My wife, Kathryn (who is even more beautiful on the inside), recently decided that she wants to lose some weight. She has a vision of what she wants to look like and how she wants to feel after losing a certain amount, and everyday she allocates (disciplines) her eating and exercising resources to accomplish her goal. She has a desire to look and feel a certain way and to generally be in a state of better health, and she is well on her way to experiencing her vision!
It is a fact that we all live life like this. We give ourselves – our energies, our passions, our time, our money, our creativity, our passion – to those things of which or people for whom we have a vision; a vision so compelling that we are willing to sacrifice to accomplish it or experience it.
As I wrote in my post of March 17, in March of 2016 I had the desire – a vision – of having a 24/7 conversational relationship with God. I wanted to be able to hear and recognize His voice every waking moment of every day. I wanted to experience that. Just having that desire was itself a gift from God. Like Kathryn, this vision (desire) was so compelling I was willing to allocate the resources to realize the fulfillment of my desire. So in the first week of March 2016, I began to do just that.
A conversational relationship with anyone means you’ve got to spend time talking and listening with that someone, and that includes getting to know them better (or more intimately). I recognize Kathryn’s voice because I happily get to spend so much time with her. In fact, I love to hear her voice. And that is especially true of a conversational relationship with God. If I was going to have that kind of relationship with God, I was going to need to spend a lot more time listening for Him and to Him, and I was going to need to know Him much more intimately. And that meant that I was going to have to dedicate the time to listening and knowing.
I’m a morning person. I’m much more productive, creative and effective in the morning than at anytime of the day. The morning is the best part of my day. So I dedicated the first part of everyday to investing time in getting to know God and fellowship with Him much more intimately.
If you’ll look back over what I’ve written so far, you will notice a lot of “I’s” and “my’s.” But that’s not how any of this has happened. Just like God gave me the desire to have a conversational relationship with Him, He enabled me to act – to commit resources (initially primarily time) – to developing that relationship. This is all His work in me. I’m just getting the exciting thrill of getting to cooperate with Him in that work.
My commitment was very simple. I would give Him the start of every day, and I would trust Him to develop that time as He desired to work in me.
For most of the mornings of the last 40+ years, I’ve read five chapters in the book of Psalms and one in the book of Proverbs using “the day of the month” regimen. For instance, on the fifth day of each month, I read Psalm 5, 35, 65, 95, and 125 and Proverbs 5. So every month I read through the books of Psalms and Proverbs. The Psalms are inspirational and help me worship, and the Proverbs are enormously valuable for practical daily living.
I kept that regimen as part of my commitment but I knew I needed to know Jesus much better than I did, so I added a study of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to my morning study. And I initially added three more elements to my mornings: more time to just be quiet and listen to God, more time for intercessory prayer, and more time for memorization of passages of Scripture. And I made a commitment to not “hurry.” I think I’ve been in a hurry for most of my life, so this was a big commitment for me. I didn’t realize at the time how very significant this commitment would be to my going forward.
These mornings with God have been like drinking from a fire hydrant. The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, began opening my understanding and the Scriptures in dimensions I had never known. And on many of these mornings, I have been just overwhelmed. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Wonderful verses I’m certain I’ve read hundreds of times before sometimes seemed to suddenly appear in my Bible, like this beautiful verse in Psalm 68:19, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” He loads me with His benefits – daily!
And I began to understand and experience David’s longing for God when he wrote, “As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2). “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:2). And
O God, you are my God;
I will seek you diligently.
My soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you
as in a dry and weary land without water.
But reading through the Gospels was a different story. I was shocked at how often this Bible college graduate and former seminarian simply did not understand what Jesus said! In fact, as I write these words I’ve been working my way through the Gospels for the past 13 months, and I’m only now about half way through Luke’s gospel. And I haven’t even begun this iteration of my study of the Gospel according to John.
I needed help. And I also needed help to understand a lot more about how to pray effectively. God provided the help I needed. But that help also put me on the path to discovering that God had something more in mind than only a conversational relationship (more about that in future posts).
Not every morning has been “glorious.” There have been times when the Holy Spirit has put me on the operating table and opened up my heart to let me see disgusting, filthy, repulsive trash and junk in my flesh that needed to be removed. It made me so sick and sad – so much that I wanted it gone – a necessary precursor to the transformation God wants to accomplish in me.
I mentioned the importance of my commitment to not hurry. These morning times with God have grown in breath, depth and delight – most often now taking all of the morning, but sometimes spilling over into the afternoon, and evening, and the next day. These “expansions” have been effortless. On some mornings my plan may have included reading a certain chapter in a book in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit would carry me along through the rest of the book and on into the next and the next. He at once gave me a hunger for the Word and opened it to me as I followed Him. I’m convinced this happened in large part because I was willing not to hurry.
“To bring the mind to dwell intelligently upon God as he is presented in his Word will have the effect of causing us to love God passionately, and this love will in turn bring us to think of God steadily. Thus he will always be before our minds,” wrote Dallas Willard.
Most of these times I spend at our kitchen table. My Bible, my prayer list, my notes and other books I may be reading are there. They are more inviting and desirable than a plate of chocolate cake and Blue Bell ice cream.
And – oh yes – that conversational relationship? I’m recognizing God’s voice. It is quiet and gentle. And loving.