A Still Small Voice?

“In distress you called, and I delivered you. I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” – Psalm 81:7a

We often think of meeting God in a quiet place and hearing from him in a “still small voice” as Elijah did on the mountain millennia ago.

But there are times in the Bible when God makes himself known with a lot of noise – ruckus even. Remember he appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and he took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. In Isaiah 29:5-6, God describes himself as appearing with thunder, earthquake, noise, whirlwind, tempest, and fire. That’s not quiet, it’s chaotic!

Let’s go back to Elijah’s still small voice. Remember that the quiet message he received was only after the wind, earthquake, and fire. God is not a quiet God. He is active and strong, and he speaks in many ways and in every circumstance in which his children find themselves. And, when he speaks, we are comforted: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19).

We’d like to have peaceful, non-chaotic lives, wouldn’t we? But we live in a challenging world that includes storms – physical, societal, relational, and sometimes spiritual. If we want God’s consolations to cheer our souls, we should never stop listening for his voice in the storm – shouting above the fray or whispering in our ear. When we hear him, we can be calm – even when life rages around us.

“A faithful person sees life from the perspective of trust, not fear. Bedrock faith allows me to believe that, despite the chaos of the present moment, God does reign; that regardless of how worthless I may feel, I truly matter to a God of love; that no pain lasts forever and no evil triumphs in the end.” -Philip Yancey

Speaking it

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. – Hebrews 13:15

In his book Life without Lack, Dallas Willard says, “All relationships and kingdoms work by words, and the first act of faith is to speak.” We have to say something out loud.

OK, so what do we say? He has a suggestion for that, too: Praise. That really is an easy place to start if we want to build relationship with God, isn’t it? Think something he has created. Surely there is something to praise him for: sunrise, your dog, peaches, trees. Look around you and start with praise.

Or think about relationships in your life. Praise him for the people who matter to you and who have been placed beside you for a purpose. Thank him for his patience with you in those relationships.

Always start with praise. The Lord’s Prayer does when it acknowledges the holiness of God and his name. We do well to emulate that prayer. Then, after we have praised well, we can speak out other things: confession (Romans 10:9), requests, complaints (that’s OK – really – the psalmists do it), thanks, worship.

Do you see that it’s all about words? We cannot love God and relate to him with growing intimacy if we don’t use words. Words, as Willard says, are the tools by which all relationships and all kingdoms work – even the kingdom of God.

We can practice with praise (so easy!) and move on to the harder stuff from there. God will meet us where we are and invite us to keep on coming closer.

“Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.” ~ Dallas Willard

What about the big kids?

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:5

If you have adult children, how’s your relationship with them? We watch and worry as they learn how to do life on their own. There’s a problem, though, when we think our grown-up kids are still ours to direct and protect. If we respect them as adults, we may need to rethink our role.

At some point we have to let them go, encourage them to grow on their own, quit worrying so much about them, and stop trying to be their Holy Spirit. We can do that pretty well when we approve of their decisions, but not so well when we think we know better than they do how they should be living their lives. Some of you can relate to that.  And you know in your soul you have to stop trying parent to another adult.

So, as we let go, what do we do? First, we give up trying to control. Then we put them into the hands of our loving heavenly Father and under the guidance of the all-wise Holy Spirit. If you are at a loss as to how to do that, here’s what I have prayed about my own grown-up kids. Maybe it will help you, too.

Lord help me to . . .

love them deeply as you do,

guide them wisely as you would,

listen to them carefully,

hear what they’re not saying,

hold them loosely so they can fly, and

keep them ever before you in my prayers.

Amen

 

“We may not say that we have the answers. Questions of how to conduct oneself as a Christian or how to serve as a Christian must be answered by life itself- the life of the individual in his direct responsible relationship to God.” – Elisabeth Elliott

Do you know?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. – James 2:23b

As we relate one-on-one to God, we learn things: how much he loves us, how deeply he teaches us, and how desperately we need to rely on him. We find the Bible coming alive as we read, – correcting, encouraging, directing. We gain so much by living in close connection with our Creator! But do you know how much he wants that connection, too?

God desires relationship with us as much as we do with him. Probably more. Think about Abraham, a mere human, called by God to leave the familiar and go into the unknown. James says Abraham was a “friend of God.” Or Moses, who was not a perfect man, yet we are told God communicated with him face-to-face. Then there were the disciples who lived in close proximity to Jesus for months. On the night he was arrested, Jesus said to them. “I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you friends , , , ” (from John 15:15).

Why would God want to be a friend to humans? I don’t know, but story after story in the Bible tells us it’s true. And the better we get to know him, the more we believe it. As I was beginning to understand how important our closeness was to both of us, God whispered “That’s something many of my children don’t know.”

Do you know? God loves having your attention. Relationship with him is what you were made for. He wants to be your Savior, your Lord, and your friend. I think he wanted me to tell you that today.

“Let’s dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love.” – Henri Nouwen

Someone should be taking notes.

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” – John 8:47a

I was in a meeting once with a consultant who had been brought in to advise on a non-profit organization’s proposed development project. He began his presentation, then looked around the table and said, “If I’m talking, someone should be taking notes.” That seemed arrogant on the part of an engineer, but it’s not at all arrogant when it comes to God.

Sometimes we do hear God speaking to us, don’t we? Usually it’s a thought, a highlighted verse of Scripture, or a nudge to do something we hadn’t planned to do. That’s often how God guides, encourages, and teaches us. As we get to know him better, we learn to recognize those messages.

When God speaks, it’s something to take seriously. For that reason, I like to keep a journal close at hand, so when God says something to me, I can take notes. Recently, for example, I asked him about a situation in my life and his response seemed to be “I will make a way.” It was clearly from God, and I wanted to be sure I’d remember it, so I made a note. That thought has come back to me numerous times since. I do the same with Bible verses or phrases that seem to speak to me on a particular day. Writing these messages down cements them in my memory and also makes them available for revisiting – sometimes years down the road.

God’s word is eternal. What he speaks may be valid for more than one situation. Let’s write his messages down, then read them again and again. When he speaks, we all should be taking notes!

“People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to.” – Dallas Willard

Saying “no” will break my heart.

Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
    to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
    the holiness of your temple! 
– Psalm 65:4

Do you want to know how God really feels about you? Are you a bother to him? A pest? Do you talk too much? Ask for too much? Say the wrong thing? Take a deep breath. He’s saying something like this to you right now:

I want you to be near me. You can talk to me. You don’t have to stay in a corner or try not to be seen. Come closer. Stay close. I’m in love with you. I want you with me always.

“He will rejoice over you with gladness;
 he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17

And, if that’s not enough, Jesus whispers, too:

I am your shepherd, your teacher. You can hear best when your heart is quiet and when you stay within the range of my voice. Stay close enough to hear me. 

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” – John 10:27

Finally, the Holy Spirit asks in his own way:

I’m reminding you that you are invited to the dance. You are welcome at the banquet. Please come. I love you so much that, if you say “no”, it will break my heart.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30

Are you convinced yet of God’s love? Be brave and get a little closer. 

Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.”  Jerry Bridges

Miracles or Wonders?

He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” – Job 9:10

To some people everything’s a miracle: sunrises, finding extra money in their pocket, bumping into an old friend, and birds hatching in the tree outside their window. For others, miracles are phenomena of a time long past, but don’t happen today. Which is right?

The verse from Job, cited above, has helped me sort this out. Many of the things we see around us might be classified as wonders. Colorful flowers, the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon, or a wound that heals – these are wonders, part of God’s natural world. He made the world to work this way and we are the benefactors of his love of beauty, order, and regeneration.

But, sometimes there are miracles, too – yes, even today. They are events that occur contrary to the natural course of things. For example, someone being unexplainably healed or a prodigal returning home with a changed heart. These miracles are God’s intervention in the normal course of a disease, affliction, or direction. I believe these miracles are his way of giving us a glimpse of how it will be when the world is eventually restored to its original perfection.

Miracles are miracles, not because they are part of the natural order, but because they interrupt it. But that interruption is not guaranteed. God loves having us trust him enough to ask, but only he decides when and how he will respond to our prayer.

So, while we pray for the miracle we so desparately desire, we can continue to enjoy the wonders of God that surround us every day. They are his gifts to us, too!

“Believe in miracles, but don’t put your faith in miracles. Put your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Adrian Rogers

Longer Prayers

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. – Mark 1:35

Don’t you wonder how Jesus spent all night in prayer with the Father? All night?

Years ago, when I had a severely depressed friend, I promised to spend an hour in prayer for her, pleading with God to meet the deepest needs of her heart. In about ten minutes, I had said all I had to say. But I had committed to an hour, so I expanded my prayer, repeated some things, and paused more often. It felt like a very long hour!

So, praying all night seems impossible to me! And the gospel writers indicate that it was Jesus’ habit to spend long hours in prayer.

Then I realized that for Jesus and God it was, very likely, a two-way conversation. Jesus talked and God responded, like a loving father and son would do. If you’re with someone you love, there are times when you talk and talk, then wonder where the time went.

That’s probably what it was like between Jesus and God. Intimate conversation. And God, with his heavenly perspective, giving direction, guiding Jesus’ ministry, telling him what to do next.

Jesus showed us how we humans can relate to our Father in heaven. Prayer is a big part of that: Asking for and then receiving direction, comfort, hope, empowerment, and provision. If it’s lovingly intimate and involves both speaking and listening, our short prayers tend to get longer. Jesus showed us what to do. It’s up to us to figure out how – through relationship with the One to whom we pray.

O, let the place of secret prayer become to me the most beloved spot on earth.” – Andrew Murray

Power Hungry

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. . . ” – Ephesians 3:16

Sometimes we feel helpless as we look at power in the world today. Nations testing other nations, each claiming superior force. Politicians exchanging influence for favors. Bosses barking out orders or withholding increases in pay. Authority, glory, and power are evident – but not for us it seems.

We don’t have to feel helpless because the Bible promises us power, Paul prayed for it for the Ephesian church, and Jesus promised it to his disciples. We can assume though, the kind of power Jesus and Paul were talking about isn’t very much like what we see in the world around us.

What does Christian, God-given power look like? I think Frank Laubach (missionary to India and Africa in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s) had it right when he prayed for power this way:

“. . . power to see souls behind faces, power to pray for those I see outside this car window, power to ooze into or push into the inner souls of others with my prayer and carry Thee with me all the way to the center.”

I’m hungry for that kind of power, aren’t you? Power to have understanding of the hidden needs of those we meet, power to pray constantly, power to reach people at a heart level with the truth of God’s love and provision for them, power to change them for eternity.

Please, Lord, may my life be lived under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit within me, for the good of those I touch, and for your great pleasure.

“If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Charles Spurgeon

Praying for Daylight

My days have passed, my plans are shattered.
    Yet the desires of my heart
turn night into day;
    in the face of the darkness light is near.
 – Job 17:11-12

Is sometimes the night so dark, the storm so strong, and the pain so deep that all you can do is pray for morning to come? You are not alone.

In Acts, we are told about the horrible storm Paul and Luke and many others experienced on their way to Rome. At one point, in the two-week-long nor’easter, the sailors took soundings and realized the water was getting shallower – they were approaching land. But it was the middle of the night, the ship was out of control, and they couldn’t see where they were headed. It was dark and scary and dangerous. Luke says, Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight (Acts 27:29). They did the only thing they could do – they waited and they prayed.

If you’re in a dark place right now, you can’t see what’s ahead, you are fearful and frantic, hang on. Morning will come. God promises it will. “. . . weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b). 

In the meantime, focus all your attention on him. Pray for light. Pray for comfort. Pray for the security of his arms around you. Pray for the joy that will come when the storm subsides. The one who stills the waters is in the boat with you. He’s been there before. And he has promised never to leave you alone.

“Waiting for God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon our thoughts.” – Elisabeth Elliot