I walked into Durham’s massive cathedral getting my bearings and trying to find the books. One of the staff in charge of guiding the steady stream of tourists and worshipers verbally reached out to me, “Can I help?”
“Yes, I’m a new doctorate student in theology looking for the ‘cathedral’ library do–”
“You are very fortunate,” she said with a tone and looking at me in a way I could tell she genuinely meant it and somehow appreciated all that was behind, surrounded and what it meant that I was standing there with her, doing what I was doing.
Although she didn’t need me to respond, somehow I couldn’t help myself, “well, yes, thank you, it is, I am…”
Our conversation continued about where to find the books, but my mind stayed on her comment. Having just met with my supervisor for the first time and taken in Durham University, I was feeling very fortunate. I know not many people would actually want to jump through all the hoops and take all the risks to pay large sums of money and time to write a 100,000 words designed to convince a few people you have a broad understanding of theology while also offering new, unique knowledge. I also know there are people who want to and will not get to. I have resonated deeply with both at different points these last few years. But, to be at a place like Durham University after taking the risk to switch doctorate programs and the gift of seeing everything I’ve been working on these last few years and really the last 15 years weaving together, each step along the way setting me up better to do the specific research I’m doing now (Reformed reception of charismatic theology and practice) and more to the point better preparing us to help (and equip others to help) more people experience God in everyday life, I am very fortunate.
We can’t express enough the gratitude we have for each of you supporting us in prayer, financially and through staying involved and engaged with us. This would not be possible without you. And it only continues to be possible through your partnership. We pursue diverse forms of funding, but at this stage our work is primarily dependent on individual contributions and support. All the information about donating is online at www.gregmillikan.com. This site is also where I post semi-weekly blogs about various topics related to our work. Ali regularly blogs at aliincali.com. There is the option to ‘subscribe’ to each and receive posts by e-mail if you would like.
Some research suggests 80% of emotional conflict in marriages is rooted in things before the relationship even began. Why? Our brains, specifically implicit memory. Think of implicit as ‘automatic’ or basically when we run on auto-pilot. There are certain tasks that require us to focus our attention, concentrating our minds on what we are doing, seeing, hearing, learning. Others we do without ‘thinking about it’. Like breathing, walking and a large part of relating and communicating with people around us. This sub-conscious or implicit mental activity still requires a significant amount of, well, mental activity. A super-highway of neurons are firing electric pulses sending the information needed to walk, breath, and interpret the world around us. It is simply happening automatically, below our conscious awareness, without requiring us to focus and pay attention.
It wasn’t always this way. The neurological super-highways in your brain weren’t always there. When you first started to learn how to walk, for example, your brain began the gradual process of bush-whacking a neurological path allowing the flow of information, energy and chemicals needed to coordinate balancing upright on two feet. This initial trail full of exposed roots and potholes became a path, then a road and through repetitive patterns and activity a major interstate without the hindrances of downed trees, stoplights or cross-traffic.
The same process happens when as a child you learned your father furrowed his brow just before an angry outburst. In time, without even having to focus, or think about it, you would see that particular look on your father’s face and your brain would brace you for the impact of his anger. The trick is when your spouse makes the same furrowed brow expression, it is because what you are talking about isn’t clear and s/he is simply trying to understand you. But your neurons are already firing subconsciously, preparing you for an angry outburst and to respond to your spouse’s furrowed brow with whatever method you developed as a child to respond to your father’s anger.
The solution, according to Curt Thompson, in his book Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices that can Transform your Life and Relationships, is to pay attention. Specifically to pay attention to what we are paying attention to. In the case of implicit memories, the key is to identify them and accurately connect them to the actual source or cause of the memory—and to thereby disconnect them from albeit similar but different situations. A classic example of this is the close, implicit, parallels we make between our experience of relationship with our parents and God. Childhood experience of our parents temperament, character, personality, expectations and treatment of us subconsciously shape the norm of what we expect and understand about God, despite what we may cognitively and intellectually say we believe about God.
As the long subtitle suggests, Dr. Thompson uses insights from neuroscience and his counseling practice to explore what he sees as the literal process God uses to ‘renew our minds’. It’s a fascinating read when thinking about patterns in our lives, our inability at times to change unwanted behaviors, why intimate relationships are so significant and what is actually involved at a physiological level when we interact with God in everyday life.
For the last several decades researchers have aimed to measure and identify what makes people happy. The general conclusions: it’s not the extrinsic stuff like wealth, popularity and influence. More important are relationship, care of others, variety in experiences of life and a number of other factors related to genetic and physiological predisposition. Although some of the methodology of the research is debated, the conclusions provide a helpful framework for paying attention to something that we are daily confronted with: our feelings, emotions and experience of life.
I don’t want to trip up here on semantics. Many a preacher, teacher and Christian trying to work out daily life in relationship with God have developed whole theologies on the difference between happiness and joy, what is or isn’t authentic joy, and all sorts of things in the middle. Trying, I imagine, to get some handle on the complexity and mystery of pain and disappointment and some exclusively ‘biblical’ perspective on what is a universal human desire for joy.
Take a moment to actually go there yourself. What do you picture when you think about what joy practically looks like? What do you associate it with?
This isn’t to evaluate and have a ‘right’ perspective, but to simply reveal and identify what you think and believe.
And now to the main thing I want to say in this post. In the midst of all the wonderful complexity of what joy even is, how to have it, cultivate and sustain it, I want to share one way I experience joy.
When I spend time with God, I feel joy.
Now, it isn’t like it (joy) happens all the time. And unfortunately I can’t say joy has been an abiding reality, particularly not this year. I’m sure this can be explained in part by the current tension we live in, where heaven is here on earth already, but not yet fully. So, joy is here already but not yet fully.
I can’t help but think the extent I experience joy is also influenced by the extent I chase after false idols and false comforts compared to resting/trusting/depending on God in all the multitude of various ways that looks to me.
Also, I’ve experienced joy in God’s presence, as well as a number of other emotions, experiences and empowerment: God’s grief, anger, rebuke, conviction alongside love and love for others, peace, and peace-making…Joy is part of a dynamic ongoing relationship with the Spirit, but seems more central and available than I often recognize.
Believe me I can keep on going, making this all more dynamic and complex. I can break it all down in terms of what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, what causes it, what gets in the way of this. But, really it is that basic. When I spend time with God, even just become aware of his presence, I feel joy.
Too simple, it’s simplistic? Maybe.
But, try it out and see what happens. Relax (rest in God’s presence/company), Relate (interact with God), Receive (whatever he has for you).
Panic? Especially when the pressure is on because a decision needs to be made either quickly or well because the stakes are high. Go with your gut? Think it through? Seek help? Embrace the uncertainty and mystery, shrug your shoulders and move on with life? Probably depends on the situation and circumstances, but more specific to what I’m thinking about: who or what do you go to and how (and maybe even why)?
It is a daily reality in my life. I find myself in situations where I don’t know what to do, say or even think for that matter. The gift in these situations, as opposed to when we do know what to do, is we face our limitations. Or, better put, our limitations are in our face. For some of us this isn’t very comfortable. But if we pay attention to how we handle situations like this, it can tell us something about ourselves (our personality, decision-making patterns, our basic worldview and more). And more specifically to the focus of this blog post, it can show us what we depend on when we are in a place of dependence.
What I’m suggesting here is pay attention when you don’t know what to do or say. What do you feel? What do you think? What do you do? How do you handle it?
Why bother with this? One of the things that comes up consistently in the New Testament, put very, very succinctly is that the Spirit replaces Torah. Torah was the Jewish legal code and then some. It laid out God’s special covenant with the Israelites and includes the ten commandments and other specifics about behavior along with the key stories of the first five books of the Bible. For adherents to Torah, it was among other things, a place to go to get guidance on what to do. Over time, where “the law” was not specific enough, rabbis would interpret and flush out more detail to help those who wanted to keep covenant with God know what to do when they didn’t know what to do.
In the midst of Paul talking about a new reality, a new covenant, in Jesus Christ and addressing some very specific issues pertaining to a specific community in his day, he makes statements like: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25). Jesus, again addressing a specific circumstance instructs and assures his disciples before sending them out: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20). Or Paul again, in the midst of living in the tension of challenges and suffering, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26).
Anytime being guided by the Spirit, hearing God’s voice, discernment, etc. comes up it raises many questions and complexities. But, let’s put the focus on a simple practical, even daily opportunity. What do you do when we don’t know what to do? As I mentioned, this is easier when you don’t know what to do or say or even think, because it makes it just abit easier to see what we depend on to guide us in our life.
In these passages above and many more and in the testimony of so many throughout human/church history there are descriptions of a reality in which: God is near, he is talking, and it is possible to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ him. Whom or what do you go to when you don’t know what to do or say? How do you do it? And what does it look like for you, in these situations to be aware of and guided by the Spirit? Daily…
I’m in at Durham
We spent this last year completing a pre-PhD postgraduate degree in Biblical Theology at the University of St. Andrews and have now accepted a place in the doctorate program at Durham University.
Durham is currently ranked the top theology department in the U.K., they specialize in the area I will be working in (“receptive ecumenism”) and the supervisor team looks to be a great fit for my research interests: Reformed reception of “Charismatic” theology and practice. It’s a doctorate in practical theology, keeping the focus on ‘lived’ theology rather than solely historical or text based study. So research is centered on how people understand and live out their beliefs in everyday life.
For example, Pentecostal/Charismatic traditions are the fastest growing ‘religion’ in the world. Emphasis on experience of God’s personal presence and power is deeply resonating within postmodern/post-Enlightenment Western culture (and particularly non-Western cultures) and in many ways with younger generations. Strengths in Reformed, mainline traditions are often weaknesses in Charismatic churches–such as shared power, organizational leadership, in-depth biblical and historical interpretation and holistic approaches to social and personal transformation. How can these traditions learn from one another? And specifically in my research interests, how does this impact people in these traditions in everyday life?
Also, Durham is just close enough to Elie we are able to stay in the same community, church and school for the kids.
A New Season
This summer marks a season shift both in our work and our family. Starting in mid-August three of our four will be in full day school, with our youngest about to enter pre-school. This opens up opportunities for Ali and I to partner more closely in the work we are doing.
These last few years we focused on learning and receiving as much as possible. We had questions of our own to answer, experiences and perspectives to solidify and three specific goals: (1) be mentored/apprenticed, (2) immerse ourselves in a predominantly “Charismatic” community and (3) study the power and presence of God biblically and historically. The first two happened at Bethel Church in Redding, CA. The pre-PhD program at St. Andrews focused on the first and third goals. Now we shift to giving what we have been learning away while completing the doctorate. More specifics on this to come.
A special thank you to those who have partnered with us financially and in prayer. This past year has been one of the most challenging in our lives, but has positioned us to accomplish specific goals and move into future opportunities. Your partnership is making it all possible and we can’t express how grateful we are. We are literally experiencing God’s promises fulfilled through you.
- Prepare for an October start at Durham.
- Raise remaining funds for the year ahead.
- Develop specific ways to give what we have been learning and doing away.
If you’ve got to the spot where you are open to the first question (What is God saying to me/us?), then there is the second question: How do I/we know? Both of these are huge questions, so simple and so complex all at once. For all kinds of reasons, many don’t even ask the first question. (“Wait, you’re telling me you hear voices in your head?”) But, once you do, don’t be scared of the second one. There are ways to help us discern if God is talking to us or if it is someone/something else including just ourselves.
As always with these posts, I like to keep them short so I’m going to share a few thoughts and then more later. Future posts titled “Discerning…” will build on this one. That’s the idea anyway.
When it comes to testing what we hear/see/experience I like to think of a 3-legged stool. One leg is the Bible. Another leg is community. The other leg is our spirit.
You can put your full weight down on a 3-legged stool and can trust it will hold you up. Sit on a two or one-legged stool and you better keep both feet on the ground and even an extra hand because that stool is going to be wobbly.
The same goes with the 3-legged stool of discernment. If what you are hearing/seeing/experiencing resonates with scripture, community and your spirit you can trust it and put your full weight on it. Only have one or two of these, well it could still hold you, but be careful. And don’t expect anyone else to sit on your stool.
If this all sounds clear and simple, good because it is now going to get a lot more nuanced and complex. How do you test what you are hearing with the Bible, community and your spirit?
For starters, read a Bible. If you are seeking to hear and experience God more and aren’t immersed in the witness of Scripture, to me you are one scary dude or dudette. If you are already steeped in the story of scripture, great more to come on interpreting the Bible and hearing God’s voice in future posts. For now read the Bible and pay extra attention to how God speaks to and interacts with people. What does he say? What does God seem to care about? What do people who interacted with him do and say in response?
In terms of community do you have people you can share what you are hearing/seeing/experiencing and trust they can hear God for themselves and discern with you? Community can be one of the greatest aids and greatest challenges/hindrances to hearing God’s voice. More on this later…
There is also a lot to be said and learned about discerning with our spirit. Even using the word ‘our spirit’ is tricky and needs some more clarifying. God speaks to us through our emotions, our body, our mind, our soul. Are you in tune with who you are, in touch with your emotions, aware of your body, attentive to your thoughts, familiar with how God interacts with you?
This is all the basic stuff of discernment: the Bible, community and your spirit. And there is so much more…
In the Presence…[attempting a practical look at experiencing God in everyday life: relax, look, listen, receive, react, repeat] I think we can all experience God more in everyday life in ways unique to each of us. This usually involves learning (by doing) practical how-to’s while paying attention to deeper ways we understand ourselves, the world and God (our worldview and identity).
Our worldview and identity is like the foundation of a house or even better a skyscraper. It’s below the surface but holding the whole structure we can see up. The size, strength, health of your foundation determines the size and type of building you can put on it. All that to say, worldview and practical how-to go hand in hand.
If you see a post titled “In the Presence” the focus is going to be some practical how-to built around what I think are the basic elements of hearing God’s voice and experiencing him in everyday life: relax (not striving and at peace), look (focus on the Triune God of the universe), listen (helps when we don’t do all the talking), receive (God is near and always giving and speaking), react (respond, obey or whatever makes sense in terms of what you are experiencing/hearing), repeat (this is ongoing and can become as natural as breathing – you know something you repeat over and over through the day without having to consciously think about and it keeps you alive…stop for too long and well you know what happens).
Alright, enough with the intro…let’s get to the practical. Across many traditions, throughout history there has been a consistent witness that God is the one initiating and sustaining relationship with us. His is consistently and constantly speaking, interacting and revealing himself. Think of the waves of the sea. One wave comes
after another, in different sets, in different sizes, different tides, but over and over, wave after wave. Some liken God’s love to waves of liquid love constantly coming, wave after wave. Want to feel, see, hear the waves of his love? As you’ll hear from me over and over there are many different ways that work differently for different people. You can experience the waves by catching and riding them surfing, kayaking, boogieboarding or like a kite surfer jumping off them. Or you can just wade or swim into the water, any depth you want and feel the waves. You can experience them by watching them from the beach. You can just listen to them from inside a house in the night and still experience wave after wave by the sound of them rolling in. You get the picture…
So try this: take a few minutes to write down 10 things you are grateful for. Each of them is like a wave of God’s love in your life. (See how I did that with the metaphor there…that takes some skill.) Then for however long you want in a way that is relaxing to you look at, listen and receive from God. Now, take another few minutes and write down 10 different things you are grateful for. Now, take some more time, in whatever way you want, to interact with God. Then, for a third time list 10 more things you are grateful for and just sit back and relax and listen for what comes to mind (thoughts, words, images) feelings (physical or emotional) what you become aware of and react, interact, respond in whatever way seems to make sense…go with the flow, ride the wave, hang loose…alright, I’m done. Give it a try.
[I’m writing ‘off the cuff’ also ‘known as shooting from the hip’ so it may raise more questions than it does answers, I may or may not even agree with it come tomorrow and it may or may not be helpful…so I love you and good luck]
Ever wake up stressed? I did and I noticed it. Stress can be a bit of an unkind messenger, but still an early warning sign that something is breaking. Kind of like the light ‘service needed’ that can appear on the dashboard of my car letting me know that the car needs something to keep running the way I’m driving it and if I ignore this light (which I’m tempted to do in the midst of all the other things asking for my attention) I might end up going from needing a simple oil change to having to repair a major part in a broken down engine.
As I was on my second cup of coffee with two kids on my lap, one rearranging the shape of my face the other riding a ‘horsey’ also known as my knee, Ali, my wife came into the room with her cup of coffee, looking a bit like she got hung upside down by her toes through a good portion of the night (sorry, babe). I asked the obvious question, “Where’s my breakfast?” No, just kidding, I really asked, “how did you sleep last night”? “Not well at all. I had a couple strange dreams and Joy was up for awhile. I also woke up feeling really stressed.” “Me too,” I replied (although I honestly don’t remember the part when I was awake in the middle of the night with our 2 year old.)
Sometimes it takes someone else saying it to really notice. And whenever we both feel something, in this case stress, Ali and I have learned to pay closer attention to what is going on, in us, around us, in the spiritual atmosphere and see if we can address it. It is tempting not to. Stress has become an accepted norm in many of the circles I run in. It even at times seems to viewed as a badge of honor or seal of I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in life.
“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened. Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke will require you to have more to do than you have time to do it and I will evaluate you on unrealistic measurements of how well you do and base how much I value, empower and even love and accept you on your performance. So start dancing monkey!…and you will have rest for your souls.”
This is an updated and modern translation based on a loose translation of the Greek of Jesus’ words for our more contemporary contexts.
So Ali and I started by addressing the spiritual dynamics around us (which there have been more of recently). I won’t go into this much now, some of you might think it strange – and you’re probably right. But, we didn’t notice much of a shift in our stress which usually indicates that we have believed a lie somewhere along the way and in varying degrees have started to agree with and live out of that lie.
Now there is a lot to this. Many books have been written, classes been taught, psychological, spiritual and medical wisdom offered to address this whole area. Too much for me to take on right now ‘off the cuff’. I’ve come to the conclusion the busyness and stress that comes from a performance oriented mindset and culture is toxic to all things related to intimacy with God and others. More on this another time. The clinical research also makes a strong case of the toxic affects it has on our physical health and well being. So, it makes me wonder, why do we keep doing this to ourselves and others? And is there a sustainable, realistic way out?
Anyway, that’s enough for now, I’ve got to get back to work…I’ve got so much stuff to do today…
Two years ago we decided to enter into this unique season.
Our goals were clear: be mentored in what it looks like to help people experience God in the everyday stuff of life, immerse ourselves in a community powerfully experiencing God’s presence and study the Bible and church history in-depth on all the above. It is amazing how well the first two goals came together in Redding, CA. What we were able to do, see and experience proved incredibly significant for our whole family and our sense of call to help more people experience God everyday. Hopefully you’ve gotten a sense of this through our updates, blog posts, etc. And now to have the opportunity to do biblical studies at the University of St Andrews–the school I’ve most wanted to pursue a doctorate. This really is our dream scenario: an initial few years of ‘practical’ focus on what this looks like in real life, then time spent on historical, interpretative study of the Bible, centered on God’s presence with us. We are so grateful how this has come together and for the support and partnership we have received amidst all the challenges and risks we’ve taken to pursue it. Thank you!
Joy is having surgery for a small hole in her heart called ASD at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. The condition isn’t ‘major’ but the procedure to heal it is: open heart surgery, 2 days in ICU, one week in the hospital and six weeks to recover. Pray with us for total healing for our little lady.
We’re spending four months of our move this summer in Seattle staying with family, saving on housing costs, studying Biblical languages and interpretation, writing and incrementally transitioning to a new climate in Scotland.
We depart in September for St Andrews. Right now it’s mostly logistics: selling things, storing others, packing some and giving the rest away. We’re waiting on U.K. VISAs, looking for housing, getting fitted for kilts and working on whatever else we can do on this end.
I was making a major decision about changing jobs and possibly moving. This usually involved asking God what he wanted me to do and being obedient as I could regardless of whether I wanted to do it or not. I somehow my logic was the more I didn’t want to do it, the more likely I could trust it was God talking to me. Everything changed dramatically one afternoon on my back deck.
Things started as usual, “God, what do you want me to do?”. God’s response was pretty clear, “What do you want to do?”. This made me uncomfortable. It’s not that I hadn’t heard God say this before, but what if I was just telling myself this. Could I really trust my desires? Aren’t my desires full of sin and self-interest? So, I tried a different approach, “What do you want me to want?” His response again: “What do you want?”. We went back and forth on this for awhile until God basically said to me, “Think about what you want and when you know let me know.” And then I saw as in a vision God sitting down, calmly, peacefully right by me and waiting.
So, I took some time to think about it and like unpeeling an onion, I started listing off various things I want from providing for my family and having basic needs met, to other things I want in life and my job. As I got deeper and deeper into my desires I hit a point when I realized what I want more than anything else. My main foundational desire is to see heaven come to earth, now. I really want people to experience more of what it is like in heaven here on earth in everyday life. And it’s not because this was the ‘right’ answer, but because I authentically desire it.
And that’s when it hit me. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) What Jesus was saying to his disciples he was saying to me, which helped me finally embrace what I was hearing. Friends make decisions differently servants with their master. Friends share desires and decide together what to do. Servants, as I had become accustomed to doing, try to understand their master’s orders as clearly as possible and obediently comply. There can be joy in this. It can be out of a servant’s love and gratitude toward the generosity, character and benevolence of the master. But, still friendship is different, as is being a son/daughter of God (Romans 8) and bride of Christ. Friends can serve one another, a son/daughter serve his/her parents, a bride her groom, but in terms of biblical imagery its not the other way around.
Now there is alot to hearing God’s voice when we are making decisions, more than I can cover in a blog post. But, it helps to pay attention to how you view yourself in relation to God.
For some, God is in control of everything and our lives are following a certain blueprint. Our job in making decisions is to follow this blueprint. Any deviation can prevent you from experiencing God’s ‘will’ for your life. I’ve never fully resonated with this view. I’m not saying it’s wrong, because God speaks to us in different ways. For me it’s more common to experience God guiding me differently in different situations. Sometimes God strongly tells me, “do this”, giving me a specific way of handling a decision. Other times there are multiple options and basically says, “It’s up to you.” And encourages me to listen to and trust my desires. And it’s gotten to the point where I’m constantly processing through decisions (big and small) with God. Sometimes God has input, sometimes not. Sometimes I can’t tell.
So, what becomes most important in hearing God’s guidance in times of choice is intimacy with God throughout life (not just in making decisions) then when it comes to decisions we can lean on relationship, not just rules, principles and formulas and we can recognize what God is saying to us in the moment.
So, want to get better at hearing God’s voice in times of choice? Spend time with God when you don’t have a decision to make. Hang out like friends, with no agenda but relationship. Go ahead, God loves you, desires you and wants you to share in his desires.
This post is part of a series on hearing God in everyday life. Right now the focus is on what God talks about: his love, the truth, conviction about sin and the focus of this post, guidance in decisions. Consider subscribing to receive future posts by e-mail.
There’s a difference between true guilt and false guilt—and it’s big. There’s a difference between the condemnation that comes from our own expectations for ourselves, the expectations of others and Satan’s accusations versus conviction that comes from God. Can you tell the difference?
This post is part of a series on hearing God’s voice in everyday life. Sin is one of the things God talks to us about. But, God’s not the only one talking…
More and more I’m becoming convinced that God is not interested in external controls. He’d rather not control us and our behavior. Instead he would prefer we choose righteousness, justice and peace out of love.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.“ (1 John 4:18) Could it be possible that God does not use fear of punishment to control people to do what he wants? This is a big topic with major implications for what we believe about God and the way people operate–too big for just one blog post. But, it’s important for discerning if it’s God speaking to us about sin.
Jesus responded to different people differently. His expressions of mercy surprised (and offended) many. So did his expressions of zeal about justice and judgment when things weren’t the way God intended – i.e. some of the ways he spoke to the religious and political establishment of his day (like Matthew 23). But no matter what the tone of his voice and the words he chose, the message about sin was the same: it hurts, kills and destroys you, others and the world. I don’t ever get the sense sin, even certain sins (depending on your subculture), are no big deal. Jesus even says our righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisees (Matt. 5). Instead God’s understanding of how to bring about change and transformation particularly in terms of decisions, words and actions (our behavior) is not as predictable as we might think.
Take verses like Jeremiah 31:31-34: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts…”; Romans 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children…”; John 15:15: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” and Hebrews 12:4-11.
Be careful in confusing God’s conviction about sin with the ‘false’ guilt that comes from not living up to our own or others expectations for us. We need to be particularly cautious in highly achievement-oriented cultures where love, acceptance, respect and opportunity are all based on how well you have performed. The expectations and definitions of performance can vary depending on the family system, church, school, wider community or culture. But the shame and guilt that comes with not measuring up is a different voice than God’s. The same goes with the accusations of Satan, who schemes to remind us of past mistakes and sins. If you have addressed these past sins already, sought forgiveness and restoration with God and those affected, then it’s not God. Regret is from the pit of hell.
God’s conviction is always accompanied by hope, by intimacy, and a sense that he is with us. How do you view God when it comes to conviction about sin? Here’s one way to tell: Picture yourself standing on one side of a great lake of fire that is your sin. This sin is death, keeping you from experiencing fullness of life with God, others and the world around you. Where is God? Is he on the other side of the lake telling you about your sin and how to get across to him? Or is he right next to you, looking at the lake of fire, your sin, with you, ready to deal with it together? There’s a difference…and it’s big.
God tells us the truth about who we are, who he is and all sorts of things about the world around us. He’s not the only one. We get all kinds of input from all kinds of places that shape our view of our self, view of God, others — our world-view. And our worldview makes a big difference in how we see and experience and engage with our life.
Sometimes it’s subtle but very significant. For example if you believe Jesus is your Lord/Leader and Savior are you a ‘sinner saved grace’ or a ‘saint’? Is this just semantics? Are you both/and instead of either/or? Does it matter? Try, in whatever makes sense to you, viewing yourself through one and then the other of these perspectives. Perspectives are like the lenses in glasses and shape how we view the world. Like say out loud, while reading this, “I’m a sinner, who was saved by grace.” Now, say out loud (and see yourself as), “I’m a saint, who was saved by grace.” Does it make a difference?
Here’s another one: are you a ‘servant/slave of Christ’ or a ‘friend of Christ’? I’m thinking here of Jesus saying to his disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) All the same issues as above (semantics? Both/and instead of either/or?) Does it make a difference in terms of how you see yourself? As Jesus points out, friends relate to each other differently than does a slave/servant and even a benevolent master. Friends can serve one another, but a servant will never have access, intimacy and interdependence that friends have.
As always, there is a lot to this whole question of truth and God’s perspective. The simple point here is that when it comes to hearing God’s voice, one of the things God talks to us about is his perspective.
So, what is God’s perspective about you, your circumstances, those around you and any number of other subjects on your or his mind and heart?
Try out asking him and see what happens. For example: God when you look at me what do you see? God, tell me something about who you are. When you look at my spouse, kids, friends, employee, boss, that person who has hurt me, that guy in the cubicle over there, what do you see? Who are they from your perspective?
See what thoughts, impressions, pictures and feelings come to mind when you ask: God what is your perspective on __________________?
I’m in the midst of a series of blog posts all about hearing God in everyday life. So far I’ve posted about how God is speaking to us all the time and has wired us to be able to hear his voice. We’ll cover topics like what God’s voice sounds like and how to hear and test if what you are hearing is God. Right now I’m in the midst of the 4 primary things God talks about: First, from the last blog post (assurance of) His love; with this post, His perspective (truth); coming up next is conviction (not condemnation) about sin. Hopefully a little at a time can go a long way.
We are heading to Scotland. After a significant discernment process we’ve decided to pursue the opportunity to do a doctorate in Biblical Studies at the University of St Andrews. We passed up on this opportunity two years ago, wanting to immerse ourselves in a church community that was living out what we are interested in learning about God’s presence and everyday life in the Spirit. Bethel Church has turned out being the perfect fit for the questions we were asking and what we wanted to learn.
For the last year and half I’ve been working toward a doctorate while here in Redding and while its been very beneficial, the further I progressed the clearer it became I would be spending long hours, effort and resources on something other than what I most wanted to research. I was attempting to put biblical scholars like NT Wright in conversation with church and revival leaders like Bill Johnson and others in my previous research proposal. Instead I will now have spent two years immersed among the community of Bethel Church and with this move to Scotland actually study directly with NT Wright and others at the Univ. of St Andrews. In many ways this is coming together better than I originally imagined was possible. So much of what is going on at Bethel needs to be caught (not just taught), lived, breathed and experienced, which we’ve been able to do these past two years. But there is more I want to learn that requires study of the original biblical languages, historical context, methods of interpreting scripture and more, which is best done in an academic setting.
There is a lot to a decision like this. As Ali and I moved through it and all the risks and challenges involved we had a growing assurance the timing was right and this was the specific direction we needed to head in terms of doctoral research. We welcome your prayers as we make this move. There are a lot of logistics involved in relocating our family to the U.K. Our kids (at least the 2.5 who understand what is happening) are a mix of excited, sad and overwhelmed all at the same time. We plan to move to Seattle for four months this summer with the goal of saving money on housing (to offset some of our moving expenses) before making the final move to Scotland in September.
Thank you for all your support and partnership, there is no way we could be doing all this without you.
‘For 50 years I have known in my head God loves me. For the first time I felt his love.’ A man shared this with me during a retreat focused on God’s presence and power. When we have assurance we are loved it changes everything about our life and those around us. The opposite is also true. Many of us aren’t sure, so we spend quite a bit of time and effort looking for love by earning it, comforting the wounds and suffering of not being loved and treating others accordingly.
When it comes to hearing God’s voice it helps to know what God talks about. Assuring you of his love is his main topic.
If you’re anything like me, you can spend most of your time talking to God for guidance. I asked God once what to do in a decision. All I kept hearing was: “I love you.” Great God, thank you, but what do I do in this situation? “I love you.” I love you too, but what about this decision? “I love you.” I finally allowed myself to soak in and receive his love and quickly realized how anxious I was and began to calm down and feel peace. Then, clarity about the decision came much easier. Shame and fear kill, steal and destroy relationships and life, and along the way lead to poor decisions. Perfect love drives these out like nothing else.
It’s why I think so much of Jesus’ ministry focused on offering a different version of what God was really like. If you listen to his teaching and actions the focus is consistently on ‘you think my Father is like this, but he is actually really like this…’ Take the story of the ‘prodigal son’ from Luke 15 as an example.
As a youth pastor, I noticed that with many teenagers who grew up in church I could say until I was blue in the face “God loves you” and it didn’t matter. Their glazed-eyed, spaced out look said everything: ‘I know, I know, Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so’. Each of them needed to encounter God’s love as real, experienced, felt.
But, how? If this is what God is talking to us about more than anything else, how do we hear and experience this more in everyday life? This is a big topic. I’m going to focus on two things:
- Believe and expect God’s demonstrating his love to you. This is only scratching the surface. It doesn’t address all the reasons we don’t believe, expect or have assurance of God’s love. For example, I developed a deeply rooted operating paradigm I needed to perform well to be loved, rather than perform (do the things I do, say the things I say, etc) because I am loved. Recognizing, healing and transforming this achievement-oriented, distorted view of love hasn’t happened overnight, and still lingers. And the degree I operate in it is the degree I keep myself from experiencing unearned, real love that drives out my fear. Another major obstacle for me was how emotionally shutoff I was. God could have poured barrels full of love all over me but I could at most only experience a trickle of it because my heart was so hard. That said, believing and expecting God’s constantly demonstrating his love is a great place to start (and end). It opens us up to receive what he is giving.
- Understand how you feel loved. So much of experiencing more of God in everyday life involves knowing who you are (and who you aren’t) and embracing this. Gary Chapman developed language for identifying five different ways people feel loved: words of affirmation, touch, gifts, acts of service and quality time (www.5lovelanguages.com). We each prefer one or two of these over the others and have assurance someone loves us when they speak our primary love language. God knows your love language and will speak to you in this way. For example, my primary love language is touch and quality time. It has taken me awhile to recognize this, but looking back over my life in relationship with God the two primary ways I have felt most loved and connected to him are when we spend significant amount of unstructured, unfocused time hanging out together, enjoying one another, just simply being together. And one of unique ways I experience God is feeling his presence physically in my body. I literally feel God’s touch, like being hugged, held, energy, warmth. He spoke to me in my primary love languages even before I fully understood them. It took awhile to embrace how physically affectionate God is and his desire to spend time together without a particular ‘to do’ to obey. A book that helped with this was Jack Frost’s Experiencing Father’s Embrace, among others.
So, try it out: believe and expect God to assure you of his love in the primary way you give and receive love. Remember from the previous post, God is near you right now, constantly talking (about his love for you) and designed you to hear him. Listen for and experience his love. And see what happens to you and those around you when you get so filled with God’s love it overflows out of you onto others, sometimes without you even trying or realizing it.
***This is part of a series on Hearing and Experiencing God in Everyday Life. Posts build on each other. Consider subscribing on the home page of gregmillikan.com to receive these posts by e-mail.***
Hearing God’s voice is something very simple that we have made complex. Simple doesn’t always mean easy. And something can be simple, but also very dynamic. My 1 year old has figured out how to take pictures and open (and delete) apps on my phone. It’s simple and intuitive enough for her to learn and do, but obviously there is much more to my phone than taking pictures up my nose.
In upcoming posts I want to share several things that have helped me understand the more dynamic elements of interacting with God in everyday life. For now, let’s focus on the simplicity:
- God is speaking to us all the time.
- He has given us the ability to hear.
- He speaks all kinds of different ways.
Let’s just stop there and notice something. If these statements are true, how would you answer the question: How do you hear/see/experience God? Really, take a moment to think about how.
This could involve looking back at times in the past you’ve experienced intimacy with God. Or you can pay attention to the things you do or even where you go and who you are with when you want to connect with God. And right now you may not even be consciously aware of ever hearing God or don’t have a language yet for answering a question like this.
If your experience is anything like mine we usually put the focus on what we need to do to hear God’s voice. People have various answers for this, from spend more time reading the Bible, spend more time praying, we even have a whole vocabulary for this from ‘quiet times’ to ‘devotions’. Surely there are things we can all do, general principles really, to help us hear God’s voice better, but what if we wait on those a second and just stay on these three statements?
I’m pretty convinced that if we agree with them, believe them, we will start hearing God’s voice more than we do now.
- God is speaking to us all the time (whether we are listening/paying attention or not).
- He has given us the ability to hear his voice. We are made for intimacy with God, so you in cannot ‘not’ hear him. And he is very, very near to us by the Spirit.
- He speaks all kinds of different ways to different people. So hearing God’s voice is unique to everyone and their personal relationship with God.
Often the issue is not “God, what do you want me to do?” but “God what do you want me to believe?”. We do what we believe. Our beliefs shape our actions and our expectations and subsequent interpretation of our experience. Which either reinforces or changes our beliefs. We are often so focused on behavior modification, or what we need to do to get something to happen we miss the significance of core beliefs and identity. More on this later…
For now, try this out. Agree with/believe these three statements and start seeing what happens. Whether you declare them out loud or meditate on them or whatever it looks like for you to believe them, see what starts to happen over these next few weeks.
And in future posts I’ll go more into what God talks about, what his voice sounds like and discernment (‘how do we know it’s God?’).