This session entitled, “Hearing God in the Context of the Kingdom of God,” encourages us to think upon the question, “How do does hearing God relate to living life in the kingdom of God?” We are encouraged again to think deeply and see how the big picture affects our day to day living.
Dr. Willard has a wonderful way of leading us not only in information, but in experience. The real question is how are we doing with that balance of information and experience?
Last post I mentioned that there may be a tendency for some of us may be to view our relationship with God more as a study than a relationship. We are becoming more aware of anything that may be depersonalizing your faith. This is a relationship, but because we study to learn about Him, we sometimes forget the relational part.
The best example to understand this concept is our experience of “falling in love.” You want to know everything about that person, you can even call it studying them. But you study from a different motivation than that of obtaining information only. We also know that even the best relationships ebb and flow with emotions and motivation. We know also from the best relationship, there are great rewards for persevering through the times we do not understand the other person.
Now it may seem like “over kill” or a tedious exercise to step back and examine why we do what we do, and how we do what we do. So let us continue to pursue this relationships, from gaining information and correcting preconceived ideas, to experiencing the depths of God’s love. (Ephesians 3)
Richard Foster – We hear God best in a certain kind of life, life within the Kingdom of God. That comes first in a context of a sense of worship, adoration, praise, righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Quote from Jean-Pierre de Caussade
“the only condition necessary for this state of self-surrender is the present moment in which the soul, light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responds to every movement of grace like a floating balloon.”
And then second, it comes in the context of a loving community – life in the Kingdom of God together.
In this session Dallas Willard and John Ortberg are going to help us think together about this kind of life and what it looks like in the practicalities of our day to day existence.
John Ortberg – The Bible has some things to say about sleep. Tell us a bit, if we are trying to locate ourselves in a broader context, what does sleep; our need for it, our fitfulness in it, have to stay about our vulnerability and about the broader context in which we live.
Dallas – Sleep is primarily a soul phenomenon and the ability to sleep is dependent on our capacity to turn loose from the world. That is what happens when you sleep. If our souls are disturbed we have to find a way of dealing with that. I find myself praying often for people for their sleep. You have to find the alarm in their soul and turn it off. You do that by hearing God while you are hearing them, prayerfully identifying what set the alarm off. Ask when did you first find it difficult to sleep? That will give you a clue to what set the alarm off.
John – I find when I can’t get back to sleep I have questions without answers and have trouble letting go. Letting go is what I want to do but I cannot do by trying too hard.
Dallas – you do learn some things. One thing I have learned is to stop trying to go to sleep and thinking, “I have got to go to sleep.” Instead think it is perfectly alright, and use the time to relinquish things and if there is a particular need I will hold it up before Him and in other words it is interesting how alarm builds on alarm and you get worried that you are not asleep. You learn to let go and take a hold of something else. To take a hold of the goodness of God, that you have a bed to sleep in, etc.
John – you can’t turn loose unless you hold on to something else. That helps us get in touch with a broader context, hearing God and being guided by God provides a broader background. The Divine Conspiracy is that backdrop that we live in the Kingdom of God, our fullness and our dependence. Sleep shows us our smallness and our dependence. Tell us where do we live – what reality do we live.
Dallas – transitioning to that from the subject of sleep I want to make sure to refer people to think about Ps 127. It is vain to rise up early and labor… My version is translates better to say, “He gives to His beloved even in His sleep.” He is still working – never gives up. The Psalm starts out
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
That puts us right in the larger scene. The problem with sleep is epidemic. We need to leave it to the Lord to build the house and guard the city. He is going to do it. That is the context of the Divine Conspiracy, how God’s plan to overcome evil with good in human history. He is going to do it. And of course our immediate skin to skin connection is with the kingdom of God. And the glorious message is that the Kingdom of the Heavens is right here. I didn’t understand that for so many years trying to preach the gospel – I didn’t know the good news.
John – for many of us we think the good news is beam me up I want out of here to go up there instead of make up there come down here – Dallas said yes and He wants us to know He is nearer than our breath.
God is nearer to you than your breath.
1) How is sleep related to living a life in the kingdom of God? What do you understand the Kingdom of God is?
John Ortberg – Describe for us, what is that broader context of the Kingdom of God, that range where God has His say?? Is that a scary thing to think of that reigns where God has his way?
Dallas – if you think you have to make it work it is scary. You realize that there is allot of other people that have ideas about how it should work. Paul says of the Ephesians that the Gentiles were without hope without God in the world. The sense of hopelessness is where you live if you don’t know and receive the Kingdom of God. In a wonderful setting such as the mountains, the most obvious expression of the Kingdom of God is nature. When we think about that – our bodies situate us in nature. Then there is the other side – the spirit – in that part of ourselves we have a choice limited by what we have seen and what we have learned and what God has spoken in our hearts and minds and unfortunately by all the things we have experienced in the world that is not good. That affects the spiritual side and makes us as Paul says dead in trespasses and sin, living out from the worlds’ order under the guidance of an evil presence. Basically we are just like the donkey at a child’s party and we are unaware. If we are not alarmed perhaps we are blissfully stupid.
Now this is where the Kingdom of God begins to merge and we are given a great possibility of seeing and Jesus tells us seek above all the Kingdom of God.
John – many people in church isolate activities that seek the Kingdom of God like their quiet time and feel they should do more and feel guilty when they don’t. It becomes a vicious cycle. What does it mean to seek the Kingdom of God and how do I know if I am finding it?
Dallas – Think about it this way, seeking the Kingdom is like seeking to find your car keys – you look everywhere. They may be where you think they are not. So in seeking the Kingdom of God you have to understand what you are seeking is what God is doing. You have to seek what God is doing. And of course there are allot of different places you can find that. If you read about Jesus, what He said and what He did.
John – Is there any place where God is not?
Dallas – No unless you turned away from Him and then He doesn’t give up on you but respects your choice to go it on your own. But if you turn to Him He is there and you will find that He has been at work. That is how He set up reality. Look for God’s action everywhere. We often identify it in a beautiful mountain scene or something grand. Jesus says to Seek His Kingdom and His kind of righteousness. The righteousness of the Kingdom is kindness, tenderness and love.
John – It struck me Dallas when you said that Jesus was crucified, not so much that we don’t have to be crucified but that we can be crucified with Him, join Him in His crucifixion. To be relaxed like Jesus it lies on the other side of the crucifixion. We often want the relaxation but don’t want the crucifixion.
Dallas – As you come to understand it you welcome the crucifixion as the great door of liberation because it takes you off of your kingdom. When you take up the cross you are free. This isn’t presented well. We think this is just terrible I have to die. (John – well it doesn’t sound like good news on the face of it) – Dallas – no, but with good example and precept we need to help people understand and come to realize what good news it is and beyond that what lies is the life we are seeking. Until we come to understand this we often think this is the only life I have got, but yet it is the life we complain about so much. We need to trade it in and get an upgrade.
John Ortberg Read Ps 121 and asked for what God spoke to Dallas as he read it. Dallas responded, “As I am listening in the moment, and it comes to me in the way of a certain kind of voice, says to me that there is something greater than the mountain, so you can sleep. He doesn’t doze off. He that keepeth me. As we read the Scripture that is the kind of thing God gives us and we have to make sure we don’t lose it in a careful exposition of the text. He that keepeth me will neither slumber nor sleep, so I can go to sleep.”
God is greater than the mountain so you can sleep.
2) Dallas said that crucifixion, referring to our own individual cross, is the great door of liberation; it takes you off your kingdom. What do you think he meant by that? How does that affect your life right now? How does that affect your sleep?
Richard Foster – Julian of Norwich (Norfolk, England) lived in the fourteenth century, from 1342 until 1416 (the first women to write in English) had 16 revelations that she wrote about. She spent the rest of her life to entering into these revelations. And when I think of life in the Kingdom, here is someone who was living in it. In one of the visions she speaks of the crucifixion –
Suddenly I saw the red blood running down from under the crown, hot and flowing freely and copiously, a living stream, just as it was at the time when the crown of thorns was pressed on his blessed head.,,, Suddenly the Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy, and I understood that it will be so in heaven without end to all who will come there. For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, the Trinity is our protector, the Trinity is our everlasting lover, the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ and in our Lord Jesus Christ.
She is meditating on this experience of the crucifixion and it led her to a whole contemplation of the Trinity and how the members of the Trinity relate and her participation in that.
Dallas – the first move was that she was caught up in admiration of the Son on the cross – the Blood represents His life and that brings out the other members of the Trinity because they are close together. Bringing out the cross brings out admiration. Many people don’t think of admiration when they think of the Trinity, the members are filled with admiration and joy for one another, and through the Kingdom of God they reach out to include Julian and us and it never stops expanding.
John Ortberg – Dale Brunner wrote the book, The Holy Spirit, the Shy Member of the Trinity. Not the shyness of timidity but the shyness of other centeredness – when the Father speaks He says this is my beloved Son, listen to Him and Jesus says I can only do what the Father does.
Dallas – expand on what is shyness? John – The use here is not to be frightened, not gun shy, but to be so aware of and delighted by the other that you no longer need to promote yourself in order to enjoy your existence. In those days of Julian of Norwich, 14th Century, people spent allot of time meditating on these things. That allows the things you are meditating upon to fill your heart and your life. The way the members of the Trinity relate to one another is almost inscrutable to us. This is critical to us – we tend to think of it in human terms. Admiration and admiring. We are learning from the times we have together – I admire you.
John – A friend of mine just said to his daughter – we talk allot in this house about plans and money etc. but there is only one thing of true value and that is you.
Richard – Another thing about Julian I loved so much is she meditated on simple objects. For example – the Hazelnut – she finds a hazelnut – has three properties – God made it, God loves it, God preserves it – creator, protector and lover.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. – Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) is one of the greatest English mystics. When she was 30, she suffered a severe illness and, believing she was on her deathbed, had a series of intense visions that ended on 13 May 1373. She recorded these visions and then reflected on them in theological depth 20 years later in Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love – the first book written in English by a woman.
Julian’s positive outlook does not come from ignoring suffering or being blind to it, but arises from the clarity she attained as she struggled with her own questions. This struggle gave her the ability to see beyond the pain and suffering and to look into the compassionate face of God. Only this gazing could reassure her that – despite pain, and sorrow – in God’s own time, “all shall be well.”
Julian had a heartfelt belief in a God who loves and graces us with an abundance that only God can give. And God’s love and grace placed Julian’s words before me again this morning.
According to Julian, the unfathomable mystery of love is the supreme sign of the reality of God, and sin is necessary so that we can become, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Instruments of love in the hands of God.”
3) Discuss what meditation looks like for you.
Notes from Book: Hearing God (page numbers may vary with versions)
Chapter 9: A Life More than Guidance
To deliver the soul from the sin which is its ruin and bestow on it the holiness which is its health and peace, is the end of all God’s dealing with His children, and precisely because He cannot merely impose, but must enable us to attain it ourselves (by His grace) if we are really to have the freedom of His children, the way He must take is long and arduous. –John Wood Oman
Proverbs 2:3-5 If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
It is an unavoidable fact that what we do or do not understand, in any area of our lives, determines what we can or cannot believe and therefore governs our practice and action with an iron hand. 193/254
Faith is not opposed to knowledge; it is opposed to sight. And grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Commitment is not sustained by confusion but by insight… For He commands us to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. The conscious rejection of thoughtful and careful study is not faith, and it does not spring from faith. It is the rejection of the God- appointed means to God-appointed ends. 194/254
That we lack the desire to receive God’s word merely for what it is, just because we believe it is the best way to live, is also shown by a disregard of the plain directives in the Scriptures. Sanctification from sexual uncleanness (1Thess 4:3) and a continuously thankful heart (1 Thess 5:18) are among the many specific things clearly set forth in God’s general instructions to all people. It is not wise to disregard these plain directives and then expect to hear a special message from God when we want it. 198/259
The book has good, practical, down-to-earth instructions on actual listening and what to do if we don’t (or think we don’t) hear anything from God: James Dobson has given some of the best practical advice I have ever heard on how someone who really wants the will of God and who has a basically correct understanding of it should proceed. Describing how he does it himself, he says, “I get down on my knees and say, ‘Lord, I need to know what you want me to do, and I am listening. Please speak to me through my friends, books, magazines I pick up and read, and through circumstances'” 199/260
A child cannot develop into a responsible, competent human being if he or she is always told what to do. Personality and character are in there very essence inner directedness. A child’s character cannot be known – even to himself – until he is turned loose to do what he wants. What we want, what we think, what we decide to do when the word of God does not come or when we have so immersed ourselves in him that his voice within us is not help in distinction from our thoughts and perceptions – these show who we are; either we are God’s mature children, friends and coworkers or we are something less. 204/267
There is also a neurotic, faithless and irresponsible seeking of God’s will, which is always taking its own spiritual temperature. In this state, people are far more concerned with being righteous than with loving a God and others and doing and enjoying what is good. We may insist on having God tell us what to do because we live in fear or are obsessed with being right as a strategy for being safe. 205/267
But suppose that no such specific word has come to us on some matter of great importance to our lives. For example, should we enter this school or that? Should we live here or there? Should we change employment?) Does this mean that in the matter at hand we cannot be in God’s perfect will or that we can be so only by chance, following some anxiety-ridden guessing game about what God wants us to do? Most assuredly it does not. We must resolutely resist the tendency to blame the absence of a word from God automatically on our own wrongness. And we must equally resist the idea that it means we must be somewhat off the track and living in something less than God’s perfect will. lf we are living in sincere devotion to the fulfillment of God’s purposes in us, we can be sure that the God who came to us in Jesus Christ will not mumble and tease and trick us regarding any specific matter he wants done. 206/268
Dr. Willard refers to Gary Friesen’s book on Decision Making and the Will of God 207/270 – see the following for a book review http://www.9marks.org/books/book-review-decision-making-and-will-god-garry-friesen
There is something greater than always knowing what is the right thing to do and always being directed by the present hand of God. Paul brought this out very clearly in 1 Corinthians 13 …Even in the hour of darkness these three, faith, hope and love – remained with Christ. 209/272
Is it absolutely essential to the nature of our personal development toward maturity that we venture and be placed at risk, for only risk produces character? One great law for all who would truly be led by God is to take no step at the bidding of self-will or without the clear moving of the heavenly guide. Though the direction be new and the way seem beset with difficulty, there is never any risk provided we are only led of God. Each new advance needs separate and special authority from Him, and yesterday’s guidance is not sufficient for today. A.T. Pierson 210/274
With Guidance and Beyond . . . Life and Rest
The key concept underlying all the themes I have raised in this book is this: Hearing God’s word will never make sense except when it is set within a larger life of a certain kind.
To try to locate divine communication within human existence alienated from God is to return to idolatry, where God is there for our use. To try to solve all our life’s problems by getting a word from the Lord is to hide from the life and from the dignity of the role God intended us to have in creation. As John Boykin remarks, “God does not exist to solve our problems.” We exist to stand up with God and count for something in this world.
We must ultimately 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 thing to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17). That is, we come in all things to think and act so that His goodness, greatness and beauty will be as obvious as possible – not just to ourselves, but to all those around us.
God’s speaking will always be an essential part of this… For those who come to this point, their life will be theirs — irreducibly, preciously so — and yet also God’s; and through them will flow God’s life, which is also theirs. This is the life beyond, and yet inclusive of, his guiding word. It is the life that has its beginning in the additional birth and its culmination in the everlasting, glorious society of heaven.” 211/274
The great preacher and founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley (1703-1791), was once approached by a man who came to him in the grip of unbelief.
“All is dark; my thoughts are lost,” the man said to Wesley, “but I hear that you preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them? Whither would you lead them? What religion do you preach? What is it good for?” Wesley gave this answer to those questions: You ask, what would I do with them? I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves, and useful to others. Whither would I lead them? To heaven, to God the judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love. The law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves, to make them like God, lovers of all, contented in their lives, and crying out at their death, in calm assurance, “O grave where is thy victory! Thanks be to God, who giveth me victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.” 212/275
Dallas wrote – While I was teaching one minister asked me what was the human issue, irrespective of church life or religion that Jesus came to address. This is the question facing the Christian church today. My answer was this: Jesus came to respond to the universal human need to know how to live well. He came to show us how through reliance on him we can best live in the universe as it really is. John 10:10 212/276
We intend, plan and make provision to do what we know to be morally right and what we know to be explicitly commanded by God – so far as it lies within our understanding. Such strategy is possible because we have entered into the additional life by the additional birth. At the impulse of the Spirit of God, we do service to the good wherever it may appear. 213/277
Steps to Hearing God:
– We meditate constantly on God’s principles for life as set forth in the Scripture – always striving to penetrate more deeply into their meaning and into their application for our lives.
– We pay close attention to what is happening in our life for God’s communication in our mind and in our heart. For here is where God’s communications come and identify themselves.
– We pray and speak to God constantly and specifically about all matters that concern us
– We listen, carefully and deliberately for God, paying close attention to what we hear. We may perhaps use a regular plan.
– In those cases where God does not speak to you on the matter concerned take the following steps:
a. Ask God to inform you, in whatever way he chooses, if some hindrance is within you. Be quiet and listen in the inner forum of your mind for any indication that you are blocking his word. But do not endlessly pursue this. In prayer set a specific length of time for the inquiry about hindrances: normally no more than three days. Believe that if a problem exists, God will make it clear to you…
b. Take counsel from at least two people whose relationship with God you respect, preferably those who are not your buddies…
c. If you find a cause for why God’s word could not come, correct it. Mercilessly. Whatever it is. Just do it.
d. If you cannot find such a cause, then act on what seems best to you after considering the itemized details of each alternative. If certain alternatives seem equally desirable, then select one as you wish. This will rarely be necessary, but your confidence, remember, is in the Lord who goes with you, who is with his trusting children even if they blunder and flounder…214-215
Epilogue: The Way of the Burning Heart
Luke 24:31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Their recognition was much more than a visual recognition 221/287
Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.