Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hearing from God Part 2

To read part one, see the previous entry:

Here is a little Haiku poem, in order to help prepare for the next important point:

On hearing God's voice:

Exhilarating, thrilling
Happy, joyful

Okay, so it's a pretty bad poem. But did you find yourself saying the word "Repentance" in a happy tone? Do you usually say this word in a glad tone? Or do you say it more gravely? People who hear from God a lot, have come to befriend repentance. Just as faith is a gift from God, and something we cannot achieve or gain by our own efforts, so also repentance is a gift from God, something that we cannot gain by human effort. The most effort we are allowed to participate in regard to either faith or repentance is that of asking for it and/or responding when receiving it. Asking for its increase in our lives, and receiving them when God bestows them are wonderful gifts that put us in position to experience God’s voice and guidance in our lives..

When many people think of repentance, they think of a turning away from sin. And then they think that this alone somehow satisfies God. But what we need to understand is that more important than our turning from sin, is that we must turn towards God. Paul preached Christ crucified, not so that we would turn from our sin so much as that we would be turned toward God. God is Holy. Man is born in sin. Therefore if we are heading towards God, it is understood that we must have turned from sin in order to be facing towards Him. (Acts 10:21)

It is very possible and even far too common, for people to turn from sin, but to, instead of turning towards God, to turn towards something else. Many times people just exchange one idol for another, or one drug for another, hoping to become well and whole. They may turn from a particular manifestation of "sin" and turn toward the 12 step program that offers them freedom from that particular thing. That is a kind of repentance, but unless the program turns you toward God Himself, you will either be putting your trust in a program, or you’ll fail in your goal. If your goal is just to try not to ever do a particular negative behavior again, you may succeed; but God has much more in mind for His children than simply not expressing sin in particular ways. When we turn towards a particular program intended to keep us from one particular problem habit, there is a limit to what that program is designed to do for us. The program may be effective. But it isn’t God. God may use it to bring relief from that thing causing the immediate pain in life, but if we'll turn to God Himself, He will take us onward towards Christlikeness. That is something no program, even an effective one, can do. But facing God, (having repentance towards God), will put us in position to be hearing His voice, and so to being transformed.

Repentance does not mean that we will feel bad. In fact most of a believer's repentance should not be as a result of godly sorrow so much as a result of seeing the light at last. We need to pay attention to the conviction of God's Spirit. If we sin, godly sorrow is a healthy thing. It is godly sorrow's function to bring us to repentance when we need His transforming power in our lives. We must never think that God is somehow appeased because we feel bad about our sin. Feeling sorry is not what changes our lives. It is the blood of Jesus that saves. God's goal is not for us to feel bad, but that we find our completeness in Him; to be conformed into the likeness of Christ. Repentance can happen without godly sorrow. God delights to show us ways that we need to change our direction or thinking. Repentance is the turning of our intentions and hearts away from the way we were, and towards God, trusting Him to make the transformation that we long for.

Sometimes when I have see how off track I am, I will feel a godly sorrow. But sometimes it is more God freeing me from fetters that have kept me from the freedom which Christ came to give me. A personal example of this is when God gave me a greater amount of Christlike peace and love towards others, when He spoke to my heart about a particular truth in scripture, concerning God and people. For years I worked on my evangelism techniques. My thinking was that if I could just present the gospel to my unbelieving family and friends in an effective way, then they would see the light, as it were, and believe.

Then I read where Jesus says in John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

When I read those words, it was as if that verse jumped right off the page at me. God was speaking something to me, by His Holy Spirit. How do I know it was Him speaking to me? Scripture says in Romans 10:17, and I’ll repeat this often, that: “…Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

On Rhema and Logos: That word “word” in Romans 10:17 is in the Greek, “Rhema.” In English we have only one word for "word." But in Greek there is both "Rhema" and "Logos." When we read the scriptures from our Bibles, we call the Bible the “word” of God as well. But that word, “word,” is in Greek, “Logos.” Both the Rhema and Logos are God’s revelation to us. The Logos is the word of God that we can touch and see; scripture is the Logos of God. Jesus is talked about as the “Logos of God.” (John 1:1) When we talk about "hearing from God," we are talking about the Rhema, even if God uses His Logos to speak to us.

According to Romans 10:17 here, faith comes when we hear the Rhema of God. You can always test a Rhema, as it will not contradict the Logos. The scriptures for instance tell us not to kill or steal. So if someone says that God told them to attack a certain person and take their money, then that was not the Rhema of God. That person is deceived. Many times though, God will use His Logos as we are hearing it or seeing it, and it will impress us in our spirits, as a Rhema. That is what John 6:44 did for me that day. And by my responding in repentance from hearing that word, I gained much more love and understanding for people who don't yet follow Christ. By "repenting" here, I simply prayed, "Thank You Lord. I get it. I was wrong and now I see why! Thank you!"

Prior to that repenting, when I would present the gospel to family and friends, and they didn't respond (either positively or negatively), I assumed that they either were not listening to what I was saying, or they flat out rejected God’s word but wouldn't say so, and so instead were just shutting me off. It would hurt when I took it that way, and I'd struggle with my emotions, because I thought our relationship was better than that. Now after God spoke John 6:44 to me, I understood that there was more to my loved ones' lack of response than what I had previously understood. They simply did not have ears to hear, what the Spirit was saying through the Logos; at least not at that time. Now I could tell them the truth of the gospel in love, and not consider it a personal put down or slight if they did not respond, positive or negatively. Many just couldn’t respond. They didn’t have ears to hear the Logos that I was presenting to them. It was not Rhema to them that day. I needed to pray for the Father's drawing of them.

This new understanding changed my life. That is what hearing from God does. And that is why repenting from what we hold on to in even what we understand, enables us to turn and listen to God and receive what He is saying. After this I prayed more for the lost, and became less frustrated with those who simply were not able to respond to the truth that was being said. Besides, I find I gain a much greater love for people when I pray for them. When I just nag at them, not so much. They didn't need me; they needed the Father to draw them.

Back when I first believed, many of my friends thought I'd become a religious and joyless soul. Looking back I can understand why. Growing up, I hardly gave heaven or hell a thought, really. When I came to faith, heaven became a reality to me. I was so excited about the things God was saying to me and in having eternal life, why wouldn't all my loved ones believe? But when I saw my relatives and old friends unable to hear, or just not gladly receiving Christ, I was at first so surprised, and I began to grieve. To think of them bypassing the offer of heaven, and considering the alternative was such a heavy matter! I was growing in my love for God, but was my love for Him stronger than my love for them? I had always loved spending time with family and friends all growing up. But now I would think of hell and ached for them to know heaven. And so whenever hanging out with them, if I didn’t present Christ’s offer to them, I would feel I wasn't doing right by them. But if I did bring up the subject, yet again, and they rejected God's truth yet again, I would grieve. I can see why they saw me as a sad soul. Hell was now very real to me, and some dearest to me were heading right for it.

I had to repent much in those days. I had to choose God over my family and friends often. I was seemingly always being led to turn from friends' invitations and to turn towards activities that God's voice was leading me into. Sometimes I would go out with friends who didn't know Christ, and hold my tongue and say nothing of God, because I wanted the evening to be peaceful. I did this because I loved and missed them, and I wanted to feel that old feeling of their friendship. But by hiding God like that, not to mention not loving my friends enough to risk our friendship, (as I still truly believed the best thing in life for them was not a relationship with me but to find eternal life through Christ, felt really bad. I acted both as if I loved my friends more than God, and as if I loved myself more than I did my friends. I had to repent those days a lot! Sorrow would hit, and then I'd repent again. And each time God would speak to me again, and with such love! He would speak comfort to me, and He would show me what I needed to be doing, and He'd remind me that He loves my friends much more than I ever will. Peace would come from what He'd say. Repentance is very important in hearing God's voice.

I've heard people talk about repentance as if it were something they did once many years ago, and that now they are fine and on the right road, period. Repentance is not a one-time deal. Daily we should be turning from self to God. I learned this early on. Back then, anytime I would put devotion for my friends over devotion for God, I needed repentance. Repentance meaning, I'd turn from idolizing friends and having my companionship needs being met through them, to turning TOWARDS the living God who loves me, and start trusting that invisible God was more real in His love towards me, than anybody else could ever be. And whenever I would do this repentance, God would bless me in a way that I could hear or see. His voice is so wonderful!

When we turn towards God, He lavishes revelation upon us that His great love for us is real, and our faith in Him grows. Our faith grows, because by turning from lesser things (anything other than Him is lesser) and turning to God for all our needs, we experience His presence, and we are rewarded for going to Him, by seeing His hand in our endeavors and situations, and in hearing Him speak into our lives. The more we do this, the more normal hearing His voice becomes to us, and the more our faith grows. It grows because we go from seeing Him act on our behalf and speak into our lives on the things we need immediately, like for help or a job, or healing, or provision; to things that we need in life that take longer, like sanctification, hard hearts to soften, gaining freedoms that help us walk in victory, where once we were bound up. Hearing His voice, and then walking accordingly is living by faith. And that faith grows as we increase in our hearing and in our obedience. Repentance is part of the puzzle that we need to appreciate. Walking with Him becomes a most refreshingly alive adventure. Acts 3:19 says:

"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,"

As these times of refreshing come from the Lord, the more we find ourselves turning from ourselves and turning towards God, the more we will be hearing from Him. This is salvation and a building of our faith and of our experiencing the truths of God. The more we repent in this way, the more we will see that repentance is a wonderful gift; and that as often as it comes, and the quicker we embrace it, the more our joy will be. Conversely, the longer it takes a soul to repent, and the more stubbornly it clings to worthless idols, the less their joy, and the greater their grief in the meantime.

Learning to follow God's voice well, is a process, that often requires repentance. Embrace repentance! Thank God if you get it! I've experienced both times of repentance and times of resisting it, and thus prolonging the painful part of the process. I've learned to ask Him for repentance, whenever I feel I have let my spiritual progress halt. At these times I pray, and you may pray too, "God grant me repentance more in this."

For having such a negative public image, repentance is such a blessing! As an unbeliever, I thought of repentance as a kind of reluctantly or remorsefully giving up of one's pleasurable ways, for a life of stoic sackcloth and religious doldrums. Yet this has certainly not been my experience. Once I did begin to really and often repent, I can truthfully say that it has never brought me to place of disappointment, but always to a better place, spiritually, and eventually if not right away, in situation. The believer profoundly desires truth in their innermost parts. We want to enjoy God our Father and we want Him to enjoy us. We ask Him to change us.

When we ask, He answers us because our changing will be good for us. God wakes us up to our wrong motives and sinful goals, and we repent, turning and running right to Him. And His arms fly open for us. Happy is the soul which rushes to full repentance. Lost is the soul that has never received this wonderful gift. Frustrated will be those who having once received repentance, but have since convinced themselves that they no longer need repentance. Repentance becomes welcome and wonderful when over time we find that it is the means by which we are realigned with what God is doing and where He is leading us; when we see that it is often just the link needed for us to hear again, His amazing voice. Yes, sometimes repentance may include godly sorrow. But sometimes it is more an, "Aha! Thank You Lord! I want to think Your way now. Thank you!" Moment. As the song says, “I need Thee every hour.”

If you want to hear from God, you must be willing and eager to receive both faith, and repentance towards God. ". . . to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21)


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