We Were Made for More
(Acts 9:1-6 (7-20), Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19)
Hearing the Father’s Voice is a way of being in relationship to Him that I longed for without knowing how to express it. I tried a lot of methods to satisfy that desire. I learned a lot about meditation along the way, about learning to seek silence, but no one taught me to expect to hear Him speak into the silence, really speak.
Maybe you’ve studied meditation in one form or another. You might’ve called it “centering prayer.” That was a favorite name for it with me, because it didn’t sound so Eastern. It’s all pretty much the same thing, though. I know. I read a fair amount from Tibetan Buddhism. It’s all about learning to quiet our thoughts.
At the risk of offending folks who’ve been working at meditation for a while, let me say this plainly. If your meditation doesn’t have the goal of bringing you to the place where you can really hear Him, it’s a waste of your time. If the only thing it does is quiet the noise for a while, give you a rest from the tumult of today’s life, it’s worse than a waste of time.
Why? Because anything that makes living without the intimate awareness of God’s love more tolerable is just a tool to keep you from seeking your true love, your true power. Like a bad social welfare system, it keeps you just well enough fed that you don’t abandon the system in search of something better, and it keeps you too weak to fight it at the same time.
If your meditation doesn’t take you to a place where you can bask in the warmth of God’s unquenchable love for you, if it doesn’t create a silence into which He speaks his tender love for you, then it’s a counterfeit, worse than a waste.
Because that’s what the Father desires to do for you, He longs to draw you with tender cords of compassion to Himself, into His presence where you can find true rest and true power to renew the world in His grace. Anything that presents itself as from God that does not lead you and me into this place is what the letters of John call “antichrist.” Yes, antichrist is real, and it’s living amongst us, even in the church.
So I’m going to encourage you to seek His voice, to seek His face. I hope to begin to teach you a skill for living in Christ that the church seems to have forgotten. And I’m using Scriptural texts as a beginning point because I believe that the Father speaks differently in and through those pages than He does anywhere else.
In the readings I’m using for this week there are so many places to look for God’s voice, or Jesus’ voice. He cries out to Saul to get his attention, so that He might lead him to the place of his wholeness. There is the voice of Jesus to Ananias, teaching him that God’s purposes aren’t limited to those with whom we’re comfortable.
There is Jesus’ gentle address to the frustrated disciples, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” And his voice of instruction, “Try now,” and “Come, eat.” And then of course there is the thrice repeated question to Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” as he restores the one who had thrice denied him.
I’m perhaps most taken by the statement, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” His tenderness in that moment is heartbreaking. But that is not where I’m to begin. The first step in hearing His voice is not in listening, but in crying out, sometimes in terror (as the psalmist had done) and sometimes in joy and praise and worship (as the psalmist is doing, and as the creatures and the elders do in the passage from Revelation).
The first step in making ourselves available to His voice is to cry out to Him in all our helplessness. Sometimes this helplessness feels like fear, as the psalmist suggests, and sometimes it feels like wildly abandoned worship, like that of the elders who repeatedly throw themselves to the ground in awe and wonder. This isn’t the well-governed corporate prayer of the liturgy, but a cry from a heart that knows both the helplessness of being human, and the glory of the One who lifts us from our helpless state and places us a little higher than the angels. If we’re listening for a God who waits for us to get the liturgy “right” and to do it all with taste, then we 1) aren’t reading the Bible much and 2) may hear something, but it surely won’t be God.
I often encourage people who are going through difficult times to read the Psalms, but aLOUD. That is, I encourage folks to shout them, to scream them if they need to (but better when no one else is home!). Whether the psalms of praise or the laments, these texts are the best gift there is for opening our hearts to the Father.
This week, take our psalm of praise (Psalm 30) into your place of prayer and read it aloud, like someone who just won the Superbowl. Search for that elation in your heart (it’s there, no matter how well the world has hidden it from you) and let it rip! We’ll get to the listening part soon enough.
In my experience, most of the people I counsel have difficulty bringing this first cry to God. Some do not know what to cry, what to scream when they first take seriously their desire for more of God. Before I can listen, though, I have to pay attention to the roaring in my own heart. I have to pray that.
Today, in order to hear your own roaring a little better, try this one thing. (Be sure you’re alone.) First answer this question:
What was a moment in the last week (or some other time) when events caused you physical pain? Not from a bump on the head, but a painful tightness in your shoulders, or a blinding headache, or pain in your jaw, or a terrible cramping in your stomach. Think back to that event and pay attention to your body as you remember it. Let your body show you the cry that you will offer to God.
Then, hold up that physical sensation to God. You don’t have to name the emotion today, just the sensation. Hold that sensation before God for five minutes if you can. Don’t seek silence. Let the loudness of that discomfort be your world for those five minutes. If tears or groans come with the sensation, let them come. Don’t swallow or stuff anything.
Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I thank You for these sensations that awaken me to my desire for more of life than I have allowed myself. I know that You have created me for more than this. More freedom, more joy. Receive this pain, Father, and begin to use it to transform me.
In Jesus Name,
A wonderful pastor who has written a book I really love on spiritual growth (Yes, his is worth paying for, and it’s entitled Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero) speaks in it, and other places, about the gift of limits. I’m only now coming to accept that limits can be gifts, so I won’t try to take you there today. Still, limits are a part of God’s creation of us, and on an emotional level, they are also one of the ways we make ourselves sick by our secret wishes that we did not have them.
As a way of exploring this, and letting this give shape to our cry to God, try this today:
Remember a dream for your future that you once had, one that gave you great joy or hope, a dream that has not come to fruition. It might have been one from childhood or adolescence that you would one day live in a family like your own, or that you would be a part of a family very different from your own. It might have been one about a career that you thought you’d have, or a difference you would make in the world. Whatever the dream that has not come to pass, take 5 minutes to sit with it (longer if you can) and listen for the groan that begins deep in your chest before it ever reaches your throat.
Bring that groan to the Father. Maybe it’ll have words, but most likely it won’t. Just bring the groan. Offer that grief to Him. And pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I thank You for sustaining me with hope in my early years. I thank You that it is still Your desire to sustain me with a holy hope. Receive this tattered dream of mine as a gift. Let me hand this off to You, along with the tears that accompany it, so that You can make room in me for a new hope.
In Jesus’ Name.
One of the feelings that I often encounter in myself and with others when I/we begin to look into the disappointment that lurks beneath the surface is anger. Sometimes I take that anger out on myself for having believed in the dream in the first place. Sometimes I direct it outward, at the “enemies” who have thwarted my dreams. Sometimes I’m brave enough to admit that I’m angry at God. Usually this unexpressed anger has, by the time I notice it, evolved into something pretty rancid. It often looks like cynicism. Sometimes it looks like despair.
This is another gift I offer to the Father. I know that it’s not one we’d care to receive, but He longs for it, so that He might free us from it. This is the point of His suffering on the Cross. It is there on the Cross that He accepts gratefully all the swollen, bloated, rotting bitterness that I have allowed to fester in my heart. If you are able, today, try this:
Take the stunted dream from yesterday and hold it in your heart for a few minutes. Let yourself hear any hardness that lies beneath the surface of your disappointment. Both cynicism and despair have that hard edge. Sit with that hardness for a bit, then offer a prayer something like this:
Heavenly Father, I thank You that it is Your desire to remove this bitterness from me, to soften my heart toward You and others. I thank You that You can receive as gift what I can only give as garbage. Accept this awful gift, Lord. Work Your love in me and heal me.
In Jesus’ Name,
I have a well-worn tendency to make everything in my spiritual walk into a project. I haven’t really stopped doing that lately as much as I have learned to see the signs that I’m on that road again more quickly than I used to, and then surrendering my path once again to the Father. The reason I’ve wanted to grow in this grace is that I can’t make any of this happen. In the end, every project bumps into an impenetrable “I can’t do this!” So often we decline to undertake any journey at all because we know that somewhere down the line is an “I can’t!” We’re right.
But our Father is able if we will bring the “I can’t!” to Him.
Let the hardness of yesterday sit with you for a while, the task of offering it up. Or just the disappointment of the day before. Or maybe the task of sitting with the pain, the groan. Listen for the “I can’t” in your chest or in your belly and let that be your prayer today. Sit for a few minutes with the realization that there are things you want to do to grow closer to God that you simply cannot do. And then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have not asked me to do all this work in myself, but that You have promised that what I ask for in Your Son’s name, You will hear. Dear Father, I know my own helplessness a little better today. I don’t like it, except that it brings me to You once again. Please do the work in me that I cannot do in myself. Help me hear, or see, or offer what I cannot on my own.
In Jesus’ Name.
Once I worked through my first “I can’ts” and allowed God to show me His “I Can” in His gentle way I ran smack into my first “I don’t want to!” I have a lot of those, too, I’ve learned. Some of them masquerade as an “I can’t,” but the reality is that there are things I say I want to be rid of that I really don’t. This is perhaps the hardest of the heart cries to bring before the Father, at least for me. I want to want His goodness to work in me, but at least for the moment, I don’t actually want it. I can rationalize for days about why it is that the Father would not want to take this desire from me, to free me from this attachment, this bondage, and I usually do before I give in.
Today (if you’re a lot faster than I am) try to find something that’s really precious to you from which He might want to free you. Not to worry, I won’t ask you to pray to be rid of it today. He’ll give you that prayer when you’re ready for it. Today, just look for something that holds you, other than His love. Something you think you can’t live without, and then sit with that attachment for several minutes. Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have given me persons and things in my life to love. I know that I have loved them with my own heart, though, my own strength, and that You desire more for me. I want to want what You want for me, but I don’t right now. Today I offer You my resistance to Your love. Receive this stubborn, willful gift and begin to work Your work of freedom in my life.
In Jesus’ Name,
If you’d like easier access to Hearing His Voice than looking it up on a webpage, it is now available as both paperback and Kindle book. (But it will always be free here.)