer

What? What? So what?

“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” – Psalm 119:165

The Bible is an amazing book, written long ago. Yet its message applies not only to those for whom it was originally written, but also to everyone today who is open to receiving its message.

The goal of reading the Bible is rarely just to learn about the stories, wisdom, and history it contains. For most of us, reading it is a personal journey as we seek to know God, his plan for this world, and his purposes for our individual lives.

In that quest, we don’t just read passages from the Bible, but we interact with them. Years ago, I was taught to ask three questions about the biblical texts as I read. Those three questions are What? What? and So what?* Easy to remember, right?

What? What does the text say? Does it tell a story, give instruction, or offer a perspective?

What? What does it mean? What is God’s purpose for including this passage in the Bible? Is there a new insight or understanding for me?

So what? Why does it matter? Will what I am reading make a difference in my life? Am I willing to let its message change me?

Let’s never stop reading the Bible, meditating on its words, and taking them into our heart for comfort, direction, and growth. Effective interaction with God through his word is a lifelong journey and one with great rewards.

“But the performance isn’t just about our own private pilgrimage. It’s about becoming agents of God’s new world – workers for justice, explorers of spirituality, makers and menders of relationships, creators of beauty. If God does indeed speak through scripture, he speaks in order to commission us for tasks like these.” – N. T. Wright

*From teacher, author, and pastor, Erwin Lutzer

#readingthebible

What’s on your card?

“It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.” Jeremy Taylor

I have a former colleague who’s caring for his father who suffers from dementia. He describes a recent morning this way:

“I woke up at 4:30 this morning to find Dad already dressed, with his winter coat and gloves on, just standing in the kitchen, staring off into space. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he was ‘ready to go.’ I asked him where, but he had no idea. I told him he didn’t need to be anyplace for another five hours.

“He was clearly distraught, confused, and tense. I got him into his easy chair, gave him a bright green, 3×5 note card and told him to hold onto it. On it, I wrote, ‘Relax, everything is fine,’ then signed my name. He read it, and I watched him smile as the tension melted away, but he still held onto that card. Dad trusts that I’m watching out for him. 

“As I pondered this, now unable to go back to sleep myself, I thought of God’s note to me, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). What a loving Father! God’s got this!”

Do you trust that God is watching out for you? That he gives you messages to hold in your heart to reassure you when you get anxious or distraught? What message do you need to hear today? Ask God to give you a verse for this time in your life, then write it on a 3×5 card and carry it with you. Let his words melt your tension away.

Here’s mine:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.
– 2 Timothy 1:7