Can't Hear God? 5 Ways To Hear God's Voice Better

I will never forget the tone of voice of my parents when they called out to me.  It was easy to tell the difference between concern, love, and frustration.  The latter usually included the use of my entire name with extra syllables added!  My own children know those differences too.  Even though they are young adults and going their own ways, our text messages even have a sense about them.

Lately, I find myself wrestling with how I am doing when it comes to listening to God.  As a pastor and spiritual director, I have had the question of listening to God posed to me many times.  It may well be one of the most common hang-ups people have with their spiritual life.  Are you having this difficulty?  If so, you are in good company.  Even those of us in the practice of knowing God struggle too.

So what is the answer for it?  My observation in reading from different faith traditions is teachers and religious leaders also have a conviction or expertise but acknowledge their tradition has acceptable differences.   It seems in Christianity, there tends to be a one-size approach taken by pastors and teachers, usually, this is unique to a denomination.  The “wrongness” or “rightness” of a practice is often judged.  I am going to try not to do that if I can help it. It isn't about a "tradition," it is about God.

Here are five thoughts I have to offer you on the subject of listening for God…

1.  Are you connected with other followers?  (Hebrews 10:25)
One of the most valuable ways we learn is to be with others in the process.  Being in school and in a classroom is a primary example of how we learn and can learn very effectively.  Working with others in our class can reinforce this.  The Bible says specifically don’t give up meeting together!  We don’t just need to meet together for rituals, we meet together because we can meet God and hear from God in the midst of being with others.

2.  Have you made time for God in your day?  (Luke 5:16)
I heard this one a long time ago and never forgot it.  It is the reminder that if Jesus needed to take time to be with God alone in prayer, then we surely do too.  Are you making time to meet with God daily?  Are you reading the Bible or sacred text?  Are you praying?  Do you have a devotional to read?  You are NOT going to get to know someone by MUST make time for them.  This includes giving time to be with God.  (The Upper Room is a great help).

3.  Do you experience an assurance of salvation?  (Romans 8:16)   
This is a tricky one and as I describe it, it comes to be a connection between heart and head: do you have a consistent sense of peace when you reflect on your relationship with God?  Is there contradiction or conflict in your life regarding you and God? A sense of stress or worry?  Romans seems to indicate there is a deep contentment that is more than a feeling or simple knowledge of a fact.  

4.  Do you have other “senses” in tune with God? (Psalm 34:8)
The Psalm writer points here to the idea of “tasting” to “see” that God is good.  Well, that is two different senses at play that are not connected.  John Wesley writes that we may have “had ear, but heard not,” and now we are “made capable of hearing,” but in a spiritual sense.  God’s voice we hear in commands AND invitations as well as promises and corrective words.  We hear them ALL gladly and apparently they come in different ways!

5.  Is there someone to help you? (John 3:1-21 and 4:7-19)
Jesus took time to speak one-on-one with both a religious teacher and a woman he met who was getting water.  The model of the Pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) give us instructions about those who are to guide people on their faith journey.  Often we need someone farther on the spiritual journey to help us.  Even those of us who are trained as spiritual directors are to be in spiritual direction!  Having someone to help you listen for God can be one of the best things you can do for your soul.

I am far from done with this topic, listening to God.  I have heard God’s voice in varying ways throughout my life.  Contrary to some teachers, God’s voice does not lead us always to great financial blessings or fewer difficulties.  Certainly, for some, this is the case but nearly every one of Jesus’ disciples was martyred as were thousands in the early church (and in the 20th century the Church experienced its greatest period of martyrdom).  Listening to God may lead people into full-time ministry but may also lead some to other places to serve God too.  

Ultimately though, listening to God ought to lead us to self-examination and transformation of our soul so we might be more like Jesus and help lead us to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.  
May I Ask? How is listening to God changing you?  How are you changing the world?  Even the smallest signs offer us hope we are on the Way.

Images used with permission from Pixabay and NewOldStock

Author and Book Spotlight on Kathy Anderson and Recalculating

Recalculating: Walk Away from Negative Thinking with the Course-Correcting Power of Words, is an excellent book with practical application for learning to renew your mind. Negative thinking causes a great deal of anxiety in our lives and we need the course-correcting power of words to help us. The Bible encourages us to renew our minds and Kathy Anderson gives us a clear plan on how this is possible in our lives and how we can change our habits.

As we explore the Spiritual Side of our lives, Jedi Pastor Ken will highlight authors and books, like Kathy Anderson and “Recalculation” that aid in our spiritual formation. In addition, collaborations with other thought leaders in the field of spiritual formation will part of these interviews as well. Check out the links below to get your copy of “Recalculating” and go to Kathy’s website to sign up for her e-mail list and get one of her free offerings to help you recalculate!

Get Kathy's Book: "Recalculating" on Kindle Here: Kathy’s Website and some freebies:

The Number 1 Practice of Spiritual Formation

Do you remember the old saying that goes, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink?”  Yeah, not sure how far back it goes but its application fits in a lot of different environments and situations.  I’ve not ever owned a horse but I’ve owned both cats and dogs...ever tried to give them pills or liquid meds?  Yeah, it may be good for them but they don’t know nor do they care.  Cats will just as soon rip your face off.

Like so many things in our day and age, we want everything to be easy or at least palatable.  If it takes too much work, is too complex or takes too much time, we don’t want much to do with it.  In a few recent Facebook exchanges, many I didn’t engage in and one I did, the challenge to practice active listening (or active reading in this case), seemed too daunting a task for some.  It was far more convenient to label another and then tear down the straw man because no attempt was actually made to empathize (saying you “empathize” is not actually empathizing).  

This is only an example of one of the ways we, as a society, refuse to do the more difficult work of relationships.  And, it doesn’t end there.  It is something which is rolled right into our physical health and our spiritual lives.  Now, I’m not an expert in physical health so I won’t try to tackle that one but the spiritual life is where I have spent my time, effort and writing.
In one of the most popular posts on the subject of spiritual formation, John R. Throop writes, “Spiritual formation cannot be found in a ‘Five Minutes to Improved Spirituality" product. Be prepared to change the pattern of your life to practice the purposes of God.’ (5 Facets in Spiritual Formation, Christianity Today). Simply put, there is no shortcut for nurturing our spiritual growth.  Not only that, there are numerous behaviors and attitudes in ourselves and in others, that act like weeds to choke off your growth.  

I am amazed at times to see how those in other faith traditions actively practice and take on practices in their lives to seek a more fulfilling relationship with the Divine.  Muslims are steadfast and faithful in their prayers and practices.  Those who practice yoga are most often aligned with a religious tradition of Buddhism, Hinduism or Jainism and are resolute in practicing mindfulness and meditation.  Yet, in the Christian tradition, we often scoff at taking seriously those various practices which Jesus, the very Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, taught and lived.  This goes not only for prayer but for fasting, and caregiving, and serving others.

As you can tell, I like to tackle the topic from a modern view through referencing the neutral but VERY spiritual elements from the Star Wars saga.  That isn’t easy for some to take.  It comes across as “too worldly.”  If you do a Google search of the phrase “Spiritual Formation,” you’ll find a number of sites and videos from Christian teachers being, shall we say, “over-the-top,” regarding the term because it isn’t “Biblical” enough.  They will gladly use phrases like Biblical practices, prayer practices, devotional practices, devotional habits, etc...yet these have no Biblical basis either, these phrases are simply not found anywhere in the Bible.

Right now, I am taking time to refocus my writing and ministry in this area.  It came through my life and struggles of faith and I think, it comes through loud and clear in the title of my book, “Life Sucks Seek God,” because it reflects, on one hand, the reality of our world and life, which, in all honesty, is hard and does suck many days.  And yet, there is before us the opportunity for you and me to experience the life-giving, soul-renewing, the experience of coming into a real “face-to-face” connection with God.  

It is time for us to take Paul’s words to heart more readily when he writes, “Rather,  speaking the truth in love, we are to  grow up in every way into him who is  the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:15)”  What we call spiritual formation, IS growing up into Christ, but we more often than not, seem to only speak the “love” aspect without speaking the “truth” part of the equation.  The truth is spiritual formation is going to deal with YOUR life CHANGING.  Your nationalism or party affiliation does not give you bonus or credit toward forwarding your relationship with God and you becoming more like Jesus.  

Luke Skywalker noted in the Empire Strikes Back, that he wasn’t afraid of the training needed to become a Jedi.  The little Jedi master, Yoda, quickly shot back, “You will be!  You. Will. Be!”  It is time to stop playing games with your faith and you forcing your small group leader, your Sunday School teacher or your pastor, to make you drink.  Just stop.  Spiritual formations number one practice, at its core, is listening to God’s Spirit.  Try the other old adage: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Since Jesus said when you do something to the least of the people, you’ve done it to God, then know this - sometimes the doing is listening.  When you listen to others, there is a good chance you’re going to hear God.  

So in love, shut up and give up, God is right now showing up and it is time for you to listen up.

MAY I ASK?  Are you having a hard time hearing from God?  Are people around you noting that you aren't really listening to them?  When is the last time you listened to God?  What did you hear?  What could you do differently?

Better Questions? Better Guides? Questioning as I Go a bit Farther Down the Valley of Suck

We don’t know what we don’t know.

Maybe it is because I’m getting older and the lessons of the years seem to be more pronounced, but it seems with each passing day, I am more aware of what I do not know.  There was a time when I was younger I hoped to be an “expert” on something.  

In her book, “Real Power,” Janet Hagberg talks about how our human understanding of power goes through stages.  At stage three in the process, we come to understand power through symbols.  Those symbols can be in the form of titles, cars, homes, size of your corporation, where your office might be located, any number of things can determine what you determine to be power.

But...that is ONLY stage three.  In Hagberg’s study of power, there are SIX stages, not THREE.  Yet, in our world, stage three appears to us as the top.  There has been an avalanche of articles about Hugh Hefner following his death, and he, among many others through history to the present, can be seen to have achieved this understanding of power...and gotten stuck there (here is one of the more thoughtful editorials I have found).  

Celebrities, corporate elitism, elected officials, managers, employees and, yes, clergy can find ourselves achieving and even reveling in these positions of power and influence thinking we have attained something with which to say we “made our mark,” in the world.  It is interesting to notice how this process can consume us though.  Article upon article, book upon book, lecture upon lecture, those who achieve power counsel those seeking this same power, to “surround themselves with winners!”  If the only knowledge we seek is from those who have only gone part way on the life journey, just what have we gained? Isn't that like playing only two-quarters of a four-quarter game?

Thankfully, there are other voices who managed to achieve enough of this power to recognize it needs only be one more step on the road to something far more valuable, a power worth more than things.  There is more to seek in this life than notoriety and celebrity and fleeting positions of power.  When we achieve these most sought-after positions of power, they are only temporary for eventually, someone is going to replace you.  Someone new will be elected, a new revolution will occur or the mantle will be passed by retirement or appointment.  
There are many who have seen and commented before and offer us better advice. There are true spiritual directors who journey with us and help us listen for God's Spirit.  In reading the other day I came across these words of guidance,

“Learn to walk this upward path of wisdom.  Pursue God in all things with an open heart, ready to be taught, ready to follow.  As you practice wisdom, you will notice a change in your soul. You will go beyond seeking right understanding and will pass into the place in spirit where you are simply a friend to God - a friend, I say, whose life is under the wise care and direction of the King and Ruler of all.” - Clement of Alexandria

We don’t know what we don’t know because we fail too often to listen to those who know what we do not.  I find that my journey through the valley of suck, this road which grief has led me upon, is not a road that is unknown.  It is a path neglected and ignored but there is deep wisdom here, and a place of purging and correction and redirection.  And it is here, I think C.S. Lewis pointed when he referred to the “deep magic” in The Chronicles of Narnia.  For suffering is the way of The Christ, the way of Immanuel (Isaiah 53).  I find there are few guides in our age who seem to know this path and if you can find them, they are rarely in the spotlight.  

I remember once asking a question of a teacher, “who are you reading and listening to for your growth?” It seems all the more pressing as I journey on.  Just who is guiding our guides? Who is teaching our teachers?  We may not know what we don’t know but we can surely ask better questions and seek better guides.

May I Ask: What are the better questions you are asking? Who are the better guides you are finding?

Library image from "New Old Stock"

It Ain't All Bad In The Valley of Suck: Learning to Give Thanks

Too soon?

It is just the end of September, it is not the time for giving thanks yet, is it?  I mean, we have a day for this after all right?  I'll be the first to admit it, I am a little miffed about some things in my life.  I know, pastors are NOT supposed to put that out there are we?  Look, I heard a few grumblings about the phrase "valley of suck," so I know I can rub a few people the wrong way.  Sorry, it is not my intent.

On my journey through the valley of grieving and loss, I have met those worse off than myself.  Sometimes these folks have been bitter but more times than not, I have been amazed by the resilience and faith of so many too.  At times, their optimism has led me to simply stop and give thanks...

...and then I wonder, "why do we not do this more?"  I don't mean putting on "rose-colored glasses" and seeking some "Neverland" to live in.  But why do we always wait to list out our thankfulness till November?!?!

I grew up with a responsive reading in my church every week.  Usually, the reading came from the Book of Psalms.  And as I have been on the journey through the valley of suck, the Psalms have been a fire hose blast of inspiration and emotions that resonate with my soul.  One of those themes I find over and over again is THANKS.

How do we keep missing this?  I am at a loss as to why we in the Church have come to ignore what are words intended to remind us and inspire us to know the fullness of God's love for us?  Name any situation, and I have heard someone say, "I just don't know why God would allow that to happen?"  But when we talk about being thankful to God, the words do not come across as very convincing.

I think it has a great deal to do with our admission we are just a wee-bit prideful about taking credit for the good things.  We like to take full credit for our successes and allow God to carry all the blame for the bad.  I believe our spirituality needs to make room for the full expression of human emotions in relation to God.

The words of the writer of Psalm 105 made me stop and take heed this week and I pray it will do the same for you.  Can you...will you...stop and recognize right now, the deeds God has done for you?  The psalms are reminding us often to stop and give thanks but if we do not do it, then, it is like saying we have love but don't...we're just a banging gong (1 Corinthians 13).

A bad as the valley has sucked, the deeds God has done and continues to do, renew me and renew my hope.  I have had my heart expand to love again.  I have found the strength to be a single parent and I have seen my kids grow in ways I could not imagine.  These are just a few I can name and there are indeed more.

May I ask, what are the deeds God has done for you?  Don't wait till November to name them.  This isn't about God after all, it is about you and me and what role God plays in our lives.

How To Meditate on Bible Verses (5 Simple Steps)

Okay, there is a lot of talk about meditation. We see it on TV and Movies (the Jedi are always doing it!).  It is in the magazines we read.  BUT for some of us it is so confusing because preachers online and in their pulpits tell us NOT to follow in the ways of meditation like in Eastern religions but then the BIBLE says over and over again to MEDITATE!!!  AHHHH!  What do you do?

The Bible says to meditate and so we should but the Bible has something a little different in mind because the focus of the Christian faith is to be in a life-changing relationship with God.  We were made for a relationship with the Divine and Jesus Christ came so we could make the connection with God we could not do on our own.  

So Christian meditation on the Bible helps us listen to the Spirit of God so we can know God.  This is like the other side of prayer, not where we talk BUT where we begin to listen.  So lets stay on target with the first step:

Where are you most comfortable? Your bed? The porch? The breakfast room?  The bathroom?  (Don’t joke, it maybe the only quiet spot in the house!)  Find a place where distraction are the fewest and you can chill out.  I’ve used ALL the places I mentioned before at different times in my life and during the day.  It isn’t something that has to ONLY happen at a church building.
Sounds simple doesn’t it but think this one through.  A digital Bible is just fine BUT with technology comes distractions especially from social media. Think about a real hard copy of the Bible just for this time.  Get one you feel you can write in too if you want.  You don’t need an expensive study Bible but get one you understand.  There might be an idea or voice you hear too so keep something to write with nearby.

Go to the very middle of the book and you’ll show up in the Psalms.  Why the Psalms?  Well, the Psalms are the prayer book (some say the hymn book) of the Bible.  It records 150 prayers in it.  They are real and they are raw at times.  Some of them will seem like the oddest collections of prayers you’ve heard.  You may even wonder how they got in the Bible.

What I hope you’ll learn though is that just about ALL the human emotions you could have toward God are in the pages of Psalms.  From celebrations to catastrophes, form hope to despair, joy to anger, it is all in there.  

  1. READ SMALL SECTIONS (like 1-6 verses)
I’ve got a bad feeling about this...yep, because too often people feel compelled to read the whole book in one setting. Nerf herders.  Seriously, don’t even start at Psalm 1.  Start at Psalm 38.  Then go to Psalm 103.  The point is, there is not a grade here.  You can spend weeks in Psalm 119 after all!  No, go anywhere BUT keep your goal small.

Why?  Because the point here is to listen for know experience God.  God is not giving out gold stars for reading all of the Book of Psalms.  God wants to know you and meditation on the Bible, I have found small sections like 1-6 verses in plenty.  Sometimes longer is just fine but let this be kind of a guideline.

Now I did it.  Yep, as you read keep this pattern in mind:
-WHAT catches my attention - good or bad?
The good is encouraging and the bad is convicting.  We need both and sometimes God wants to deal with stuff in us we’d just assume ignore.  But that is a poor way to come to meditation.

Just why does it encourage you?  Why does it convict you about some behavior?  Don’t look it me, I don’t know - you are the one in conversation with God now so take it to God.  Reflect on it. Think on why it is doing what is doing in you.

-WHAT does it mean?  The clearest most basic meaning matters
Here’s Your Sign!  You don’t have to over spiritualize any of it.  The most clear, basic meaning is most likely WHAT you need to pay attention to.  A study bible will just make you tempted to, well, start studying.   Don’t.  When you get the probably have the answer.

TOO many times people take all this and do nothing with it.  But I suspect you don’t want to do that so here is the bonus that makes all the difference...ask yourself and God one more question:

HOW do I LIVE this?  An authentic faith doesn’t stay in sanctuaries, synagogues or solitude.  You can’t love your neighbor if you don’t go to your neighbor.  You can’t love your enemy if you don’t see your enemy.  You can’t love your loved ones either!  The lessons of meditation are meant to be lived in real time and in the real world.  

There you have 5 simple steps to do Christian Meditation on Bible Verses plus the bonus, which, if made part of the habit, will move the lessons of God’s Spirit from the head and heart to our hands and feet where you can change your world.

What Does Spiritual Faith Look Like When Life Sucks?

"Spiritual faith does not come by saying, 'Show me a sign, God. Answer my prayer. Perform a miracle.' It begins by believing simply that God is - and He is above His creation."  - Clement of Alexandria

I suppose you can look at it any number of ways but in light of the destruction left by Harvey and Irma, just what does YOUR faith look like?  Of course, sitting here in north Georgia, we don't have it all that bad.  Yep, no electricity and no water.  We're making do with poor cell coverage and limited hotspots and wifi still out.  My family is safe and no damage to the house either.  So many others are far worse off and have endured so much more.

So, here is the thing that gets under my craw...those good Christian folk who claim they are "blessed" when little happens to effect them and who exhibit no empathy for those who are also good Christian folk and lost everything.  They may even go so far as to say, as I heard one pastor say, "The reason bad things happen to people is they took Jesus off the throne of their heart."

Uh...yeah, I got nothing.

And I don't think Clement would agree, nor do I think would Jesus.  He asked of folks their thoughts about the Tower of Siloam (see Luke 13:1-4). Nope, Jesus said we all need to be in right relationship with God.  You don't get a pass on the Valley of Suck because your spirituality provides you some kind of spiritual force field (which I am STILL looking for.  Destroyer droids were evenly matched against with Jedi because of that!)

Clement keeps it simple and raw...spiritual faith is believing God is God by the simple defining element that God is supreme.  You and I may not like that.  You may choose the path of unbelief even and cast off the belief in faith.  I got no argument with you on that one.  I wish you all the best.

We need to hear of the faith that holds on when all hell breaks lose.  I know that I NEED to be with those who can name pain and suffering and still CHOOSE FAITH.  John Wesley was once told to "preach faith till he had it and because he had it, to preach faith."

In the Valley of Suck that I have walked I continue to seek God even when life sucks.  Some days it even feels no one else has an understanding.  So be it.  I'm reminded today my faith is in a God I believe in and life does suck but I CHOOSE...again to seek God.

Can I Ask?  What have you found to hold onto when life sucks?  What quote or Bible verse has renewed your faith?  Share it in the comments below!

You can get Ken's NEW book: "Life Sucks Seek God" for just 99 cents at Amazon for further thoughts and helps when it seems your life sucks.  CLICK HERE or in the link to your right.

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