There was a moment in my fifth grade classroom today when I gave up. It happens most days around 2:00pm, just thirty short minutes before all twenty-four of them will go home and the room will be blissfully silent again. By 2:00, they’re tried and watching the clock, and therefore, so am I.
Then this afternoon, in the midst of a review game on the Declaration of Independence, I turned into King George. With my arms across my chest, I heard myself bellow like the tyrant himself, “Well, I am just going to stand here until you are ready to listen.”
What is it with the whole human race and listening? (It’s no better in our staff meetings.)
Recently, I wrote about seeking God’s direction for 2017. A friend of mine bravely responded by saying, “Oh, but the LISTENING. And discerning. And searching for clarity. THAT’S the hard part (for me)!”
Isn’t she exactly right? Very often the listening and hearing is the hardest part. What does it look like to listen for His answers? What does it sound like when He does answer us?
It seems like such a BIG thing to try to listen for the God of the Universe to answer our little cries for help and direction. There must be a cosmic formula that makes sense in our human brains. Something like 1) ask Him and 2) He will answer in some mysterious and difficult-to-decipher way and 3) we scrunch our noses and scratch our foreheads as we try to hear His spiritual code words.
And we are left stuck. Still.
I went to my favorite source for taking big Biblical concepts and making them understandable: The Jesus Storybook Bible. Faith like a child, they say. His ways are not meant to be understood by only the most theologically-minded, but rather by the simple-minded, like little kids, for instance. I love how the author put it:
“So one day, Jesus taught the people how to pray. He said, ‘When you pray, don’t pray like those Extra-Super-Holy People. They think if they say lots of words, God will hear them. But it’s not because you’re so clever, or good, or so important, that God will listen to you. God listens to you because He loves you.
‘Did you know that God is always listening to you? Did you know that God can hear the quietest whisper deep inside your heart, even before you’ve started to say it? Because God knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him,’ Jesus told them.”
[Jesus continued] “‘You see, God just can’t wait to give you all that you need. So you don’t need to use long words or special words. You don’t have to use a special voice. You just have to talk. So when you pray, pray in your normal voice, just like when you’re talking to someone you love very much.’”
“You see, Jesus was showing people that God would always love them – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. So they didn’t need to hide anymore, or be afraid, or ashamed. They could stop running away from God and they could run to Him instead. As a little child runs into her daddy’s arms. (p. 225,227)
With a loving God like that, how could we not run to Him with our concerns?
“[The Lord Himself says] Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3
The first part to hearing God is to call out to Him.
I must confess that sometimes I want to hear what a Genie-God says regarding my concern, but I’m not willing to take the time to slow down and actually talk to my Relational-God about it. He wants so much more than simply our requests. He wants US. He wants a relationship with us. It’s when we call out to Him in trouble that we get to see this characteristic of Him.
David poetically captures this answering characteristic of God well:
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.” Psalm 91:14-15
So, there we are. We’ve expressed our concerns to our relational God, and now what?
In my experience, God seems to respond with one of three answers: “Yes, now,” “Yes, in a little bit,” or “No, but I’m going to do something else good with this situation.”
The last six weeks of my son, Tage’s, life were the absolute hardest. We had just been sent home from the hospital and toward hospice care, and he was suddenly eating through a g-tube, something that caused me a lot of anxiety at first. Many visitors came by the house in those weeks so I was rarely alone, but when I was alone, the anxiety sank its teeth into my neck and shook me like a dog’s chew toy. I could not escape its grip.
At first, fear entangled me. I forgot that “the Spirit of God, who raised Christ from the (freaking) dead, lives in (me)” (Romans 8:11). My friend, Kathryn, reminded me of this, and sent me the song A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Christy Nockels. She told me, “Play this song in your house, and sing it out loud when you need to be reminded who your powerful God is.”
Later that day, my heart rate started to rise again, and I could feel the anxious pounding in my chest, hot blood racing through my body, my breathing tight, tears forming in my eyes. I started singing the first words to that song, and felt my neck tighten even more at first as the words struggled to escape my lips. I was trapped, held down against the ground by an invisible, strangling grasp. I was overtaken.
I knew it was my enemy. I had never been so scared.
Pressing past the fear, I struggled to break the surface, to take a breath in the midst of my drowning. “Jesus….help…me,” I barely whispered.
His powerful voice resounded like roaring water in the heavens. “Yes, now!” Even still, tears come to my eyes while I type this, because suddenly peace seeped into my soul as I continued to try to sing. My heartrate slowed, and I cried gratefully as I felt the grip let go. I had defeated my enemy! I can only imagine what unseen battle was happening in my kitchen in that moment. But our God reigns! When we call on Him in trouble, His presence is immediate.
But sometimes, His answer is not always, “Yes, now.” A few years prior to that day in my kitchen, after experiencing the pain of miscarriage, I had prayed that God would give me another baby. I wanted to be a mom so desperately. I prayed that prayer many times, and now, only in looking back, do I know that each time, His answer was, “Yes, in a little bit.” Almost two years later, baby Tage was born. I held him with even more gratitude than I could imagine.
When Tage was six months old, we received the terminal diagnosis. I remember standing in the hospital shower that night, water and tears running down my face, hands pressed against the shower walls as I begged God to miraculously heal my son. I begged Him every day after that. Yet our loving God, who hears each prayer and sees each tear, looked at me tenderly. His gentle answer was, “No, but I’m going to do something else good with this situation, Molly.” And He wrapped His arms around me as we both cried.
And He HAS done something else good. He’s done many good things because Tage went to Heaven much earlier than I had expected. Most importantly, He’s given me the opportunity to share this unshakable peace, hope, and joy of Jesus with thousands of people.
I desperately miss Tage most days, but I know where he is, and that he is safe. And I know I will see him again, and when I do, it will be for eternity. And not only will I hug Tage, but as I stand next to Tage, we’ll hug all the other people that are in Heaven for eternity because Tage left Earth when he did.
Now, tell me that’s not good.
We know He will always answer us. But what about when it’s hard to hear His voice?
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” –Jesus in John 10:27
A speaker I heard once said that when she traveled to the Middle east, she passed a large hill where dozens of shepherds were bringing their sheep to a barn. Hundreds of sheep walked freely down a rugged cliff toward a barn, following only the sound of their single shepherd’s voice.
They know his voice, and they trust him completely. So they follow Him.
Can the same be said about us?
It was easy to see that the “Yes, now” answers were immediate. But only hindsight allows me to see when He answered with “yes, in a little bit” or “no, but…”
In the moment, He just seemed silent.
Perhaps he feels silent to you right now, too.
Patience might be the hardest virtue. Nowhere in the Bible are we promised immediate answers. We’re not even promised a timetable. We are just promised that His answer is always the best answer, and He is never too late. We are directed to seek Him and then trust Him. That’s all. And yes, many times that is very hard to do.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘They are plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11
If it’s obvious His answer to our prayer is not “yes, now,” then it must be “in a little bit” or “no, but…” As we wait to for the answer to be revealed, the time is not wasted if we use it to get to know our Shepherd’s voice even more.
Then, perhaps it’s in His words, or in song lyrics, or in a friend’s note, or when the house gets sold to another buyer, or in a sudden thought that hits you in the middle of the bread aisle when it comes – the whisper in our soul, His voice, the answer which allows us to trust Him a little easier next time.
Never according to our timetable, and rarely in the way we pictured it, but He is alway answering us. So keep praying, keep seeking, keep listening.
We don’t have to search desperately and figure out some cosmic code. Our loving God longs to answer our prayers. As we seek Him, we can know that the answers will come in His perfect timing.
I know this to be true: God is not a tyrant. He’s not holding out on you. He’s just working something good. Every. Single. Time.