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Hearing God 5: The Three Lights

Hearing God by Dallas WillardIn this week’s session, Dallas Willard moves into the practical side of hearing God. He discusses what some people call the 3 Lights. The 3 Lights are three points of reference that help us to discern God’s guidance: circumstances, impressions of the Spirit, and passages from the Bible.

  • Circumstances refers to the things happening around us. Sometimes Christians speak of God “opening” or “closing” doors – a job offer or rejection, the beginning or end of a relationship, and so on. When they speak in this way, they are referring to circumstances – the things happening around them that sometimes indicate God may be encouraging us to move in a particular direction.
  • Impressions of the Spirit refers to the guidance given by God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit is real and active in the lives of Christians, and he does provide guidance. But – as with the entire discussion in this class about hearing God’s voice – we know that getting the Spirit’s promptings right can be a tricky business. We are only able to correctly discern the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction within the context of a certain kind of life – a life lived in relationship with God.
  • Passages from the Bible refers to the guidance the Bible provides to us. If what we are considering somehow contradicts what God tells us in the Bible, then what we are considering is clearly not a result of God’s guidance.

Willard is clear that these three lights are important – they are factors that help us as we are making decisions and trying to listen to God’s voice. But they are not, in and of themselves, God’s voice in the sense that we have been talking about in this class. God can and often does work through each of them – but they are a supplement to, not a substitute for, an actual relationship with God in which we hear God’s voice.

In our next post, we’ll discuss 3 factors that help us to recognize God’s voice.

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Hearing God 4: Making Work a Tool for Growing Closer to God

Hearing God by Dallas WillardLast week’s Hearing God class session (which talked primarily about the Trinity as a model for our relationship with God) had enough in it that I wanted to do two posts. Towards the end of the video, Dallas discussed Brother Lawrence, a monk who wrote a spiritual classic called The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence developed an amazing sense of intimacy with God – and he did it while washing pots and pans in the kitchen. He shared his life with God right where he was, by not allowing what he was doing present an obstacle to his being with God.

Is your work an avenue for growing closer to God, or an obstacle?

We spend a large part of our lives at work. For most of us, at least 40 hours a week, if not more. If we assume that most people sleep about 8 hours a night, that means about 1/3 of our waking lives is spent at work. That’s a lot of time! And the story of Brother Lawrence raises a question for us – how do we use that time to grow closer to God? How do we make work an avenue for growth, and not a hindrance? Because it is probably one or the other. Rarely do we stand still when it comes to life with God. At any given moment, we are drawing closer to God or moving further away – based primarily on the decisions we make.

I spoke with someone recently who talked about how he used his work as an opportunity to develop patience and cultivate peace. He has a fast-paced job, and is intentional about remaining calm in the midst of the craziness. His work has become a spiritual discipline – a chance to develop peace and patience, both characteristics of people who live by God’s spirit (Gal 5:22).

I have been fortunate over the past 6 years to work as a pastor, where most people would assume it is easy to use your work to grow closer to God. But statistically speaking, pastors are often the most spiritually-starved people you’ll meet. Richard Foster, who has written a number of great books on spiritual formation, says that as a pastor, he was very frustrated because he wanted to learn how to pray, and couldn’t seem to find the time. Hospital visitations particularly seemed to get in the way – until one day he realized that his visits to people in the hospital were the opportunities God was giving him to learn how to pray. In my own job I love to teach people about the Bible – and the act of preparing those classes has been an integral part of my own efforts to grow closer to God.

Everyone’s job is different, so how your job can be an avenue for you to grow closer to God will likely be unique. But if Brother Lawrence could use washing pots and pans to grow closer to God, then I’m confident the rest of us can do so as well. How might your job provide opportunities for you to draw closer to God?

Hearing God 3: The Trinity

Hearing God by Dallas WillardThis week’s session focused on the Trinity as the model for what our life with God can be like. The Trinity is the unique relationship shared among God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – all three distinct personalities, but also one in a unique way that is difficult for us to understand. Theologians have often said that they are one in “essence”, but not in personality. In the Trinity, the Father, Son and Spirit exist in a unique, eternal and intimate relationship with one another. They are never alone.

Dallas Willard suggests that the unique relationship of the Trinity provides a model for both our intimate relationship with God, and our relationship with other followers of Jesus. Consider these passages from Jesus’ prayer for believers in John 17:

“Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.”  (John 17:5; NLT)

““I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”  (John 17:22-23; NLT)

The first verse has this interesting reference to “the glory [God and Jesus] shared before the world began.” And that leads to an equally interesting question: what did the Trinity do before they created the world? Willard suggests that they enjoyed their fellowship with one another – that their relationship is so vibrant and intimate that they needed nothing else.

The second verse notes not only that the Father and Jesus are one, but also that Jesus desires for us to experience a profoundly similar oneness with other followers of Jesus. So the unique relationship of the Trinity – and the intimate relationship shared by God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – is the model both for the relationship God desires to have with each of us, and for the way we are supposed to relate to other followers of Jesus.

Once again, we see that each of us are created to experience a unique, fullfilling and intimate relationship with God – one that is modeled after the most fulfilling and intimate relationship we can imagine. Next week we’ll start to delve into how we actually cultivate that relationship.

There’s still time to join us for this class at StoneBridge. It meets on Wednesday nights at 6:30pm, or on Sunday mornings at 8:30am or 11:30am.

Hearing God 2: Hearing God is Not…

Hearing God by Dallas WillardThe second week of our class on Hearing God focused on identifying what hearing God is not – looking at some of the ways in which the idea of hearing God speak to us has often been misunderstood. Why is this important? For a variety of reasons, but I would suggest that the most important reasons is because the misunderstandings and abuses of the idea of hearing God have too often led people to conclude that God does not, would not, or could not speak to them at all.

We have become so accustomed to craziness associated with claims of God speaking that we become cynical about the very idea, assuming that God really doesn’t speak to us at all anymore. Murderers claim to be inspired by God. Cult leaders lead people astray (and sometimes to their deaths) with claims that God has spoken directly to them. Pat Robertson recently claimed that God had told him that Mitt Romney would win the presidential election. And many of us know people who believed they were doing what God had told them to do in their personal lives – maybe it was a career change, a cross-country move, a choice in a relationship – that they later came to regret and question if they had actually heard God correctly.

But God does speak to us – I believe that wholeheartedly. And we don’t want to let the poor examples of God “speaking” to people cause us to reject the idea that God can speak to us at all. In coming weeks we’ll talk about how we learn to hear God, but this week let’s note a few ways we try to hear God that are not helpful. Hearing God is not…

  • …God telling me what to do all the time. Some people want God to tell them what to do in every, single, little step they take in life. There will likely be times in your life where God might have something specific in mind for you – and one of the reasons its important to know how to hear God is so that we are attentive at those times. But God gave us free will as well, and he didn’t make us to be robots who could not take a single step without being told what to do. As we follow God intentionally and consistently, we learn to live the way he calls us to live. He forms our character. And this character development helps us to make good decisions without constant, minute-to-minute guidance from God.
  • …Bible roulette. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried Bible roulette. It is when you open up the Bible to a random page, put your finger down somewhere, and assume that where you put your finger is what God wants to say to you. I don’t want to step on any toes, but Bible roulette is not hearing God. Its more superstition than anything. Lots of people have been terribly misguided by this method of cherry-picking disconnected verses and assuming they mean God is trying to communicate with them – rather than realizing that they are trying to force communication from God rather than waiting on his timing.
  • …an authority figure saying “God told me…” This might surprise you coming from a pastor, but we don’t have a more authentic line to God than you do. You can speak to God directly, just like I can. And any leader who tries to bully you into something with the words “God told me” is a leader you probably shouldn’t follow.
  • …waiting for a booming voice. Often we think that if God spoke to us, it would have to come in a “god-like” voice – which we typically assume to be loud and forceful, like thunder. Even if it isn’t audible, we think it would be unmistakable. And God can and does speak to people in a variety of ways – he certainly could speak in a booming voice, in a way that was impossible to ignore. But that’s definitely not always the case. In fact, the Bible tells us that God speaks in a still, small voice, a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:9-13) heard only by those who choose to listen.

Those are some of the ways we get hearing God wrong. Which of these methods have you tried? Did they work for you?

There’s still time to join us for this class at StoneBridge. It meets on Wednesday nights at 6:30pm in Rm 117 (Woodland). Join us April 10 for the second session! We’ll also be offering Hearing God on Sunday mornings at 8:30am and 11:30am beginning April 14.

Hearing God 1: Created for Intimate Friendship with God

Hearing God by Dallas WillardThis week I started teaching a class at StoneBridge on Wednesday nights called Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. The class is largely based on a book of the same name by Dallas Willard. Its an excellent book – I read it years ago and am enjoying reading it again. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding God’s will for their life – it’ll challenge your ideas of what that means, but in a very good way.

The main idea of the first session is a simple one: that each one of us is created to experience intimate friendship with God. This simple idea is immensely important – if you don’t believe it, it is difficult to the kind of relationship with God that allows you to hear him when he speaks. And while I think many Christians would agree that God wants a relationship with us, I’m not sure we really believe he wants an intimate friendship with us. That seems a little too close. And sadly, it is a type of relationship that many (most) Christians have never come close to experiencing with God. But consider a few Bible passages that speak directly to this idea:

“Inside the Tent of Meeting, the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, would remain behind in the Tent of Meeting.” (Exodus 33:11; NLT)

“The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.”  (Psalm 23; NLT)

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” (John 15:12-15; NLT)

What do these passages have in common? They describe a close, intimate friendship with God. Speaking with Moses “face to face.” “Lead[ing] me beside peaceful streams…guid[ing] me along right paths…” “You are my friends if you do what I command.” These passages do not describe the relationship a select few people are able to enjoy. They describe a relationship that is open to each one of us. Here’s one more verse – in Romans 5, Paul says:

“So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”  (Rom 5:11; NLT)

Friends of God. That is who we were created to be. And it is the starting point for hearing God. There’s more to come, but I’ll leave you with this question: Is this an accurate description of your relationship with God? Can you call him friend? If so, what is it about your relationship with God that makes you describe it as a friendship? And if not, how do you think you might begin to cultivate friendship with God? I encourage you to comment – get the conversation going!

There’s still time to join us for this class at StoneBridge. It meets on Wednesday nights at 6:30pm in Rm 117 (Woodland). Join us April 3 for the second session! We’ll also be offering Hearing God on Sunday mornings at 8:30am and 11:30am beginning April 14.

Blogging Again…

I’ve been away from this blog for a while and wanting to come back to it. Honestly, I kind of miss writing – even if very few people read it. 🙂 Expect my posting to be pretty sporadic for the time being – my ministry at StoneBridge and a new baby at home take up an awful lot of my time these days, and I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for blogging. Maybe I’ll even put up a baby picture or two – though I don’t intend to turn this blog into a celebration of our baby, no matter how cute she is.

I’ve wanted to find ways to use the blog in my ministry at the church, and so I’m going to try some short posts that fit in with classes I’m currently teaching. Look for the first later this week.