Check the Power Cords

How does God speak to us?

Someone might say, “Maybe the first question isn’t how, but does He.”

To answer that one, most folks would give examples illustrating their “yes” or “no.” I’m a “yes.”

My “yes” has had the usual answers through my spiritual journeying years. They include prayer, creation, spiritual texts, and other people. Oh, and one more, dreams.

In my early church history, dreams weren’t high on the list. What I mean is, teachers didn’t give them much attention. That was for various reasons. So as a young follower, I didn’t give it much thought. Then as an adult when others have mentioned visions or dreams as means of God speaking to them, it felt like a foreign language. It came across as very real and personal for them, so it left me feeling left out.

The first time I recall believing God had spoken to me through a dream was in 2005. I remember it very vividly. Both the dream and the message I received. I no longer felt like an outsider. Since that experience, I often wake from a dream with a notion to pause and listen. And when there’s a message, it’s pretty obvious. It happened two nights ago.

This post isn’t written to share the message (If you know me and want to know about it, reach out to me). I’m sharing these thoughts for one main reason. I believe the answer to “does God speak” and “how” are found in the heart of each created man and woman. Creators commune with their creations. The challenge we have is returning the favor. Sometimes from boredom, emotional hurt, doubt, discontent, impatience, expectations, or arrogance, we disconnect from all the communion avenues with our Creator. Which offers this counter question posed to the mirror: “Am I plugged in?” Like the first question about IT issues, “Did you check the power cord?”

My experience has led me to believe if I’m not hearing from God it’s not His fault. It’s on me to check all the power cords.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

“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.

Photo by Social Income on Unsplash

Yesterday’s Manna

“Yesterday’s manna is no good for today.”

Read this quote recently from a pastor. His spin on this Old Testament fact is memorable. It’s also a practical guide.

10 Illustrations:

Yesterday’s sleep is no good for today. Do your best to have consistent sleep.

Yesterday’s calories are no good for today. Manage your eating habits well daily.

Yesterday’s exercise is no good for today. Commit to an ongoing exercise routine.

Yesterday’s fun is no good for today. Laugh every day.

Yesterday’s reading is no good for today. Always have reading material with you.

Yesterday’s affection is no good for today. Those closest to you thrive off your expressions of love.

Yesterday’s prayer is no good for today. Connection with God depends on frequent communion.

Yesterday’s kindness is no good for today. Share kindness every opportunity you can.

Yesterday’s confession is no good for today. The daily screwups are best handled with immediate acknowledgments.

Yesterday’s work is no good for today. Our community thrives as we each provide our daily contribution.

As you meditate on yesterday’s things, what else would be helpful to state is no good for today?

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Into the Silent Land (a book review)

A few days ago I included a reference to Into the Silent Land in a post. When I heard about this book, I thought it was going to be about the spiritual discipline of solitude. To my surprise, it turned out to be much more than that.

Laird shared in the introduction that his objective was to examine two contemplative practices: the practice of stillness (meditation or contemplative prayer) and the practice of watchfulness or awareness. He had my attention.

I won’t be able to compact his descriptions of these practices with justice. What I can do is relay that if you believe you’ve read or heard all there is to know about prayer, you might want to make sure by reading this book. What I thought I knew about contemplative prayer has been deepened. What I practice in meditation has been retooled.

The meat of the book is chapters four and six. Chapter four introduces and outlines what Laird calls the three doorways of the present moment. He describes a method of praying based on utilizing a prayer word. I found it familiar but not. He was putting words to my novice practices and revealing how to mature them. Then in chapter six-my favorite-he makes it real by sharing three overcomer’s stories. Their struggles include fear, pain, and compulsion. The victory in these three human stories support his label of their moving from victim to witness.

You may be wondering if this book is for you. Here are three descriptors to try on for size:

  • If you wonder if the practice of meditation carries value, this book is for you.
  • If you wish your prayer life to be more relational and not just petitionary, this book is for you.
  • If you are looking for a spiritual discipline challenge, this book is for you.

Laird doesn’t write to be quoted, but here are a few highlights worth sharing:

If we are going to speak of what a human being is, we have not said enough until we speak of God.

God does not know how to be absent.

There is a certain wisdom that settles into a life that does not attempt to control what everybody else ought to be thinking, saying, doing, or voting on. Wisdom, health, life, and love cannot be found in trying to control the wind, but rather in harnessing the wind in the sails of receptive engagement of the present moment.

It is very liberating to realize that what goes on in our head…does not have the final word on who we are.

If you want to make fear grow, run from it.

Fear, anger, envy-any afflictive thought or feeling-cannot withstand a direct gaze.

We commonly meet our wounds in temptation and failure.

Divine love doesn’t have to decide whether or not to forgive. Divine love is forgiving love.

Photo by Adam Rhodes on Unsplash

It Will Be

Today is World Mental Health Day. And unintentionally, this afternoon I finished a book on the subject of overcoming grief. As I reflected on the book, the intersection of those two moments didn’t go unnoticed.

Pastor Wright gifted his book to me about this time last year. It’s his personal story of moving through the grief journey after losing his 32-year-old son in an accident. Knowing that context, it’s not a book you just read for fun.

It sat on my desk for much of the year, waiting for the right time to read it. I can’t say what that trigger was, but it came. Sixty-five chapters later, I’m glad it came now. I could make a lengthy list of reasons why, but here are a few:

  • Just last week I sat with a couple who will soon be experiencing the second anniversary of their son’s passing. Listening to them, it feels like it was only last week. Pastor Wright’s book helped me help them. And now I’m passing the book on to them for their journey to hope.
  • Speaking of sitting and listening, although I knew this already, this book has shown me how much room I have to grow in being empathetic. It’s probably true we never arrive at showing empathy right all the time, but I’m not where I want to be either.
  • I may not be where I want to be in the empathy realm, but I can say that I am much better in the grieving realm. In the last year, I’ve engaged grief-some by force and some by choice. Embracing communal grief due to the pandemic and other happenings along with the loss of a friend to suicide has deepened my appreciation and desire to let grief do its work.
  • In June I blogged about Ungrieved Loss. As I read this book, I engaged my own ungrieved losses. Some as far back as childhood and some as fresh as 2021. Some I didn’t know needed grieving; some were top of mind.

What I believe with Pastor Wright is that those who mourn are comforted. The timing will be what it will be, but it will be. On this October 10, if you find yourself in the throes of grief, know that hope is possible. And I echo Pastor Wright’s prayer to end his book:

Dear God, it was only through the dark night that we came to find your light. Had we not stumbled through the cold dark, we would not have come to the warmth of your hearth with frozen hands and hearts. We are grateful for your comfort especially as we have experienced your love through those who have journeyed with us. May your grace and compassion fill us. May we sense your hand in ours. May your tears blend with ours. May we be willing to walk alongside others. Thank you for the promise that one day you will wipe away our tears and that death and mourning will be no more. Amen.

Groaning (Part 3)

In Parts 1 & 2, I shared that we are all born groaning and how that viewpoint can encourage grace giving to ourselves and to one another.

That grace choice isn’t always natural. In fact, it goes against our groaning nature. Left to our instincts, we reach for anything to ease our groaning without considering the impacts of that reaching. Grace isn’t natural.

So back to those four verses that started this series, when you finish reading the rest of that chapter, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post, you see how hope and grace are made possible. They are both made possible by a supernatural grace choice-a choice only explained by love.

God saw his creation groaning. He was there for the first groan. And in that moment, he offered grace. He made a plan. He made a choice-the only choice available to stop the groaning. He chose to enter the groaning, to embrace it in order to crush it.

Chilling. There isn’t a human groan God didn’t feel and now doesn’t remember. He saw them and chose to experience them in order to redeem them…forever.

As you read the rest of this chapter, pause after each verse. Consider a prayer of thanks between each verse. Voice a prayer of adoration, of worship, of awe, of victory because you do not groan alone.

Romans 8:26-39

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Photo by Pinakeen Bhatt on Unsplash

Pick Them Up

When a baby is distressed, they’re distressed because they are sleepy, hungry, uncomfortable, cold. And the way we respond to newborns is we pick them up…We are helping them begin to learn that when you are in distress you express your distress and someone comes to comfort you.

Curt Thompson, MD

Several takeaways from this statement in Episode 7, Season 1 of Being Known.

  • It’s normal to express distress. We were born doing it.
  • It’s normal to comfort someone who is expressing their distress. The majority of us have been comforted and can reciprocate it.
  • Comforting someone is picking them up. We pick each other up when we respond to distress cries with comfort.
  • The ultimate picker-upper is God. We express our distress through prayer. He comforts. He picks us up.

Are you in distress? Who are you sharing it with? Where can you trust to go for comfort? Have you expressed your distress to God?

Do you know someone in distress? How can you pick them up today? Have you prayed for God to pick them up?

Psalm 113:1-9 (The Message)

113 1-3 Hallelujah!
You who serve God, praise God!
    Just to speak his name is praise!
Just to remember God is a blessing—
    now and tomorrow and always.
From east to west, from dawn to dusk,
    keep lifting all your praises to God!

4-9 God is higher than anything and anyone,
    outshining everything you can see in the skies.
Who can compare with God, our God,
    so majestically enthroned,
Surveying his magnificent
    heavens and earth?
He picks up the poor from out of the dirt,
    rescues the forgotten who’ve been thrown out with the trash,
Seats them among the honored guests,
    a place of honor among the brightest and best.
He gives childless couples a family,
    gives them joy as the parents of children.
Hallelujah!

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

Jumping Through Hoops

Hi. I’m John. I hate jumping through hoops.

Who else is in the circle? Where’s the next 12-step support group meeting?

Meditating on this life challenge, it crossed my mind to add to my musing Hebrews 4:15:

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (The Message)

So I seriously asked myself, “What did Jesus know about jumping through hoops?” And the answer was, “Sit down, John. You’re going to be here a while.”

One simple answer to this question is another question: Which one?

  • Becoming human
  • Teaching humans
  • Being a human son
  • Waiting for the “GO” sign to serve humans
  • Human praying
  • Observing human religious practices
  • Submitting to human authorities

More could be listed. Just one of these shut my mouth. But here’s the one that stopped my being.

  • Providing humans salvation

When moaning counting hoops jumped to buy a house, consider the number of Old Testament prophecies Jesus needed to fulfill to even get to Passion week. Scholars debate the number, but it’s safe to say it was dozens. Hundreds of items to check off.

Did he keep a spreadsheet? Swipe his brow after #78? Celebrate every 100? Resist temptation to stop a couple short? Decide we weren’t worth it after all? “Are you kidding me, Father? Do you see what I see?”

It’s unfathomable. But, to give it a try, think more in detail about the hoop jumping he endured Passion week. To get you started, here’s a list of words:

  • Judas
  • Lies
  • Arrest
  • Betrayal
  • Shame
  • Cursing
  • Mocking
  • Rejection
  • Thrones
  • Trial
  • Spit
  • Slaps
  • Nails

I challenge you to keep adding to the list.

And after each one, pause.

Then in your pause, whisper a prayer.

And finally, allow the Master Hoop Jumper to enter the circle.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that a support group of two is just enough.

And it’s offered whenever and wherever you are.

Photo by Paul Zoetemeijer on Unsplash