Why Is God Whispering?

clouds2_vaneetha

 

Lately, I’ve had a hard time sensing God’s presence.

Its not that my life is in crisis. On the contrary, my life has been getting a bit easier. And for that, I am grateful.

But I miss the intimate, life-giving walk I had with God when I was desperate. I don’t go to my quiet time as needy as I used to be. I want to hear from God, but it is not as though my entire day depends on it.

There were years when I pulled the covers over my head each morning, struggling to get out of bed to face the onslaught. Years when the only good part of my day was my time with God. Years when the Word was the only thing that revived me.

I lived and breathed Psalm 119, “My soul clings to the dust. Revive me according to your word.”

I experienced Jeremiah 15, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.”

I discovered God’s exquisite blessing from Isaiah 45, “I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places.”

God faithfully met me every day. His Word revived me when I felt I could not go on. I would go to Him hungry, desperate, needy. And He would provide without fail.

He still provides without fail. But now, though life is far from perfect, I don’t feel desperate day-to-day. Now that I have so many things that occupy my attention and bring me joy, I don’t have as much joy in God alone.

So what does that mean? What do I do? Do I ask God for more suffering – so I can have more of Him?

Perhaps, though I don’t think that’s the answer. But I do need to recognize that when things are good, I need to be more purposeful, prayerful, and vigilant about my time with God.

I cannot ignore my devotional life because it doesn’t feel like a necessity. In reality, my devotional life  is all the more necessary. I am more prone to wander when my mind is immersed in the lighter, more pleasurable activities of life. When I don’t feel I need Him to make it through the day, I need Him all the more.

That is when I need to kneel down and closely listen for God’s voice. God is still speaking to me. But He is whispering. I need to slow down and make enough space in my life to hear Him.  It takes a lot more discipline to hear a whisper.

As CS Lewis says, “pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

He whispers to us in our pleasures. It’s hard to hear a whisper. I need to be paying close attention or I’ll miss it.

I don’t have trouble hearing God’s voice in my pain. While much of my focus is on removing the agony, I feel God’s presence clearly. In that way, pain is a precious gift. For me, pain has drawn me to God in ways that pleasure never has.

If I am not on guard, pleasure draws me away from God, leaving me self-sufficient and complacent.

I had a rich encounter with God a few days ago, but it took more work than it did when I was in darkness. I sat, and I sat and I sat with my Bible and my journal. At first I felt empty. I was so thankful for all of God’s blessings and yet I wasn’t feeling connected to Him.

It took a long time.

Longer than I usually want to spend, if I’m completely honest. I enjoy spending time with God, but on good days, when other things beckon, I don’t want it to take too long. I’d love to fellowship with God in twenty minutes, thirty minutes if I must, but no longer. And when I’m more focused on what comes after my devotional time, it becomes a duty I mechanically perform.

But as I sat with my Bible, I started talking to God. At first I admitted my distance. My apathy. The ways I have hurried through my times with Him. Or treated my quiet time as another item on my to-do list.

I asked Him to make me needy. To give me a longing for Him. To make me hungry and thirsty for righteousness and then to satisfy me.

Then I pleaded that He would be near to me. That I would hear a word from Him. That I would have a small sense of the joy that I have experienced in suffering.

Then I waited.

In silence.

Alone.

At first the silence seemed deafening. A waste of time. But I sat until the silence felt comfortable. Sacred. Holy.

After I took the time to be still before Him, I was more attuned to hearing His voice. Although I’ve never heard anything audible from God, I often hear His voice in Scripture. So I opened the Bible to the place I had bookmarked and started reading.

As I read, certain verses caught my attention. I lingered over them and asked the Lord for clarity. I jotted them down in my journal. In red pen. The words of the living God to me.

I pondered what they meant and how they could apply to my life. I prayed as I wrote, interspersed with silence.

Making space to hear Him is difficult. I often want to get a quick sound bite from God and move on with my day. But when I do that, I lose the richness of fellowship with Him.

Now sometimes even when I give Him the time and space, God is still silent. Then I must worship out of obedience, even if I don’t feel His presence. He is still there, informing my mind, even when my heart feels neutral. That is okay.

Time with God changes me. Even when I don’t “feel” any different afterwards. God is doing a deep work in me, in all of us, conforming us to the likeness of His son.

God whispers in my pleasures. I just need to be still enough to hear.

 

 

 

 

photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar

 

I’d Rather Take Care of it Myself…

enough_oil2 (3)

 

I don’t want to be like the widow of Zarephath.

I do, however, love her story in the Bible. She’s the widow in 1 Kings 17 who had just enough oil and flour for the day but no more. And she never knew if she’d have what she needed for tomorrow.  If God didn’t provide for her each day, she would die of starvation. She had no resources of her own, no cushion to fall back on, no way to see the future. But this widow had God. And God is enough.

Her story is a beautiful picture of dependence on God. A beautiful example of how God provides for us. A beautiful illustration of trusting Him for our daily needs.

Beautiful, that is, for others. I love watching God work in other people’s lives that way, but I’d prefer to live my own life differently. I don’t like living with scarcity.  I don’t like having just enough to meet my needs. I don’t like being dependent. It makes me feel vulnerable.

But in the last decade, my life has been characterized by dependency. Dependent on my friends, dependent on family, dependent on God. With post-polio syndrome, I don’t know how much strength I will have for tomorrow. The doctors say my energy is like money in a bank. I can make withdrawals but no deposits. When it runs out, there is no more. Since I have no idea how much reserve is left, I must trust God to provide the strength I need each day.

As a result, several friends have been praying that my strength would be like the widow of Zarephath’s oil and flour. That there will always be enough. That I will have no lack. That my strength will never run out.

What a reassuring picture for my future. Utter dependence on God. Seeing Him provide for my needs. Trusting Him when I cannot see.

But in my economy, I want a full oil flask and an overflowing flour container. I want to see how and when God will provide for my needs. I want a guarantee that I can independently verify.

That’s because I’d rather depend on myself than on God. To be honest, I often trust my own resources more than I trust Him. Though I love God and want to obey Him, trusting Him can be frightening. It’s easier when the future looks certain.  I prefer knowing that God can take care of all of my needs, but never having to depend solely on Him. It feels much safer that way.

I like using God as my back-up plan. Being independent, making my own plans, not leaving things undone. And then if something unforeseen happens, He can step in.

But I know that God has something better in mind.

Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean we don’t plan or want God’s blessings in this life. But our sense of security and circumstantial satisfaction could be keeping us from a deeper walk with God. It’s wise to save money so that we have enough to retire. But facing retirement with little savings may force us to depend on God in ways that a large bank account never would. It’s wonderful to have great health and never go to the doctor. But being ill and wondering how we will make it through each day may cause us to pray more earnestly. It’s a joy to have a house full of loving obedient children. But we may be drawn deeper into the heart of God when we seek Him with infertility or wayward, rebellious children.

Charles Spurgeon says, “There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health except it be sickness; and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health… It is a good thing to be without a trouble; but it is a better thing to have a trouble, and know how to get grace enough to bear it.

It is a better thing to have a trouble, and know how to get grace enough to bear it. That’s because dependence is always better than self-sufficiency in the Kingdom. Dependence yields fruit in our lives.

Spurgeon also says, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” Anything that makes me dependent on God is a good thing. The best thing perhaps.

This is, of course, profoundly biblical. The children of Israel were given manna every day. They couldn’t provide for themselves. They had to depend on God and He always provided. Jesus underscored the importance of day-by-day dependence when He taught us to pray saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” When we have no resources of our own, God’s power is most evident in our lives. As the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

The story of the widow of Zarepheth troubles me because I am a sinner. Because I don’t want to be dependent on God for my every breath. I want to be self-sufficient, and depend on God when my self-sufficiency doesn’t work out.

But the truth is, I am dependent on God for my every breath. So are you. Like the widow of Zarepheth, none of us really knows whether we will have the resources we need for tomorrow. So our sense of independence from God is only an illusion.

My fellowship with God is the sweetest when I rely on Him for everything because I cannot see the path in front of me. Having all of my needs met in abundance is a good thing. But it is a far better thing to depend on God for my daily bread, looking to Him because I have no options of my own.

I wouldn’t choose to be like the widow of Zarephath. I wouldn’t choose dependence over independence. I wouldn’t choose scarcity over abundance. But I have found them all to be corners of blessing. My places of famine and desolation have become the places where I see God the most clearly.  Not only does He meet my every need but wondrously, breathtakingly, He fills me with Himself.

And, miraculously, I am learning to be grateful for every wave that casts me on the Rock of Ages.

 

 
photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar

Trust God. Tell Your Story.

hopecrosswritetime (2)

 

They crowded around me, some with tears in their eyes, waiting to talk to me. I had wondered if my words would mean anything to them. I had spoken of the rejection and pain, fear and self-doubt, bullying and isolation that had marked my early years. These wholesome suburban teenagers had experienced a childhood wholly different from mine.

Or had they?

As I was preparing my talk, I assumed this group of teens, predominantly young men, would have nothing in common with me. I was a brown-skinned handicapped woman in her late 40s; they were clean-cut athletic teenagers. Would they even care what I had to say?

The previous week, I had spoken to a group of older, mostly brown-skinned, inner-city women who had suffered great injustices in their lives. I knew they would identify with my story. But I didn’t expect this group to relate to me.

I had expected these young adults, who seemed to have everything together, to dismiss me immediately.

But as I spoke, I realized how little I knew of what they had endured. How much I had prejudged them based on appearance. As their eyes met mine, the most unlikely teenagers were the most moved. I was reminded again that all of us carry pain, but some of us stuff it down so deep that no one would ever guess that it was there. But in reality, we all have our scars.

I had prayed much more for this talk than I had prepared. I had felt inadequate and unqualified and I had asked God to pull something relevant out of my story for the young people who were present. But when I sat down to write, the words wouldn’t come.

And so I prayed more earnestly, asking God to help me be open to His Spirit. In the moment. To not feel that I had to rely on my own wisdom and my own words but to trust Him and His words.

That kind of trust terrifies me.

I am comfortable when each word I plan to say is carefully scripted. Then I can deliver my message exactly as it is written. No uncertainty and no mistakes. Not that I am particularly eloquent, but it is safer to craft every phrase deliberately.

It is frightening to be open to what God wants. To trust that He will give me what I need at the right time.  But that’s often when I see God most clearly. Because I’m delivering His words and not my own.

As I started speaking to these young people, the Lord guided my words. As I looked into their eyes, I saw they knew pain too. It was well concealed, but just below their cool exterior was a jumble of doubts, fears and pain.

I saw the same doubts, fears and pain I had experienced decades ago. And some that I still feel today.

We are all looking for the same thing. Love. Acceptance. Friends. To fit in. And many of us aren’t sure if we’ll measure up. Find what we’re looking for. Or feel like we belong.

And today, with social media, everything is amplified. We know when we’re not invited to the party that our friends are going to. We know which friends are hanging out together without us. We know what other people are doing on Saturday night, as we sit looking at our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook feeds.

We know what it feels like to be left out. Sometimes we can shake it off, but other times it reverberates through our head. Variations of the idea, “There’s something wrong with me. Everyone else has more friends than I do. I’m not good enough.”

Most of us have felt inadequate at some point.

Some of my own insecurities were forged decades ago in my childhood. When kids laughed at me, and made fun of me and called me a cripple. That meant I wasn’t good enough.

Only as an adult, when I saw those lies for what they were, could I let go of the past. When I allowed God’s love and grace to rewrite who I thought I was. When I saw that I am defined by who I am in Christ. And He says that I am loved. Accepted. Beautiful.

I poured out my thoughts to these high schoolers, unsure of how they would respond. Would they be able to look past the specifics of my story and bridge it to their own? But after I finished, I had no doubts.

God had used my past, and the pain I had long wanted to hide, to reach these students. My stories of rejection and the shame that had distanced me from my peers were the links that bound us together. Because we all feel like outsiders sometimes.

I do not know what others need. I do not know how I can help anyone, how my story can possibly be relevant to anyone else. But the longer I live, the better I see, that God uses my struggles and my weaknesses, my pain and my humiliation, my insecurities and my failures, more powerfully than He uses my gifts and my strengths.

The apostle Paul knew that all too well, as the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.”

We all have pain. We all have hurts. We all feel inadequate. But through those experiences, God refines us and comforts us and gives us a testimony of His power in our weakness.

Don’t be afraid of your story. Don’t believe your story is only relevant to those who are just like you. Or have been through what you have. Or who think like you do.

And don’t prejudge who needs to hear about God’s work in your life. Let the Lord guide you. Trust Him. Even when it’s scary. Even when it means exposing your insecurities and struggles leaving you vulnerable, because that’s often when you’ll make the deepest connection.

You have a story. All of us do.

Tell your story. 

 

 

 

photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar

Begging God

sunset_darkstreet

 

Last week, in the middle of giving a talk, I almost broke down. As I was recounting how I begged God to save the life of my son, I felt my chest tighten. I remembered how desperate I felt and how sure I was that my begging would compel God to do what I asked.

After all, He is God. Nothing is impossible for Him. I had never wanted anything so much in my life, and it was almost inconceivable that God would say “no” to such an earnest request.

But God did say “no.” Even as I was pleading for my son’s life, he was dying. How does a good God let that happen?

Over my life, I’ve begged God for a number of things for which He has said “no.” As a child, I begged God to heal me. In my twenties, I begged God to repair a broken romantic relationship. And several years ago, I begged God to bring my husband back.

I wondered even as I was speaking, “Why doesn’t God answer my deepest prayers?”

Now don’t get me wrong, I had thought through my theology before delivering my message. My talk was about finding God in the middle of our mess. The point of my talk was that God uses all things in our lives for His glory.

But as I was saying the words, “I begged God…” I was flooded with the emotions that I had felt decades earlier. Once again I felt the raw pain of begging God and wondering why He had not answered me the way I wanted.

At the time, I had felt abandoned. At the time it seemed as though God didn’t care at all.

But as I was speaking, the Holy Spirit overwhelmed me. He used the words that I was saying, and had written days earlier, to minister to me in that moment. He reminded me of the truth that while He always hears and answers our prayers, His answers may look wholly different from what we expect. But even as He gives us painful struggles to endure, He carries us through them.

I was addressing a group of urban women, many of whom had known extraordinary hardship. As I was talking, I was thankful for my own suffering, even if it wasn’t as profound as theirs. My words were not trite sayings that I had read but rather honest words that I had lived.

In my own life, I have been much more moved by hearing someone’s experience with God than hearing them recite facts about God.

At the end of my talk, I had an overwhelming sense of God’s purpose. I was overcome by a love for Christ and a joy in what He had done in my life. And in that roomful of women, who had suffered so much, His presence was tangible. There were tears and repentance. There was hope and a renewed love for Jesus. I was standing on holy ground, grateful and amazed to be witnessing this profound work of the Spirit.

As I listened to these precious accounts, I was given a tiny glimpse of the glorious work God was doing in all of us.

I saw that His refusals were His mercies; they had shaped me. Every “no” drove me deeper into the heart of God, deeper into His word, deeper into prayer.

I was thankful for each “no”, each trial and hardship, each affliction that drove me to my knees.

In my finite wisdom, I would never have chosen the path I have walked. It has been hard and gritty and none of my struggles have had simple happy endings, tied up neatly with a bow.

But as I listened to these women’s stories, I realized that God had chiseled and hammered me, said “no” when I begged for “yes”, offered His presence when I wanted His presents, because He had a much bigger plan for me. Part of it was telling people about His goodness in the midst of suffering.

I am thankful I do not decide my future. God does.

Left to myself, my journey would have been smooth sailing, in spiritually shallow waters. My life would have been filled with temporary pleasures and permanent emptiness.

So today, when I think back over the instances when God said “no,” despite my begging, I am thankful. Though some “no’s” have left an ache in my soul, I would not seek to undo them. In part because I often see purpose in them, but more importantly because I know that He will always do what is best for me. Even when I don’t understand why, I trust He has a purpose in my pain.

In Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller quotes John Newton saying,

“All shall work together for good; everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds… Yield to his prescriptions, and fight against every thought that would represent it as desirable to be permitted to choose for yourself. When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that he is your leader.”

Everything is needful that He sends. Nothing can be needful that He withholds.

God knows what I need and has chosen for me what I would not have chosen for myself, given my limited perspective on life and my penchant for my own comfort. But if I had God’s perspective, and knew what He knows, I would undoubtedly choose what He has given me.

It has all been necessary.

 

 

 

photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar