I’m afraid 2006 was not one of my finer moments. When I separated from my wife, my twins (a boy and a girl), were only 14 months old. I was on unfamiliar ground having split custody and like most parents without experience I took care of the kids by pretty much winging it. The feedings, diapers, and attention was believe you me, “wearing.” As Christmas approached that year, the reality of being by myself and making something meaningful of Christmas seemed impossible. If I had a pair of scales to weigh what I did right as opposed to what I did wrong during those times, the wrong would certainly prevailed! There’s something universally true about our inability to self-reflect after we derail our lives; we’re numb, unable to focus and for me anyway, any future that resembled a return to normalcy was remote. Now I know folks in these situations often downplay their pain (I did) and “spin” the appearance of personal demise into something better than it appears to be. Concurrently the folks who witnesses our personal unraveling often feel compelled to convey how it will “eventually turn around” or something of that sort, but that’s really only the surface veneer of life. What I would like to do is be a bit transparent about how I became profoundly transformed over time (mind you slowly, grudgingly and reluctantly) by listening to the correct counsel inside of me that told me there was an alternative to the circumstances I had created for myself. Now nearly 12 years after the fact, I can share with you how God communicated with me and perhaps it will help us appreciate just how often He attempts to communicate with us regularly, especially in times of trial.
God communicates through our spirit of course, specifically what we consider our mind and thoughts. He does leave impressions in our emotions as well. But it is recognizing the difference between our thoughts and His thoughts that makes communication so difficult. Most of us believe God wants and can communicate with us, whether we’re religious or not. The obstacle has always been to discern the difference between our mind and His.
How is done you might ask?
We often make the mistake on the consequential side of some huge mistake of thinking remorse is just “us” thinking and its too close to guilt. Remorse is distinctly different than guilt. Guilt will always be accompanied with some level of anger which is not of God. Being “self-aware” about our “guilt” is not the same as hearing the voice of God. The advent of remorse is a conscience awareness of our contribution to our circumstance even if it is only an undifferentiated feeling. Remorse is the beginning of God initiating contact with us regarding life’s circumstance. We know this as remorse is tightly wound to the principle of what the Bible calls repentance. You can’t have one without the other. God’s counsel always will communicate truth against deceit of any type, particularly self-deceit. God’s truth operates in the realm of His perfect imperatives and when it hits the human conscience it is clear in its argument “it’s not meant to be this way.” God presents alternatives when speaking with us in Spirit but it is always anchored in His truth. Its goal is restoration. Our part is to reach towards this emergence in our conscience. Easier said than done but if we understand the principles that God’s communications are always in truth and always restorative we have the foundation for “hearing God’s counsel, or “voice.” Now I did mention “feeling” earlier and God does communicate in this way. For myself in the it was a deep conviction that was separate from the distractive thoughts (often based in consequence avoidance) in my mind and the pulling emotions of what was happening in my life and in the world around me. It was a solid sober presence desiring my healing, God speaking and impressing Himself upon me. That’s how God speaks, especially in times of extreme adversity because God’s desire is not for human beings to suffer unnecessarily, although He’s quite aware they do profoundly. But as God created each one of us in the form of individual beings with the dignity to exercise choice. Choice which was meant as a gift too often partners with the voice of self, taking us far from the counsel of God. Humans will fabricate elaborate mental narratives to remake the self and its desires the “counsel of God.” Tragically, the worst and most destructive forms of this all too often are cloaked with a just enough religion to make it look good and sound good to the ear.
One of the toughest things I had to face over the years that would follow, was to avoid the trap of assessing the situation through externals which always is an indicator we are not in God’s counsel. In the spiritual realm blame specifically reaches for externals to explain what’s happening internally. You see contrary to what we think wen we are trying to understand spiritual circumstances by seeking external rationalization, and bypassing the counsel of God we are in effect, “indirectly” “blaming” or attributing things to the situation which don’t necessarily stem from truth or God’s counsel. Most Christians will spend their lives trying to determine meaning and purpose by gathering information systematically, hoping to produce understanding but instead failing to find what they seek. By doing this we actually are seeking a God of our understanding through Human effort. This is not how we hear God in our lives. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” The effect is obvious, frustration and an information based religious system. We can also swing to the other extreme side and seek God through emotion yet still fail to hear His voice. We must be careful. We cannot hear God’s voice by focusing on what’s external as He speaks to us spiritually in our spirit. This is in no way natural to our course. It’s why Nicodemus was blown away as Jesus taught Him about the new life (John 3). The theme of “hearing from God” is ripe both in the account of Nicodemus and the subsequent encounter with the women at the well in Samaria in John four. But it is abundantly clear in both cases Jesus tells the recipients “You cannot hear God or understand Him through conventional reasoning.” You cannot separate counsel from understanding. The result is just gibberish. After forty some years as a believer I am sometimes dismayed how for so long I settled for a understanding of God based on parsing information, and never actually hearing His voice. It’s only been in the last several years God has graciously seen to provide breakthrough in this for which I am profoundly thankful.
I noticed that the voice, from God, which communicated there was the possibility of healing but involved a different direction, only became clearer (which is really a poor word because actually it was a becoming more present more than anything else) as I moved my perception to follow it and separated the mind from guilt and non-restorative to restorative and truth.
Moving my perception wasn’t changing what I thought about, I need to be really clear about that, that rarely works. That would be similar to pushing a balloon that was tethered to the ground only to watch it reposition itself right above the anchor. It was the anchor that needed moving. Moving my perception meant seeking repeated communication and intimacy with God’s voice of counsel and impression occurring within that was “testifying with my spirit.” By allowing my perception to acknowledge this, and communicating with what was there, God’s presence in spiritual counsel, I could realize I was communicating with something separate from me and external as God communicating with me via penetrating my conscience. What identifies this experience or voice of God specifically, is its unchanging nature and tethered allegiance to truth, whether our thoughts are reflecting on the present the past or the future. It’s the stable assurance of God’s presence. It is a clear spiritual impression. To allow God to then begin to work with you, (and he will uniquely) requires a conscious act of trust. I had to respond “yes I believe you, there is something better and yes I know the path of healing will mean following your lead.”
And that’s how the journey of a new legacy begins, or what me might call a new normal. Until we learn to hear God’s counsel, expect more of the same.
I suspect the sheer volume of emotionally connected intellectualism and thoughts that bombard us regularly diminish the presence of God thwarting the atmosphere of His desire to communicate with us, and over time through practiced dismissal of considering anything spiritual, we lose the ability to respond to Him. When we add the panic of emotional pain associated with divorce death or some great loss, trauma or betrayal, we have to be very careful about our “lens” for making conclusions about circumstances.
Now I’ve talked a lot about God’s voice. I realize God also speaks to us through the mouths of others through literature, through dreams visions and definitely irrefutably through His Word but that’s not the focus. We want to be rock solid in agreement that God speaks to His children, because most Christians don’t even believe it’s a possibility.
Jesus had something to weigh in on this.
And this profound truth is spoken of directly by Jesus in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John when Jesus refers to himself as “the Shepherd” and we the sheep. And while we don’t have time to peel apart the whole chapter, we can support our path about how God talks to us and our response. Let’s peer in to a short dialogue concerning Jesus. Jesus is arguing in John chapter 10 again with the religious rulers of his day as a result of healing a man. The religious rulers are questioning the authority and the authenticity of who Jesus is. It’s really important you get that. If you’re compelled to get the big picture, the event starts in John chapter 9 and carries through chapter 10.
Referring to himself as the “Doorkeeper” to life eternal, Jesus makes the following statement “To Him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them in the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Please note the issue is the communication of God which leads to life, that’s the context.
That voice is the intimacy and communication by which God reaches out to us “the sheep.” It’s worth noting the sheep have the capacity to hear the voice, but what’s more important is who initiates the contact, the Doorkeeper, or the “Gate” as Jesus refers to himself in the same passage, or the Good Shepherd which he deliberately uses portraying his relationship between himself and the world and the people he loves. But don’t miss the inferred as well; the sheep follow the voice and the lead of the shepherd it’s not the other way around.
When God tries to reach our hearts, especially in profound pain and this takes place more often than we realize particularly through adverse circumstances, it is in the voice and perspective of a good Shepherd, with our best intent. God’s heart breaks when he sees the brokenness of people as a result of life’s cruelties, our own poor choices and the choices of others who derailed our lives. Still God waits as a Good Shepherd. While it may be tempting to think during adversity and tragedy he doesn’t care, that’s quite opposite of what Jesus taught about how he continuously reaches out for the purpose of healing and restoration. God loves people tremendously more than we can ever imagine, and possibly more than we will ever contemplate. This same truth was made clear by Jesus again referring to himself as the s Shepherd in pursuit of the one seemingly insignificant sheep “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hill and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Matthew 18:12). Guess what that wandering shepherds doing while he’s walking looking for the sheep? He calling out the sheep, with his voice, by name.
When we lean into that truth it will revolutionize our life.
Over a decade ago, God started a profound work in my life which required I pay attention to the voice. It’s never been easy. The result though, has been a transformed perspective and a new legacy. The legacy isn’t finalized it’s still unfolding. Wherever you’re at in your walk with God, my prayer is in this season is you run a self-test on God. Ask God, if he does communicate to do so, and be authentic enough with him if you find it hard to believe in such things ask him to help you in your ability to believe. If you are the friend of someone facing intense loss, consider asking God how you can participate in the work of being a Shepherd yourself, possibly even reducing their distractions so they can hear His voice? More than one single-parent, recently widowed soul or broken treasure is out there holding on by the skin of their teeth telling people there okay when the reality is it’s quite the opposite. God may need you to seek his voice as a willing servant to align yourself in a time of need to help bring about God’s good intent in the life of someone who possibly doesn’t know him or presently is just another “wondering sheep.”
M.S. Counseling M.C.M. Pastoral Counseling
JP Grier is the founder and writer at SentinelforChrist.com – A network of Christians helping each other to press deeper in Christ.