Tuesday, September 1, 2009

God is Still Speaking. Are We Listening?

SEPTEMBER 1, 2009 1:40PM

In the Bible, both in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, God often is said to have spoken directly to individuals, either in person or through angels, speaking in words that the individual understands. This direct speaking of the Holy One to individuals is true in many religions.

Today, most practicing Christians and Jews have no trouble accepting that God spoke "in the days of old" directly to individual people. And in the Bible it was not just to prophets and leaders but also to relative nobodies like Mary and Joseph long before they knew that they would do anything that would be considered of any real importance.

Today many Christians and Jews believe that those days of direct communication with God are over. We certainly do not often think that God will speak directly to us so that we actually hear God like we would hear a person speak to us over a cup of coffee. And the few times that a friend may have told us that God spoke directly to her, we likely placated her, all the while thinking she was a few cards short of a full deck.

Some of you know that I have only once in my 70 years thought that God actually spoke directly to me. I was reading a book at the time, and it nearly scared me to death. Even so I was not sure who was speaking and ran around the house in the dead of night looking for radios that were left on, trying to figure out the source of the voice, checking outside looking for a neighbor standing in a foot of snow by our bedroom window. Nothing. Sue was asleep and the neighborhood was quiet as a church mouse.

So I spent a full year trying to convince myself that God has surely not spoken to me, and, besides, the message was unclear. If it were God couldn't God come up with something a bit less enigmatic than "It's not too late?" I mean, what was "not too late?" And what was the "it" that was still timely?

After a year of pondering what I heard that night I decided that God did speak to me and that God wanted me to devote the rest of my life to serving in ministry. Oddly, none of my friends or my closest advisors found this decision strange, nor did they think that 50 years old was "too old" to give up my life as I knew it and make such a total commitment.

I haven't heard a direct word from God since. Not even a whisper. Not in a dream. Nothing. Nada. Not that I haven't wished God would just sit down and chat with me, in English. It would be so much easier to just know what God wants of me now. I haven't all that many years left. Shouldn't we be having that little heart to heart talk that would make it crystal clear how I should live the years I have left?

I hate to disappoint any reader who was hoping to find here the holy grail, or the golden compass, or the precious ring, or the code breaker, or some other thing that will make it easier to find our way. But I don't have that kind of answer for you. I know people who do. I know that we can turn on any number of televangelists who will tell us that God just had breakfast with them and told them what we are to do.

Mostly in those conversations God seems to be interested in divesting us of our money and giving it to those blessed to have God's cell phone number. Pardon my skepticism, but I doubt that God works quite that way, although millions upon millions believe that is exactly how God acts, much to the televangelists' delight.

Let's move on to the good part. And that is simply that God is still speaking. God does try to communicate with us in many wonderful and useful ways. Many of them are listed at the end of this reflection.

But first we have to focus on how to hear what God is saying.

And here is the key: think of communicating with God like listening to a radio or TV signal. Right now there are millions of radio and TV signals being broadcast. How many of them can you hear with the receiver turned off? Not only do you have to have the receiver turned on, but it has to have the right tuner to receive the signals and you have to use that tuner to find the station you want to listen to or watch.

That sounds so obvious when we think of radio and TV signals, but we are totally flummoxed when we are asked to consider that we might have to have our spiritual tuner turned on and we might have to tune in to KGOD if we want to hear what God has to say to us. KGOD is the only frequency that Kingdom of God Broadcasting Company uses.

But, and this is important, once we are turned on and tuned in there are a variety of programs that God uses to communicate with us. And one of those is "Our Ordinary Lives." This program stars all of us, and is sometimes a sitcom, sometimes a drama, sometimes a melodrama.

God does not micro-manage our ordinary lives, nor does God generally intervene in our lives in miraculous or extraordinary ways. You may be surprised to know that mostly God did not do that in biblical times either. While the Bible gathers stories of when God did that all in one place, it ignores the infinitely larger number of times when God did not intervene or speak.

And while I am convinced that God does act in miraculous ways today, I am also convinced that we often miss the miraculous in our lives because we aren't looking for it, and are far too cynical to believe miracles when they happen. If you don't believe that, try telling your friends about your miracle. They will say that they are happy for you while thinking that if miracles happen where was God when they last needed one?

Yet faith tells us that God is with us in all times and places. Always. God can comfort us, instruct us and help us grow spiritually through successes, failures, joys, sorrows, sickness, health, blessings, and countless other ways. The real question is not whether God is there and will help us, but whether or not we believe that God is there. And that belief matters only if our radio is on, and we have it tuned in.

A simple question will help define the issue: Just how active are you in sharing your joys and sorrows, your troubles and successes, with God on an everyday basis? Or do you wait until your world falls apart and you pray that bargaining prayer from your foxhole?

The truth is that I, who surely know better, often am so worried about something, and it is driving me to such total distraction, that I forget to invite God into a conversation about my problems. I end up talking to myself endlessly when I should be communicating my deepest joys, fears and anxieties to God.

We need to be very conscious of including God in our daily concerns and activities, not using God only for emergencies and wondering why we can't hear God over the din of our pounding, racing hearts if we only call on God in times of crisis. We need to ask ourselves, "Where is God in what I am experiencing?" And, "What would God like me to learn from this experience?"

I am not saying that God causes every event in our lives. Far from it. We have free will and so do all others. God has set in motion natural laws, even laws that we have yet to discover. There are natural disasters and accidents. And often our choices, and those of others, to say nothing of natural laws and anomalous, awful events, cause us great grief.

But if God made all the choices for us we would have no responsibility for our actions, nor would we be much more than mere robots going through the motions of existence. Life would be numbingly dull.

God can use the events of our lives to teach us, if we will only allow that to happen, no matter how tragic those events are at the time they happen. And God will teach us love and wisdom out of which can grow understanding and humility, but only if we allow it.

We do not often stop to think that the ultimate price that we pay for love, for example, will always be sorrow and grief when that love ends. The price of love now is pain later. That is just the way it works. Were there no love there would be no pain, only indifference.

Some try to insulate themselves from love and from others so that they never need feel the pain. But if they succeed in doing that they will never know the joy of love, or feel the tenderness of compassion, nor will they know what we mean when we feel sorrow over grief of others.

In the end they will have deadened themselves to the possibility of ever knowing the very feelings that God teaches us are the essence of the spiritual life, the life that puts things spiritual and eternal ahead of things material and temporal. They will choose to forfeit the most precious gifts of God.

There are, of course, many ways that God speaks to us today. God speaks to us through the actions of others, through our acts of gathering for worship, praise and instruction, through prayer and meditation, through our holy books, through our learning of spiritual disciplines and the teachings of our savior, prophets and leaders, and through many other formal spiritual disciplines.

I have chosen not to discuss those with you today, in part because it would take another reflection to discuss even one of them, and in part because there are countless books written already to help guide you through those spiritual disciplines.

But there are few books written on the most obvious first step: listening for and hearing God throughout our ordinary lives. And yet that is where even the most fervent believer most neglects the potential conversation with the Holy One. It is the place where we are both the most vulnerable to the vagaries of life, and yet where we are the least likely to turn on and tune in to the One who wants for us only that we live the very best lives we can, and live them abundantly.

The conversation that makes that possible is only available to us if we turn on and tune in. Otherwise, there is nothing but silence.

Blessings and Peace,