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Confession–Relief from Deafening Pain (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT–Copyright © 2008 Andrew T. Hawkins

After lifting our minds in praise to our Heavenly Father, self-examination and confession flow rather naturally. Having glanced toward his beauty and grace, our thoughts inevitably drift back to how unfortunately different we are. Two frightening consequences of the Fall make this attention shift unavoidable, namely, guilt and shame. Their painful weight upon our heart demands our attention, making it impossible to tune into God. Nothing does more to deafen us to his voice than these two debilitating emotions and the anxiety they generate. Confession freshens the inner life by dispelling these dark clouds and preparing us to hear our Lord once again. . . .

Confession opens the inner life the way the surgeon’s knife opens the body. However, just being cut open heals no one. When the doctor finishes his repair work and closes the incision, the body’s natural healing processes take over and recovery occurs. Similarly, although a necessary first step, merely examining ourselves to see what we have done wrong brings no relief. Down through church history Christians have not been helped by incessantly hashing and rehashing the past, but by taking their burdens to the Lord and leaving them there, as the old song says. When Brother Lawrence did something to let God down, he simply said to him, “I shall never do otherwise if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.” After this he gave himself no further uneasiness about it—and went back to placing his mind on God.
In summary, a time of confession brightens the inner life and prepares us to listen to God by dispelling the oppressive weight of guilt and shame which inevitably attracts our attention and thus prevents us from attending to our Heavenly Father.

Spiritual Formation

Are All My Thoughts & Feelings My Own? (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT–Copyright © 2008 Andrew T. Hawkins

For God to communicate with us, we must sense him in some way and he normally chooses such commonplace means as thinking or feeling. Christians have long recognized that, just as the Evil One can put “fiery darts” in our minds (Eph. 6:16 NKJ), so God can put his thoughts in our minds. Jesus told his disciples, for example, that when the Holy Spirit came to them he would remind them of everything Jesus had said (John 14:26). In addition to thoughts, God can also speak to us through feelings or desires. . . .

Our default understanding–that everything which passes through our mind and emotions comes from us–kills the devotional life. Expectation of hearing him dies because we effectively negate the main way God speaks to us. If we believe Ignatius, we realize that the field where the treasure lies buried is the inner world, and the treasure itself is the thoughts, feelings, images, and desires that come from God. We will now pay close attention to these movements rather than see them as purely part of the unending stream of our own consciousness. We will finally be delivered from the world of psycho-babble that reduces the spiritual realm to nothing more than our own mind. We will be set free from the lie that neatly disposes of anything mysterious or supernatural as a product of our own subconscious, a catchall where apparently anything beyond our understanding can be dumped. When convinced that God speaks in us, we will sift through the flow of inward motions as a miner pans for gold. Feelings of increased love for God, sorrow for self-centeredness, thoughts of helping a neighbour in need, or desires to encourage others will be identified, at the least, as echoes of God’s voice.

Spiritual Formation

A Warmth that Lifts Up (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT–Copyright © 2008 Andrew T. Hawkins

When we expect to hear God speaking to us about his love, the joy he bestows, the life of grace, the invitation to come to him boldly, we have tuned into the divine frequency. In other words, the goodness of God is an interpretive key for discerning his voice. Now, as we wait in the stillness and solitude, we may look for signs of encouragement welling up from inside. For many years our family lived beside the Niagara Escarpment, a long cliff several hundred feet high that stretches from Niagara Falls many miles north into Ontario before heading south into Wisconsin. Every year thousands of birds of prey are funnelled between Lakes Erie and Ontario up and over the Escarpment on their annual spring migration. Hundreds of people come to watch at strategic points where the birds use thermals to ascend easily over the Escarpment and onward on their journey north. In the listening portion of prayer, we wait like the big birds for the warm breathings of God’s Spirit to lift us up. For where we feel the swell of hope, there we will be justified in looking for God. But “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).

 

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A Lesson When God Spoke Peace to Me

Recently in prayer I imagined that God was saying something like the following:

“Whatever you do, do in peace. In a peaceful state of mind you will have the opportunity to look to God for confirmation that you’re on the right track. A hurried, hectic spirit is distracted by the pressures. It cannot hear. The lions will roar. Inner voices will urge hurry and worry, but ignore them. Yours is the path of peace. “The Lord will bless his people with peace” (Psa. 29:11). In that peace you may be in constant communion.  There you may hear. There you may pray without ceasing.”

The deep peace that I entered into for the next day or two confirmed to me that indeed God was speaking. God will speak peace to his people (Ps. 85:8).

Herein is a lesson. Don’t worry too much about whether the impressions you get as you meditate on the Bible are actually God or not. Realize that we are on a journey where we’re learning. Let’s face it, we don’t hear God very well at all. But that’s all right. He knows that and yet he loves us still. Therefore, feel free to experiment. Feel free to fail. Imagine what God might be saying. Let there be a lightness in your spirit. Be open and receptive. Time often helps us clarify whether an impression, thought or feeling was God speaking to us or not.

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Does Our Worldview Allow Us to Hear from Beyond?

Our basic understanding of reality (worldview) either opens the door to communication with God or slams it tightly shut.

In the first instance, we must obviously believe that God exists if we are to connect with him. Fortunately, this foundation block is in place for the vast majority of people. We simply don’t have enough faith to believe this marvelous universe popped into existence by itself no matter how many years we give it to do so.

Other questions are more pertinent. What kind of a universe was created? Is it merely physical or does it also include the realm of spirit? Are humans spiritual or simply matter with a blob of consciousness? In other words, do we possess the hardware for communication with God?

Even more importantly, what sort of a God do we have? Is God good, worthy of my trust? If I believe he’s indifferent or even evil, I won’t be much interested in what he has to say. I certainly won’t go out of my way to hear him.

Conclusion: If a supreme being exists and has created us with the capacity of spirit and if this supreme being is good, it is eminently logical that we can receive communication from him or her. Not only that, we crave it–because our very essence resonates with this divine frequency from which it was created.

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The Beauty of Christian Simplicity

The essence of all Christian living consists in only two things–listening to God and responding to him. That’s it. That’s all we have to do! If we do but these two things, we can assure ourselves that we please God immensely. We fulfill our destiny. We function the way God made human beings to function. His wind fills our sails.

We build church services around these two elements and personal prayer should be likewise structured. The ‘PARE’ prayer pattern outlined in my book is built around these two elements, listening (attentiveness) and response to God. The “P” in PARE stands for preparation to hear and the “E” stands for enjoyment (lingering at the end of prayer to simply enjoy God’s presence). So the pattern is Preparation-Attentiveness-Response-Enjoyment.

Having said that, however, we can simplify our responsibility even further. Jesus told Martha he required only ONE thing. Martha’s sister, Mary, knew what that one thing is, listening to Jesus (Luke 10:38-42). If we steadfastly listen to him, we will inevitably respond by living the way he wants. We’ll love, pray, forgive, help the vulnerable, stand up to injustice etc.

Perhaps someone would argue that we can hear God and refuse to obey him. That’s only partially true. We can say no to God only if we turn away from him. We can’t keep listening and disobey for the pressure would drive us crazy. By listening to God we open ourselves to the power of the universe and that current moves us in the direction of his will–loving and doing good works. To refuse to go along with God would be harder than standing against the Niagara. The human frame could not take it. We would end up like those who stoned Stephen. When they heard him speaking God’s truth, they covered their ears and yelled as loud as they could to drown out the heavenly words he spoke (Acts 7:56,57). If we don’t want to do what God says, avoiding him remains our only option.

If we decide to keep listening, as stated above, we open ourselves to wonderful, divine power. We may feel pressure build as elements within us resist going God’s way, but as we stay the course God helps us through. The river of his presence washes those blockages away like so much driftwood. We begin to move in the Spirit. Therefore, whatever you do, build some quiet attentiveness to God into your prayer time.

Spiritual Formation

THE DESIRE TO HEAR FROM BEYOND

I am sometimes asked why I wrote Whispers that Delight. The subject of receiving communication from beyond this world has long fascinated me as it has many others. The television documentary, Chariots of the Gods, captivated my imagination in the early 1970’s. I ran out to buy the now famous book with the same title which claimed to document evidence for extra terrestrial beings. My hopes went sky high, but the fad only lasted a few years for me. The extra terrestrials were silent as the grave. My search to hear took me elsewhere.

After burning through various spiritualities, I eventually came to the Christianity I’d rejected as a teenager. What a surprise to discover that at the very heart of this faith is the claim that Christians, by definition, have heard and do hear communication from an invisible world. What an astounding assertion!

Yet in twenty-three years of being a pastor I have found many people frustrated or guilt-ridden about their inability to communicate with God (pray). We all know that prayer anchors our spirituality and yet having regular dynamic communion with God challenges us to the core. Prayer consists of a two-way conversation and what we have to say is not the most exciting part. Unless we contact God and sense him speaking to us, prayer bores us. What could be duller than closing your eyes and speaking out into the air? Our devotional life ends up on life-support.

And so I wrote the book to give people a well-worn track to run on, that is, one that has worked for centuries, but is just now being rediscovered by the Protestant church. I speak of encountering God through meditating on the Bible. Put simply, it works. Every time I have used this pattern with a small group or class, and very often as I use it in my individual prayer life, good things happen. People are heartened. God speaks.

Spiritual Formation

CAN YOU LIVE FOR GOD WITHOUT LISTENING PRAYER?

I don’t know about you, but I hate sacrifice. I like comfort and convenience. Furthermore, I like getting my way. Therefore, I can only walk down the Christian path so far before I hit a wall. By the way, how far do I have to walk down this path anyway? How many sacrifices do I have to make? How much good do I have to do? Is my whole life supposed to be a denial of everything I want?

I’ve come to the conclusion that our attitude while doing good trumps all other considerations. Those who serve God must do so in spirit and truth. The spirit in which we help another or deny ourselves is everything. Done without the right attitude, self-sacrifice amounts to “wood, hay and stubble.” It has no value. You may as well as play a game or watch TV instead.

I take Paul’s counsel to the Corinthian church as instructive (2 Cor. 9). He says they should only give what they themselves have decided to give without any external pressure. Furthermore, the giving should be free from resentment because God values cheerfulness in giving i.e. the right spirit. Paul is, of course, talking about money here, but clearly this principle spreads out to other areas such as the giving of our time or attention to another.

The question then arises, “What if I can’t give with a good attitude, am I off the hook?” A voice may speak inside your head at this point telling you to just do the right thing. It’s a compelling voice because who can argue against doing what’s right? The problem is that we won’t obey it if we don’t want to, at least not for long. To carry on by mere exertions of the will, says Dallas Willard, is a condition to be dreaded and not something we can sustain over time.

We need grace and so we must quiet ourselves in an attitude of listening prayer. First of all, we do well to listen to the sound of this voice that bids us to “just do the right thing.” What is its tone? Is it harsh? Is it condemnatory? Or is it encouraging? Is it on our side? Is it the voice of a compassionate parent? Many voices vie for attention inside our heads. We need to exercise great care in deciding which ones to heed.

God gives us complete freedom to reject the harsh, intimidating voices. You don’t have to do anything under compulsion . . . anything! When it’s obeyed, that kind of voice only leads to bleak emptiness. Instead, the path we must take is that of seeking the Father’s voice, of opening our inner lives to the energizing power to do good that his Spirit gives. We must simply desire to be his child and to please him with our behaviour. In stillness before him, he will say he is for us and he will grant us the grace to do good. As we persevere in looking to him in love, we will feel the conviction rising from within, “Maybe I can do it after all.”

Spiritual Formation

FINDING AN ANCIENT PATH TO HEARING GOD

You’ve heard it before. Perhaps you know someone who says it way too much—“God told me….” You find their certainty somewhat irritating. You’re left feeling cynical. Yet, you know that God does speak and somehow you’ve even heard him. Jesus’ sheep do hear his voice, but sometimes you feel awfully tentative about how well. If you have sentiments like these, I can empathize. Failure to perceive God’s communication despite my best efforts to do so left me feeling frustrated. As a result, I spent less time in prayer which in turn led to a life lived under a subtle current of condemnation.

A turning point arrived when I digested Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. In it I perceived another path which I eagerly investigated. Foster emphasized the value of learning from those who have gone before. As I delved into the devotional masters I discovered the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, a method of scripture meditation.

I have found that quieting myself to slowly ponder God’s word has yielded more profit than any other spiritual discipline. Stillness not only opens our ears to hear God’s voice, it also readies us to obey what we hear. Quieting ourselves long enough to step back and view the motions of our inner lives is the first step in not being dominated by those currents. We can become proactive and decide which desires and emotions we should foster and which should be ignored

Celebration of Discipline, along with Foster’s other writings, also stresses the importance of training in the Christian life. I had come to always expect the miracle moment when my life would be changed forever, when “revival” would come. I spent an incredible amount of energy trying to climb this spiritual mountain and I just wasn’t getting any higher. It was time to come back down and try another way up. For me that way has been the slow, relentless training of meditation and prayer and it feels good. There is no pressure to perform or need to try to be a spiritual giant, only the constant challenge to be aware of God’s presence. Though I fail so often, every time I remember to turn to him present with me, I train my spiritual muscles just a little bit more. And sometimes I sense him!

One further discovery, the most important of all, has come clear as I’ve persevered. It has to do with recognizing heavenly communication. Virtually all Christians long to know God’s voice better. We know he has spoken in the Bible, but we crave more intimate communion with him. As I worked on this daunting subject of hearing the invisible God, the revelation gradually dawned—the goodness of God is an interpretive key for understanding his voice. His whispers delight us for if we hear them, we hear a message of hope and encouragement. Even when his voice creates disturbance within, that disturbance usually arises from a self-centered resistance to his love. Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is the great Encourager. God is like the inspiring teacher to whom students send letters thirty years later. He is the coach that the kid from the inner city says saved him from a life of crime. He is the loving dad we want to please more than anyone else in the world.

Spiritual Formation

A New Book that Trains You to Listen to God

Does your prayer life seem like a one-way conversation? Do you have difficulty quieting yourself to listen to God? Are you frustrated by a lack of training in prayer?

Whispers that Delight sketches out a prayer format which incorporates quiet attentiveness as its centerpiece. The book trains Christians to steadily improve their ability to hear God speak his living word through meditating on his written word, the Bible.