Trusting in the Lord

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God Corrie Ten BoomPeople going through tough times often wonder, Why is God letting me go through this? Is there a point?That was me in seventh grade. At the time, I thought it was the worst year of my life. Anybody who knows me has heard me say that. But now I know better.

Without that year, I would not be who I am today.

I am a missionary kid (or MK). I have lived in the Czech Republic, the second most atheistic nation in the world, since I was 4-years-old. I’m naturally shy so it’s tough for me to make friends. But to make matters worse, I was growing up in a foreign country, where I didn’t fully know the language and where every kid I met thought Christianity was the dumbest thing on the planet. Let’s just say I felt like there was no hope for a close friend.

And then it all got worse. We moved to California for a year before returning to the Czech Republic. I had no idea what living in America was like, and now I had to attend seventh grade there. Sure, I’d been to America once during our missionary service. But it was for four months. Now, I was going to go to school there. I had no idea what Abercrombie was, who Rihanna was, or even how to relate to American kids.

I knew from the very first day at school that things were very different from the Czech schools. People talked differently, dressed differently, acted differently, and even thought differently. I did not fit in, and I didn’t know how to fix that. I was doomed to be the class outcast, the weirdo of seventh grade. And I was. The many insults that I received hurt deeply.

I had been taught all my life about God and Christianity. But before my seventh grade year, God was kinda just there—not really doing anything. He was like wallpaper. But now, I was broken. I was spiritually hungry and thirsty. I thought that if God couldn’t help me, no one could. One day, I opened my Bible and Psalm 31 stared back at me: “For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord. … In the shelter of your presence you hide [those who fear you]; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing tongues. … You heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help” (NIV).

I knew it was no coincidence my Bible fell open to this psalm. I devoured the passage and literally felt a hunger for more. Through his Word, God showed me that I was not alone, and that I just had to trust in him to make the best of it. When I gave him my whole heart, my life opened up. He gave me joy for each new day. He helped me find a few friends around the school and taught me how to let him be my Best Friend. He gave me many opportunities to live out the instruction to turn the other cheek. Life was still very hard. I still cried myself to sleep a lot. Some of what the kids at school said still wounded me badly. But, still, things were different.

I knew that God had a plan, that he had a reason for all the pain and strife I was going through. I didn’t know what he was planning, but who am I to argue with the God of the Universe? I couldn’t see it then, but as I look back now, God has revealed how he used me that year. For instance, there were several students in my class who came from a different country or whom nobody liked. I realize that, with my experience with living in a different culture and being the social outcast, I was the ideal person to reach out and relate to them.

I noticed lessons of that year when we moved back to Czech. I began eighth grade in yet another new school and I had to make new friends all over again. In America, I’d learned how to stand up for myself, how to make a good yet truthful impression, how to laugh at my mistakes, and how to overcome most of my shyness.

Needless to say, I had a very enjoyable eighth grade year. Since then, too, my life has been much more rewarding. With less shyness, I have been able to act in my school’s plays and participate in more group activities. God has blessed me with close friends who encourage and strengthen me. He has shown me how to be a better friend.

Most importantly, he used that year to draw me closer to him. I could have never imagined this relationship with him two years ago. God surely used the bad for good. James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3, NIV).

Today’s post was written by Jessica Dagen. Jessica is currently attending high school in the Czech Republic. Today’s article was shared from the following website: https://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/truelifestories/ithappenedtome/bestandworstyear.html?start=2

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Finding Refuge in the Lord…His Wings of Protection

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint Isaiah 40:30

Just as Isaiah taught, those that wait upon the Lord shall find incredible assistance and protection. What does it mean to wait upon the Lord? Everyone can determine their own meaning but I believe that it is making the Lord a daily part of your life – through prayer, through meditation, through service to others…  I have found that there is a faith that comes and refuge – an inner peace that is abundantly given as I wait upon the Lord. It is a prize that comes with a price but it is a small price which is rewarded with great abundance!

God’s Wings
An article in National Geographic several years ago provided a penetrating picture of God’s wings. After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno’s damage. One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of a tree.

Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he gently struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother’s wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise.

She could have flown to safety but refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze had arrived and the heat had scorched her small body, the mother had remained steadfast.

Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” – Psalm 91:4

Story shared from the following website: http://varietyreading.carlsguides.com/christian-stories/wings.php

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God’s Not Finished with You Yet!…

Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes in life, we experience brokenness that impacts us so greatly, we feel as if we are finished. The life we once dreamed about is gone, and now our life is never going to come close to all we desired. It may be a result of a physical struggle, an emotional battle or a change in your life that you never saw coming, and now you find yourself discouraged and struggling to make sense of where you are right now.

I experienced a life-changing brokenness when I least expected it. I was happily married to a handsome man who was my first love, first hand hold and my beloved husband. We had three little baby boys together, and I felt like I was living out my dream of being a wife and a mother. Then one day, I kissed my husband goodbye and told him I loved him as he was leaving for work, only to receive a phone call several hours later that my healthy, 30-year-old husband suddenly died as his heart went out of rhythm. I remember so clearly sitting there in that hospital hallway, trying my best to grasp the magnitude of the devastating news that had been given to me. But in a way that was beyond my own strength, I found myself saying, “The Lord gives and takes away, He is so good.” I instantly became a widow at the age of 25, with three precious boys under the age of three, walking a road I could have never imagined. My dreams and my reality shifted in a moment, taking the breath out of me. I found myself asking God to give me the strength to make it minute by minute, even when I couldn’t see the road He had in front of me. As I waited, I held on with everything I had to the hope that God was greater than my grief.

In the months following my husband’s death, I often found myself in the middle of night trying to soothe my newborn baby, as I claimed the hope from God’s word over my family – but it wasn’t easy by any means. I still remember the way my tears of brokenness and grief would fall on his sweet little cheeks. Honestly, there were moments when I felt finished, that life as the happy full of life woman I used to be was gone forever. How could I dream again, when the person who was in those dreams was gone? I remember crying out to God one night saying, God what do you have for me? How can I still have life ahead of me after this? Jesus whispered in my heart, “Hold on, there is joy ahead. I am not finished with you yet.” As I began to press into the truth of God’s word and His mighty promises of Hope, He began to heal my broken heart through His precious presence, and showed me even though I didn’t understand it, He was using this pain for His purpose, if I would just hold on.

I watched as God started to do what He promised. He kept writing my story – not putting me to the side saying you are finished, but saying “You are part of a story that is bigger than yourself and I will bring it to pass, just keep obeying me.” He cared so much for me and precious little fatherless boys, and He kept writing our story with an overwhelming amount of grace. He heard our cries for Him and He truly became enough for us. It was not Jesus plus something, but just Jesus. He brought us through the places of being so worn out from grief to a place of life and hope. He began to do a good work in me.

I started a new chapter in my life, one filled with healing. I began to see in very real ways that God was not done with my family yet, and I continued to hold on to that truth. I decided that I could either stay treading in the waters of tragedy, or I could start swimming for the shore of triumph. And it was in that time that I stopped searching for the WHY and started looking for the WHAT that God had for me here. The “WHAT do you want me to do with this?” question became me plea to God to use this story that I never asked for to bring Him glory, because it was too painful to be wasted. It was during that shift in perspective that God began opening doors to encourage others who felt like God was done with them, and that their stories were over because of the pain they were drowning in.

As I was reaching out to one family in particular, another widower with two small children was encouraging the same family with the truth of God’s word. God started to show me His plan, and He began writing a new chapter in my life. Here was another person who could have been consumed by their circumstances, but was choosing life even when faced with the tragedy of death. God began to write a love story that was precious and filled with much joy – an answer to prayers I hadn’t even prayed, but a physical example of God being a great Author, and one who writes the best stories if only we surrender to Him. It may not be a story we imagined, but it will be one that shows He is always at work, even when we don’t see or feel it.

Two families marked by pain, 5 children, all with one parent in heaven and one on earth. Their stories didn’t stop at pain, but instead were joined together when sorrow and joy collided. As a result, the Brooker Bunch was formed. We still have chapters in our lives marked with sorrow and hardship, but we also have them penned in grace and mercy. God didn’t give up on us when we’re at our lowest. He had a purpose for our lives and we had to trust when we couldn’t see.

If you are reading this right now, you are living and breathing. That means that God has a purpose for YOU, and your story is still being written. God is not done with you. Your life is not over, and God sees and cares about all you are facing – even the hidden things. Your story is not complete, so don’t give up when it’s only half written. I remember so many times, my boys would ask me why they couldn’t go to heaven right then. I would look them in their bright blue eyes and tell them, “Jesus isn’t finished with you yet.” God’s word tells us to run this race with endurance and to keep our eyes and hope fixed on Jesus the whole way. The same is true of you and me. God is not through with YOU. He has a plan and it is good. Keep taking the next breath and believing in His truth that gives life to your weary heart. Keep holding onto hope even when it hurts. Keep trusting that He is at work behind the scenes in your life, even when you can’t see or feel it. His stories are always good – even when they are not always easy or comfortable. He is the good God, and the best story writer. You will see His goodness in the land of the living, because He is the life-giver. God’s not done with you yet.

Today’s inspiring story was written by Brittany Price Brooker and is shared from the following website: https://www.liveoriginal.com/blog/2017/gods-not-done-with-you-yet

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The D’s of Depression – Depend on God, Part 5

Be kind to you: Don’t bring up your past when you are here to  improve your Future

It may seem like the guidance that I have shared this week has nothing to do with depression…especially overcoming depression. However, depending on God and utilizing His guidance and instruction has everything to do with overcoming depression.

There is no better authority on you and no one who loves you as much as God does.

I don’t know that I know a single person who has suffered from depression who has not been guilty of running themselves too hard or who is not guilty of “beating themselves up”. Both scenarios are best handled through God’s guidance.

God can and will guide you if you need to be forgiven of some misdeed and He can help you learn to love yourself and take care of yourself.

If you are still looking for that magic pill that will make your depression go away without any soul-searching and work on your part – your search is going to be a long, long, long one.

As I began my own soul-searching and work to overcome my depression, it felt like God was taking a humble shack and trying to turn it into a skyscraper. At times, the process hurt and very often I did not like it. However, as always, God knew best. He helped me with the painful but necessary process a step at a time. He knew I couldn’t transform myself in one giant leap. He KNEW I could do it one step at a time. So can you!

It won’t always be pleasurable and it WILL be hard. And…it will be completely WORTH IT!

Our discussion on depression is not going away. We will talk more about it next week. Until then, I hope you will read more of the article I have been sharing this week by Rev. Mark D. Roberts. Have a wonderful weekend and be sure to share some compliments with yourself!:

Spiritual Guidance: For Whose Benefit?

In my last post in this series, I told the story of a woman named Eva who tested what she believed to be the Spirit’s guidance by stepping out in faith. Through doing this, she was able to bring God’s grace to a woman who was in a difficult place in her marriage.

Eva’s example illustrates another vital truth about spiritual guidance: it often comes, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others. Of course, as the Spirit enabled Eva to care profoundly for the woman on the phone, Eva herself felt gratitude well up in her heart. To be used by God is one of life’s greatest joys! But the guidance Eva received was not primarily for her own blessing. Rather, it was for the healing of another person who deeply needed to know God’s love in a time of personal crisis.

Without a doubt, the Holy Spirit guides us through the maze of our lives if we seek his direction. But sometimes we become so absorbed in seeking guidance for ourselves that we overlook one of the Spirit’s main reasons for speaking to us: so that we might minister to others. When we are prepared to hear God’s voice, we will often be led to care on a deep level for the people God places in our lives. Sometimes the Spirit will lead us by placing a burden on our hearts for a certain person or area of need. Sometimes we will receive even more specific guidance, as Eva did during her phone call. But no matter the precise quality of God’s direction, if we make ourselves available to him, he will lead us into his ministry and empower us for his purposes.

Notice that spiritual guidance both flourishes in the context of true fellowship among God’s people and also contributes to that fellowship. As you are led by the Spirit to care for others with compassion and insight, your relationships will become deeper and sweeter. The Lord will help you penetrate the guardedness that keeps us at a “safe” but superficial distance from each other.

Notice also something that has remained implicit throughout this conversation of spiritual guidance. Spiritual guidance comes, not only for our good and for the good of others, but ultimately for the good of God. The Spirit guides us so that we might “do the good things [God] planned for us long ago” (Eph 2:10), and these things are all part of his plan for the cosmos. As we walk in God’s will, we derive personal benefit. The people around us are blessed. But, even more significantly, God’s purposes are being fulfilled through us. As my friend Buddy says, “Guidance from God is also guidance for God.”

When you pray, “O Lord, please show me your will,” you are acknowledging that God has the right to direct your life. God is sovereign, not only over all creation, not only over all history, but over you. The King of kings and Lord of Lords has every right to govern you, and you ought to follow his guidance because of who he is.

But we seek and abide by God’s direction, not only because he is our Master and we are his servants, but also because God’s ways are the very best, both for him and for us. Even when God seems to guide us along treacherous paths, even when walking in his ways denies our thirst for instant gratification, even when obedience to his call requires sacrifice and suffering, we follow him because “we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom 8:28). As we discover God’s purpose for our lives and as we walk in that purpose, he works in every part of our lives for our own good.

 

This truth about God reminds me of a wonderful scene from The Sound of Music. Maria had set her heart upon becoming a nun and was in the midst of her candidacy to join a religious order. But her ability to accept the disciplines of convent life was in question. So, the leader of the abbey, who exercised complete authority over Maria’s life, sent her away to serve as the governess for the incorrigible Von Trapp children. To Maria’s surprise and horror, she unintentionally fell in love with their father, Captain Von Trapp. Fleeing back to the safety of the abbey, Maria tried to bury her love for the captain, a love which would surely compromise her commitment to becoming a nun.

When the abbess finally gets Maria to talk about what happened at the Von Trapp home, the confused girl confesses her love for Captain Von Trapp. She begs the Reverend Mother for the opportunity to make her religious vows immediately, thereby removing forever the possibility of marrying the captain. But the abbess does a most surprising thing. Rather than accepting Maria into the holy order and protecting her from a marriage that would preclude her becoming a nun, the Reverend Mother orders Maria to return to the Von Trapp home. Disregarding Maria’s urgent pleas for admission to holy orders, she insists that Maria must test her love for the captain and thereby discover God’s will for her life.

Unhappily, Maria submits to the Reverend Mother’s command because she has no other choice. As a candidate for the abbey, Maria has submitted her life to the authority of the abbess. But we can see that this wise woman exercises her authority, not only for the good for her order, but for Maria’s good as well. Her guidance, however authoritative, is supremely wise and gracious, even though Maria cannot see it at the time.

So it with God’s guidance and our response. We obey God’s directions because we should. It’s the only right thing to do. But even when we can’t see how God’s ways are the best for us, they always are. Like the Reverend Mother, the Lord deserves our complete obedience. And, like the Reverend Mother, our gracious Heavenly Father guides us into the life of greatest fulfillment. When God directs us for his own purposes, we discover that his purposes include our blessing and joy.

This illustration from The Sound of Music helps us to see how obeying God can lead, not only to God’s good, but to our good as well. What it doesn’t capture is the miraculous and peculiar way God actually worked in the real life of the real Maria von Trapp.

Like the Reverend Mother who sent Maria back to the von Trapp family, God oftens “sends” us to places that don’t seem best to us. But, in fact, they are the best.

We can see this illustrated in the fictional version of the life of Maria von Trapp. But, in fact, her real life contained some striking examples of God’s unexpected guidance. Here’s an excerpt from the family history on the von Trapp website:

The movie strongly portrays Maria as the epitome of religious devotion in and out of convent life. Most people are unaware that she was raised as a socialist and atheist and became actively cynical towards all religions. Those beliefs quickly and dramatically changed by the chance meeting of a visiting Jesuit priest to Maria’s college.

Maria had entered a crowded church assuming she was about to enjoy a concert by Bach. Instead, a well known priest, Father Kronseder had just begun preaching. Caught in the middle of a standing-room-only crowd, Maria soon found herself caught up in the words of this preacher.

In Maria’s words, “Now I had heard from my uncle that all of these Bible stories were inventions and old legends, and that there wasn’t a word of truth in them. But the way this man talked just swept me off my feet. I was completely overwhelmed by it . . . .” When he finished his sermon and came down the pulpit stairs Maria grabbed his elbow and loudly asked, “Do you believe all this?”

A meeting between the priest and Maria changed her beliefs and the course of her life.

Though Maria was intensely devoted to her convent, she was taken away from the outdoor activities she once thrived on. Her doctor was concerned her health was failing due to a lack of fresh air and exercise. This was when the decision was made to send Maria to the home of retired naval captain Georg von Trapp. Her position was not governess to all the children, as the movie portrayed, but specifically to the captain’s daughter who was bedridden with rheumatic fever. The rest is truly history. Maria never returned to the convent and married the Captain on November 26, 1927. This is the story that has been made immortalized by The Sound of Music.

The von Trapp family began singing publicly, not because it was part of their escape from Austria to Switzerland, as in the movie, but as a result of what must have seemed like terrible misfortune to the von Trapps. When the family lost its wealth in the worldwide depression of the 1930s, they considered singing as a way of making money. At first the father was reticent, but according to one of his daughters, in the end he “accepted it as God’s will that they sing for others.” The family did indeed win first place at the Salzburg Music Festival in 1936, as depicted in the movie. And their singing was part of what helped them leave Austria, though without hiking over the mountains to Switzerland.

In the story of the real Maria von Trapp, we see how God uses circumstances, even apparently negative ones, to guide and bless and use his people. First, God led her to faith through her attendance at an evangelistic event that she mistakenly thought was going to be a concert. Second, her poor health in the convent was what led to her being assigned to the von Trapp family. And that which ended up bringing her family much acclaim, namely their professional singing, was something they did out of necessity when they lost their fortune.

Maria, by the way, remained a faithful Christian all of her life. In the 1950s she, along with her own children, Johannes and Rosmarie, and her stepdaughter Maria, went to New Guinea to do mission work there. Although Maria (senior) contracted malaria and didn’t remain in New Guinea for a long time, her children stayed on for several years, with Maria (junior) doing mission work in New Guinea for thirty years.

So the story of the real Maria von Trapp reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways, and that God’s guidance often comes packaged in unexpected forms. Yet he can use even the unexpected and the apparently negative both for our good and for his purposes.

How Does God Guide Us? Some Final Thoughts

In this series I’ve tried to show some of the ways that God guides us. I’ve explained that God guides us through:

• Circumstances
• Scripture
• Community
• Reason
• Dreams and Visions
• Divine Whispering
• Spiritual Direction

I suggested that we can confirm God’s guidance in various ways, especially through taking the risk of stepping out in faith. In my last posts, I showed that God’s guidance is not only for our benefit, but also for the sake of others, and especially for the sake of God’s own kingdom and glory.

I’ll finish up this series by responding to a couple of very practical questions that often hear as a pastor:

How can I learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit?
My life is so busy, how can I find time to quiet my heart enough to hear the Spirit’s gentle whisper?

How can I learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit?

I have found that many people simply need to be aware of the different ways that the Holy Spirit can guide them. Some who have studied the Bible for years to gain theological knowledge never expected the Spirit to speak to them personally through the Scripture. Once they have this expectation, they realize that the Spirit had been whispering in their ears in the past, but they had dismissed this internal voice as nothing of significance. Now they are ready to be guided by the Spirit in a more personal way.

Let me emphasize again that spiritual guidance must be evaluated for its consistency with Scripture. Moreover, we all need to be in close fellowship with other Christians who can help us to discern God’s directions for our lives. If you want to be guided by the Spirit and not simply to claim divine status for your own inclinations, commit yourself to Bible study and to active involvement in Christian community.

Remember that spiritual guidance often comes, not primarily for our sake, but for the sake of others. As you seek God’s will, ask him to show you how to serve those around you. Make yourself available to do God’s will, to participate in his work in the world. Submission to the Lord is a crucial ingredient of your readiness to hear his voice.

Finally, the practice of spiritual disciplines helps to tune our ears to the voice of the Spirit. As you spend time reading and meditating upon the Scripture, praying, journaling, taking time to be alone with God, being silent for extended times, worshiping publicly and privately, and fasting, your heart will be prepared for hearing God’s voice. If these disciplines — or even the word “discipline” — are unfamiliar to you, let me recommend a couple of marvelous books: The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988) and A Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 3rd edition (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998).

Today’s inspiring article was written by Rev. Mark D. Roberts and is shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/

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The D’s of Depression – Depend on God, Part 2

Yesterday we started our conversation about depending on God. I know of no other way to successfully combat depression. God is a complete source of truth and a complete go-to-guide on you! You may think you know all there is to know about yourself, but the truth is that you are just a newbie when it comes to knowing yourself. The tried and true source of knowledge is your Creator!

I know from my near-death experience that this thing we call life is a school of sorts. We have come here to learn and to improve. A part of that learning and growth comes through exercising faith. Our experiences and our decisions also contribute.

We need to know ourselves and learn the truth about ourselves. The problem is that we are generally our harshest critic and the person most inclined to punish our self. Therefore, what we believe about our self is most often incorrect. However, we do have a resource at our disposal – God.

Communicating with God takes effort on our part. While God is ever waiting and willing to assist us – most of the time we have to initiate those conversations. And then…we have to listen.

Sometimes the spirit commands our attention in a dramatic way but most of the time the spirit whispers. In order to be receptive to those whispers, we must create opportunities to hear and receive those whispers. Meditation, prayer, silence, pondering, and a nice walk are wonderful ways of creating those opportunities for God to speak to us.

Today, I continue to share a multi-part post by Rev. Mark Roberts from Patheos.com. I hope you will read it and think about ways that you can create better communication between yourself and God. I hope you will feel God speaking to you often!:

Developing an Ear to Hear the Holy Spirit, Part 1

Occasionally, the Holy Spirit almost shouts at us. Indeed, “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters” (Psalm 29:3). But most of the time, the Spirit deals with us as God did with Elijah, through what we might metaphorically call “whispering.” This presents a irksome problem for us: How can we hear the Spirit’s voice when our hearts are so overwhelmed by the cacophony of our busy lives and hearts?

When my children were young, I would often study in a McDonald’s Playplace. I’d read or tap away at my laptop computer while my kids would race through a maze of giant plastic tubes and slides. Invasive and syrupy Musak filled our favorite Playplace, though I could hardly hear it because of the competing racket from nearby video games. Babies were crying; toddlers were squealing; parents were shouting as they tried to get their children to come out of the play structure. It was noisy chaos.

Does your heart ever sound just like a McDonald’s Playplace? Have you ever sat down for a moment of quiet, only to notice that your mind keeps racing at breakneck speed? Do you ever try to hear the voice of God, only to be overwhelmed with dozens of other voices, including your own, and those of your parents, friends, colleagues, not to mention the culture? It’s no wonder that we find it hard to hear the Spirit’s voice, or that we mistakenly attribute some random thought to God. If we are going to be ready to hear the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, then somehow we have to quiet our hearts and learn to focus upon God. For most of us, this is much easier said than done.

Several years ago I participated in my first silent retreat. My wife and I, along with some Christian friends, planned to spend a weekend in silence at a secluded retreat center in the hills above Santa Barbara, California. When we arrived on Friday evening, our bedroom was stifling because the temperature had climbed into the 90s and the window had been shut. Cranking it open for some ventilation, we left for the start of the retreat. The leader explained the importance of keeping silent for two days, though warning us how difficult it might be when we first started. He had no idea how prophetic his words would be for me!

When Linda and I returned to our room, the temperature had dropped considerably, but in its place we found about a hundred ravenous mosquitoes. Following the rules of silence, we quietly divided our efforts at bug swatting until most of the little vampires had perished. In the process, I received a dozen little red bites. For most people this would be an inconvenience, but for me it was a nightmare because I am allergic to bug bites. Soon my body was covered with quarter-sized welts that itched worse than anything I could remember. For hours, I sat in agonizing, sleepless silence, trying not to scratch my bites, while occasionally jumping up to swat a remaining mosquito. I couldn’t remember a more miserable, night. Finally, at about five in the morning, Linda awoke and took pity on me enough to break silence.

“Are you OK,” she asked. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m miserable. I itch like mad. I haven’t slept one bit. And I can’t even complain about it because of this crazy silence! But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Finally, exhaustion got the better of me and I was able to sleep a bit. By late morning I had recovered enough from my ordeal to take a walk into the woods–with plenty of insect repellent applied liberally to my body. Finding a tranquil spot by a stream, I sat down to be quiet before God. Yet, as I tried to be quiet, I still heard a hundred buzzing “mosquitoes,” not real ones this time, but those that lived inside my head: the obnoxious buzzing of the things that filled my life, the demands, needs, ideas, hopes, fears, memories, disappointments, and dreams that controlled my life. These bugs couldn’t be swatted. They began to quiet down only after many hours of solitude and prayer, during which I surrendered to God everything that buzzed within my heart. In retrospect, I think God stirred up those inner mosquitoes so I could relinquish them to him. In some small way I began to obey the command of God found in Habakkuk: “The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him” (Hab 2:20).

Although my initial attempt at disciplined silence began with such great frustration, it turned out to be an exceptionally quiet moment in my otherwise noisy life. I began to discover why so many spiritually mature Christians set aside regular times for extended silence and solitude, and resolved to do so more myself.

As you read this, you may be thinking: “Well, that sounds great. But you’re a pastor. You can make time for this sort of thing. I can’t imagine getting away for a weekend of silence, or even for a half-day. What would you suggest for somebody like me?”

I’ll respond to this question in my next post in this series.

Developing an Ear to Hear the Holy Spirit, Part 2

In my last post, I talked about how important it is to quiet our hearts if we’re to receive guidance through the Holy Spirit. I suggested that literal silence, such as what we might experience on a silent retreat, helps promote internal silence. But how is this helpful to ordinary folks, to people who can’t easily make time to get away for a silent retreat?

First, in my experience I am able to make time for that which I value. Whether it’s a favorite TV show, exercise, or hanging out with my family, I am disciplined enough in the use of my calendar to make sure I do the important things, in addition to my work. I think this is true for most people, even extraordinary busy ones. Indeed, there may be short seasons of life when it’s almost impossible for you to get alone with God for a while–like when you’re a new mom with a tiny baby–but most of us can set aside at least an hour for quiet if we truly want to. The question is: Do we truly want to do this?

Silence can be scary, especially for those of us who aren’t used to it. We can be afraid that silence will be boring. Or we may be afraid that in silence we’ll have to deal with hard things in our life that we’d rather avoid. For example, when I spend quiet time with God, I’m sometimes reminded of things I have done wrong. God brings these to mind so that I may confess them and be forgiven, and so that I may talk with him about how I can do better in the future. But the experience of remembering forgotten sins isn’t particularly pleasant. Many of us fill our lives with noise because we don’t want to face our fears, our hurts, or our disappointments, in addition to our sins.

If you find yourself resistant to the whole notion of being quiet with God, I’d encourage you to talk about this with a trusted Christian brother or sister. Perhaps your first efforts at silence can be shared with this person, who will be there to support you in prayer and other ways.

Second, I think many of us don’t take time to be alone with God because we set the bar too high at first. We might read about saints who spends days in silence and decided to imitate them. But when we try, our efforts quickly fail. Most of us need to begin more humbly and realistically, not with days of solitude and silence, but with minutes or hours.

Some years ago, I encouraged members of my congregation at Irvine Presbyterian Church to set aside one hour once a month for solitude. More was fine. But one hour once a month was a great start. I recommended that folks go to a place that fosters silence, perhaps a secluded park or beach, or maybe a quiet retreat center. Personally, I find it difficult to be quiet and alone when I’m at home or work. Others might have more discipline and focus than I do, but it seems that most people are helped when they’re in a place that fosters quiet fellowship with God.

Moreover, I’d urge you to work with your natural inclinations, not against them. For example, I know people who can pray for long periods of time when sitting or kneeling. I’m not one of these people. Yet if I’m walking, and especially if I’m walking in a place where I can pray out loud, then I can go for longer stretches. Similarly, some people are helped to pray by going to a church sanctuary. I, on the other hand, find nature to be my best “sanctuary.” The beauty of the natural world reminds my of the beauty of God, and helps me to sense God’s presence.

For most of my life, I prayed either out loud or silently. Then, about eight years ago, I began to write out my prayers in a journal. I discovered that the practice of journaling helped me to focus, both on what I wanted to say to the Lord and on what he wanted to say to me. Of course I don’t journal when I’m walking! But many of my non-ambulatory prayer sessions now involve writing. This may or may not be helpful to you. If you haven’t tried journaling before, you may want to give it a shot.

To sum up, here’s what I’m saying in this blog post:

1. If you value solitude and silence, you’ll find a way to get it into your calendar.

2. If the whole idea of silence is scary, find a partner with whom to share your hesitations and your experiences.

3. Be realistic in your expectations. Commit to spending one hour in solitude once a month. More is fine, but start with what you can manage.

4. Work with your natural inclinations, not against them.

5. Try writing out your prayers in a journal.

As with every facet of the Christian life, learning to discern the voice of the Spirit is something we should do as a committed member of Christian community. Certainly, times of solitude are essential, but not a lifetime of separation from our spiritual family. A healthy Christian community will help you listen to the whisper of the Spirit, discern which voices are really from God, and speak in a way that doesn’t trivialize spiritual guidance by turning everything into a word from the Lord.

These two segments written by Rev. Mark Roberts have been shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/

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