Friends invited us to have dinner the other night and I found myself saying, “Just name a time and place and we’ll be there!” When it comes to meeting with friends, we’re often eager to make time in our busy schedules. In fact, the first thing my husband and I do is mark it on our family Google Calendar, so we don’t forget. But when it comes to God, well, time with Him is often the first to be squeezed out by other seemingly more important things. God is nowhere to be found on the Google Calendar.
But whenever I stumble across Jesus’ example, I am always reminded afresh of how meeting with God was a priority in His life:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
I don’t think they had alarm clocks or snooze buttons back then, but somehow Jesus had the discipline to roll out of bed – while it was still dark – to go off to a quiet place to meet with His father. I love picturing Jesus rising from his floor mat, tip-toeing out of the house where he was staying and all groggy-eyed wandering to where he could get away from the busyness to a quiet, undisturbed place. He probably struggled some mornings to rise so early, just as we do, and was tempted to sleep in a bit longer. And there was certainly no Starbucks on the way to put that extra pep in his step! So what are we to make of this little scene we’re given here right in the beginning of Mark’s gospel? Clearly, the writer was trying to communicate something by sharing these details. But what?
If time with God matters to Jesus, who was God himself, it should matter to us.
We’ll talk in later posts about what to do during our time with God, but for today, the thing I take away from the passage above is the importance of setting a time and place. My sister was just telling me last night how she feels so blessed to have children who go to bed so easily each night. When I asked her what the trick is, she didn’t hesitate, “Routine.” Without a doubt, she believes the set rhythm they have established each night: dinner-bath-stories-bed, dinner-bath-stories-bed….repeat, has been the key to successful bed times. In a way, this consistent rhythm has programmed the children (as strange as that sounds) to want to go to bed each night. Even when they are running behind, the kids will wait by the stairs, anticipating the bath-story-bed time routine even before the parents signal to them its time. They love it. They anticipate it. They look forward to it.
Not only did I file this away as an excellent parenting tip for future reference, but I wondered if the same principle could be applied to our quiet times with God. As creatures of habit, establishing a set routine can help us be consistent meeting with God each day. Mornings have become my set time to meet with God, so the second I get that coffee going, it signals to my heart and soul that its time to meet with God. I love it. It doesn’t have to be the morning, but as Simon Robinson says in his book Improving Your Quiet Time,
“It provides a good start, it gives you something to take into the day and it focuses your mind on the Lord before you throw yourself into the activities that lie ahead of you.”
I wholeheartedly agree. However, there is no hard and fast rule about this. The important thing is to set aside a regular time each day to get away from the distractions and be with God.
Author James Borst, who writes on the topic of contemplative prayer offers some tips on how to be consistent with our God time. He suggests examining our commitments – family, profession, church, recreation – and within that framework to plot a “daily appointment” with God, which we can endeavor to keep as faithfully as possible. Thinking of our time with God as an appointment, just like an appointment we would set with a friend, colleague or boss, might help to prioritize it in a different way.
As I examine my own life, I can definitely see how the setting of a distinct time and place does make a difference in the quality and consistency of my time with God. I have to admit, it’s been more of a challenge than ever before these last couple of years. As I have mentioned before, my husband and I are living in a one-room flat, which has diminished every ounce of privacy we ever had! It is also our first year of marriage, so working out rhythms of seeking God together and individually has also been a learning process. We love spending time seeking God together through His Word and through prayer. But we also know the value of setting aside time to be with God individually. Lately, I feel myself craving for private, quiet, undisturbed time with God and am hopeful it will come as we adjust into this new season of life.
I think we will all have times when our rhythms, patterns and routines change and evolve, whether due to a new job, marriage, having children, and going in and out of different seasons of life. But at the end of the day, we all must ask ourselves, God, am I putting you first? Do I value our time together enough, that I will make time to be with you? I believe when we resolve to love God with our whole hearts and express our desire to spend time with him, even though we don’t do it perfectly each day, he will work with the complexities and intricacies of our lives to help us prioritize Him, above all else. I am definitely in need of that right now!
Today, let’s take some time to ask ourselves:
- Is time with God woven into the pattern of my life?
- Where do I go to meet with God?
- What habits and routines have worked or not worked for me in the past?
- What changes can I make so that my appointments with God are the top priority and highlight of my day?
If all else fails, get God on that Google Calendar. My prayer is that the times we set to be with Him will increasingly go from being a nagging discipline that we know we should do each day to a necessity that we absolutely cannot live without each day.
My twin sister, Kelli, called me on the phone one day at the end of her parental rope, “I am so tired of having to repeat myself over and over again. Abe just won’t listen to me lately. ” Her four-year old son’s seemingly lack of attention span was starting to drive her nuts. UNTIL… it was revealed weeks later during a regular doctor’s check-up what was really going on. It wasn’t that Abe was purposely ignoring his mom, but his ears were clogged with fluid, preventing him from being able to hear properly.
I couldn’t help but see the spiritual parallel loud and clear, especially as I seek to re-learn the art of listening to God this season. Perhaps like my sister’s son, it’s not that we’re not listening, but our ability to hear has somehow been dulled. Perhaps there is some kind of “clogging” that is preventing our spiritual ears from being able to hear God. But what?
Continuing from the passage in James 1 last week about being quick to listen, the following verses give us some clues about what can prevent our hearing:
“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent…” (v.21a)
The phrase ‘get rid of’ is often used to talk about moral evil and its root word is used to describe ear wax. It is no coincidence I started off this post with the story about my nephew’s clogged ears! In the same way wax or fluid can dull our hearing, sin can diminish our ability to hear God speaking to us. Powerful stuff.
This has been a reminder to me all over again as I seek to re-learn the art of listening to God. I must rid my life and my heart of all known sin! It’s perfect timing for this as springtime approaches. I don’t know about you but every year, I have to do a thorough “spring cleaning” to de-clutter my drawers, closets and shelves. It’s amazing how much excess (a.k.a. junk) can pile up in a year’s time isn’t it? My husband and I are living in a one-room flat in England right now and you wouldn’t think it would even be possible to get cluttered with the limited space we have. But to our amazement, we spent a whole day clearing out clothes in our closet and piled up papers in our drawers. Clutter is, it seems, inescapable.
It is the same in our spiritual lives. The clutter of sin inevitably creeps into the crevasses of our hearts and souls without our even knowing it half the time. If we don’t do a thorough “spring cleaning” every now and then, it will pile up and take over the good, clean healthy living space in our hearts, where we are told in the Bible God’s Spirit dwells (see John 14:16-17). It’s not that His Spirit leaves us, or seizes to speak to us, but He simply get’s covered up by other things, dulling our awareness of Him speaking to us on a regular basis.
So how can we de-clogg our spiritual ears, paving the way for excellent hearing? How can we rid ourselves of the moral filth that has sneakily and subtly piled up in our lives? Perhaps the first step is asking the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and show us whether there is any sin we have not confessed to God. I love David’s prayer in Psalm 139:
“Search me God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (v.23-24)
When we pray this prayer, God will reveal to us the ugly, yellow, gunky “wax” that has built up over time. When we become aware of the sin in our lives, the good news is that we can confess it to God, he forgives us, cleanses us and helps us to change our ways (see 1 John 1:9). I don’t know about you, but I get excited about doing some more de-clogging…because as I clear out my spiritual ears by asking God to rid me of sin in my life, I will be able to hear what I need and long to hear from my Father, loud and clear.
How about you? In this Lenten season, what can or are you doing to de-clog your spiritual ears and rid your heart’s “closet ” of all the clutter?
Hearing from God, I am realizing, is more of a privilege than a entitlement. We know we are saved by grace and not by works, but we do have a part to play. Getting rid of our sin puts us in a position to hear from God, allowing us to enjoy it as the deep and rich privilege it is.
Now this is just one aspect of re-learning the art of listening to God. More in the coming posts as to the HOW and WHY of it all…stay tuned!
I used to work as a news reporter and one thing that had to be learned on the job was good listening skills. Whether it was a businessman, politician or factory worker, my job was to listen intently to every word they were saying. I would then go back to the office to replay the tape so I could re-listen to what was said to make sure I got it right in quoting them in the report. James tells us that, like my news reporting days, we need to be “quick to listen” or “swift to hear” as another translation puts it.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (James 1:19)
James is not speaking of listening in the context of our human friendships and relationships, though this is important, but he is referring to our listening to God. If I’m honest, rather than living my life according to the quick-quick-slow sequence, I am often in the slow-quick-quick category: slow to listen, and quick to speak and become angry.
Why is it so difficult to listen to God?
Sometimes, I think it is simply that we forget not only how much God is able to speak to us, but how much he wants to. John Howell, in his book He Touched Me, writes of a God who is anxious to speak to His Children:
Of course I feel sure that God can and does teach us in these ways. I think of the whole Bible as simply a written record of such religious experience, of God invading human history and human lives, of God speaking to men. I also believe this God is available and anxious to speak to you and me. Yes, just as anxious as he was to speak to Isaac, Abraham and Jacob, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.
I don’t know about you, but rarely do I think of God as anxiously wanting to speaking to me. I think of when I’ve been apart from my husband all day, and when he gets home, I can’t wait to speak to him about what has happened in my day and hear about his day. Thinking of this real-life scenario helps me to grasp what Powell is getting at: God is anxious, eager, excited to speak with us!
Sometimes it’s easier for me to believe that God can speak to other people, but when it comes to believing God wants to speak to me, I find myself doubting. How about you? Do you see God as a God who is available and anxious to speak to his people? To You? Chew on that question and share any reflections or responses you may have.
A challenge I pose for today is this: Try whispering little prayers to God throughout the day expressing your faith in his ability and desire to speak to you, “God, I believe you are available and anxious to speak to me. Teach me how to be quick to listen and swift to hear…amen.”
Stay tuned for how to tune into God’s voice, as we continue on the journey of re-learning the art of listening to God.
I recently met a friend for coffee and realized the whole hour had gone by and I had been talking the whole time! I apologized to my friend and promised we would spend our entire next coffee date hearing about her life. This “motor-mouth” moment made me realize that the same thing often happens in my relationship with God. My prayer life is characterized by me talking, talking, talking, rather than listening. Listening. Listening.
Have I forgotten how to do it? Or forgotten the value of it? I don’t know, but perhaps this is a season of my life where I need to re-learn the art of listening to God. I used to be a serious basketball player and sometimes we would come to practice and my coach would say, “We’re going to spend our entire time today going back to the basics.” We would go over the things we had already learned a hundred times–dribbling, lay-ups, pivots, etc.–but needed to go over again and again because it was these very basic fundamentals that made the difference in us winning or losing a game.
Going back to the basics is a principle we can and need to apply to our spiritual lives as well. For me at the moment, that is re-learning how to listen to and hear from God. Some questions Joyce Huggett poses in her book, Listening to God, are burning in my heart all over again:
How does God communicate himself to me? How does he disclose who he is after I have revealed myself to him? Do I have to wait hours, days, weeks or even years to see what God will do with and about my openness to him? Or is there a more immediate and direct response?…Can God put a new idea directly and immediately into my mind? Can he give me a new perspective in which to view my life with its successes and failures, agonies and ecstasies? Can God put new desires into my heart, new strength into my will? Can he touch and calm my turbulent emotions? Can he actually whisper words to the listening ears of my soul through the inner faculty of imagination? Can God stimulate certain memories stored within the human brain at the time these memories are needed?
There was once a time when I was more sure of these questions. But today, I am content to sit with them afresh, pondering them as for the first time. I need to go back to the basics and learn how to listen all over again.
How about you? What is something that God is calling you to re-learn or re-learn the value of again?
I’ll be sharing my journey of re-learning how to listen to God in the next few weeks. I hope you’ll join in the conversation!
My husband gave me a little silver stone-studded cross before we were engaged. It was a “promise necklace” symbolizing the love and commitment from the man I would soon marry. I loved it and treasured its beauty around my neck each day…until one evening I went to take it off and it was gone! The necklace was there but loop connecting the cross to the chain must have loosened, and the cross was nowhere to be found.
It wasn’t until more than a year later, it turned up again. I was unpacking a suitcase, and beneath all the clothes, suddenly there it was, the little stone-studded cross, shining brighter than ever. It hadn’t been lost after all, just buried beneath of heap of…stuff.
Basking in the joy of finding this precious treasure once again, it reminded me of how we can often experience a similar thing in our spiritual lives. The treasures once given to us in Christ — peace in our hearts, rest in our souls, joy in suffering, passion for God’s Word, a heart to serve Him, enthusiasm to share our faith with others, desire to spend time with Him, boldness to exercise His power through spiritual gifts — get buried beneath the busyness of life. Our jobs, relationships and responsibilities soon clutter our hearts which once burned for God. The fire, passion and desire for Him slowly die out and we think, Well, this must be how it is as you get further along in faith. But is it? Is this what God intended for His people: to be lit aflame by Him and for Him, only to have it die out weeks, months or years later?
When we look to the Bible, the short answer is: No! God desires for us to experience the fullness of Him and His riches — not part of the time, but all the time. The Apostle Paul prays fervently, that God’s people would be filled to the max with God in their daily lives. That we,
“… may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]! (Ephesians 3:19b, AMP)
Whoa. Let’s review: Filled through all your being with the fullness of God…Having the richest measure of the divine Presence of God…Living each day wholly filled and flooded with God Himself. Like me, you might be thinking: Gee, that sounds nice, but let’s get real — that can’t actually be a reality amidst the hustle and bustle of life.
The answer is, yes it can. We can be filled to the fullest measure of God each day. The question is, do we want to be? Part of it has to do with realizing that the richest spiritual blessings have already been given to us as a gift in Christ, by grace. But just like my cross necklace, the gift which was given to us in love, can get buried beneath the clutter of life. That is what Paul continues to preach to the believers in the church (that’s us) — that we have a part to play in keeping the clutter out, so that the treasures can shine ever brightly, as God intended them to.
If we’re honest, there are times along our spiritual journey where we feel “dry” and lifeless in the Spirit. Rather than being filled with God’s Presence, we feel like we’re running on empty — tired, weary and complacent. This is inevitable and part of living in a fallen world. But, when we recognize we are in such a place, we need not worry or fear, but simply bring it to God in prayer, asking: What is it in my life Lord, that might be covering up the treasures you have given me, in Christ? What might be blocking or hindering Your presence and power from flowing through me? I desire to be filled and flooded with Your love each day. Lord, please help me get back to that place!
I have found in my own life, that this sort of desperate prayer is the only thing that can bring me out of seasons in the desert. When we truly desire to experience the fulness of life in the Lord once again, we must be willing to pause, listen, and wait on God to show us the “clutter” that might be causing the fullness of His treasures –spiritual fruits, gifts, blessings and power — to be laying dormant and lifeless within us. They ARE there; they’re just covered up.
Here a few areas in my own life, which continue to have a huge impact on my life with God. I have noticed that when any of these things decrease, so does God’s presence and power in my life. Take a look and evaluate these areas in your own life as they relate to the health of your soul:
- Time with God. When I allow others things to get in the way of my time with God, my soul suffers. Keeping a regular practice of spending time with God, helps to keep us connected to God and His Holy Spirit. A good friend of mine always says we must “fight” for our relationship with God. This is so true, given all the distractions competing for our time and attention each day. Set a regular time to meet with God — to pour out your heart to Him, study His Word, listen to Him and allow His Spirit to fill you during this time. It’s a must!
- Investment in Spiritual Things. The things in which I choose to invest my time and energy absolutely impact my relationship with God. The Bible puts it this way: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). When we are intentionally investing or “sowing” into things that feed our Spirit like church, serving others, building godly friendships, sharing our faith with others etc., we are promised that God’s Spirit will bring life to our souls. We will be “alive” in Him. Who doesn’t want that?
- Quality of Worship. When I go through the routine of singing songs to God, but my heart is not really engaged, this only perpetuates dry land in my heart. But when we purposefully engage in worship regularly, even daily, focusing our minds and hearts on who God is and what He has done for us, oh how are hearts are re-filled and re-fueled with His Presence! God loves to touch hearts who worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Incorporate times of worship into your life, whether while driving to work, running, in your own room or wherever. Blast those worship tunes, sing your heart out TO God, and allow His Spirit to stir you to passion for Him once again. Nothing is more wonderful!
- Sin Confession. No one, except Jesus, is perfect. Therefore, we all have areas of imperfection, weakness, flaws, mistakes –things that are downright ugly and unpleasing to our Lord. Getting in the practice of being aware of our own sin, confessing it, and repenting (turning away from it), are sure ways to keep the lines of communion with and communication to God clear and unclogged with life’s junk and gunk. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” My husband and I have started kneeling by our bed each night and confessing our sins before one another and God. Man has it made a difference! We feel our souls are cleansed each night and this helps us feel closer to each other and God. God’s life cannot dwell in its fulness when we have unconfessed sin. Confess and be healed!
These are just a few of the things, that when active in ours lives, can help to keep the clutter at a minimum, so that God and all His treasures can burst forth on a regular basis. It is possible! I pray that we would all desire and seek the greater things of God, refusing to be content with the dry, parched, desert conditions in our hearts. Jesus Himself says,
“Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”
May we all be filled afresh by the fulness of God this week as we go to Him and drink!