Category Archives: God’s Voice

Time

Time is something that we only have a limited amount of, and at the end of our lives wonder where it all went. Time is worth a lot more than dollars per hour; it is a measure of what we value and what kind of legacy we hope to leave.

How we spend our time shows our priorities and what we think is truly valuable. Tell me what you think is important all you want, show me your calendar, and then I will know what you prioritize.

When we die, time is something we will have an infinite amount of if you believe the Scriptures, and what we do in this current life echoes into the next one — especially our relationship with God and dedication to His mission.

Time is a lot like water. We waste a lot of it because, we are lazy and tend to follow the path of least resistance. But properly channeled and used, our time can achieve great things, such as creating a major canyon in the middle of a desert. Wisdom and character can help us know how to use time. But as a Christian, I believe the best guide is the Holy Spirit. He should direct our days. Sadly, I know I call the shots way too often.

What we post about on our Facebook page and Twitter account shows a lot about how we spend our time and what preoccupies our thoughts. I agree that 50 million babies killed in the name of convenience is more than just a tragedy. It is the shame of our generation and a stain on our “progressive” culture.

Ultimately, God is the only one who stands outside of time. That is why He alone has the best vantage point on how we should spend the limited time we have in this life.

Beyond Mere Words — Prayer

Prayer

By George Herbert
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
         God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
         The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

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This poem captures well the difficulties in explaining or defining prayer. Prayer is so much more than just giving God our wish list or telling Him what He already knows. Prayer goes beyond recognizing God as God, praising Him for His mighty deeds,  or calling Him to move in the struggles and trials of life. Prayer cannot be broken down to just a simple formula because Scripture is full of many different types of prayers. And each life situation seems to call for something different.

I particularly like the line, “The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,” because I think of prayer more as a journey than anything else. It helps us put to words what is going on inside of us, and more importantly start to imagine what is God’s response. Prayer positions us to explore our true self and identify the areas that most need the power of  the cross. Prayer is not as much about self discovery as it is surrender to Christ and recognition of His higher truth.

We never really “arrive at a final destination” when it comes to mastering prayer. We simply delve deeper and deeper into a treasure that is boundless and difficult to explain. The goal is not knowledge alone but relationship.

Sometimes we may feel that we are doing it wrong — a failure in prayer. But God is not grading our progress as much as He is calling us closer to His point of view. Honestly, we may doubt and feel that we are truly alone. We may wonder if God is really there and start to think that we are merely talking to the wind, but even in this honest admission, we discover God’s grace. The Lord allows the silence because His constant expression might be too much for us to bear. Or He simply may not desire to speak for some reason. He may just want to listen to what His children have to say.

Prayer is based on the reality that we are loved and have access to God. In faith, we must rest assured in the truth that even if He never says another word to us, God has loudly declared His love for us by His sacrifice on the cross and the revelation of His Holy Word. Amen!

What Does God Want from Me?

A lot of people talk about doing the will of God. But to do that, we must know what He truly wants. God could have made this easy on us by writing in the sky, sending angels to answer all of our questions or making the Bible more like a manual or Life for Dummies book. But He didn’t do any of those things. Why is this hearing from God thing so tough? Some people talk as if everything is clear. Others honestly admit that they listen for God and all they hear is the sound of crickets. 

If there are so many paths in front of us, why doesn’t God simply remove the distractions? The good Lord could remove all room for doubt. But then would we really ever have faith or free will?

When many people think about the will of God, they automatically gravitate toward what they are supposed to do for God. But honestly, if God is really God, He doesn’t need us to do anything for Him. His plan does include human involvement. But that isn’t out of necessity. It must be for some other reason.

Talking with a high schooler today, I was inspired to write this post. Too often we think of God’s will as a place, action or destination. But what if it is something bigger and yet more basic? What if our thinking about this question is all wrong?

The Bible says we are to take up our cross daily, which seems to suggest that sacrifice is required to do God’s will. But the Old Testament also states that “obedience is better than sacrifice.” The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to become mature in their faith and the fruit of the Spirit. And yet, Jesus said that we could not even enter the Kingdom of God unless we have the faith of a little child. Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make more disciples, which suggests the focus of our mission should be about other people. But Jesus also said that we can do nothing apart from His power and life. So which mission is primary to know and love God or to share the Gospel, make disciples and extend His Kingdom on the earth?

The problem is that we tend to look at this as an either or situation. And in reality, outreach flows from our personal walk with God. As I have pondered this question, I believe the true mission for every Christian is the prayer that David prayed in Psalms 27:4, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

The primary mission of a Christian is to know and love God. It all starts with our personal relationship with Jesus. He is the living water as Scripture explains. Just as we need water to sustain life, we must have a relationship with God to live in the way as the Creator intended. This involves a wide variety of experiences and actions, such as reading and following sacred Scripture, prayer, obedience to the Word of God, thanksgiving, recognition of God’s power and presence in daily life, sacraments, spiritual gifts and miracles, confessions of faith, sharing the Gospel, etc.

And in order to have living water that remains alive and pure, it must have an outlet. Otherwise, we become like a stagnant pool where disease and bacteria can grow. That is why part of the Christian mission is to share the love and truth that God has deposited into our lives.

The Lord has given us a picture of this reality in the Dead Sea, which has no outlet. It is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet because it is located at such a low point. Everything flows downhill and mineral deposits collect killing aquatic life. If you simply receive from God and do not give it away, you will become full and not be able to receive any more. And what had previously been living water can become stagnant, less useful and a breading pool for disease. This picture demonstrates the dual nature of God’s ultimate purpose for humanity. It can be seen in the words of Jesus. He summed up the law and the prophet by saying, “He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).

How you go about doing that is what makes you unique. The key is realizing that God’s will for your life is more about the journey you take with God and the person you become along the way than what you do for God or which path you choose to take.

The Holy Spirit Inspired the Dream

If you have ever heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech it is impossible not to be stirred and feel that you are listening to something epic. It is as if that speech was not mere words. It was a spiritual experience that broke a yoke off the necks of millions of people.

I always thought that when I heard it I was reminded of some of the most moving sermons I had listened to in my life. King was a preacher before he was a civil rights icon. And he knew what it meant to be inspired by God to action. And when I heard a recent TV show exploring the story behind King’s famous speech, I knew that I was right. Those were not mere words.

On This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Congressman and civil rights leader, John Lewis, spoke about that day. ABC News journalist Byron Pitts spoke with Lewis and former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, one of King’s top aids, about King’s speech. This transcript is incredible.
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Andrew YOUNG: He was determined not to speak more than 10 minutes. And he did. He finished his prepared address in just about 9 minutes.

PITTS: But he wasn’t finished. Sitting behind Dr. King was famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who shouted to her friend, tell them about the dream. It’s a theme he’d used before in smaller settings.

KING: I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

PITTS: Why do you think he made that transition to talk about the dream?

YOUNG: As a preacher, there’s something we, we call being led by the spirit.

LEWIS: The spirit told him to lay that paper down and just go for it.

KING: I have a dream. My four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

PITTS: And it’s a dream that still lives on 50 years later.

(See more on this news discussion at
http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/08/rep-john-lewis-remembers-historic-march-on-washington)

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This transcript clearly shows that the Holy Spirit inspired one of the most incredible political moments of the last 100 years. When people ask, “Where is God with all this injustice in the world?” I can point to moments like King’s speech and know that God’s Spirit stirs mens’ souls. The Holy Spirit moves behind the scenes, and one day, we will realize that the Lord was in those moments after all.

I am not surprised that the Holy Spirit breathed life into words that King had said at other times without the same effect. It was the power of the Spirit that made those words electric. He is moving in history. We just have to see it and know that the Spirit brings the fire that changes history.

I don’t say this in any way to disrespect King’s impact or his personal sacrifice to gain what he fought for. While those were his words, the concept he fought for is deeply rooted in the vision that the Apostle Paul outlined in the New Testament. Primarily, I am pointing out that King was divinely inspired, which should give more credence to his dream.

Praise be to God that we have come so far because Scripture says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” May we continue to bring God’s principles of love, hope and mercy to those who are not free or struggle due to injustice. While our job is not done, history shows that we have come a far way in establishing liberty and freedom in many places in the world.

Closer

There is a big difference between knowing about God and knowing God. And there is also a big difference between God with us and God in us. And that difference is closeness. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told the disciples that as great as it was for Him to walk and live among the people, there is something greater than the physical proximity of Jesus standing right next to us. And that is the Lord putting the Holy Spirit within His people. But too often I don’t recognize how glorious this really is. And I know that I am not alone. While the hearts cry of many Christians is closeness to God, we don’t understand how close we already are if we simply take hold of the reality by faith and silence distractions and other pursuits in our lives.

Prayer for Intimacy
Holy Spirit, forgive me for seeking after everything else but Your voice.
Open my eyes to see the wonder of what angels longed to see — God’s Spirit dwelling in His people.
Cause me to burn with passion for the things that move Your heart and bring You glory.
Keep me from distractions and unbelief that would rob me of Your best realized by faith.
May I be a vessel for Your fire so that I can be pure and holy.
May my prayers be an incense coming up to Your throne, moving against the realms of darkness.
For the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective. And Jesus, You have made me righteous.
Refine my desires to be what matter most, create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.
For God, You are a consuming fire.
Amen!

I Know God’s Will for Your Life … Do You?

The following is a speech I made at a high school graduation for one of the students  from my youth group. He graduated from a small home school co-op.

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Graduates, you are about to enter the biggest roller coaster ride of your life. It will be full of transition for both you and your parents. Over the next 5-10 years, you will meet new people, go to new places, and face new challenges. You will make decisions that could have ripple effects throughout your entire life. And you will likely be making these decisions with a lot less oversight and a lot more freedom than you have been accustomed to in the past. You are growing up, and it is time to wrestle with the joys and the challenges of freedom.

The good news is that even when you make a mistake or even outright commit sin, God can forgive you and turn around things for good. But you don’t want to make too many bad decisions and dig yourself into a big hole — right?

So, when I was in your shoes and faced the challenge of making decisions for myself with minimal parental involvement, I struggled with the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” As I have wrestled with that question through the years, I have learned a few things.

First, we tend to focus on the who, what, when and where of any situation. We want to know which career to pursue, what girl to date and eventually marry, or which place we should live. While those are all good questions, they alone won’t answer God’s will for our lives. God is more concerned with the how of our decisions. He focuses on primarily how we go down whatever path we choose. And more importantly, God cares about the kind of person we are becoming. God’s will is about more than just what we do — the focus should be on who we are — our identity in Christ.

A good question to ask ourselves is, “Do we have the heart and the mind of God about whatever we do?

Let me make a radical statement. You might find this hard to believe. I know what the will of God is for everyone in this room! You might think, “How could this guy know that? He hasn’t even met me. Is he a mind reader? How could he possibly know God’s will for all of these people?”

Those are good questions. But the reason I am so confident in my statement is that I can read. And while Scripture shows many instances of God’s will being done and revealed, only a few times does it make broad statements about God’s will. And the more I studied this issue I discovered how critical is this one thing to accomplishing God’s will for my life.

So, are you ready for the secret? It can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” While this statement was written to a specific group of people at a specific time. I believe it has relevance to every believer. Because no matter what we face in life, if we develop a thankful heart, we will be able to overcome any obstacle and move on toward God’s goal for us.

Being thankful can be hard because most people face some challenges in life. How can we be thankful in all circumstances? What about the boring, life-draining droll of adulthood? What about the time you spend waiting in line at the grocery store when the checker is moving beyond slow, and a child is screaming behind you? To make this worse, all you can think about is how your wife is waiting at home with a long honey-do list after your tiring day at work, and you just want is to be left alone.

Or, what about when your hard-to-please boss yells at you for not doing what he said should seem like common sense, but you had no idea he wanted it done that way? How can you rejoice when a difficult family situations arises, such as a rebellious child or an aging parent?

Or what about when God “doesn’t come through” as you expected? You thought God had promised something, but He delayed in fulfilling your expectation. Or, just like Job in the Bible, maybe God never answers the question you want answered most? Or how about when you are sick and don’t feel like moving? There are many tough situations that are difficult to rejoice about.

Do we need to deny how we feel or dismiss the pain that we encounter in this life? I believe the answer to that question is a big fat NO. That attitude would not be real nor would it lead to a truly thankful heart. It would merely be putting on a fake mask before God and acting religious. That might work if all God cared about was the outward appearance at any one moment. But God’s heart is not just that we would do the right things; He is more focused on us becoming the right kind of people. Jesus want us to have His heart and mind about our lives, the world and others. We must become who we are already in Christ.

So how do we develop a thankful heart?

Well, for starters, a thankful heart is born long before the moment of challenge. Most of the time I simply react out of the storehouse of experience, personality and perspective that I have obtained over my life. I don’t usually stop and carefully thing through every incident that arises. Honestly, neither do you. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you develop a thankful heart — realizing how much God has already done for you even if He never answers another prayer, then you are more likely to default to a more godly response. If you realize that God is sovereign and ultimately does care about you, that can bring hope in even the darkest hour.

A thankful heart is not overcome by hardship even though it is free to mourn loss. Just as Jesus cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are free to express our true emotions to God. But we can’t let those feelings be all there is to our internal process. We have to realize that truth is bigger than our perspective or even our challenges in life.

A thankful heart has a godly perspective and sees beyond the moment. But this is hard — even impossible to accomplish on our own. This faith response is rooted in God’ work. We just have to believe it and submit to it.

I believe the answer to how we develop a thankful heart comes from a very familiar passage. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect.”

The Apostle Paul called early Christians to think differently from the world. Instead of being conformed to the world’s perspective, we are to have the mind of Christ. We are to be less like water that conforms to the shape of whatever cup it is in, and we are to be more like ice that is molded under cold temperatures into a solid block and will retain its shape in different types of containers. While it will melt over time, the ice takes its shape from the mold it is formed in, and for Christians, that mold is our new lives in Christ.

Also, this passage doesn’t just say our actions are transformed. The Lord wants to renew our minds and our hearts. Remember, this transformation is not just about what we do. Our actions should flow from who we are, and our identity in Christ. We are a thankful people because we are aware of how much God loves and has done for us. We are thankful because we realize the truth that he who has been forgiven much loves much.

So how do we have the mind of Christ? We take on the mind of God by reading Scripture and letting it challenge us. Through prayer, including listening prayer, we give our heart to God and position ourselves to hear directly from the Holy Spirit. By allowing God’s truth to change how we look at our situation, we find that He fashions our heart anew to rejoice despite whatever we face.

We praise God in the midst of the storm because He is worthy regardless of what is going on around us. This requires faith as well as reliance on God’s ability to transform and change the things we can’t do anything about.

So, God’s will for your life is to give thanks and rejoice in who He is. The Lord wants all of us to find our hope in Him and not in our situation. If you allow God to build this heart attitude in you, you will be able to realize the fullness of God’s plan. Until then, you may get frustrated, disillusioned or confused when things don’t work out like you had hoped or expected.

There are too many so-called Christians who have found that their faith wavers when God’s will turns out to be something far different than what they expected. There are many situations and decisions where the Lord may give you lots of freedom to make whatever choice you want. There may not just be one perfect person for you to marry. Nor is there one ideal place to live. Your career and work may change a lot through your life. But I can guarantee you that if you allow the Lord to create a thankful heart in you — you always will be able to navigate whatever comes up, and at least in one way you will be living out with certainty God’s will for your life.

Hearing the Voice of God

Through the years, I have definitely struggled to know the heart of God and understand when He is truly speaking to me about something. I wonder, “Is that really God or is that just bad Taco Bell that I ate last night?” I have even asked, “Why does God sound sarcastic?” I have also thought, “That must be God because I would never think something like that.”

I recently spoke at the Mix  youth group retreat on hearing the voice of God. And as the Lord frequently likes to do, He gave me an opportunity to practice what I preach the morning that I was supposed to speak. I woke up and spent some time listening and praying. The idea kept coming up that I was supposed to sing “Jesus Loves Me” over the middle school and high school students at the retreat as I started my talk. But I wondered why that would be a good idea. After all, these are teens. They will think Jesus loves me is for little children. Plus, I thought, “What does that have to do with my topic?”

Sure enough, the Lord used another Christian to confirm what He had spoken to my heart. A good friend and brother in the Lord walked up to me and said that he felt impressed to remind me that many of these teens struggle to hear God’s voice because they have the wrong notion of who God is. They believe that God is angry with them or is a harsh, demanding Father. This friend said that they need to know that Jesus loves them before they can listen to the voice of God.

This was the confirmation that I needed to hear. I explained my struggles that morning and set up song. I told the crowd that this was a demonstration of hearing the voice of God and taking a small risk. As I sang, I believe that something broke over the hearts of many in the room that morming. One student came up and said what I did was liberating. Others said they just felt God’s love all over what I was saying.

Here are some of the key points that I shared that morning. May these little insights help you discern whether the voice in your head is really from God or some other source.

Things to consider when testing a voice….

1.) Does this sound like something Jesus would say? Does it line up with the Bible?

2.) God speaks to us through someone us. Many times this is to confirm or put perspective on what God has already been laying on our hearts.

3.) God isn’t usually urgent or in a rush. Jesus even took His time when it came to healing Lazarus.

4.) God’s voice may surprise us. It might unsettle us. Just ask little Samuel, the first time that he heard from God, the Lord spoke a harsh word about Samuel’s spiritual mentor.

5.) God may not work in us or speak to us in the same way that He does with other people.

6.) God’s voice will prepare us for the future although He doesn’t usually give us all the details.

7.) Does this voice agree that Jesus came in the flesh? (1 John 4:1-6) The voice of God will lift up Jesus as the source of live and God’s revival power. Jesus came down as a man and can relate to your experiences.

8.) The voice of God never calls us to do something that only God can do.  For example, God will not push you to change your heart. Instead, He will ask you to yield to His power and then maybe go act in a way that aligns with this heart change.

9.) God knows where we are and won’t test us beyond what we can bear in Him.

10.) God’s voice will always be calling us to Himself never driving us away. God’s voice may  sound harsh at times, but it is always inviting us to greater relationship and truth.

11.) God may convict us of sin, but He won’t condemn us for it.

12.) God’s voice frequently will call us to action or rest. God may call us to take a leap of faith. Or quite the opposite, He may tell us to rest from our labors and trust in Him. Both of these require faith because we have to let go and trust God with the situation.