Listening to God
If only I had listened.
We have a family tradition of going out into the woods each
year after Thanksgiving to cut down our Christmas tree. It's
something we started when the boys were small, and over the
years it became the event to help us inaugurate the Christmas season.
We bundle the boys up and head off to the snowy woods on
a Saturday morning. Stasi brings hot cocoa in a thermos; I bring
the rope and saw. Inevitably, I think there's a better tree "just over
the next hill," which is always one more hill away, and family
members start peeling off and heading back to the car while I cut
down a tree that's always three feet too tall and drag it a mile. It's
all part of the tradition.
Now, you get a pretty funky-looking tree, sort of a Charlie
Brown tree, when you go out to find one on your own. But it's
our tree, with a story that goes along with it. We love it. Most of
Last year we headed out for the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving
weekend. There was new excitement to the adventure-we'd
bought some land way out in the mountains, and this would
be the first time we'd ever been able to cut a tree down on our own
property. I envisioned a family hike on snowshoes up through the
forest, hot drinks by the fire afterward, board games, rich memories.
That's not exactly how it turned out.
A blizzard came upon us during the night and dumped about
two feet of snow on the back roads. We decided we'd better get
out while we could, but in the first five minutes of our journey
home, we slid off into a ditch. It took us more than an hour to
dig out. We had no shovel. We used the boys' plastic sled, with
repeated failures. Finally, the only way we could get the Suburban
to climb up onto the road was to have the whole family on the
right side of the truck, outside on the running boards, riding it
like a catamaran while I gunned it for all it was worth.
Slowly we made it back out to the highway. I got out to check
the tree (we did get the tree, three feet too tall) and discovered
that we now had two flat tires. Not one, but two. It was ten
degrees outside, and the wind was howling down from the north,
bringing the windchill to minus ten-as in ten below zero. I
knew I had one spare tire, but not two. (Who carries two? Who
gets two flat tires at the same time?) I did have a can of Fix-A-Flat-maybe
that would get us into town. Nope, it was frozen.
When I got out to deal with the situation, I left the flashers on
to warn oncoming traffic of our condition. Now the battery
The word that comes to mind is ordeal. It was an ordeal.
And now here is my confession: we weren't supposed to go.
We'd prayed about the weekend, asking God when would
be a good time to head out. This was the day after Thanksgiving
(Friday), and both Stasi and I sensed God saying we were to go up
the following day. But it didn't make sense to us. We were tired,
and the boys wanted to see their friends. There were all sorts of
"reasons" not to go, but more so there was that lingering unbelief
that often passes for weariness, that thing in us that sort of whines,
Really? Do we really have to do this now, God? So we ignored the
counsel and went the following weekend. Now, the weekend God
told us to go was a gorgeous weekend-no snow, sunny skies, no
wind. The whole event would have been delightful.
But no. We had to do things our way.
How does the old hymn go? "Trust and obey, for there's no
other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." The whole
ordeal could have been avoided had we simply listened.
The Power of Assumptions
I ran into an old acquaintance at the bookstore today.
Actually, I was nearly out the door when he called my name,
so I turned back in to say hello and chat for a few moments. He
seemed ... not well. Half the man he used to be. I wondered
why. I expected him to say that he had suffered some major loss.
A loved one, I feared. Or maybe it was a prolonged illness. Not
that he was visibly deteriorating as some do in the late stages of
cancer. But there was something about his countenance, a loss of
some essential part of himself. You know the look. Many people
have it, actually. It's a confused and disheartened look. As we talked,
it became clear that he had simply been eroded by a number of confusing
years strung together by disappointment.
As I left the store, I found myself thinking, He held such promise.
It has to do with assumptions.
He assumed that God, being a loving God, was going to
come through for him. In the sense of bless his choices. His ministry.
Make his life good. He looked sort of dazed and hurt that
it hadn't happened. He was trying to put a good face on it, but
you could see that he had lost heart. This may be one of the most
common, most unquestioned, and most naive assumptions people
who believe in God share. We assume that because we believe in
God, and because he is love, he's going to give us a happy life.
A + B = C. You may not be so bold as to state this assumption
out loud-you may not even think you hold this assumption-but
notice your shock when thing don't go well. Notice your feelings
of abandonment and betrayal when life doesn't work out.
Notice that often you feel as though God isn't really all that close,
or involved, feel that he isn't paying attention to your life.
Now, it's not fair to diagnose someone else's life without having
some intimate knowledge of their situation, the story leading
up to it, and what God is after. But I do have enough information
to say that this man assumed the Christian life was basically
about believing in God and doing good. Be a good person. That's
good. That's a beginning. But it's just a beginning. It's sort of like
saying that the way to have a good friendship is not to betray the
other person. That will certainly help. You certainly want to have
that going. But there's a whole lot more to friendship than simply
not committing a betrayal, wouldn't you say? I know this fellow
also holds the assumption that God doesn't really speak to his
children. And so, when he found himself assaulted and undermined
by all that had unfolded in his life, he had no source of
guidance or explanation. It was sad to see the toll it had taken.
I left the store thinking about assumptions-how they are
either helping us or hurting us, every single day of our lives. Our
assumptions control our interpretation of events, and they supply
a great deal of the momentum and direction for our lives. It's
important that we take a look at them. And life will provide hundreds
of opportunities to take a look at our assumptions in a single
week. Especially as we walk with God.
I'll tip my hand to one assumption I am making. I assume
that an intimate, conversational walk with God is available, and
is meant to be normal. I'll push that a step further. I assume that
if you don't find that kind of relationship with God, your spiritual
life will be stunted. And that will handicap the rest of your
life. We can't find life without God, and we can't find God if we
don't know how to walk intimately with him. A passage from the
gospel of John will show you what I'm getting at. Jesus is talking
about his relationship with us, how he is the Good Shepherd and
we are his sheep. Listen to how he describes the relationship:
"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen
by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.
The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to
his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them,
and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." ...
"Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come
in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal
and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and
have it to the full." (John 10:1-4, 9-10)
The sheep live in dangerous country. The only way they can
move securely in and out and find pasture is to follow their shepherd
closely. Yet most Christians assume that the way to find the
life God has for us is to (A) believe in God, (B) be a good person,
and (C) he will deliver the rest. A + B = C. But Jesus says no,
there's more to the equation. I do want life for you. To the full.
But you have to realize there is a thief. He's trying to destroy
you. There are false shepherds too. Don't listen to them. Don't
just wander off looking for pasture. You need to do more than
believe in me. You have to stay close to me. Listen to my voice.
Let me lead.
Now there's a thought: if you don't hold the same assumptions
Jesus does, you haven't got a chance of finding the life he
has for you.
Does God Still Speak?
I was talking on the phone yesterday with a young woman who
was interviewing me for an article of some sort. She asked what
this book was about, and I tried to explain it in this way: "This
is a sort of tutorial on how to walk with God. And how to hear
his voice." I told her several stories (including the one about the
Christmas tree ordeal). There was a long pause, that pregnant
sort of pause that tells me I've just hit upon a great need and a
great doubt. Finally, she asked, "What do you say to people who
say, 'God isn't that intimate with us?'" I had a hunch-it was
something in the tone of her voice-that she hadn't experienced
the Christian life in the ways I was describing. Maybe because
she'd never been told this is available; maybe it's as simple as the
fact that no one had ever shown her how.
Is God really that intimate with us? That's a good place to
It might seem trivial that I'm bothering the God of the universe
with a family outing for a Christmas tree. Does God really
care about that kind of stuff? Is he really that intimate with us? Let's
start with this much-God certainly knows us that intimately.
O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in-behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.
Whatever else we might believe about intimacy with God at
this point, the truth is that God knows us very intimately. He
knows what time you went to bed last night. He knows what you
dreamed about. He knows what you had for breakfast this morning.
He knows where you left your car keys, what you think
about your aunt, and why you're going to dodge your boss at
2:30 today. The Scriptures make that very clear. You are known.
But does God seek intimacy with us?
Well, start at the beginning. The first man and woman,
Adam and Eve, knew God and talked with him. And even after
their fall, God goes looking for them. "Then the man and his
wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the
garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God
among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the
man, 'Where are you?'" (Genesis 3:8-9). What a beautiful story.
It tells us that even in our sin God still wants us and comes looking
for us. The rest of the Bible continues the story of God seeking
us out, calling us back to himself.
The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him,
he will be found by you. (2 Chronicles 15:2)
I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They
will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return
to me with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Return to me," declares
the Lord Almighty, "and I will return to you," says the Lord
Almighty. (Zechariah 1:3)
Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8)
Let us draw near to God. (Hebrews 10:22)
Intimacy with God is the purpose of our lives. It's why God
created us. Not simply to believe in him, though that is a good
beginning. Not only to obey him, though that is a higher life still.
God created us for intimate fellowship with himself, and in doing
so he established the goal of our existence-to know him, love
him, and live our lives in an intimate relationship with him. Jesus
says that eternal life is to know God (John 17:3). Not just "know
about" like you know about the ozone layer or Ulysses S Grant.
He means know as two people know each other, know as Jesus
knows the Father-intimately.
But does God speak to his people?
Can you imagine any relationship where there is no communication
whatsoever? What would you think if you met two good
friends for coffee, and you knew that they'd been at the cafe for
an hour before you arrived, but as you sat down and asked them,
"So, what have you been talking about?" they said, "Nothing."
"Nothing?" "Nothing. We don't talk to each other. But we're really
good friends." Jesus calls us his friends: "I'm no longer calling
you servants because servants don't understand what their master
is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because
I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father" (John
Or what would you think about a father if you asked him,
"What have you been talking to your children about lately?" and
he said, "Nothing. I don't talk to them. But I love them very much."
Wouldn't you say the relationship was missing something? And
aren't you God's son or daughter? "Yet to all who received him,
to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become
children of God" (John 1:12).
Now, I know, I know-the prevailing belief is that God
speaks to his people only through the Bible. And let me make this
clear: he does speak to us first and foremost through the Bible.
That is the basis for our relationship. The Bible is the eternal and
unchanging Word of God to us. It is such a gift, to have right
there in black and white God's thoughts toward us. We know
right off the bat that any other supposed revelation from God
that contradicts the Bible is not to be trusted. So I am not minimizing
in any way the authority of the Scripture or the fact that
God speaks to us through the Bible.
However, many Christians believe that God only speaks to us
through the Bible.
The irony of that belief is that's not what the Bible says.
The Bible is filled with stories of God talking to his people.
Abraham, who is called the friend of God, said, "The Lord, the God
of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my
native land and who spoke to me ..." (Genesis 24:7). God spoke
to Moses "as a man speaks with his friend" (Exodus 33:11). He
spoke to Aaron too: "Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron
about the Israelites" (Exodus 6:13). And David: "In the course of
time, David inquired of the Lord. 'Shall I go up to one of the
towns of Judah?' he asked. The Lord said, 'Go up.' David asked,
'Where shall I go?' 'To Hebron,' the Lord answered" (2 Samuel
2:1). The Lord spoke to Noah. The Lord spoke to Gideon. The
Lord spoke to Samuel. The list goes on and on.
Excerpted from "Walking with God: Talk to Him. Hear from Him. Really." by John Eldredge. Copyright © 2008 by John Eldredge. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.