Learning to take counsel.

More on developing practical skills for hearing God better:

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.

Psalm 73:23-24

If we cannot take counsel in any part of our lives, it will be hard to take counsel from God.  And that’s part of what hearing God involves. We ask questions about what we should do. We want direction. We say that we wish God would just tell us what to do.

So let’s find out how good we are at taking counsel. Here’s an exercise to try this weekend.

I should explain that I separate counsel from counseling. The latter focuses on a process, often requires training, and uses a framework for helping. Counsel focuses on the words, ideas, content that one person offers to another for guidance.

  1. Find a wise person. This is a simple part of the exercise. Find someone you know and that knows you whose opinions you and other people trust. And it should be someone who won’t scold you for being stupid when you ask a serious question. Instead, this wise person should be able to be encouraging and offer clear counsel.
  2. Now that you have identified your wise person, ask them if they will help you find wisdom in a specific situation.
  3. And then pick a question to ask them. It should be a question that involves action. “Should I do this or that? Do I need to respond to this need? Is there a problem in this situation that requires me to do something?” This is not a “What should I do with my life” moment. After all, this is an exercise to practice taking counsel. And starting small is wise.
  4. Ask the question, have the conversation, and then come back next week for some reflection questions.

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Why I write.

writeBecky tagged me. She talked about why she writes and then included me in a list of three people she was challenging to answer the same question.  I’ve talked about it a little before (writing for you and me), but I want to think about it again.

I write because I can’t concentrate very well early in the morning. When I’m sitting in my chair and I am trying to chat with God, I lose focus, I wander. So I will often write my questions, or my part of the conversation, or a list of names.

I write because I want to see what I think. There is, for me, a discovery process in writing. It is a thinking discipline, a conversation with my heart and brain and fingers. I often don’t know what I think until I start to write.

I write because I can’t talk to you face to face. I have a responsibility, I believe, to be about teaching. In fact, while running this week I came up with a new answer to the question, “What is your job?”  My amazing job is to equip the amazing people who are doing the amazing stuff that God built them for. It’s from Ephesians. Sort of.  But if my job is equipping, that includes teaching, which includes, for me, writing.

I write because my passion is to help people emotionally understand the truth of God’s work. For me, the best way I can move understanding from head to heart is with story, with image, with moving inside the Biblical text. And I do that best with writing.

I write because I can’t think fast enough to talk. 

I write because I must.

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I’m asking three other people to consider answering as well.

Rich Dixon

Johanna Fenton

Jill Burton Carr (who writes, really writes, on Instagram.)

 

Learn to quiet our hearts.

More on developing practical skills for hearing God better:

Psalm 131 is what we call “self-talk”. It is what we say to ourselves as we remind ourselves of what is important. And it is up to us to learn to quiet our hearts.

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.

I cannot come up with answers to all of the problems in the world. Not simple answers. When I read everything that people send my way, I cannot comprehend the size of the issues, nor can I sort through the avalanche of confident spitefulness. Not that I haven’t pursued it in the past. I have whimpered with the inconsolable voice of an infant for the attention of you and everyone else. I have joined in the arguments, offered solutions which seem clear to me, if only everyone were like me.

But I am learning to tell myself to stop. To act more like a child weaned from the craving for her mother as a dispenser of nutrition, content to cuddle. I am willing to stop trying to understand everything and to simply wait in the close presence of my father.

And as I walk around, I carry my soul quiet within me.

So here is the exercise.

Pick up a paper, watch a news program, read your Facebook stream. And at the first statement of arrogance, as the words begin to form on your tongue, the spitefulness at the person’s ignorance begins to bubble through your brain, turn the television off. Close the browser. Lay done the paper. And tell your soul to rest.

It seems impossible, doesn’t it. It seems easier to not turn on the news at all.

Perhaps that is the answer. Avoiding conflict at all costs is one way to not face turmoil. But I’m not sure that it teaches us to quiet our hearts.

In fact, I am pretty sure that people who don’t consume any media can still be cranky and indulge in wanting to run the world. After all, when these words were written, there was no internet.

Removing yourself from distractions

Yesterday I talked about developing practical skills in hearing God better. Here’s an example.

1. Learn to remove yourself from distractions as much as it is up to you. Jesus regularly went into the hills in order to talk with God. That practice may be worth developing.

Practice: For ten minutes, go into a room away from other people. If you need to, turn on white noise to block out the sound of the TV in the other room. Take a piece of paper and write down the projects and to do things that come to mind. Note anything you are afraid you might be missing.

You are developing your capacity to stay attentive for quiet voices and gentle suggestions. Going away from people can make some of us twitchy. That’s because it stretches the muscles that control our fear of missing out and our desire to please people. It stretches the muscles that reach for noise to fill the uncertainty in our hearts.

For me, this exercise is hard. Not because I’m afraid of quiet. In fact, I’ve come to enjoy it. But my ears are trained to attend to human sounds. I listen for someone who might need me. I listen for trouble. I listen for stories, for conversations. In silence, my ears strain for these sounds.

It comes from being a pleaser. It comes from not wanting to get in trouble. It comes from not wanting to get caught reading when I should be cleaning, writing when I should be doing real work, multi-tasking when I should be mono-tasking, resting when I should be working.

But what if resting is the goal? What if tending my heart is the most important thing I can do for anyone and everyone at the moment? What if I’m not a ten-year-old any more?

So the tension I feel in silence is important to work out.

Building the core.

Here’s an email I wrote last Friday. It’s an introduction to a project that I’m working on. 

I’m at home today, as I am most Fridays (I’m a pastor and it’s the day I take out of the office). At the top of my project list today is writing for my blog that answers, as practically as I can, “How can I hear God better?”

It’s a question lots of people ask. A friend used to push me to figure out how to create recipes for this and other spiritual practices. But I could never figure out how to separate “making God happy”, which we can’t do with our actions, and “building my capacity to hear God”, which we can do something about.

As I’ve been working on some fitness stuff in the last couple months, I’ve been inspired by the fitness concept called “Core Performance” to get more practical about the exercises that can build our spiritual core like the exercises in Core Performance Essentials build our bodies.

Here’s what I mean by practical. With “Core Performance”, the authors describe exercises, illustrate them, tell what muscle groups are developed. But then they say, “So when you are doing this exercise, you will feel tension in the front of your leg.” And I suddenly understand where my quads are AND that some tension is part of the process.

I’m starting to use that same approach in developing the capacity to seek silence, to learn to take counsel, to participate in conversation. Each of those capacities are part of learning to hear God. And explaining the tension we feel when we are first silent (listening for the TV in the other room, tuning into conversations, wanting to immediately share something on Facebook) is important.

Thanks for reading this. There’s more to come.

Jon