Posted tagged ‘discerning’

Knowing That Voice!

September 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 19, 2016

                          

     My wife Carol still shakes her head in disbelief as she retells the story to people. It happened about twenty years ago now in the midst of a restaurant in Tempe, Arizona called Rustler’s Roost. Our family, along with Carol’s mom and dad were enjoying a nice dinner in the midst of the establishment. As we sat there sipping our Pepsi’s and munching on the pre-meal bread I heard a voice, a woman’s voice, coming from a few tables over from us.

I looked at Carol and said, “That’s Sue Burt!”

She gave me a confused look and asked, “Sue Burt?”

“Cyndi Martin’s step-sister from Arlington Heights.”

“How do you know it’s Sue Burt?”

“I’d recognize that voice anywhere!” Sue Burt’s step-father was Dr. James Payson Martin, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a church where I served as Youth Director during my next year of seminary in 1978-1979.

It was now 1998!

“Bill, are you sure? You aren’t even looking at her.”

“Absolutely!”

Without delay Carol got up and walked over to the table where “the voice” was coming from and asked the young woman, now about 35 years old, if her name was Sue Burt. She was greeted with a confused look attached to an affirmative nod. Carol explained to her that I had heard her voice. I walked over and we reconnected for a few minutes after a twenty year gap.

Sue had a voice that was distinctive, unmistakable, just like a few other voices that we can easily recognize…Pee Wee Herman…Mister Rogers…our family physician. When a voice becomes known to you it isn’t easily forgotten. When a voice speaks into your life you remember it.

I find this is increasingly true for followers of Jesus. When we know the voice because our life has listened to it for a long, long time we recognize when the voice is speaking to us. In a culture of a lot of noise- or perhaps multiple voices- hearing the “true” voice is essential for a person’s spiritual journey. The thing is lack of intimacy with “the Voice’ creates a high level of voice-guessing. That is, God becomes the voice of personal agendas clothed in spiritual jargon. “God told me so!” gets used a lot to cover up self-centeredness or people on power trips.

Churches are prone to listen to the ten spies rather than to the “Joshua and Caleb’s”. People also tend to listen to the loudest voice rather than the whisper of the Spirit. The one who has the deepest intimacy with the real Voice often gets drowned out by the turned up volume of others. Spiritually mature voices are seldom loud. Wisdom and discernment don’t emerge out of turned up volume.

But when a person or a church truly…undoubtedly…unmistakably…undeniably hears the voice of God, the whisper of the Spirit, and the leading of the love of Jesus something that can only be explained as being of God is about to happen!

 

Discerning Perseverance

March 4, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 4, 2016

                                    

This past month I have been going through the application process to be a substitute teacher here in Colorado. Your first question might be “Why?” My response, besides the fact that Walmart wasn’t hiring any new store greeters, would be “Why not?” I enjoy being around young people, and I get tired of hearing people say “Act your age!” At my age I’ve got one foot heading towards a tombstone!

The process, however, has been an exercise in frustration. It’s like an ongoing visit to the DMV, something very few of us list as one of our pleasurable activities. On the Colorado Department of Education application it seems I was asked about five times whether or not I’ve committed a felony. By the fifth time I was starting to think that I had…kind of like when my mom would keep asking me “Are you sure you didn’t do that?” I’m sure at some time through the process I confessed to her that I had committed some offense that my brother, Charlie, had really done.

In my application process I’ve struggled with new technology that I didn’t have to worry about when I applied for a summer job at Rollyson Aluminum Products back in 1973. How do I scan a document? How can I attach something to an on-line application without staples or paper clips? Why do I have to be reminded of the sad state of my first year college grades?

A friend of mine suggested that the torture of the process is God’s way of telling me that there is unconfessed sin in my life, and that I should repent…and then become a pastor again! I failed to connect the dots of his reasoning, but it did make me think of the Christian exalting of the ability to persevere. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-4 that “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” In James it says to “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

So the question is how does one discern the need to persevere versus God closing a door you keep trying to go through? One of my favorite Far Side cartoons is of a bespectacled young boy trying to enter the door to his school. He’s pushing, but the sign on the door says to pull. Above the door is a sign that says “School for the Academically Talented and Gifted.”

No matter how spiritually connected a person is there will be a constant discernment struggle about whether he is to keep on keeping on…trusting in God…persevering in the faith…and seeing that the door is closed.

I know I’ve confused those two a number of times over the years. The temptation to persevere gets easily attached to something that offers more prestige, more power, and more money. Closed doors are often in the background of decisions that offer no enhancing of my resume. Inconvenience gets viewed as a sign that God is saying “No!”

Going back to “sin in my life”, I recognize that the distance I put between myself and God because of my desire to be in control also causes a blurred vision of what I am being called to do or not do.

In my life recently I’ve had several situations where discernment has been needed. I wish I could say that I’ve nailed it every time, but there have been a few times where I’ve been pushing on the door when the sign says “Pull!” Quite frankly, when I’ve stepped back and finally seen what the sign says I turn red in spiritual embarrassment!