I’m in the process of writing my next book. In it I include a chapter on the art of listening. As I’ve been praying, writing, meditating on what God gives me to write, I have been stirred and challenged in my own heart. I want my walk with God to go deeper. Therefore, I must have my spiritual ears open to hear Him say, “this is the way, now walk in it.” Many of you reading have the same desire. I thought I would share an excerpt from my next book which I am calling — Strength For the Weary. I hope it blesses you.
Making time to come before God with the sole intent of listening is something many have never thought of doing. When we think of prayer, we imagine the words we will speak to Him, imploring His daily help. We don’t always imagine ourselves just waiting, listening.
We feel we have an understanding of what prayer is and we practice it with regularity. We are content for the most part, but often, even in our most earnest of supplications, we can feel as if our prayers aren’t getting above the ceiling. The reason may be as simple as learning the art of listening.
The key is in how we approach God. Of course, as His children, we have the joyful right to rush into His presence at any moment, and He welcomes us to do so. I’m referring to something different. I’m referring to those moments when we deeply desire to hear Him. There must be no rushing about during those intimate moments of communing with our Father.
In his book, Making All Things New, Henri Nouwen wrote, “Jesus’ life was a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to His voice, always alert for His directions. Jesus was ‘all ear.’ That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.”
We read in the four Gospels that Jesus often rose before daybreak. The reason? He was praying. He was seeking His Father’s direction for the day. He was doing more than petitioning. He was listening. He was engaged in private, intimate communication with His Father. His trained ear was open and earnestly waiting for His Father to speak.
You and I are busy. Our world is fast paced and instant. Through computer technology, television, and the microwave, we can watch news, play games, be entertained, communicate, and eat our meals in fleeting minutes. It’s all instant. Therefore, it’s no surprise when we come to God, we want instant response, too. It’s the way the world has conditioned us, but we don’t come to the throne of God as the world comes; we come in a spirit of sacrifice and humility. We must come as David wrote in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”
As we walk into this New Year, may we each one be blessed with great joy and inner peace as we practice, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the art of spiritually listening.
I find it interesting to observe our dog, Jack, on his daily explorations. He runs ahead, whether in the woods, open fields, or along the beach. He sniffs here and there and lopes on in great happiness. He regularly glances back to see where I might be. If I have turned to go in another direction, he quickly runs over, then rushes ahead to continue his sniffing and running activity, but always looking back at me.
It occurred to me that I can take Jack’s example into the New Year. I quit making a New Year’s resolution years ago, mainly because after a week or two, not only was I not keeping it, but most of the time I had even forgotten what it was that I had set as my goal. Learning from Jack sets a worthy objective indeed.
This year, as I determine to go forward in the things God has set for me, I want to look back, also. When I get discouraged, I want to look back and remember His past comfort to me. When I become fearful of what tomorrow may bring, I want to look back and remember all the times I knew my Father was there, giving me His own courage. When I grow weary with the pursuit, I want to look back at God’s promises, which never fail, and gain strength from His Word which stands the test of time. When I am misunderstood, I want to look back and identify with Jesus, because He was also misinterpreted. When I forge ahead in my aspirations, I want to look back to see if God is turning in a different direction, at which time I will also turn to follow Him. When I feel alone and vulnerable, I want to look back and be reminded that the One I love and serve never leaves nor forsakes me.
I want to be as faithful to my Heavenly Father and His plans, as Jack is to me, and when I make a mistake, I want to run to my Father, accepting His forgiveness and loving encouragement, just as Jack does to me. Yes, this New Year, I want to take Jack’s example. I want to look back, gain my Father’s strength and encouragement, and then I will, “Press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:14)
Happy New Year, everyone! May your own pursuits be blessed with those moments of looking back as you move forward.
On that night over two thousand years ago, the most wonderful event in the world happened. The King of kings and Lord of Lords came to earth! The most high and most glorious! But He arrived as a baby and He was born — in a feeding trough!
The news was first shared with a group of shepherds who were tending their sheep. Angels appeared in the sky above them. One spoke, telling them how to find this Savior of the world. It’s recorded in Luke 2:12, “You will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
A manger? A feeding trough? What? We remind ourselves; of course, there was no room in the inn, but we must look deeper. You see, it had already been prophesied in the Old Testament, hundreds of years previously, that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. It was God’s plan. He orchestrated every detail. He planned who would give birth to Jesus. He planned how to get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem; and yes, He planned that His Son would be born in a feeding trough. It was no unintended mistake or oversight. It was all for purpose.
The Savior began His earthly life in a lowly feeding trough; He would end His earthly life by execution on a criminal’s cross. It was all God’s plan. It wasn’t easy but it was necessary. His lowly birth lets us all know that everyone is invited to come to Him. His lowly death lets us know that everyone is precious to Him. He was born with a purpose to die so we may live. Because of Jesus, we have promise of life after death where no tears or sorrow exist.
He lowered Himself to be born in a feeding trough that anyone from any walk of life may come to Him. We are asked to lower ourselves, to kneel at the cross, to ask His forgiveness, in humility to realize we are less than who we can be without Jesus. Then we may stand up! Stand and be counted His own! Stand and walk forward with new purpose; purpose that brings meaning to life as never before, joy and peace that reigns even in our most grievous moments.
God had a perfect plan for His Son to be born in a feeding trough. It was no mistake. From feeding trough to cross was a difficult road — but the end a most glorious one.
God has a perfect plan for you and me. It has no mistake. From our kneeling at the cross to breathing our last breath will have its own difficulties — but the end result is a most glorious one, too.
When I was fifteen my family and I were living at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. It so happened that our housing was just a block away from the golf course. I became intrigued at golfers coming and going. One day I walked up and watched as men and women practiced on the putting green. There were several in our church who played golf. I was elated when, hearing of my interest to learn, they invited me to join them on Saturday mornings. I was always up at 5:00am eagerly waiting. Just one game and I was hooked. It’s my favorite sport to this day. I still get a thrill to hear the click of the club hitting the ball, then watching it soar across the sky. Because of my lifetime travels I have never been able to play as much as I would like, but it’s a time of sheer bliss when I do.
Imagine my excitement when, that Christmas at age fifteen, I came downstairs on Christmas morning and there stood a golf bag complete with a set of shiny clubs. It remains my best gift ever. I beam to this day when I play, when rather often, someone compliments me on my clubs. Yes, I still have the same ones, and I guess they’re now antiques!
My golf clubs are the best gift in my physical world, but what about my spiritual world? Well, for all of us who have received God’s gift of salvation, the promise of forgiveness of every sin, plus eternal life where joy never ends and no tears of sorrow exist, that is the best gift ever. However, there’s another gift that Jesus gave to all who personally know Him; it’s the gift of The Advocate. Aside from salvation, the coming of The Advocate or The Holy Spirit, is another amazing gift. Jesus said, in explaining His crucifixion and resurrection, in John 16:5-7, “Now I am going away to the One who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send Him to you.”
You see, when we have The Advocate residing within us, He reminds us of God’s Words and of God’s truth. He empowers us with strength to face any trial, with courage to walk into the unknown, with kindness to respond to the needs of others, with peace and joy in the midst of life’s turmoil. He gives us hope when dreams shatter, comfort when we grieve, and quiet joy in the most unimaginable of difficult circumstances. The gift of the Holy Spirit is amazing! If you don’t know Him, He’s only a prayer away. If you choose to receive Jesus this Christmas, not only comes forgiveness of all sin, with promise of eternal life with Him, but you get the added gift of The Holy Spirit — He and Jesus — the best gifts ever!
Our dog, Jack, has matured into a — most of the time — obedient dog. Once in a while he slips back into his former nature which is barking and snarling at would be assailants. Such was the case earlier this week. There we were enjoying a gentle stroll around the neighborhood when another dog comes on the scene. This other dog is also on a leash. He is on the other side of the road. He is minding his own business of sniffing pursuits. What does Jack do? He turns into the hound of the baskervilles!
I have a good grip on the leash as I command him to, “stop Jack!” We walk on. The incident is over but not really. A now contrite Jack peeks back at me over his shoulder. He knows his transgression. His eyes speak volumes — Everything okay? I keep my face stern. He walks on and looks back again — Everything okay? I smile then, pet him, and assure him, “I love you, Jack.” He lifts his head and walks on happily, safe in the assurance of my love for him.
Aren’t we the same in our walks with God? Perhaps you have been working on a personal weakness, a stance against some temptation. You’ve matured into an obedient Christ follower — most of the time — but the dreaded moments come when you succumb to something you never wanted to do or think or say again. You walk on but gingerly peek at God — Everything okay? Someone else enters the scene. His name is Demon. He speaks lies. He tells you that God is not pleased with you; therefore, His love has diminished. You hang your head as you consider the lie. You are disgusted with yourself. Your reasoning tells you, if you’re repulsed by your own actions, your Heavenly Father must be ready to give up entirely.
Perhaps you sink into despair that goes from a day to a week to a month or more. The assault of demon lies never cease. You can’t breathe in peace anymore. It’s gone! But wait! Once more you peek at God. You hear Him say, “If you confess your sin, I’ll forgive you. I’ll wash you all over. I’ll make you clean again.”* His words are tender and loving. You know they are true. You receive it. A burden floats away. Peace comes again. You lift your head and walk on happily, safe in the assurance of Father’s love for you.
*(I John 1:9 – paraphrase mine)
Our sweet dog, Jack, is his own worst enemy. Next month he will be six years old. In that time we’ve taken him to the vet several times for tummy upsets. A year ago he was even in intensive care for four days! Why? He’s a scavenger and eats things he should not eat! The intensive care stay was a result of acorns. Last week and this week he’s been back to the vets because of devouring what he should never eat.
Jack has good food. We even have to buy expensive, grain free food for him. His treats are grain free. His water is filtered. It’s all good and plentiful, so why on earth will he be tempted by, and succumb, to nasty things that make him sick? Oh, that unwise at times, but lovable dog who captured our hearts. What will we do? We will continue to love him, comfort him, scold him when we catch him in the act, and then love him some more. We will always provide for his needs with the greatest of pleasure. We will not give up on him.
Aren’t all of God’s children, at times, just like scavenger Jack? Our Heavenly Father provides what we need everyday of our lives. He gives us His own courage, joy, peace, direction. Still, as we are running about in our personal busyness, we see things that look tasty. We are tempted to go where we should not go, to engage in something we should avoid, to speak words that should never come from our lips, behave in a manner that is not godly.
What happens when we succumb to such temptations? We become spiritually sick. If we stray too long from the good food our Father provides for us in His Word, or ignore communication with Him, we become distant, downcast, lacking inner peace, void of abiding joy. What can we do? Go back! Go back to that place we left His ways. Go back to the table He keeps prepared for us; tables laden with everything good for our everyday living. Eating from His table keeps us strong, ready to face the hardships this world throws at us.
When we stray, how lovely that we can return to our Father, knowing He waits with the door open, desiring to restore us, to bathe us in forgiveness and love. He may scold us, but His compassion and mercy is fresh every morning. It is His great pleasure to provide everything we need to get through everyday of our lives with our spiritual health intact. He will never give up on us.
“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh every morning.” Lamentations 3:22-23