Hearing God - The Way of the Burning Heart - Part 1 - aifc

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke 24:32

Before you go any further in reading this, I would encourage you to sit down and  read Chapter 24:13-35 of Luke’s Gospel which gives the amazing and telling account of the 2 disciples walking along the road to Emmaus. 

If you are a person who, by God’s grace, has come to faith in Christ, a vital part of your faith and walk with the Lord is to hear His voice. To have God speak to us. As the year 2024 gets underway, we look out on the year ahead and dream and wonder and plan and pray about it. What might it hold? What do I want this year relationally, vocationally, learning and growth?….and of course, What is God saying to me?

For some of us, this is exciting and has clarity. For others of us it can be an uncertain or even frustrating process that we want to be different as we go into this year. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to hear from the one who made us and what He has to say to us right where we are at. Well, regardless of where you find yourself today, the good news is that He is still very much speaking and wants to be in an intimate and conversational relationship with us. 

Pete Greig has released a wonderful book titled, ‘how to hear God – a simple guide for normal people’.

Greig shares that Incredibly, one of the reasons God speaks to us in the Gospels is to give us insight into how he speaks to reveal himself. We see this in 5 different and powerful ways with Jesus’ appearance to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus:

  1. Conversationally“while they were talking and discussing together ”
  2. Exegetically“he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”
  3. Sacramentally“He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them”
  4. Prophetically“and their eyes were opened, and they recognised him”
  5. Inwardly“did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road”

We also see in scripture some of the key ways, ingredients and postures for hearing from God, including but not limited to:

The Word – the pre-eminent way that God speaks to his kids and the world is through his word. Jesus is the word of life. You and I come to the scriptures through Him. Remember that (if) your life is hidden with Christ in God you now have no direct relationship with anyone or anything. Every person and thing is through Christ.

Spiritual Practices – These include but are not limited to; sacred reading, prayer, the sacraments, sabbath and worship. Spiritual practices are a vital part of our life in Christ Individually and in community. Moreover, friends it is important to note that we especially need to cultivate silence and solitude in our days and weekly schedule  where it’s just you and God. We are also built for relationship and being in community where we do life together. So, both silence and solitude and relational community are needed in our spiritual formation and hearing God. Pause and reflect on your daily and weekly rhythm and calendar where these can be intentionally scheduled. 

Knowing His Voice – There are times in our lives when we are in no doubt that it is God speaking to us. Other times we are not so sure and it is good to test when we have heard or thought we heard against scripture and in the wise counsel of other mature believers. Certainly, the more we grow in our faith and in our intimacy of relationship with the Lord the more we will come to know His voice. Think about the voice of someone in your life whom you know well. You would recognise his or her  voice anywhere because the familiarity of the voice allows you to recognise it. So it is for us with the Lord as He reminds us in John 10:27; his sheep know his voice.

Gratitude & Thankfulness – You might not expect this one to appear on the list. I have found this to be essential to hearing God for 2 reasons. 

  1. When I am truly thankful to God (and even manage to do that for a number of days in a row:) my posture toward God shifts as does my receptivity to hearing from Him. The eyes and ears of my heart are open to attune to His presence. Not that God went anywhere, more that I am, like Cleopas and his companion, aware of His presence. As an important side note. Worship is often the result and an outworking of Gratitude which compounds and spirals in an onwards and upwards fashion. 
  2. Immanuel – Jesus is with us and promises to never leave us. Cultivating a heart and posture of gratitude, both acknowledges this truth and reminds us that he is with us and we are His temple. This is important as we all suffer spiritual amnesia and need to be regularly reminded of the foundational truths.  

I like what James Wilder et al says in their book ‘Joyful Journey – Listening to Immanuel’ 

  1. talk to God about everything, 
  2. do nothing out of fear and 
  3. love others deeply. 

Sound advice. Wilder goes on to demonstrate an approach and build the habit of Interactive Gratitude. That is, writing down and journaling what we are grateful to God for in our day to day and in our lives. He then encourages us to read it out loud and to wait on the Lord for him to reply and listen to what he says. Not only is this a good thing to do to cultivate a heart and posture of thankfulness to God, it serves to bring our attention and focus to God and what he is saying and doing. As an exercise you can try this today. What are you grateful for today? It might be a friend, food that you ate, or a good conversation. Once we start listing them it is amazing how many good things are in our lives from God. 

A final note and benefit of doing this and it’s no small benefit. Our brains have what’s called neuroplasticity. They are like plastic in that it they’re capable of changing in our lifetime. Our brains are also prone to recalling hurts and traumas in great detail and replaying them intrusively. We can tend to focus on resolving the traumas in the hope that we will be free from the pain that the trauma brings. This can be helpful yet what we often miss is the power of regularly building memories of God’s goodness and appreciating his gifts. This can have the effect of rewiring our brains or as Paul writes in Romans 12 the renewing of our minds. 

‘We often think that finding happiness will make us thankful when in fact it’s thankfulness that brings us happiness’. Christina Crawford.

Attention and Focus 

As Dallas Willard states, generally speaking, God will not compete for our attention. We will pay the most attention and focus to what has a hold (good or bad) of our hearts and minds. As we teach in Christian Counselling and Coaching in aifc, our Attention directly relates to our Presence and, in turn Impact. The degree to which we are present and paying attention cultivates and elevates the degree to which we are listening and can hear with all our senses, including through the Holy Spirit, what is being said. This applies to hearing from God, vocationally as Christian Counsellor/ Coach listening to our clients and in day to day life and ministry with the people we are walking with on their journey as we see with Jesus does on the road to Emmaus.

You can explore and grow your Attention, Presence and Impact. At the end of the day, consciously think about what held your attention during the day. This practice can become a habit during each day as we direct and take control of our attention and in turn the power of presence.

A Noisy World

Friends, I don’t have to convince you that this world screams and shouts and barrels its way into our minds and into our living rooms. It demands our attention. Yet, God’s spiritual invasions into human life seem by their very gentleness to invite us to explain them away. As we read in 1 Kings 19:11-13 in God’s revelation to Elijah “Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;  and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”

To help us keep perspective and look up expectantly, some of us may indeed have a Damascus road experience like Paul did and get knocked to the ground and hear from Jesus. I can assure you that we will all have Emmaus road experiences. The longer journey is a process of unexpected and unique revelation over time where the Lord walks alongside us. Where we are (at least this side of heaven) at times aware of him and hear him and other times we are unaware of His presence and what he is saying. We will explore more of this in part 2 of Hearing God. 

Hearing from God is an expansive topic and much can be said. For now, lets land the plane with the choice words of the late Dallas Willard from his book, ‘Hearing God – Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

“The reality of God’s voice does not make seeking it unnecessary. When I seek for something, I look for it everywhere. It is when we seek God earnestly, prepared to go out of our way to examine anything that might be his overture towards us – including the most obvious things like bible verses or our own thoughts – that he promises to be found You will find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13). But, we will be able to seek him only if we honestly believe that he might explicitly address us in ways suitable to his purposes in our lives. 

Today, as God’s trusting apprentices in the Kingdom of the Heavens, we live on the Emmaus road, so to speak, with an intermittently burning heart. His words pour into our heart, energising and directing our life in a way that cannot be accounted for in natural terms. The presence of the physical world is then, no longer a barrier between me and my God……all because my life counts for eternity as I live and walk with God” 

Stay the course,

Nicholas Marks

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