In my last entry in this journal I mentioned, “As my journey has continued, I’ve discovered that a conversational relationship is not God’s ‘end game’ for me. It’s not His ultimate goal. It is a wonderful, glorious, sublime result of what He has in mind, but there is something much more.”
My journal entries have been, up until this one, historical, recounting how God has been forming the life of Jesus in me over the last fifteen months. This entry is contemporary, recording an experience of today.
As part of my daily study and prayer time with God, I recently began re-reading Dallas Willard’s book, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. I highlighted several paragraphs in chapter 2, Guidelines for Hearing from God, noting the ones the Holy Spirit especially used to teach me and move me further into the conversational relationship with God I so much desire. Here are a few of them . . . .
“God could have created a world of robots, instead of free people who love him and understand his participation in the kingdom and their work. But then there would be no conversations. There would simply be direction and conformity. That picture robs people of initiative and freedom that goes into true friendship with God – cooperative creativity.”
“When you surrender initiative, you make prayer meaningless.”
Dr. Willard and the Holy Spirit really had my attention. I’ve been praying that my will will become a perfect reflection of God’s will, and that, just like Jesus, I could daily do what I see the Father doing and say what I hear the Father saying. Was I surrendering initiative – and making prayer meaningless? I read on . . . .
“Prayer is an honest exchange between people who are doing things together. God and I work together, and I need to invoke his power in that activity. Joint activity is a key to understanding how conversation flows.
“In such conversations we also talk about other things besides what God wants done today. We talk about what is happening, what is interesting or what is sad. Most conversation between God and humans is to help us understand things.”
Now this is starting to make more sense to me. The Holy Spirit had been teaching me that God desires something much more than a conversational relationship with Him, as awesome as that is. More than only communication (conversation), God wants communion (intimacy). And even more than communion, God’s plan is union (merger). Kathryn and I experience a wonderful marriage. We enjoy our communication and we treasure our communion. But we also have a merger, most clearly demonstrated by the fact that we each often intuitively know what the other is thinking without any verbal or visible expression.
“….above all, hold on to the fact that learning how to hear God is to be sought only as a part of a certain kind of life, a life of loving fellowship with the King and his other subjects within the kingdom of the heavens. We must never forget that God’s speaking to us is intended to develop into an intelligent, freely cooperative relationship between mature people who love each other with the richness of genuine agape love. We must therefore make it our primary goal not just to hear the voice of God, but to be mature people in a loving relationship with him. Only in this way will we hear him rightly. This is our first general guideline.”
Dr. Willard offers three guidelines for hearing from God:
Guideline One: Love God with All Our Being
“Love is designed to be our primary way of ‘being with’ others.
“In this union of souls – in the conscious delight and rest in one another that is the highest and most exalted relationship possible between two persons – it is not right for one person to always tell the other what to do. And so it is in our union with God, a person both loving and beloved. He does not delight in having to always explain what his will is; he enjoys it when we understand and act upon his will. Our highest calling and opportunity in life is to love with all our being.
“Only our communion with God provides the appropriate context for communications between us and Him.”
Guideline Two: Mere Humans Can Talk with God
In my last journal entry I wrote, “as I daily immersed myself in the Word of God, the Holy Spirit began to teach me to understand that Moses and David, including Abraham, Elijah, Elisha, Paul, Peter and many others we have considered to be ‘heroes of the Bible’ were never intended by God to be anomalies of faith. We are told about these everyday men and women because God intends them to be examples of the norm for those who pursue an intimate walk with Him. To be less is to be subnormal.”
Dr. Willard affirmed and explained that more fully . . . .
“The humanity of Moses, David and Elijah, of Paul, Peter and Jesus Christ himself – of all that wonderful company of riotously human women and men whose experience is recorded in the Bible and in the history of the church – teaches us a vital lesson. Our mere humanity will not by itself prevent us from knowing and interacting with God just as they did.
“Conversely, if we are really to understand the Bible record, we must enter into our study of it on the assumption that the experiences recorded there are basically of the same type as ours would have been if we had been there.
“Failure to read the Bible in this realistic manner accounts for two common problems in Christian groups that hold the Bible central to their faith. The first problem is that it becomes simply a book of doctrine, of abstract truth about God, which one can search endlessly without encountering God himself or hearing his voice.
“The other problem is that we simply stop reading the Bible altogether when we do not understand the experience of biblical characters in terms of how we experience life events.
“If we are to hear God’s voice ourselves and on an individual basis, we must, above all else, observe how his word came to those people described in the Scriptures. How did they experience God’s communication? What was it like for them to hear God? We must prayerfully but boldly use our God-given imaginations as we read the stories of people who encountered God. We must ask ourselves what it would be like if we were Moses standing by the bush (Ex. 3:2), little Samuel lying in his darkened room (1 Sam. 3:3-7), Elisha under inspiration from the minstrel (2 Kings 3:13), Ananias receiving his vision about Paul (Acts 9:11) or Peter on his rooftop (Acts 10:10). We must pray for the faith and for the experiences that would enable us to believe that such things could happen to us. Only then will we be able to recognize, accept and dwell in them when they come.”
The Strength of True Meekness
“In seeking and receiving God’s word to us, we must also see and receive the grace of humility.
“Moses was one of the most humble, least presumptuous human beings who ever walked the earth. And Moses also may be the all-time record holder for lengthy conversation with God. If there were such a category in the Guinness World Records books, Moses would certainly head the list. Certainly a connection existed between his meekness and his close working and talking relationship with God. Psalm 25:9 says of God, ‘He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.’”
Here’s the best definition of humility I’ve ever seen:
“God will gladly give humility to us if, trusting and waiting on him to act, we refrain from pretending we are what we know we are not, from presuming a favorable position for ourselves and from pushing or trying to override the will of others. (This is a fail-safe recipe for humility. Try it for one month. Money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work!)”
So, to be humble:
1. Don’t pretend.
2. Don’t presume (that you should be treated any particular way).
3. Don’t push.
Guideline Three: Hearing God Doesn’t Make Us Righteous
“When God speaks to us, it does not prove that we are righteous or even right. It does not prove that we have correctly understood what he said.
“We must never lose sight of the fact that God’s purposes are not to support us or make us look and feel secure in our roles or to make sure that we are right.
“Indeed, being right is one of the hardest burdens human beings have to bear, and few succeed in bearing up under it gracefully. There is a little placard I have seen that reads, ‘Lord, when we are wrong, make us willing to change, and when we are right, make us easy to live with!’ A very wise prayer.”