A “rule of life” that facilitates hearing God is learning to live in constant awareness of God’s presence.
Jesus, Emmanuel — “God with us” — did not leave us to live our lives alone. He sent us his Spirit so that we might live our lives with him.
- Brother Lawrence called this the practice of the presence of God.
- The prophet Isaiah called it keeping the mind stayed on God: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isa. 26:3, ESV)
- The prophet Hosea affirmed that God prefers steadfast love and acknowledgment over sacrifice or work. (Hos. 6:6, ESV)
- The apostle Paul said we should constantly be mindful of what the Spirit desires. (Rom. 8:5–6)
- Jesus described this continual mindfulness as abiding in him. (John 15:4)
Jesus’ parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:12–24) reminds us that those who reject God’s invitation to be with him also reject the invitation to abundant life. The three invitees who excused themselves from the banquet had valid reasons for doing the work God had given them: surveying a plot of land recently bought, examining new equipment (oxen) and accompanying a new spouse. But Jesus said they were just making excuses.
The parable’s message to the prosperous, Law-abiding Jews who trusted in their own righteousness was clear: God would give up on those too busy to heed his invitation and would instead go to sinners and Gentiles who would jump at the chance to be in his presence. Most of us are part of that Gentile graft into God’s holy tree, but we are still in danger of repeating the Pharisees’ mistake. Often our hearts and actions say, “I have more important work to do, and I’ll catch you later, God.”
Learning to continually practice God’s presence can be compared to the process of learning to ride a bike. Many smaller skills are wrapped up in riding a bike, such as constantly counter-balancing the tilt of the bicycle, thrusting forward one foot and then the other without pushing ourselves over sideways, and keeping our eyes forward to anticipate obstacles. Just as a child falls many times in learning to combine all these skills in riding their new bike, so we will fail repeatedly in learning the skill of dwelling continually in the presence of the Lord. But one day it becomes automatic and will never be forgotten.
The combined skills that work together in maintaining spiritual balance are regular times of rest, retreat, reading and studying the Bible, awareness of God at work in our work and cultivating inner habits of thanksgiving and praise. As we learn to dwell in God’s presence, we hear his voice when it is subtle and quiet. That is his most common method of communicating with us. With practice and God’s help, we can become more confident in recognizing his voice and distinguishing the source of the voices in our heads: our own inner thoughts, the voice of the conscience, the intrusions of the enemy and the voice of the Spirit. The mind reasons, the conscience reproves, the enemy accuses and the Spirit gently speaks truth.
Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.” Learning to hear God consistently requires effort to build a carefully constructed lifestyle that makes space for inner quiet and attentiveness to God. It may mean refocusing where you place your effort, from striving for a life of obedience — from doing everything right — to laboring to form habits that help you live life with God.
Peggy Reynoso leads learning & development for The Navigators and co-leads a Navigators president’s initiative to strengthen ministry among diverse people groups. She and her husband, Paul, ministered 20 years in Mexico and for 15 years led NavVida’s ministry among Hispanics. This post is an excerpt from Peggy’s article in the 2016 Spring edition of Outcomes Magazine.
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