Saturday, May 9, 2009

Focusing on, Intimacy with and Listening to God

I was a bit nervous about my Saturday evening session. Part of the group included silver-haired women who looked like they've walked with God all their life. Would they think my talk too elementary for them?

My third talk at the retreat:

Have any of you ever tried to quit a bad habit, an addiction, a sin you keep returning to? What happened? You don’t have to reveal what it was you tried to stop but what methods did you use? How successful were you? How long did it take?

Last night I told of my struggle between same-sex attraction and wanting to honour God. Through an amazing process and series of events, God freed me from the control these attractions had on me and enabled me to make choices in my relationships that honour him. My struggle was same-sex attraction, but we all have issues, problems, compulsive behaviours, sin that we know dishonour God.

What is the answer? How do we get free? It’s easy to say, “God!” but how does he help? How do we make ourselves available to the help he presumably wants to give us? While we are all different—our backgrounds, our needs, desires, sin—and while God meets each person in different, individualized ways, there are several things, very tied together, that we can do to make ourselves available to his healing power:

(The following points assume that you have committed your life to God and want to serve him above all. If you haven’t done that, but would like to, see me or one of the leaders here after we’re finished this evening and we’d be glad to listen. Being a follower of Jesus is not easy but it’s worth every effort you make and every pain you experience.)

1. Admit your struggle to others and keep connected to those who support your desire to honour God in all you do.
James 5:16 says: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
We need to allow God’s light to shine on the dark parts of our hearts and to keep ourselves open to that light. Sin begins to lose its power when we do this. When it’s out in the open, we become accountable to those who know. We declare our desire to overcome and they are there to pray for and with us, to encourage us when we’re not sure if we want to continue, to gently remind us of our commitment to change when it gets lost amidst the busyness of our lives. They are often the ones through whom God will communicate with us.

2. Put and keep your focus on God
At the beginning of Hebrews 12 we read:
...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith....
When I first started my journey to freedom and healing, a friend gave me a piece of advice that for me was revolutionary: Focus more on Jesus than on the problem. How simple is that? I’d always thought I had to keep focusing on whatever problem I had until it was resolved but the harder I worked at that, the more difficult it became. Putting my focus on God made all the difference in the world. It made him the centre of my world rather than myself.

3. Learn to listen to God.
When Moses was telling the nation of Israel about the coming Messiah, he said: "Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people."

When Jesus was baptised, God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
Listening to God is vital.

4. Develop intimacy with God.
God gave Satan permission to destroy everything Job valued, including his health. In the midst of this terrible trial Job said: "Oh, for the days when God's intimate friendship blessed my house." (Job 29:4)

Song of Songs is a beautiful word picture of the passion God has for us and the passion he wants us to have for him.

Throughout the Bible, in both the New Testament and the Old, God talks about his people being his bride. There isn’t any other relationship that is more intimate than a groom with his bride.

Intimacy with God is the best part of committing our lives to him. Following God isn’t a set of rules to obey. It is a relationship with our Creator and Saviour. It involves discovering how much God loves you, how passionate he is about you, how much he wants to spend time with you and how he longs for your love in return. There is no end to God’s love. We could spend eternity basking in and enjoying his love and still never find the end. This is what makes following God so incredibly awesome and keeps me connected to him. I never want to leave his love.

How do we do these things? How do we keep our focus on God, learn to listen to him and develop intimacy with him?

1. Read the Bible. This is crucial. Get a translation that is easy to understand and read it, cover to cover, multiple times. Reading it from beginning to end will give you a broader perspective than reading random passages. It is the Bible that tells us about God—who he is, what he loves and hates, how much he loves us, what he wants from us. Truly, it is a love story about God and us. Search the Scriptures for evidence of that love for you. Take time to study portions and even to memorize—it’s not as hard as you think. You want to fill yourself and your mind with the truths of God.

2. Soak yourself in music that speaks to and about God. Music sticks with us more than anything else and it affects our mood, attitudes and decisions. God will bring songs into our minds that speak to where we are at the moment. Sometimes he brings to mind a song I haven’t heard for decades, yet there it is to help and bless me.

3. Worship God—songs are a great way to do this both when we’re alone and when we’re with fellow believers. Go to church regularly. There is nothing like worshipping God with others and you may be surprised how often the sermon for the day will fit what God has been telling you in other ways. Worshipping God is one way to develop intimacy with him.

4. Pray. We certainly cannot develop relationship and intimacy with God without talking to him. It doesn’t matter whether it’s silent or audible. God wants to hear from us and takes as much pleasure in our prayers as a mother does listening to her baby speak his first words. Of course, we don’t want the conversation to be one-sided, so we need to also listen to what he’s telling us.

5. Practice the presence of God.
We are always in the presence of God but too often we forget.
Psalm 139:7-10--Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

2 Corinthians 4:18--we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Paul said “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

We are “Practicing the Presence of God” whenever we remember God’s presence and fix our eyes on him.

We do this in so many ways—praying, reading the Bible, worshipping, singing, talking about him, and more. It is how we keep our focus on God, how we listen to him and how we develop intimacy with him.

Listening to God
Much more could be said about each of these points but I want to focus on one in particular. Listening to God. God communicates to us in many ways. The Bible, of course, is foremost and anything we believe God is telling us must match up with the Bible. This is why knowing your Bible well is essential. It will keep you from going down a wrong path. There are people, for instance, who will say, “God told me to leave my husband and marry this other man.” No! God would never tell us to do something like that because God holds marriage in high regard.

The more we’re aware of God’s presence, the more we’ll be tuned in to listening to him. He speaks to us about big things and little but let’s focus on the little things. For instance, I hate locking the door when I leave the house but my husband Tom is very insistent about it. One day I was leaving the house and I heard this little nudge that said, “Lock the door.” I grumbled and complained and had good reason to ignore that nudge but it occurred to me that maybe that was God talking to me so I locked the door. The same thing happened at the back gate. Tom likes it to always be closed and I couldn’t care less, so usually I would leave it open but another nudge came to me, “Close the gate,” and I obeyed.

God often speaks to us with little nudges and it’s something you can practice. The more you listen to those nudges and obey, the better you’ll become at recognizing them—remembering, of course, that they must be consistent with Scripture or it’s not God talking to you. And yeah, you’ll make mistakes sometimes but you’ll learn from those too.

One day I was at the Forks. It was night time and dark. There weren’t too many people around. As I was walking down the stairs in Johnson Terminal, I noticed a young woman on the pay phone. I got a nudge—“Offer to help her.” Oh good grief! It’s one thing to lock the door and shut the gate and think it was God but this? She’ll think me a fool if I do this! I kept walking. And arguing.

Finally I turned back and went to the girl. “Do you need help with something?” And she did! She had gotten off work early to go to her best friend’s birthday party but for some reason the ride she was counting on to take her there wasn’t available and the party was a long ways away. I offered to drive her and she accepted.

As we drove, she poured out her life, her struggles and problems and I was able to talk to her about God and suggest a place she could get help with her particular issues. We exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers, she gave me a big hug and went off to the party. What if I had kept on walking out of Johnson Terminal instead of turning back? Both she and I would have missed out on a huge blessing.

I’ve even played “games” to practice this. I’ve gotten in the car and asked, “Okay God, where do you want me to go?” and then try to sense what he might be telling me. Or I’ve started out on a walk and said, “God, show me who you want me to talk to.” Yes, I’ve run the risk of looking completely idiotic but so many times I have seen God was indeed directing me that I’ve become more willing to take the risk.

One way to open ourselves to listening to God is to sit in complete stillness and silence. Many of the ancient Christians did this, sometimes for hours or days, and had amazing encounters with God. I had my own, life-changing encounter when I first tried it and in a few minutes, I’d like you all to give it a try.

What we’ll do is find a comfortable position to sit in—one where you won’t have to wiggle and fidget. I like to start off by asking God to open my ears and eyes to whatever he may want to tell or show me. I close my eyes and then, to help keep my mind from wandering, I find a truth about God that I silently repeat.

The first time I did this, I started out saying, “God loves me.” It soon changed to, “You love me!” and for the first time ever, I actually felt loved by God. I was sitting on his lap, my head against his chest, his arms around me. The group I joined had been doing this for a number of years, gradually increasing the amount of time they took for this, and so I had forty glorious minutes absorbing the love of God’s hug into my spirit. My friend and the leader of the group had been worried whether I could sit that long, silent and still, without having done it before but the forty minutes sped by so fast, it ended before I had hardly begun. I’ve always known with my head that God loves me but that day, my heart also knew. Since then, I have recalled that experience often and love nothing better than to fall asleep, picturing myself as an infant cradled in the arms of God.

I don’t know what God wants to do for you. Perhaps nothing tonight, but we can open ourselves to him and let him take it from there. Remember that God’s sheep know his voice. Also remember, Jesus promised that if we ask God for something good, he’s not going to hand us a snake or a scorpion.

Does anyone have any questions before we begin?

What are some truths we could focus on?
• You love me
• You are my strong tower
• You died so I can live
• You are faithful and just
• You are my guide and protector

As we begin, choose a truth about God you want to repeat, get comfortable and relax. Those who have taken Lamaze classes, go into that place of deep relaxation that you learned. Focus your mind on God and begin to silently repeat the truth you have chosen. We will do this for ten minutes. Don’t look at your watches or clocks. Close your eyes. I will tell you when the time is up.

God, please open our hearts and minds so we can know your presence and hear or see what you want to say or show us. Keep all else away except your presence, Lord!

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