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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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spirit of god

Experiencing God’s Voice, Part 1 – “The River”

I’m going to begin a series of posts about experiencing God’s voice, and this is a HUGE subject that honestly could and probably should be a book, not a blog post.  Many have in fact written books on the topic, and some of them are pretty good, and some are not.   I wade into the topic with a fresh perspective — I have been through countless teachings and books on experiencing the Spirit and the voice of God and most of them didn’t seem to help me very much when I was trying to learn how to find Him in this way.  So in this series some of what I’ll do is look at the pitfalls of the various approaches that are commonly taught as “the way” to do this, as well as bring my own perspective into play of what I’ve learned along the way of bumped knees and concussions in trying to go on pilgrimage to this place.

The subject is so vast, and it will be hard to do it justice.  I’m very aware of my own lack of knowledge on this topic, and yet, I do know I have a small deposit of something worth sharing.  If you want to follow along, please pray for me as I write that I’ll be able to organize what I ought to say in some coherent fashion and that, as one stepping into some role as a under-shepherd of God’s people in trying to nurture my readers along, that I won’t leave anything out that needs to be said for the sake of safety and edification.

bridge-192982_640Safety — it’s an interesting word on this topic.   Realistically if you treat into these waters looking to stay safe, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong River.   Yet there are disasters that we can hope to avoid, even so.

Some of those disasters involve what happens when you put “hearing God” into the context of community.   Ironically, many people would point to community as the place of safety in learning to hear God, the idea being that community will keep experiments along these lines from going too far afield.  The problem is that often those surrounding us in community aren’t real good at hearing God either — they either quickly shut down things the Lord would want to do because it doesn’t line up with their expectations of Him, or, they themselves are the ones saying they are hearing from God and in the process abusing and manipulating others with what they say God is saying.   Hearing God is dangerous — hearing God in community is even more dangerous.   And yet, the folks that say we need community for safety are paradoxically also right — community really is the best place to tread into these waters, as Jesus and His Word dwell among us corporately.   As much as community can wound and trouble us on our journey, it’s still better to suffer those wounds and troubles than the ones we will end up with going it alone.

At any rate, I hope to do justice to all these pitfalls, and make a clear and balanced presentation of both the singular experience of experiencing God’s voice and the corporate dynamics of the gifts of prophecy and word of knowledge and wisdom and so forth.  I might never get done this series.

radio-1682531_640But let’s begin — why did I entitle this “Experiencing God’s Voice” instead of “Hearing God’s Voice?”  This begins my “fresh perspective” I hope to bring into this conversation.    When I first wanted to hear God, I wanted most specifically to be “led by the Spirit.” I initially didn’t even realize that the way the Spirit “leads” us is by speaking to us!   But I had no idea what avenue, or channel, or sense, or experience would actually constitute being “led.”

When people talk about “hearing” God, folks new to the experience can often assume we are talking about “hearing voices” or at least, a Voice.   And, we are.   But the fact is that God’s voice is not really all experienced auditory.   The auditory experience of His voice is a real one, and one I’ll be discussing as we go forward, but realistically the Lord Himself is not simply transmitting in audio, although he can definitely be found on the audio frequencies.   But if we think we are only meant to “hear” His voice, then figuratively speaking we start to search for Him on the AM/FM dials, hoping to pick up only some sort of “sound,” and while He can be found there, searching for Him only as audio not only blocks out the fulness of His “signal” but also ironically leaves us more open to confusion and deception in trying to hear Him.   Realistically, the Lord is like super-broadband, transmitting on so many wavelengths all at once — He’s like a star in the Cosmos that you can view in infrared, radio, UV radiation, and visible light, and gravity waves all at once, or a broadcast station transmitting internet, HDTV, FM audio, and cellphone signal all at once.  Likewise, He is not just speaking audio, but He speaks thought-to-thought, He speaks in visions, He speaks forth a sharing of the sense of His emotions, He speaks forth dreams, He sings, He laughs, He gives forth His fragrance and extends His love and peace and anger and pleasure and displeasure and His glory and strength and healing and power; He expresses Himself with various extensions of His spirit and personhood to us.

God’s utterance, is, in fact, Himself.   His voice is the going forth of who He is, and as He is Spirit, we can only know Him Spirit to spirit.  (I’m aware and tracking with you when saying such a thing creates a problem for us when we don’t even know what or where our own spirit is within ourselves.)   But His voice isn’t just “voice.”   After all, does a Spirit have a mouth or vocal cords?   sun-11582_640But just like our Sun has an outer atmosphere which is part of it, yet there are deeper layers still, experiencing the Voice of the Almighty has layers.   He is extended to us at all times with a constant stream of His Spirit, pouring forth from His being, but there are experiences one might have with a solar flare which would be altogether different from touching the plasma surface of His burning, and different yet again from experiencing the substance of His core, even though His core drives forward and is one substance with all we might experience at any part of Himself.

Yet God is not an unfeeling, inanimate object like a star (no offense meant to any stars out there.).  Analogies have their limitations.   All of which to say — God is transmitting on too many wavelengths to merely talk about “hearing” His voice as if it would all be auditory or even all words, even though, “hearing” is what all of his communication, whether verbal or nonverbal, can be spoken of in a certain broad sense.

iceland-2608985_1280There is a stream that comes out from the throne of God.  It never stops, and even though for many of us an experience from God is a rare and isolated event, unpredicated by anything we know how to control, the stream coming from the throne is nonstop, and God is “speaking” to us constantly.  This is the same stream that Jesus spoke of being within believers when he said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said: ‘Streams of living water will flow from within him.’”

We just need to learn how to drink from the stream more consistently and consciously, instead of rarely and accidentally.  It is a stream of living water; throughout the Bible, both “life” and “water” are motifs associated with God’s words.  Put together, “living water” refers also to the Holy Spirit, who is made of the same substance of the God who is Living Word, but the Holy Spirit is unique in being the part of God that extends to us and abides within us, and thus carries the rest of God — all that He is, His Words and His thoughts and emotions and voice and personhood to us.  Thus Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would “take from what is mine and make it known to you.

radio-telescope-3575529_640In some words I think of the Holy Spirit as being like the “carrier wave” of a radio station; in radio,  the “sound” of the station is wrapped up and embedded in the transmitted carrier wave and when the wave arrives at your receiver, the “sound” is part of but can also be decoded out of the wave.  The Holy Spirit is the extension of Heaven from God’s throne to the innermost part of us, and He abides within us individually and among us collectively when we are gathered together in tune with Jesus and His Father and each other.

God can be felt (which is a problem if you’ve always been taught to be wary of “feelings” and “impressions” and “sensations.”). And yet, in wanting to be open to feeling Him, we must also be aware the balance is that most feelings are not Him.   And God can be heard, and yet most voices are not His.  God can give visions and dreams, and yet not all dreams or visions are from Him. river-679011_640And He can be manifested in miracles, appearances, experiences, and all sorts of things from flashes of inspiration to creativity to peace to joy to overwhelming love to heat to shakings to too many things to list.   All of it, when legitimate, is an experience of His Voice.   The stream is broad, and so is God’s wavelengths of speech towards us; the stream is powerful, and so is the effect of His Voice where it is made known and received; and the stream is deep; taking us to deeper and deeper experiences of communion with His person.

But all of this we will delve into.   Why do some people get prayed for at the altar and while everyone else is falling down shaking, nothing ever happens to them?   Why can some people hear God easily and others are left with their own thoughts?   Why does music seem to bring some people easily into God’s presence and others can’t stand singing?   Why do we talk about God’s presence as something you can experience when the Holy Spirit is in everyone who knows Jesus regardless of feelings?  And how do you know if someone’s prophesying is real or not?   Is it just a matter of “comparing what they said to the Bible” when the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about that person’s word they gave you that you need to drink orange juice every day for the next week?   And what about “signs” and “confirmations?”   And while we’re talking about the Holy Spirit and our spirit, and angels and demons and the like, what is “a spirit” anyway?

blushing-4213963_640I’m going to wade through all of it.  Here’s hoping you are with me on the journey.  And please pray especially the Lord grants Himself to me as I write, as it is after all, all about Him and that is the real journey.

 

*********************Please let me know any topics you want me to explore in all this as we go forward, below.  Or just make a general comment. 🙂

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Worship: Edification and Distraction

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Long ago, when I first gave my heart to Jesus, I spent time sojourning in some churches that were rather restrained in outward or individual emotional displays during worship.    It was a really big deal if someone lifted a hand up, or even two hands, during the worship time: enough to provoke entire late night conversations among the youth group (which I was part of at the time).   Questions abounded: “Why would anyone do this?   Was their hand like some sort of God antennae?   Were they feeling something at that moment that the rest of us weren’t privy to, that resulted in the hand being raised?   What was all that about?”   But the biggest question that would eventually emerge in these conversations was this one:  Was this person’s outward display of worship creating a distraction for the rest of the congregation?

Over the years, I moved on to other settings, other churches – churches where raising a hand to the Lord was not only understood as normal, but was also considered quite a mild and, even at times, “overly restrained” expression of worship (and/or praise.)  In these churches, there was a much more full-bodied concept of how one expressed praise – instead of the tongue being the only part of one’s body that moved during singing, people were allowed to AND encouraged to use whatever bodily posture most expressed their heart in the moment.   So, I’ve been to churches where people were on their faces, on their knees, or twirling about in wild expressive dance complete with streamers and flags in their hands.   And in these churches, the concept of distraction is almost completely foreign.  Instead, the overriding concern that the people in those congregations often have is a concern for freedom – is the worship “free enough?”   The belief in these settings is that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” and in the most direct and momentary sense, this means that to them, freedom of congregational expression is paramount – in order that the Lord’s Spirit might be given room to “do what He wants to do.”

Additionally, there is also a concept in the “worship-freedom” loving churches, that the Lord’s worship and praise ought to be extravagant – that people lavishing expressions of unbridled emotion and awe and love and whatever else towards the Lord in a corporate setting, with no concern for how others might view those personal expressions of love and praise, is something honoring to the Lord, something of which He is worthy.   Thus worshipping in this manner is not something done just for one’s own emotional satisfaction, but is regarded instead as a personal offering of eschewing one’s regard for their own appearance, dignity, etiquette and personal composure, to instead bring a gift of wholehearted, expressive, and whole-bodied praise towards God.

I have to admit that over the years I’ve definitely become more partial towards the latter paradigm of group worship than the former.   From this vantage point, what in my early years was once considered a potential “distraction” -seeing someone else express individual worship and praise in a unique, creative, and less-conformist-to-everyone-else way,  is no longer something that I see as a distraction.   In the mindset of the “freedom” concept of worship, a brother or sister’s creative worship expression, which I once viewed as a distraction stealing my attention from focusing on God, is something I instead now consider to be mutual “edification” – something that helps me see God even better.

Seeing a fellow worshiper be demonstrative in how they worship or pray to me now is a chance to see their faith being expressed, which in turn is something which bolsters my own faith and experience of meeting with God.   But it took a change in my mindset for me to be able to view someone else’s spiritual expression as something that I could receive as a beneficial aspect of Christ being made known to me through His people.   I now see this as the living faith in one person’s heart being made known to mine; and then in turn, my own worship being made known to those worshiping with me as well, creating a mutually reinforcing dynamic.  On a human, sociological, natural level this is psychologically supportive of one another’s faith expressions, but on a deeper, more supernatural level, also is an arena where the Spirit of God is able to express His own nature corporately, through the weak yet creative expressions of His people who are passing expressed faith back and forth to one another in their full-bodied signals to Him and to one another.

But it did take a shift in mindset – if worship is about me and God being alone, and undistracted, to have this inner exchange of prayer, worship, honor, love, repentance, etc., then the question becomes: “Why gather together with other believers for worship at all?”  If worship is a private thing, where I shouldn’t notice your worship and you shouldn’t notice mine, then why do we bother coming TOGETHER to do it?   God *can* be encountered out in the woods, or on the seashore, or on my bed or in my living room, or alone in my car – so why not just let that be sufficient?

I think the reality is, as I’ve written before: we need both.   We need to experience God in our closets, alone, or at the seashore, alone.   We each NEED to have a unique connection to our Creator that doesn’t depend on man.   But we just can’t pass over the fact that if we believe the New Testament scriptures (and I’m writing mostly to Christians here as I write this) that the overwhelming testimony of that scripture is that God Himself is really into this concept, of believers in Jesus sharing a corporate experience of Christ – what is called being the “body of Christ” together.  Being the body can be a simply static concept: we are the body of Christ whether we get together or not – but this concept can be realized as also an experience-able concept, something which if when we get together and have some idea what we’re doing to gather “in the name of Christ” together moves from being a mere doctrine into a functional reality.

The mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (the “you” in that verse being a plural you) is that there are new facets to knowing Christ, and to worshiping Him, or gathering with Him, that really can only be realized when we do this in conjunction with one another, functioning no longer just as individuals alone, but individuals in connection with one another, experiencing the dynamic that results from each person’s faith expressions feeding into the others’.   This is why so many people will share that something unique occurs when they worship with corporately – that they have an experience with the Spirit of God that is unique and cherished apart from what they have with Him while they are by themselves.   And it has something to do with each of us bringing something of our own heart with God to each other, where the whole of the corporate expression becomes greater than the sum of its own individual expressive parts.

It’s like what you see when a flock of birds fly overhead – a bird flying is just a bird, which is a marvelous thing.   But when hundreds of birds come together and each of them does its own little flying part, suddenly a whole new structure of expression is seen in the sky, as the flock moves in a way that creates new shapes, new forms, and new expressions of movement that any individual bird could never demonstrate to an observer.   When you’re *in* that flock of birds, you can undoubtedly see some angle on this unique thing that is happening even while you are in it – and, you get a chance to see where your own little part becomes an expression of something so much greater than yourself – it gives new dimensions to your own experience of being a bird, to fly along with the others.

This post is not meant, however, as some sort of “you need to go to church” sermon, as it may be tasting right now to some of my readers.   Church can be valuable to the degree that it truly gives you a chance to experience being part of the body of Christ with others.   Or, it can itself unfortunately at times be the single most distracting element that believers experience to truly being the body of Christ with one another – it depends on the church, its way of being, its beliefs, its leadership and its format of meeting.   Church is simply a scaffold, a structure, for people to be in spiritual life with one another.   And a structure can be something that living things thrive on – and build life on, like a coral reef growing on the structure of a sunken ship or stone outcrops, or a tomato plant being helped along with a stake for it to grow around.  Or structure can be something averse to life, something which destroys it – like putting a Walmart building and parking lot into a former wetland area.   Some of my readers would find their spiritual life greatly enhanced by leaving their church, and others need to find one.    I’m not making any statement about your own situation in regards to that, because how could I even begin to know?

But my goal here in this post is simply to point out: that there has long been this tension in the body of Christ between knowing what constitutes a corporate “distraction” from Christ for one another, and what actually constitutes a valuable opportunity to edify one another’s faith by each member of the body bringing their own expression of knowing Him to the corporate table.   And I think that we can meaningfully distract one another right into loving Him more, as we offer our own distracting expressions of knowing Him and loving Him to one another.

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