“Listen, God” (Part 2)

The next day I was still thinking about the previous day’s all-day conversation and referenced it in a conversation with a former coworker.

While we discussed it, God shared a final word. Adding to his direction to get my eyes off myself, he pointed out, “John, you know how you don’t like to hear people talking over each other and are frustrated when you catch yourself doing it? How about you practice that with me, too?”

He had the final word. Graciously, it was a question. And my “Listen, God” posture was altered.

Left me wondering what a “Listen, God” posture sounds/feels/looks like. Not too hard to imagine, really. Probably sounds similar to a Christmas morning temper tantrum from a six-year-old who just finished opening more gifts than they know what to do with. Probably feels similar to the tightness in a hair stylist’s chest whose client berates them because their work doesn’t match the picture from the magazine. Probably looks like the adult child rolling their eyes at their aging parent whose short-term memory loss has them repeating the same question three times in five minutes.

How God manages to keep a “You’re my son in whom I’m well pleased” posture is beyond my comprehension. That posture transforms mine from “Listen and do what I say” to “I’m glad you’re here. What would you like to talk about?”

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

“Listen, God” (Part 1)

One night this week, I woke from a dream and felt like I was mid-conversation with God. Not necessarily thrilled at the timing, I engaged for another hour and a half before going back to sleep.

When my body said, “You’re done sleeping,” our conversation picked back up and kept going throughout the day. I shared this with four different people. And pretty much each one of them asked me what God was saying. At that point, I admitted I was doing most of the talking. My tone was very much, “Listen, God. Here’s the deal. I need some things today. And I’m not going to hold back in telling you what they are.”

I got very specific with what I wanted from him before the day ended. I mean really specific. Guess what…I didn’t get anything I asked for. Instead, I got better things, things I really needed.

As I saw what I was receiving, in God-like fashion, He gave me more than I asked for. And when I gave him a chance to speak, this is what he said: “Get your eyes off yourself, John. Can you see that I heard you? Can you see what I’m giving you?”

He really is a good Father. He receives my tone, demands, and attempts to “ask and receive.” Then he responds with loving correction and gifts that show he’s everything he promises to be.

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God Has Competition

Here’s a common question I’ve been asked over the years: “I don’t seem to hear from God like many people say they do. Why?”

There could be several answers to that question, but allow me to answer it with a question: “What other voices in your life is God competing against?”

I believe God desires to speak to us, to communicate with us constantly. When we stop to consider who else desires to speak to us, it’s rather eye-opening, explains how important it is to lend our ear to the voices that matter.

To answer the “what other voices” question, here’s a suggestion. Get out a piece of paper or open a digital notetaking app. Make these three headings at the top: Spiritual, Physical, Digital. Then start listing the voices attempting to speak into your life under each heading.

Be brutally honest. For example, don’t avoid listing all spiritual voices that desire to speak into your life. To deny the existence and working of demonic forces actually shows they are ahead of you. Acknowledging their existence provides a means for God to speak to you as your protector and defender.

As for the physical heading, focus on human relationships. Again, be brutally honest. Include the good and the bad voices that have some level of authority in your life. List them all. This list should be pretty lengthy if you consider them all. By the way, go ahead and list yourself. You probably listen to you more than anyone else.

That third category, digital, may seem weird to consider. Basically, all things visual and audio are speaking into our lives simply by their presence. From TV to movies to apps to music to texts to emails to blogs to videos, list them all.

Finished yet? What’s that list look like? How does that help frame God’s competition?

What I have found in my listening for God is the need to silence his competition.

The fewer voices speaking the better odds He will be heard.

The fewer voices speaking the louder His voice seems.

The fewer voices speaking the easier to attune to the one that matters most.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

This week I participated in a Q&A following a 40-minute story and message on the subject of overcoming addiction. The story shared was of a woman walking away from her Haitian family’s expectations of her continuing the business of voodoo. The message shared by a pastor focused on how God speaks into our life’s storms; his focus was the Gospel story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s attempt to do the same.

In prepping for the Q&A by listening to the pre-recording of the pastor’s message and considering the prepared questions, I revisited a book I read several years ago by Dr. Charles Stone. In his book Brain-Savvy Leaders, Dr. Stone wrote this about change:

When we learn, repeated thoughts about the same subject become mental maps that eventually become habits or deeply engrained beliefs. That’s why reading, studying, and meditating upon scripture is so vital for a Christian. The more we focus on God’s word, the more brain connections we make about this truth, thus reinforcing our values and beliefs. It’s as if the Holy Spirit “rezones” our brains with God’s truth. This change is called self-directed neuroplasticity. The Apostle Paul speaks to this change in Romans 12:2: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is-what is good and pleasing and mature.”

Chapter 4, Meet Your Brain’s Parts

What in the world is neuroplasticity? Dr. Stone describes it as the reconfiguring and rewiring of neurons that happens when we learn or when the brain “assumes functions it normally doesn’t do by taking over the functions from a damaged part of the brain.”

These thoughts were helpful to bring to the conversation when this question was asked: “What posture helps us stand against our feelings, to keep us from sinking in the storm?” Whatever our feelings are telling us about the storm we are facing, some rewiring can bring hope. However far we have sank, some reconfiguring how to think and live can lift us up.

Our brain’s zoning can be impacted greatly by traumatic events and addictive behaviors. The reality that our brain can be rezoned brings light and peace into one’s stormy life. As for postures-you might say self-directed neuroplasticity-to keep us from sinking, consider these:

  • How can you maintain a posture for learning?
  • How can you establish a posture of meditating on scripture?
  • How can you resist the posture of having your back turned away rather than your face turned toward God?

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Understanding Yes

Yesterday gave me the answer to a question. The question had to do with having said yes and wondering how that particular yes was going to work out. Turns out, pretty good…way better than expected.

The older I get the more weight each yes carries. What I’ve noticed this year focusing on flow, saying yes doesn’t always mean everything’s in order. In fact, the best yes results so far have started with very little in order.

Improving on flow and yes seems to only come by experience. It’s a product of better listening, deeper trust, and reduced paralysis from fear. These improvements, our growth, comes from both our wins and our losses.

For example, David started out with some significant yes wins. He didn’t always have everything in order the moment he said yes, like when he said, “I can take down Goliath.” Five stones later, the flow and the yes made sense. Years later, that win was countered by another yes (Bathsheba) that resulted in lifelong losses. The level at which he flowed with God determined the win or loss of his yes.

Abraham is another example. When God first asked him for a yes, Abraham had no idea how it would work out. But he followed and reaped the benefits of not expecting to understand everything ahead of time. The bumps in the road between then and saying yes to sacrificing Isaac certainly had some losses, but Abraham learned from them and improved his flow and yes to an ultimate level of sacrifice (Genesis 22).

Determining the unity of a yes with Holy Spirit flow can be tricky. One key is discerning where the wish to answer yes is coming from-my own desires or his. And often that discernment can look like asking these three questions:

  1. What is God telling me?
  2. What is God not telling me?
  3. What do I want God to tell me?

None of these questions are bad questions. But I’ve found that the only one that really matters is what is God telling me. Without the answer to that question, a yes or no shouldn’t even be given. I’m also finding that my best understanding of yes is pretty simple. If God is asking for a yes, it’s the best answer. His higher ways and thoughts support my yes. My understanding, secondary to his glory, will come when he’s done with my yes.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Be Light

As the Community Care Director for a counseling center, it’s not uncommon to be in conversations about suicide. Yet, no matter how common it may be, it has yet to feel normal.

And the reason why is because it’s not. It’s a sign of hurt and pain. We live in a broken world, which can result in people’s minds taking them down this dark road. And it’s no respecter of minds.

  • The middle-age pastor’s mind that goes home after leading a Sunday service and questions why he should go on.
  • The twelve-year-old middle schooler’s mind that leads her to a parking lot where she chooses to end her pain.
  • The senior citizen’s mind that says, “I’m done fighting this battle with my body.”

As I witnessed again this morning, when a hurting mind is met with love, empathy, and strength, healing is available. It’s not instantaneous; it’s one step at a time. A step, however small it may be, toward the light may be all that mind needs to stop spiraling into darkness.

Be light to those you know or suspect are lonely, hurting, or in pain. That is normal. And it needs to be more common.

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Bunker Life Lessons

This transpired yesterday during Kramer Hickock‘s 3rd round of the PGA Championship in Tulsa.

So many life lessons can be drawn from Hickock’s situation, response, and result.

Rather than me sharing a list for you, I encourage you to watch it several times and make your own list.

After you watch it once, start your list.

Each time you watch it, add more life lessons to your list until you get at least three.

Then share these lessons with someone soon.

We can learn so much from life’s bunker moments. Keys to making these lessons stick with us include pausing to mark them, making note of them, and sharing them. They have more of a chance to become part of us when we do more than just notice them.

Happy Pausing, Noting, and Sharing!

Photo by Peter Drew on Unsplash

Balancing Precision and Fluidity

You never know what you’re going to learn by reading a book. Such was the case while reading chapter three in The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.

Chapter Three, “Tools of the Mind,” shares the history and impact of maps, clocks, and language on intellectual development. Carr includes these three in the same technology category, the intellectual technologies. He wrote that maps expanded man’s spatial technology. What maps did for space, clocks did for time.

To describe life before the creation of clocks, Carr quotes French medievalist Jacques Le Goff who said life was “dominated by agrarian rhythms, free of haste, careless of exactitude, unconcerned by productivity.” Hard to imagine such a life. Thinking about it presents a mixture of envy and gratitude.

Carr then shared this bit of history relaying how and why clocks came to be:

Life began to change in the latter half of the Middle Ages. The first people to demand a more precise measurement of time were Christian monks, whose lives revolved around a rigorous schedule of prayer. In the sixth century, Saint Benedict had ordered his followers to hold seven prayer services at specified times during the day. Six hundred years later, the Cistercians gave new emphasis to punctuality, dividing the day into a regimented sequence of activities and viewing any tardiness or other waste of time to be an affront to God. Spurred by the need for temporal exactitude, monks took the lead in pushing forward the technologies of timekeeping. It was in the monastery that the first mechanical clocks were assembled, their movements governed by the swinging of weights, and it was the bells in the church tower that first sounded the hours by which people would come to parcel out their lives.

Like Carr, I don’t share this to make a slam, but to make an observation. Balance is a tricky thing. Some would even say it’s an impossible thing. But like holiness, it’s worth pursuing.

When it comes to time, we can get imbalanced by rigidity and carelessness. We can get lost in the black and white as well as the disregard for parceling and regimentation.

As those seeking to walk in the Spirit, may we follow his lead in the moments when precision is best and when fluidity is lifegiving.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

6 Signs of a Great Dad

Yesterday, I heard a dad make two comments in response to things said to him about his children.

The first was about his preschool-age son. Apparently he wasn’t feeling well. When asked about what may have caused the sickness, the dad basically said, “You never know with him.” He didn’t say this with disgust; more like, “He’s his own man.”

The second was about his elementary-age daughter. In talking about how they chose to sit where they were seated, she was given credit for the choice. Dad’s response: “She’s a natural leader.” He didn’t say this with pride; more like, “I can only imagine what’s in store for her.”

I don’t know this dad that well. We’re at the acquaintance stage. But these two comments tell me some things about him.

  • He loves his kids.
  • He respects his kid’s personhood.
  • He’s parenting with the future in mind.
  • He’s not a control freak.
  • He’s pursuing contentment.
  • He’s got a pretty good grasp on his identity.

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

Discovery Run

I did myself a favor. I stuck around another night in Jacksonville after the wedding last Saturday.

What do I have to show for it? For starters, Peterbrooke (well, I did…it didn’t last long), a good movie, and a great dinner.

But the best was my Sunday morning run. I got in 3.8 Saturday morning before meeting friends for breakfast before the wedding. But Sunday morning was what weekend running is all about. No time limits. No expectations. Just exploration. A chance to discover.

The little running I did when I lived in Jacksonville (’90-’02) was all neighborhood (Arlington, Mandarin). I never ran downtown. So I was excited to run around the AirBnB in Springfield and, since it was only a few miles south, Downtown.

There’s a vibe when you run downtown in any city. It’s not the isolation of the country or the ease of a neighborhood. There’s an energy. Even in the absence of traffic, there’s a sense of life unlike anywhere else. And I like it. Especially in the early morning hours.

From running the Main Street bridge, to hearing church bells ring, to discovering Henry J. Klutho Park, it was one of the most pleasant runs in recent memory.

Thank you, Jacksonville! You put a smile on my face every time.