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Posts Tagged ‘hearing the voice of god’

listeningWhat does it mean to listen to God?

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
    he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants [saints]—
    but let them not [re]turn to folly. [Psalm 85:8, NIV, 2010 with words inserted from 1984 version]

When I was in acting school, we used to have a teacher who tried to teach us how to center down into ourselves, to experience “constructive rest,” to align our bodies, to know “neutral” in ourselves. Much of that time was spent on the floor and breathing. At the time, I was simply too immature to appreciate what she was trying to accomplish. One of her exercises required us to listen: to listen to the sounds outside the room, then inside the room, and then inside our bodies. In a way, this is technique that can also be used to settle the mind down in preparation to listen to God. It’s pretty hard to listen to God while being busy doing other things. [Unless anyone has cultivated the habits of Brother Lawrence, and his Practice of the Presence of God.]

But I believe, more than anything else, that the heart must be prepared to hear before listening will occur. It is up to me to establish that environment, like preparing garden soil to be sown. I can help this preparation of the heart along by reading or singing or breathing.

In this process, I should also know the subject matter. In other words, I believe the most productive listening is done when focused on a situation or topic or question. (And I don’t mean a yes or no question, but a more open-ended one, that allows room for God to expand the answer.) But here is the vital key: I must be at my wit’s end, so to speak. If I really want my heart to be open to the voice of God, then I must know that my resources have been expended, my “way” has not worked, my solutions have been exhausted.

surrenderOtherwise, I think my very human tendency, once I “hear” God’s response, is to compare it to all the other answers out there. It’s not the way God works. If I am truly coming to the God of the Universe for help and illumination, then I can’t treat the answer as though God is simply weighing in on the possibilities like another girlfriend at a kaffeeklatsch.

Do not, then, go to God lightly. For in the breadth of this one verse, Psalm 85:8, there is a warning about returning to our folly (our own way). To ask God, the Holy Spirit, to help and then to choose another way, is, indeed foolishness.

In the older 1984 NIV version, the translation reads that God promises peace to his saints. In later years, this term has been replaced with culture friendly phrases like “faithful servants” or “the holy people He loves.” We are adverse to calling ourselves saints and yet I know it’s not a word to be taken lightly, it is the one that speaks of total surrender to the Christ. A saint is totally sold out to God. A saint hears God and listens and then acts upon the information.

Clearly, the opposite of a saint is a fool.

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In this story of Abraham, Abimelech (King of Gerar), and Sarah, her husband called her “sister” to protect their household. But that protection meant being taken by Abimelech and placed in his harem of women. Her safety was exchanged for the many. But not until the end of the story are we told what drove her redemption: barrenness.

Genesis 20:17-18
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah. [NIV 1984]

God opens and closes wombs. Whether it was back then or now.

I am always intrigued by the real time that takes place within the space of a single sentence in the scripture. In order for Abimelech’s household to know that none of the women could bear children, some time had to pass by. Perhaps their monthly menstruation stopped or women who had been fruitful and continually pregnant, suddenly were not. In any case, it was not a day or a week but more like a year or more that Sarah languished amid the Philistines of that part of the Negev. Which is another reason why the story specifies that the King had not touched Sarah, a surprise, considering how long she had been among them.

In my imagination, when the King’s household discovers their barrenness, they beseech their gods and they beseech their leader to seek healing, to seek an answer, to seek a solution. In this way, it makes sense to me that Abimelech was open to hearing the voice of God in his dream. I believe his seeking was authentic. And when a person seeks from the heart, God answers.

Another interesting side note is that Sarah herself was barren. Did she reveal this fact to the other women? Undoubtedly, since the most important role of women in those days was producing children, and in particular, producing sons. Perhaps they mocked her. That would be my conjecture and yet I could see God responding to Sarah’s lament as well. That they might experience her sorrow of childlessness.

Sometimes, it takes a physical situation to wake us up. When my husband I married thirty years ago, the last thing we expected was to experience barrenness and childlessness. How could that be? We were both believers and committed to our marriage. We were faithful in things of God. And yet, we had no children for eight years. And only then did we seek adoption as a way to build a family.

And yet, despite our confidence that God was in this process, we still had people who asked if we still believed that God would give us our “own” children. Another woman told me I was probably too selfish to have children. Another said it was a curse and we should seek forgiveness for the unspoken sins in our lives. We felt the judgment of well-meaning Christians in our midst.

Our barrenness drove us to God and God’s answer was not pregnancy in the traditional sense. From this experience forward, I have been clear that we, as humans, limit God every day with our interpretation of what God’s “answers” should be or look like. And not only that, but the time it takes for the plan to unfold.

And so, for any women who sorrow over their closed wombs, I offer this one advice: accept what is today and move on so that God can bring forth the next thing. As long as we hold to our way, no other path can be revealed. Every closed womb still holds the Spirit and that is a seed for all generations.

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