Thursday, July 09, 2015

Hearing God (Some Insights from Dallas Willard)

Hearing God: Guideline One - Love God with All Your Being

Lake Erie shoreline

Our primary goal in life is not to hear God speak to us, but to be in a loving relationship with him and our brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God. Only if we are maturing people in a loving relationship with God and others will we hear him correctly. How weird it would be to want to hear God speak to me while not wanting to be in relationship with him, or in community with God's people. That would be using God for our own selves, which would be futility, since God will not be used by anyone.

Dallas Willard writes:

"Only our communion with God provides the appropriate context for communications between us and him. And within those communications, guidance will be given in a manner suitable to our particular lives and circumstances. It will fit into our life together with God in his earthly and heavenly family. Again, this is our first preliminary insight to help us in our learning to discern God’s voice." (Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, p. 42)

Hearing God: Our Motives Make a Difference

Detroit Institute of Arts

Our motivation for wanting to hear God speak to us can determine whether or not God will speak to us. Surely God is uninterested in simply telling us what we want to hear. Dallas Willard quotes F.B. Meyer:

“So long as there is some thought of personal advantage, some idea of acquiring the praise and commendation of men, some aim of self-aggrandizement, it will be simply impossible to find out God’s purpose concerning us.” Willard,Hearing God, p. 33).

God is not going to cooperate with this. We must therefore have a different motivation for hearing God's voice and knowing his will for us.

Hearing God Emerges from Living in Relationship to God

Dallas Willard, in Hearing God, writes: "Spiritual formation into Christlikeness - true change of character - comes from living in relationship to God." (29)

Willard's statement is not just a string of words; the truth of this statement is not mere theory. I know these words, in experience. Experiential truth is more powerful than theoretical truth. This is truth that happens, in our ordinary experience.

I know this to be true, I know its truth from my vantage point as a pastor and teacher. I have seen it in many people. A significant stream of former seminary students write me of their ongoing experiential, conversational relationship with God, in Christ, and by the Spirit.

Willard quotes 19th-century theologian Wilhelm Hermann:

“We hold a man to be really a Christian when we believe we have ample evidence that God has revealed himself to him in Jesus Christ, and that now the man’s inner life is taking on a new character through his communion with the God who is thus manifest.” (p. 29) 

My church community has many Jesus-followers. We have a "knowledge of God [that] rests on the revelation of his personal presence. . . . Of such a presence it must be true that to those who have never been confronted with it argument is useless, while to those who have, it is superfluous [more than enough].” (Ib.)

Live consistently in God's presence and you will become familiar with the sound of his voice.

Hearing God: Abiding Includes Conversing

In his final conversation with his disciples Jesus told them that he and his Father "would come to them and make their home in them." (John 14:23) How weird it would be if God did this and never talked with us, especially given the fact that God is an all-loving Person who loves us with an everlasting love. There may be persons in our home who despise us and refuse to talk to us, but God, in his essence, is not that kind of Person. Willard writes:

"Certainly this abiding of the Son and the Father in the faithful heart involves conscious communication or conversation in a manner and a measure our Lord himself considers to be appropriate. It is simply beyond belief that two persons so intimately related... would not speak explicitly to one another. The Spirit who inhabits us is not mute, restricting himself to an occasional nudge, a hot flash, a brilliant image or a case of goose bumps." (Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, Kindle Locations 331-334)

Connect with Jesus now.

Abide in Him.

Abiding includes conversing with God.

Hearing God: Being Comes Before Doing

Monroe County Community College

"Hearing God only makes sense in the framework of living in the will of God." (Willard, Hearing God, K125)

For Willard "doing the will of God is a different matter than just doing what God wants us to do." (Ib.) It is about being in the will of God; or,being (living) in the heart of God. Living in the heart of God includes doing, but is in the first place about being. "Generally we are in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life he wants for us." (Kindle Location 135)

It is possible to do all the things that God wants us to do and still not be the kind of person God wants us to be. A religious person, for example, might do all kinds of things without having a heart of love. Willard writes: "An obsession merely with doing all God commands may be the very thing that rules out being the kind of person he wants us to be." (K136)

Love comes first, from which appropriate obedience emerges.

First, live life out of your "in Christ" status. This is the great Pauline imperative. Hearing God's voice will be a byproduct of a Christ-abiding life.

Hearing God: Focus On the God-Relationship

Bolles Harbor on Lake Erie, Monroe

Many would like to hear God speak to them for the sake of guidance. While this is one aspect of hearing God, it is far from the only aspect. Hearing God is richer and more textured than that. Hearing God is itself one aspect of the deeper, more inclusive Jesus-life.

Willard writes: "Hearing God is but one dimension of a richly interactive relationship, and obtaining guidance is but one aspect of hearing God." (Willard, Hearing God, K125)

Willard's strategy and counsel is to focus on cultivating the God-relationship, out of which hearing God will emerge as a byproduct. For example, it's our ongoing, sustained relationship that provides the environment for Linda and I to really hear and understand one another. When it comes to hearing and understanding God the same relational rules apply.

Willard writes:

"Ultimately, we are to move beyond the question of hearing God and into a life greater than our own—that of the kingdom of God. Our concern for discerning God’s voice must be overwhelmed by and lost in our worship and adoration of him and in our delight with his creation and his provision for our whole life. Our aim in such a life is to identify all that we are and all that we do with God’s purposes in creating us and our world. Thus we learn how to do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17). Learning the two-way communication between us and God will develop as a natural part of such a life." (Kindle Locations 81-86)

To learn to hear God don't focus on learning to hear God. Instead, focus on the most important thing, which is: "You are an unceasing spiritual being, created for an intimate and transforming friendship with the creative Community that is the Trinity. Learning to hear God is much more about becoming comfortable in a continuing conversation, and learning to constantly lean on the goodness and love of God, than it is about turning God into an ATM for advice, or treating the Bible as a crystal ball." (Kindle Locations 87-89)

Hearing God: An Invitation to Hear God

Window in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Willard states that hearing God is to be part of the normal Christian life. He writes:

"God has created us for intimate friendship with himself—both now and forever. This is the Christian viewpoint. It is made clear throughout the Bible, especially in passages such as...

...Exodus 29:43-46 [God will meet with us]; 

...Exodus 33:11 [God spoke with Moses face to face, as one speaks with a friend]; 

...Psalm 23 [God shepherds us]; 

...Isaiah 41:8 [God is our friend]; 

...John 15:14 [Christ is our friend],

...and Hebrews 13:5-6 [God will never leave us or forsake us; God is our helper]. 

As with all close personal relationships, God can be counted on to speak to each of us when and as it’s appropriate." (Kindle Locations 108-111)

God loves you...
... desires to meet with you...
... speaks to you as a friend...
... has not left you alone...
... helps you.

1. If I am one of Jesus' sheep, then I will hear his voice.
2. I am one of Jesus' sheep.
3. Therefore,.....