Mountain Climbing State of Mind

Two weeks ago I completed a 14er. That’s what Coloradans call hiking one of their mountains that has an elevation over 14k feet. Not an easy feat for this Floridian. In order to get to the top, I employed several mind games; some worth sharing, others are none of your business. I roleplayed being novel characters, rewrote song lyrics, and said “Lord, have mercy” the most ever in one day. And my friend Danny, who suckered me into this adventure, witnessed it all. Well, most of it. (at the base) Danny is a native. Pretty disgusting how easy this was for him (some of that none of your business mind games). And he’s a Cubs fan. Seriously-who needs enemies with friends like Danny? All the way up and all the way down, Danny looked out for me. Sometimes right by my side, but most of the time yards ahead, usually within eyesight. It didn’t really matter, though, where he was. Knowing he was there somewhere was enough. I never felt abandoned. Not by Danny. Maybe by my lungs, but not by my friend, guide, encourager. I didn’t always have my eyes on him, but I knew he was around. (Danny capturing me ascending) If we humans can do that for each other, imagine the depth that God can. 
  • He’s everywhere simultaneously. He’s by my side, up trail, at the peak, and back in the parking lot, all at the same time.
  • He’s communicating constantly. Listening to my jokes, my whining, my singing, my doubting, my spoken and unspoken thoughts, and responding compassionately.
If anyone’s native, it’s God. Been around forever. Witnessing our everything. Created all those humans hiking up the mountain he spoke into being. Wise and discerning to give us Dannys. Whatever adventure he invites us on, the answer should be “yes.” You might call it a mountain climbing state of mind. (from the peak)

Book Suggestion

I’m really enjoying my current read, Spirituality of Listening by Keith Anderson. If you’re attending First Baptist Bradenton tomorrow, you’ll hear some references.


I just finished chapter five, Story: Shaped by Biblical Narrative. Here are some examples of why you might enjoy this book:

God doesn’t ask that we rise above all of life’s pain; rather, he asks that we bring all of our story to God. God doesn’t ask that we walk around in disguise pretending there are no holes in our hearts; God asks that we bring those painful hearts to the throne of grace.

When someone says thank you for something you have done, it is a gift of gratitude from God. When someone shows you love, that love is a gift of grace from God. When someone tells you the truth, it is a gift of love because God cares to move you from your defenses, hiding, and resistance. Telling our story to one another is perhaps the most sacred thing we do because God shows up in the words, emotions, and crafting of our words.

The “Bad Ear”

Listening isn’t always something we want to do. I’ve become fascinated by our capacity for hearing in recent years. Now in my 60s, I am losing capacity to hear in one ear. It comes in handy when I’m being told something I really don’t want to hear. It’s convenient when I need a good excuse to miss a deadline or just prefer not to have definite instructions for something I might not want to do. It doesn’t mean I can’t hear at all in the “bad ear,” I just sometimes can’t tell you what the words are. I might hear sounds, muffled words and intonations. To hear the words, I must turn my face and my good ear to the speaking voice. That makes it, for me, a metaphor for spirituality – we turn our face so we can hear again. We turn our face in a new direction so the words have meaning and are not merely sounds.

This is a quote from a book I just started reading entitled A Spirituality of Listening.

I appreciate the metaphor. If I’m going to hear what God is saying to me, it’s vital that my face and my ears are turned in his direction. What might keep my face and ears turned away?

  • Inconvenience
  • Resistance
  • Stubbornness
  • Pride
  • Comfort
  • All sorts of fears and lies that the enemy would rather I choose to listen to

So in order to listen, I have to turn my face and ears by choosing humility, surrendering control, trusting truth, embracing discomfort, and recalling God’s ways are indeed best.

Here’s to better and deeper listening!

Heard

(Final post in a 5-part series collaboration)

In the first four posts of this series, my guests have shared how they hear from God. Here’s a recap with a link to their post:

Dawn: worship, prayer, personal devotions, preaching, meditation, relationships

Bob: putting God first, asking Him to speak, aligning priorities, talking about him with others

Erin: peace from God after season of prayer, Spirit conviction, through others

Aaron: vision from within (words, peace), scripture

Before I answer the question, I believe it’s helpful to answer another question: What might be keeping me from hearing God’s voice? I believe that can be answered with this word-Noise. God is always present and available, but it’s quite possible he can’t be heard over all the other noise. And if I’m honest with myself, all that noise is entirely within my control.

“If I’m moving at an insane pace and there is no room in my life for quiet, I will miss God’s voice.” –Lance Witt, Replenish

So if I earnestly want to hear from God, I have to control the noise. And what that most likely means is tuning it out. Tuning out:

  • Distractions like social media
  • Voices contrary to godly dialogue (in my own head, lies from the enemy, subtleties in media/entertainment, misguided thinking or content from well-meaning people)
  • By slowing down
  • By scheduling quiet

Once I’ve handled the noise, then I’m ready to tune in to hear from God. Dawn, Bob, Erin, and Aaron have told us how they tune in. Here are five ways I tune in:

  1. Community. As an introvert, a community of one sounds fine to me. But I’ve learned that I rob myself and tune out the voice of God when I resist being in community. So my community consists of small groups from church, routine meet ups with like-minded men, being coached, and engaging in Sunday services by expecting to receive a personal message from God to me.
  2. Journaling. I’m not legalistic about it, but often journaling is a helpful exercise during or after reading scripture. When a thought or challenge surfaces that needs some exploring, that’s what guides how I approach my journal entry. Sometimes it looks like a paraphrase of what I read, putting into my own words or applying it to a current situation. Sometimes it ends up being a written prayer. Sometimes it’s bullet points. Sometimes it’s an outline for future teaching use. If you haven’t tried it and would like some direction, I suggest reading The Divine Mentor by  Wayne Cordeiro. Journaling has the potential of opening up an avenue of conversation that otherwise may not happen.
  3. Prayer. In order to hear from God, prayer should be viewed as an ongoing dialogue, a two-way conversation.  You might say a paraphrase of “pray without ceasing” would be “never hang up the phone.”
  4. Asking and Expecting. Similar to dinner conversation or an email thread, the dialogue of prayer should include more than input from one party. For my part of the conversation, I try to include questions that require an answer only God could give, such as:
    • “How did I do with that interaction with my coworker today?”
    • “What are you trying to say to me through that verse that just came to mind?”
    • “What encouraging words do you want me to share with the grocery cashier?” Ask the question and wait for the answer. He’ll answer the email when it’s time. Or it may wait until the next meal. That’s part of recognizing his sovereignty.  But it’s up to my end of the conversation to ask the question.
  5. Responding. Since all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there is little doubt that he speaks to us. I have found that one of the best ways to tune in is to simply respond when he speaks. Much like a child who has been called to dinner or given any other direction from their parent, a respectful, “Heard,” helps both parties know they are connected.  And a “Thank you” can’t hurt either.

So what’s your answer? How do you hear from God? A DJ on thejoyfm Tuesday said he got a message from God through feeding his fish. One thing is true-God’s ability to be heard is unlimited. We five writers would like to hear how God is heard by you.

Heard

(Post #4 in a 5-part series collaboration)

By Aaron Pilant (bio below)

When I was preparing to get married twenty years ago, I remember some very important advice that the marriage counselor gave us both.  He said that communication is the key to any successful relationship.  He went on to say that if we could learn to communicate well with each other, our marriage would be a success.  No problem.  I like to talk.  She likes to talk.  Done.  Twenty years later, I have learned that communicating is not just talking, but being heard as well.  I have also learned that communication is not always verbal.  Actually, most communication is non-verbal.  The communication you are reading right now…non-verbal.

I am a Christian who committed his life to Christ at the age of thirteen.  My “salvation” experience occurred when I was alone in my bedroom late at night.  I had been struggling with this decision for some time.  I was wrestling back and forth.  That night was different though.  I remember being in bed trying to sleep, but I was unable to stop thinking about God and my relationship to Him.  I was raised in church.  My parents dragged me and my siblings to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.  I participated in church clubs and activities, but secretly I was battling in my inner heart and mind.  I knew how to give my life to Christ by surrendering to Him, but for some reason I resisted.  That night in June, I was back wrestling within again.  This night was different, though.  This night, I felt that I could no longer put this decision off.  There was a sense of urgency within me.  This is where I first remember hearing from God.

I think it’s important to know, I have never audibly heard God’s voice.  I have never seen writing in the sky.  What I heard was within.  I was given a vision of my reality apart from God.  Then I heard within myself, “Why are you waiting, Why are resisting me?”  The vision was unpleasant.  The question burned within my mind, my heart, my soul.  I finally yielded that there was no good reason.  I then poured my heart out to God asking Him to forgive me of my sin and stubbornness.  I then committed to following Him as my Lord.

So from that day I have worked diligently and sometimes not so diligently to hear God in my life.  I will say this-there are times when I can’t hear God.  But there are many times where I hear God speaking to me in my heart.  Every time I hear from God, it is within.  Sometimes it is words.  Sometimes it is peace.  Sometimes it is just a feeling.  I am usually able to determine that it is God when the communication that I am receiving is far from what I would naturally want to do or like to do.  They are always in line with His word and often confirmed through scripture being brought to my mind.

I want to conclude by saying God doesn’t always speak to me when I want him to…or speak to me in the way I want Him to.  There have been many occasions when I have pleaded God for answers and none came.  I have spent hours, days, weeks, and months waiting.  I do get frustrated when waiting for these answers.  Funny, though, I am soon reminded of Isaiah 40:31 or a verse very similar.  I think, though, there are very good reasons for the lack of answers at times.  I know that when the answers are not readily available I spend more time talking with Him, calling out to Him, pleading with Him, crying to Him.  I wonder if the reason that answers are not always so available is because God wants to spend more time with me.  Or probably more accurate, He knows I need more time with Him.  I have often been told that life is not about the destination but the journey.  I believe that our walk with God is the same.  If you can’t or don’t hear Him, He doesn’t want you to give up.  He wants you to spend more time with Him until He knows you are ready to hear what He has for you.  God speaks to us all.  We just need to learn to listen.


Blogger Bio:  Aaron Pilant married Erin Pilant nearly 20 years ago. They have a 16-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their very favorite thing to do as a family is go to Disney World, and they do it often.

Heard

(Post #1 in a 5-part series collaboration)

By Dawn Stark (bio below)

This morning in my daily devotion I’m reading from 1 Chronicles 14 where King David is fighting the Philistines. In preparation for the battle, David inquires of the Lord about strategy and God answers very specifically: “Do not attack them straight on. Instead circle around behind and attack them near the poplar trees.  When you hear a sound like marching feet in the tops of the poplar trees, go out and attack!” (NLT). I don’t know about you, but throughout a lifetime of inquiring to the Lord I’ve never been given such a specific and detailed answer.  Yet, this type of communication was commonplace for David and many others as recorded in the Old Testament.

God speaks this clearly to believers throughout the New Testament too. A good example is the back and forth conversation between the Lord and Ananias in Acts 9.  God’s instructions were very detailed: “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now.  I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.” Acts records Ananias’ response to these instructions and God’s reply to his questions too.

I believe God still speaks to us today. Scripture explains He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 18:8, Mal 3:6).  He speaks to us through general revelation, such as what we observe in nature and from history; and, He speaks through special revelation as recorded in Scripture.

Worship and prayer are both powerful ways I hear from God. Worship is the cornerstone of my spiritual life.  Many days I wake up in the morning with a song running through my head and heart.  I’ve come to wonder if this is the Holy Spirit helping to prepare me for the day ahead.  Prayer is also a huge factor of my faith life. I’ve found that prayer quiets and heals my soul, or as Ole Hallesby so powerfully writes, “prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts” (Prayer, 1936, p.14).

God speaks to my heart during personal devotion time and through the preaching of the Word too. These are aspects of his special revelation, which require me to faithfully attend to the habits of reading the Bible and attending church.  I’m constantly amazed how often these activities seem to overlap and confirm each other-for instance, when a passage I’ve studied during the week just happens to be a key component in pastor’s Sunday message.

Meditating along the ocean shore or hiking through a nature preserve become holy places where He will reveal something new about His faithfulness and strength to me. Soft as rain, these gentle whispers create a new thought that cause me to suddenly see situations in my life differently. In the “be still and know” solitary spaces, God is near and always leading me forward.

Finally, and probably most profoundly, I hear from God through the relationships we form in this life.  Within the context of family and friends I learn of His faithfulness, compassion, and enduring love.  As I wipe away my children’s tears, I know that God also wipes away mine. Not only can I understand His patterns and purposes deeply through these vital relationships, my desire for His presence deepens.  When earthly relationships bring pain and disappoint, I run to the Creator to be healed by His unconditional and steadfast love.

How do I hear from God?  Oh, I hear from him in so many beautiful and powerful ways. I may not be the recipient of full conversations as the saints of old; but His presence fills me, heals me, and guides me daily. He is imminent and He is faithful.  I just need to be quiet and listen.


Blogger BioDawn Stark and her husband Tim ministered to youth of all ages, from babies to young adults, all while enduring their own private infertility battle.  Throughout this process that spanned a 23-year period, Dawn learned to worship her way through life’s challenges and heartbreaks.  As with Hannah of old, God was faithful and eventually granted Tim and Dawn three biological children, including a set of twins, and two adopted children from Guatemala.  

It was during Dawn’s adoptions from Guatemala that her eyes were opened to the complicated and lasting effects of poverty. Stuck in the process for years, she dedicated the rest of her working years to be an advocate for children and families in need.  Serving in the non-profit arena since 2013, she has worked for the Both Ends Burning campaign as the Director of Faith-based Initiatives and One More Child + FBCH as the Orphan Care Coordinator.

Her advocacy journey led her to Operation Blessing in May 2019 where she now serves as the Regional Philanthropy Manager for the Southeast Region.  In this role, she works in a 9-state region to match the philanthropic goals and interest of partners with the needs of the most vulnerable in 39 countries, including the U.S.   She is passionate about the work Operation Blessing is doing to bring hope and help to suffering families through innovative programs and partnerships that maximize resources and save lives. 

Dawn graduated from Regent University with a degree in government/ international relations and is currently completing a master’s degree in international community development at Southeastern University. She is a blogger, aspiring author, public speaker and a beach lover.  She currently lives in Sarasota, Florida with her husband of 34 years, five children, and Siberian Husky puppy. 

Heard

(Introduction to a 5-part series collaboration)

Recently I had a brief conversation based on this statement: “I don’t know how to hear from God. People around me say they hear from God, but I don’t. I pray, and nothing. I feel like I’m doing something wrong.”

Due to the social context, that conversation was one-sided. That person’s tone and spirit has stuck with me. So much so that I’ve recruited some friends/thinkers to add many sides to the conversation. A team of five is writing blogs answering this question: How Do I Hear From God? You can read each post as they upload each Friday in November.

Besides me, here is a little bio introduction to the other four bloggers:

Dawn Stark: Mother of 5, Beach Lover, Manager of Philanthropy for Operation Blessing

Aaron Pilant: Father of 2, Lover of K.C. sports, Bradenton Police Officer

aaron

Erin Pilant: Mother of 2, Lover of Disney, Marketing Director for Chick-Fil-A

erin

Bob Morrissey: Father of 3, Lover of Detroit sports, Pastor of The Church at Clawson

bob

We don’t have to wait until November. Want to answer the question and start the conversation? Go ahead and leave a comment. Be Heard!

Instead Of

I’m finding the best part of Bevere’s book is the 30-day devotional guide at the back. He directs you to read a portion of a chapter, then leads you through a short, relatable devotional, very practical and forward moving in dealing with offense.

Day 11 entitled Hiding from Reality has this quote:

Offense blocks spiritual growth, but suffering and obedience take us to a deeper relationship with the Lord and with others.

This quote aligns well with the one I posted about on August 4: “If you stay free from offense, you will stay in the will of God.” Staying clear of offense isn’t only freeing; it also allows growth to continue. The truth is we grow from suffering (Joseph, Esther, Daniel, Peter, Elijah). What the enemy baits us to do is run from the suffering, or at least be distracted from the growth by focusing on the hurt or the ones guilty of causing it.

It’s quite possible that God has allowed the enemy to shower us with suffering. Think Job. Satan thought he could break him. Satan was wrong. The end result was Job’s deeper trust in God.

So how does our obedience play out in these moments? It could be that we…

  • …stay instead of run
  • …face instead of ignore
  • …wait instead of hurry
  • …listen instead of ramble
  • …submit instead of control
  • …rest instead of worry

If you’ve been feeling stunted or blocked in your spiritual growth, maybe it’s time to check your obedience, time to give up the bait.

Give ‘Em What God Gave You

It’s possible for someone in my position to ask myself this question more than others; but the reality is we all ask it, consciously or not: “Why is this person in my life?”

Reality also is we can ask that question from a negative or a positive place. The negative place might contain spoken or unspoken expletives. The positive place would not; they would be replaced with a better question, something like this: “How can I fulfill the reason God placed me in this person’s life?”

When you read John’s account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (chapter 4), you get the sense Jesus asked this better question. It’s most likely what prompted him to start the conversation. He needed something from her, yet he wanted even more to reveal to her she needed something that only he could provide. The Father had brought them together for a reason.

If you were to make a list of those people you believe God has put in your life for a reason, who would make the list? What if you wrote their names down and then added by each name what that reason might be? It could be something as simple as to listen. Maybe a slightly bigger reason of to recognize. What if like Jesus, God has given you something unique that, with his help, only you could provide for this person? According to Paul in Ephesians 2:10, God’s already given you what you need to fulfill your reason. Nothing stands in your way. Go ahead. Give ’em what God gave you.

How to Respond to Injury

Recently I was given an audio copy of Bravo Two Zero, a military memoir by Andy McNab. McNab was the sergeant of an eight-member SAS regiment given a mission to Iraq, January 1991.

Today I listened to their situation after they were compromised and survived a fierce fight. As Sergeant McNab led them on an all-night evasive trek, he realized one of his men, Vince, was injured. Here’s a clip of McNab’s reaction:

The whole of the game is to get everyone over the border. Vince clearly had an injury. We’d have to do all our planning and considerations around the fact that he was in trouble. None of this, “No, it’s okay, Skipper, I’ll go on.” Because if you try to play the He-Man and don’t inform people of your injuries, you’re endangering the whole patrol. If they’re not aware of your problem, they can’t adjust the plan or cater for future eventualities. If you make sure people know that you’re injured, they can plan around it.

We can be part of various teams in life where we get injured do to fierce fighting-on the job, at the family reunion, in the stock market, even at church. And what Sergeant McNab said about Vince in Iraq is true for all the injured people and those on their teams.

  • The injured have to speak up. Otherwise, the whole team is in trouble. And they may be completely unaware unless the injured person speaks up.
  • The team has a responsibility to adjust. The whole of the game is to get everyone to the destination together, to stay unified in fulfilling the mission.  If that means slowing down to tweak the plan, then accept and commit to it. For the sake of the team and the mission, take the time to listen and adjust.

Playing the He-Man weakens the team. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps disrespects and distances your team. 

Are you injured? What is your injury? Which team member needs to know? Be courageous and let the tweaking begin.