My Problem in Hearing From God

hearing God speak

I am shopping in Ross. I have come for spoons, new journals, and decorative wall plates.

I am not here because I desperately need any of these items. I am here because I don’t want to face the God nudge pulling on me. He has me working on a project that I don’t want to be working on. A project of calling some people, and I am trying to escape Him — even for a few moments. So, I browse the different options of silverware, the journals stashed on the shelf, and the household accessories.

And for a moment I am on hold. He won’t push me or force me to do anything, but the invitation always awaits.

The truth is that listening to God is scary. He asks me to do things that completely stretch me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I feel impressed to go up to a stranger in a store. Sometimes a name of a former student pops in my head for me to call. And sometimes — I choose not to listen. I hedge and I doubt. I get afraid and talk myself out of what God has told me.

And while His assignments stretch me and pull me where I don’t always want to go, I know they are always for the best even if I don’t immediately see results. So, how do I hear from Him? I think it’s worth taking a look at some of the ways I’ve tried to block out His voice to better discover what not to do when attempting to better tune in to what He’s saying.

3 Things That Make It Hard to Listen to God

1. Read the Bible Without Paying Attention.

Quite honestly, I went through a season where I was a little afraid of what God would tell me. As I started to see that my situation wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to, as foolish and ridiculous as this sounds, I decided to put a “check in the box” when it came to having a quiet time with God every day. However, I wasn’t really paying attention. I read the Bible with my children running around, the TV in the background.

I was carving out time, but the time didn’t allow for me to really hear from God. I was skimming words without meditating on them or letting them sink in. And, when I was alone with Him and prayed, I listed all my requests and then got up from my prayer time and went about my day without getting quiet enough to hear if He wanted to respond to me right then. In a sense, I was allowing only a little bit of Him in — the little bit I could “handle.”

But what I was doing was trying to control God. And because of that refusal to open up all of the places of my life to Him, I made some poor choices in that season — all because I didn’t trust Him enough to open up myself to His instruction.

2. Allow Distractions to Drown Out the Voice of God.

Another way I have chosen to minimize God in my life is by busying myself with my to-do list: shopping, housework, activities with my children, church work that might even look spiritual — tasks that keep me so busy that I shut out any time to hear what He may be saying to me. Lisa Whittle, author of I Want God: Forever Changed by the Revival of Your Soul, describes times she has attempted to evade God, like me in Ross, by filling up her schedule with excessive shopping:

Sometimes I don’t want to hear from God, and shopping helps with that. I think, and I know, that this moment is not about the shopping (because it rarely is). I recognize it as the human impulse of storing up, controlling my world before He starts requiring something of me. When you know God in that intimate way, there is an understanding that when He calls, it will be loud. And it will be specific. And it may require other things to go away. And it’s terrifying. So I shop.

In the biblical story of Martha and Mary, Jesus rebuked Martha when she complained that Mary was not helping her with meal preparations (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus was hard on Martha, I believe, not because she wanted to serve Him and others in making a nice dinner — but because her busyness distracted her to the point that she wasn’t listening to Jesus.

And when Martha wasn’t listening, she got off track. She got impatient with Mary, demanding of Jesus and fretful about her situation. The same is true of me and you. When we stop listening to Him, we lose our peace, our sense of direction — and we get impatient and critical of others.

3. Let my “Rational” Side Override God’s Voice.

Just like Martha couldn’t understand why Jesus would allow Mary to sit at His feet rather than help her pull together an important dinner for Him, I have fallen into the trap of allowing my own “rational thinking” to drown out God’s voice. I have looked at situations through practical eyes — wisdom that I have acquired from the culture, my parents, and my friends — even wisdom from well-intentioned Christians.

However, by smothering that still small voice inside of me with others’ advice, I can drown out and explain away the voice of God. Because the truth is that His instructions and ways just do not appeal to my logic at times. They usually go against what I feel must be right. Then when I check with other people to see if He could indeed be speaking to me, and they agree that the action must not be God — I can make the mistake of not taking the step He wants me to because I am relying on my own or others’ wisdom.

Take, for instance, when I decided to quit my teaching job. I felt God say to me very distinctly during a sermon that I was to quit my job. However, when I brought this up with my spouse and we looked at the numbers — how we were going to afford to live on one salary — my husband pointed out how illogical it would be for me to stop working. We had a brand new car payment, a hefty mortgage with a decreased value in a sunken market, bills of all kinds. The situation truly looked impossible from a human vantage point.

The more that I looked at the practical side of things, the more I talked myself out of what I thought had been His voice. Here were some of my questions based on human logic: Why wasn’t my husband excited about me quitting if God was indeed telling me to go in that direction? Why didn’t my husband make more money if we were supposed to exist on one income? Why didn’t God have a position lined up for me to transition into if He was indeed asking me to take a leap of faith and go in another direction?

All of my arguments were faulty when I read yet another story in the Bible — that of Mary and Joseph — and realized that God told Mary first about the fact that she, a virgin, would bear a child. He then orchestrated some of the other things in her life to make it possible for her to do His will. Joseph wasn’t on board with the plan until an angel appeared to Him later (Matthew 1:18-25). And my husband wasn’t either until we had several intense conversations. He then relented with the stipulation that I work for one more year before quitting.

At one point during the process, I gave up on the idea and told God it just wasn’t going to work. Despite my unbelief, God was persistent and gave me more chances than one to act on His call. However, He didn’t start working on the logistics in the way I thought He should. I didn’t see Him work on my behalf until what felt like the last minute many times as I actively committed myself to following Him in a direction away from my career in education.

Heeding God’s Voice Through Prayer and Swift Obedience

In my experience, the voice of Jesus is that still small voice — and one that can easily be drowned out by the voice of fear and doubt. Fear prevents us from stepping out and doing what we should because we dread the consequences. Doubt prevents us from stepping out by overwhelming our resolve with rationalizations that contradict what we believe so we get confused and we start thinking that we never heard from God at all.

The way to combat the voice of fear and doubt is by comparing what we heard against God’s Word, by prayer (the listening kind) and swift obedience. Prayer times that regularly give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to infiltrate our minds and thoughts help us to constantly know what God thinks about our situation and expects of us. He has promised us counsel on the inside. However, we have to make ourselves available to hear Him. When we do feel He is asking us to take a step, we must act in obedience.

When we let doubts creep in, the longer we neglect to do the thing He has asked us to do, the less likely it is that we will do it. Sometimes the opportunity is only there for a narrow moment and then disappears. We may not have the same opportunity open up in the same way again.

This area of trust and submission is quite possibly my biggest struggle. I don’t like to do what God tells me sometimes. But I can say that when I do obey, I am always glad I did. I feel a radiance enter me. When I don’t, I always regret it. As Whittle concludes after her shopping trip in I Want God, we have a choice to make on whether we will open ourselves to God, however scary it can be:

But even as I sit in the parking lot of this antique mall with all of my precious finds perched around me, I know it is a myth, the storing up. For a brief moment, the shopper subsides and writer awakens. What I am really wanting is not to tear my house apart and put it back together more beautifully, but what I want God to do to me: deconstruct me, clean me up, make me better, streamlined, more beautiful. And at the same time I’m scared He will. This is the rub of my life. The words are now done and the writer goes back to sleep. I have dialogued with no one in particular, but I have somehow worked it all out.

1) God is what I want most

2) Other things scream for my attention.

3) I will choose between them.

It is the same for you.

What prevents me from hearing God isn’t that He doesn’t speak to me. When I make time for Him and quiet myself enough to hear His voice, He generally does speak to me. It’s not always the answer I want or expect, and it doesn’t always come on my timeline. My problem is that I don’t always want to listen.

What about you? What is your biggest struggle when it comes to hearing from God? I would love for you to leave a comment below.

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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What Potty Training Taught Me About Christian Parenting

potty training as a Christian parent

I read in a recent devotional by Mark Batterson that most people have a lot of ideas about how to parent until they actually become parents.

I know that statement has been true of me. I was the person (pre-children) standing in line at Wal-mart watching a father struggle to keep his shrieking child contained to the cart, thinking, “My child will never act like that!”

And then I had kids and discovered my kids are often like that. Parenting is not as easy as it looks, and my kids behave in ways I never thought they would. I am often baffled by my daughter’s sassy mouth and my son’s refusal to eat his dinner. (He would prefer to live off of Goldfish.) I often feel like a failure. Totally ill-equipped.

Take potty-training for instance. When it was time to potty-train my daughter, I really was quite optimistic. I invested in an Elmo potty video, sticker chart and princess potty seat. I talked to her about the process and demonstrated in my most enthusiastic way how to sit on the potty. I remember thinking, “I got this. I was a teacher. I took human development classes.” I am Mommy lion. Watch me roar.

Or watch me wince. Shortly into the “initiative,” my daughter grew very resistant to the process and despite my coaxing and nagging, or perhaps because of it, she announced one day with a scream, “I won’t use the potty!”

Whoa! Where did that come from? Could it be that my incentives, videos, potty seats and altogether awesome parenting just wasn’t working? Part of me just wanted to force it — just make her sit on the potty, punish her when she didn’t do the business. But another part of me felt a little warning. Since the Bible doesn’t have much to say about teaching one’s child to use the commode, I decided to pray and ask God how a godly parent should approach this potty training nightmare. What was I doing wrong?

When I prayed, the word “control” popped into my mind. Control. I was so busy dominating the situation that I wasn’t even really even noticing that my daughter wasn’t learning. She was shutting down.

And I noticed something else. Somewhere along the line I had adopted the philosophy that Christian parenting meant I was big, bad parent disciplinarian at all times. However, this isn’t really Christian parenting at all. While a godly parent may take a stand when her teenager announces he is dropping out of school, say no when the kindergartener asks for an iphone, or insist that her three-year-old eat chicken and rice rather than a Pop-Tart for dinner — it doesn’t mean a totalitarian approach that does not take into account the needs of the child.

A Christian parent is one who constantly considers the special make-up and temperament of her child and works to create an environment that best encourages this child to grow.

What the Bible Says About Effective Parenting

Because I was not aware of what the Bible says about how I was to conduct myself as a parent, I had to do a little study of Ephesians 6:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ — which is the first commandment with a promise — ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

You know what I found? Ephesians 6 emphasizes not only that children must honor their parents but that parents are not to “exasperate” their children. “Exasperate” in the Greek means “to provoke to anger” (Strong’s Concordance). Parents have a tremendous responsibility to keep their power in check — not to force submission just because they can. They have a responsibility to not discipline in anger or abuse their God-given authority. And while children have a responsibility in turn to honor parents, parents can make it easier for them to do so by being the kind of patient, loving example God intended.

I will be the first to admit that I am not very patient. It takes a lot to work to be patient, especially when children do careless, irritating things. And quite frankly, children always seem to be doing careless, irritating things. When my daughter simply informs me that she won’t use the potty (not because she can’t but because she won’t), or when my son sneaks cookies when I just told him he can’t have more, I lose all sense of resolve to be patient. I find myself yelling and blaming and threatening.

Here’s the thing: I am not going to be perfect, but I can continually work toward the goal of asking for God to help me be the kind of parent who doesn’t use my power in an unhealthy way. I can work to understand and unravel each of my children and strive to figure out how God hardwired them, using self-control when they don’t react to situations the way I would want them to and keeping my anger in check so they know that I am correcting wrong behavior — not telling them that there is something wrong with them — when I discipline. I can apologize when I blow it and admit that I make mistakes.

Ephesians 6 emphasizes boundaries but also relationship with the child. This style of parenting takes a whole lot more work than screaming incessantly at the kids from the recliner. It requires walking alongside kids as they encounter the various milestones of life, listening to their concerns and allowing them to have a voice. And that is maybe why some parents (myself included) fall so easily into the other method. Tyrannical parenting doesn’t take much work.

With God’s Guidance, I Finally Potty-Trained My Daughter

My first attempt at potty training my daughter failed miserably. I had to give up the endeavor entirely for several months until some of the negativity that had built up around it subsided. We didn’t start again until after her third birthday. This time, I approached it differently — with less pride in my parenting skills and more dependence on the Holy Spirit. I explained to my daughter that we were going to try wearing underpants, but this time I didn’t force her to sit on the potty or get upset at her when she didn’t. I told her the consequences of not using the potty: she would be very uncomfortable in her underwear.

But I let her make the decision. We brought back the incentive system, but this time I tiered the rewards — she got a sticker just for sitting on the potty at first to give her encouragement. This in turn gave way to other rewards for actually doing business. And when she was terrified to go #2, we prayed with her and talked her through it and presented her with a doll as a reward. But we didn’t force it.

The potty training lesson for me was never a lesson about how to potty train my daughter. It was a lesson in how to give up my control and look to God for the best ways to guide and instruct my daughter as she acquired this important life skill. I still struggle to know at times how to parent my children without unfairly manipulating my power. However, my greatest lesson has been to learn that my children are really not mine — they are God’s, and I am being held accountable for how I parent them.

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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My Biggest Assignment in Christian Ministry

assignment When I launched my blog a few months ago, I received positive response from a series of articles. Excited about the feedback, I voiced these words to a circle friends, “It is totally worth it to me if I helped someone.”

A wise friend stopped me after the conversation and pulled me aside to tell me that she writes for God’s pleasure and no one else’s. I thought about that for a moment and had to agree with her. Before her comment, I had started thinking of posts that would draw more favorable reaction, topics I could talk about that would appeal to readers. But I had to stop myself.

It is totally worth it to me if I please God. Even though I very much want to help others with the content of my blog, I write the posts that God gives me and directs me to write. I know they will help people, but I must do it not for my readers but for my audience of one: Him.

I can’t let my desire to attract readers and grow a ministry distract or divert me from what God tells me to do. An important observation that Oswald Chambers makes about Christian service is this:

The great dominant note is not the needs of men, but the command of Jesus.

My motivation for what I’m doing is because He told me to and no other reason. If I orient myself instead solely around the needs of others, I’m bound to get burned out, frustrated and irritated. I’m also bound to get caught up in self-worship and set myself up as the object of others’ worship rather than just the conduit God uses to channel their worship to Him.

Paul was very careful to always point his ministry back to Jesus. When a crowd started to worship him and Barnabas for healing, he “tore his clothes” and declared, “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you” (Acts 14:15).

My tendency is to want the praise and want the spotlight. But God wants me to worry about pleasing Him alone. I need only look at the ministry of Jesus to discover what boundaries I need to set up in my relationship and ministry endeavors to ensure that I do just that.

Jesus Practiced Self-Care

Although it may appear like an illogical place to start, one of the best ways I can serve others best in ministry is by first taking care of myself. A guest blogger I had post several months ago wisely noted that we need to apply the oxygen mask to our face first before we can assist others with theirs. She was speaking in the context of motherhood, but the same can be true in a ministry sense as well.

The oxygen mask I need in ministry is time spent alone with God.

Serving on a worship team a few years back, I was totally unprepared for the spiritual attack that came against me on the weeks I would sing. I assumed that since I was ministering to the body of Christ that I would have some sort of special grace and protection — and God does protect those who serve Him. However, I had more than a normal amount of appliances break down within a few month span; instances where my children contracted strange illnesses; foreboding thoughts and moments waking up afraid at night; and situations where conflict would break out despite my best attempts to be peaceable with others.

I collapsed under the weight of the spiritual hurricane like a cheap tent. I was a complete wreck. I didn’t realize I had to prepare for spiritual battle by immersing myself daily in the Word and communion with Him.

The same has been true of my blog writing. The attack has come in the form of fear and doubt every time I write a post. Ugly thoughts invade my mind: No one is going to read this. You’re not a good writer. Why can’t you sound like this other writer? You probably didn’t hear God right. Are you sure you understood that verse?

The onslaughts are real and exhausting and make me want to close down my site and hide from the internet. They make me cry out to God, “Where are you, Lord? Why is this happening to me? This isn’t normal!” And I think that serving God can’t or shouldn’t possibly be this hard. But it is. I wish my Christian walk only consisted of those graceful moments sitting in my Grandma’s church watching sunlight beam through stain glassed windows casting patterns of bright color on the floor, the choir singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” — Luke 5:16

Jesus modeled how to combat the pressure and conflict He experienced as a public figure in ministry by going into the wilderness alone to pray. Jesus made Himself available to the masses, but He also was intentional about the time He spent in solitude.

He knew the importance of drawing boundaries around Himself. He didn’t apologize or make excuses for the times He slipped away from the crowds. He knew that He had to spend time with God to carry out God’s will — to know the words to say and have the energy to meet the demands of those who continually pressed in on Him. As commentator Adam Clarke observes:

A man can give nothing unless he receive it; and no man can be successful in the ministry who does not constantly depend upon God, for the excellence of the power is all from him.

Others’ Expectations Can’t Trump God’s

Not only do I need to make time for solitude; I need to set clear boundaries so the needs of others don’t distract me from what God has asked me to do. For a long time, I thought that being a Christian meant being nice to everyone, and I mistakenly equated nice with doing what other people wanted me to do even if it meant that I had to suppress how I really felt about a situation inside.

However, Jesus never put others’ wants above His Father’s commands. Note what He says when He is teaching a crowd and someone informs him that his mother and brothers are waiting outside to speak with him:

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? (Matthew 12:48)

Ouch! Jesus is painfully forthright here. Jesus clearly wants everyone to know that there is “no tie of relationship more sacred than spiritual relationship” (John Calvin commentary). Although we are not told why His mother needed Him, she clearly felt that the matter was urgent enough to interrupt His teaching to get to Him. He, however, lets the informant know that His Father’s work cannot be interrupted, and He gives His reply in the hearing of all listening to make a lesson out of the incident.

Jesus’s answer demonstrates how I am to handle those persistent matters that press in on me each day as I decide what tasks to invest my time in. Jesus doesn’t intend for me to starve all of the relationships in my life and spend every waking hour working on ministry projects. However, serving God means putting Him above the other relationships or other obligations in my life. That means that I may have to disappoint other people at times or do things that aren’t always comfortable for me.

Several years ago, in a different season as a new, scared young mom, I held my daughter out of the nursery on Wednesday night services up until the time she was seven months old because I was afraid that she would get sick if I put her in with other babies, and I would have to call off work. I had watched other co-workers provoke irritated responses from superiors when they had to leave early or call in sick to tend to sick little ones.

Petrified of disappointing my administration at my job but very much wanting to get back into Wednesday night choir practice, I didn’t know what to do. As I was trying to come up with a solution while walking the hall of the church one night, I felt the Lord very clearly speak to me and say, “Carol, you are putting your daughter above me.”

Whoa! I felt for sure that God would admire me for being a protective mother, but I learned that God was asking me to obey Him and get back into singing in that season without letting the expectations of my work or my own self-generated expectations about being a good mom take precedence over what God was asking me to do. (Rest assured that there are certainly times God asks us to set aside time just to mother, but for that particular time He had called me to another role as well.)

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galations 1:10)

What my biggest assignment truly entails is being a daughter of the King and letting my service to others flow out of that secure place I find when I put my relationship with Him first. Although I have other important jobs that I am called to — mom, blogger, friend, wife, sister — when I keep my eyes fixed on Him, He helps me prioritize and balance the demands in my life so that I don’t end up sidetracked or overwhelmed.

Because when I fillet open my motives, lay them bare like a fish on a carving board, what lies underneath my desire to have glowing feedback to my writing and ministry is me. My desire to look good. And my job is actually to make Him look good. Yes, I am called to lay down my life for others, but I am called to lay down my life for Him first.

And His approval of me must be more important than the fleeting words of those around me.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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