What Are You Waiting For?

giving-hands-1What would we do if Jesus walked into our living rooms tonight and said, “I’ll make you a deal: detach yourself from all of this. Stop chasing the American dream and instead live on minimum resources, and I promise you’ll never regret it. Stop believing the lie that a responsible Christian must have a 401(k), three walk-in closets, and a college fund for each kid. Instead, dare to shave your budget and your schedule to a minimum and spend the surplus money, time, and energy on the poor, and I’ll give you in return the things you can’t buy: peace in your soul, more of My presence, unshakable joy, and a life that matters.” What would we do if He offered us that promise? Would we believe Him? Would we trade the American dream for treasures in heaven?

If our answer is yes, then we must ask ourselves what we’re waiting for. He’s already given us the promise:: “Then Jesus . . . said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’” (Mark 10:21).

leapAs someone who has taken several leaps of faith (e.g. leaving a secure job, a decent income with benefits, and a town I loved), I know what it feels like when God challenges you to take His word literally and do something that looks reckless or irresponsible to everyone around you. I also know what it’s like to be scared to death to jump into the wild unknown. I you’re resisting the call of God to take a leap of faith, ask yourself: What perfect condition am I waiting for? In what ways must all the stars be aligned before I obey? Am I waiting until I’m fearless? Until everyone agrees with my dream?

The only thing you must wait for is Jesus’ call—“Come, take up the cross, and follow Me”—and that call has already come.

 

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The Trouble with Self-Condemnation

aWhen’s the last time your beat yourself up? Last week when you lost your temper at work? Yesterday when your teenager acted out and you felt like a rotten parent? This morning when you stepped on the scale?

Self-absorption entails far more than typical pride—it means anything that shifts your awareness away from Jesus (or the service of others) and onto yourself. Egocentricity has many “faces”—including the typical ones, such as putting your own needs above those of others or steering conversations so that they revolve around you and your accomplishments.

bBut here’s the clincher: self-absorption also includes indulging in self-condemnation. That’s right: self-condemnation is not a sign of humility; in fact, there’s nothing Christlike about it. I can’t beat myself up unless I’m obsessing about my own behavior rather than looking to Jesus. When I have eyes only for Him, I’m quick to extend grace and compassion to those He loves—including myself.

Some of us are willing to offer grace and forgiveness to everyone but ourselves. We’d never dream of attacking someone else the way you do ourselves: “Nothing you do is good enough; you are so stupid—what’s wrong with you? You’ll never measure up!”

cIt’s time to realize that brutalizing yourself is not any less sinful than brutalizing any other child of God.

The only way to steer clear of self-absorption is to stay tuned to Jesus’ presence and inclination at all times. Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You—and off ourselves.

 

Coldplay, Autumn Leaves, and the Voice of God

leavesThe other day, while I was sitting on my cozy, screened-in back porch, the wind suddenly began scuttling through the trees (which were fat and fragrant with autumn leaves), and the sound was like rushing water. If I’d closed my eyes I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. The sound nearly took the breath from my lungs, and it unlocked something inside me. I began pondering an idea I’d been chewing on for a week. For the next few minutes, the idea solidified and took shape. There it is again, I thought. The voice of God.

As I said last week, some believers have heard the audible voice of God, but that’s never happened to me. For me, “God’s voice” often begins as an awareness of His presence, His nearness . . . and then a vague idea or impression becomes more and more specific as God begins to “download.” Sometimes this download is no more than a simple instruction—for example, “Say a kind word to the bank teller, she’s having an awful day”; other times, it’s as complex as a magazine article, in which case I go running for a pen and paper. Sometimes I can put what I hear into words, other times not.

s. kingIf we say that God’s Word (that is, God’s voice) equals only what’s written in the pages of the Bible, we limit Him to a specific span of time (even though He knows no such limits) and specific words on a printed page. This would mean that God has spoken fewer words to His people than Stephen King has to his readers. Surely we don’t believe that.

The good news is that you don’t have to be in a “zen” environment to hear Him. I often hear God when surrounded by people or in the midst of much activity. For example, during a Manna Café event, while flanked by volunteers and guests, conversation and commotion, God is suddenly closer than my own skin, more real than the person in front of me. You might hear Him while walking the dog, teaching a seminar, or kissing your spouse. You might even hear God through avenues not necessarily intended to convey Him; for example, my spirit comes radically alive every time I listen to Coldplay’s “Clocks,” and several years ago God taught me a lifelong lesson through a scene in The Matrix.

isa

Image: versifylife.com

God hasn’t stopped speaking to His children. Isaiah 30:21 tells us, “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left” (NLT).

 

 

What Do We Mean by the “Voice of God”?

Image: unstained

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the voice of God. We Christians speak often of God’s voice, but some of us would be hard pressed to explain it. I’ve heard stories of people hearing an audible voice, but God has never spoken to me that way. Even so, I began hearing Him many years ago, around the same time I began speaking to Him as one speaks to a friend. The first time I ever conversed without using a “formal” prayer was on the evening of my confirmation as a Catholic, smack in the middle of the ceremony. “God, if this is all there is to You, I don’t need You,” I said. (I deeply appreciate my Catholic upbringing, but I never had much tolerance for ritual.) “But if You’re real, and if there’s more to You, then I want all of You,” I continued.

Sometimes we act like God quit talking when the disciples and apostles died . . . We live like His voice is limited to the written words in the pages of our Bibles. I love the Bible with all my heart, but God’s word goes far beyond those 66 books. I’m never outside God’s presence because that’s not even possible; to separate “me” from God would result in nothing but a bag of bones on the floor, for He is my very existence, and therefore I’m never beyond the sound of His voice. I need only to cultivate my awareness of Him, and my response to Him.

Image: coffeecrossroads.com

The same is true for you. It’s not whimsy or wishful thinking to suppose that you hear Him as you commute to work, build a web page, wash your car, or make the bed. When you hear Him, respond quickly. How? By acknowledging Him, maybe with a brief prayer—“Good morning, Lord!” or “Thank You, Lord, for morning coffee” or just an internal acknowledgement in your spirit. You can communicate spirit-to-Spirit all day long; this is surely what Paul meant when he said we should pray without ceasing. God’s voice is all around if you’ll just hear with spirit ears. You’re not “conjuring up” or imagining anything—rather, you’re learning to see, hear, feel—and then respond to—God’s presence. Let’s stop living as though God speaks to only a select few—or worse yet, as though He is mute.