Listening for God’s Voice

Writing my first official exegesis paper was a practice in listening for God’s voice and putting together personal experiences and in-depth study of scripture. As I finished the first paper, I did not feel a sense of relief, but rather apprehension. I believe it is possible, and only time will tell, that exegeting scripture, academically, will be a great challenge for me. My biggest question is: why?

Recently I explored with my Spiritual Director what is means to listen for God’s voice. I find that I connect with God in seeming random or un-thematic ways. I hear God’s voice at random moments, in the shower, driving in the car, the rare quiet morning reflection, through musical worship, or at the end of an overwhelming exegesis paper. I get pictures that help me connect what I think God is speaking. I also like to journal and write, though it doesn’t always mean that I will gain any profound insight from journaling. In the same manner, sometimes I experience deep connection with God or ‘aha’ moments when verbally processing an experience out loud, but not always.

I have a reverent fear and internal struggle with recognizing God’s voice. Perhaps it is because I grew up in a church culture, where we regularly were encouraged to share what God was speaking to us, sometimes to experience an emotional or spiritual high. In college and my early twenties I wanted my faith to be more authentic and genuine than just a spiritual rush. So I sought to slow down, not be so emotionally driven and not stress if I didn’t have an answer to the question- what is God speaking to you today? I am learning a new balance in my late twenties and early thirties.

As this translates to my pastoral role and listening to God’s voice for my community, I think this is significant. I feel a pressure to hear God ‘rightly’ for my community. It will be important for me to pray, discern, practice, and really let go of my fear of not hearing God ‘right’. As I am inspired by so many wonderful leaders, books, sermons and stories in scripture- I want to be an effective communicator equal to that of the things and people that inspire me. What does it mean to hear God’s voice for a specific community, in a specific time and place?

Here are a few of the answers to this question, that I have come up with so far.

To practically spend time listening, time is a huge factor; and willingness to sit with one idea for a while. One thought. One short passage of scripture; to wrestle with it. Form an opinion or thought. Change my mind. Pray. Write. Discuss it with others. Re-form or re-shape my understanding. Try again. Keep reading.  Keep listening.  Keep paying attention to the stories God writes in people’s lives, hearts, stories, and experiences.

These are just some of the ways that I can move forward in the skill of listening for God’s voice and exegeting scripture well, communicating scripture well, and inspiring people to grow deeper in their faith, to hear God’s voice and be led by the spirit in profound and redemptive ways.

The Fish That Glistened

We have a fish hanging on our wall by the kitchen table.  It sits under our picture of Jesus at the table with his disciples, giving thanks.  I call it our Miracle Fish.  It came after this story impacted my life this summer.

Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

IMG_20131105_214919-1In that moment with dazzling glistening floppy fish, as if he were a king surround by golden treasure, he saw through the earthly treasure, to the eternal gift- meeting his Lord and he was overwhelmed with the bareness and brokenness of his own life.  Jesus did not care so much about Simon’s previous track record, because Jesus knew what greatness Simon had been created for. Jesus had no doubts about Simon. But he did ask him to leave this miraculous fish-filled boat and do a new thing.

I love that in this story Jesus addresses Peter’s first thoughts: fear.  Jesus acknowledges Peter’s fear of inadequacy.  I am often like Peter.

I love that in this story Jesus called these men when they had just reached their best success in career.  The most fish ever caught.  There could have been an award or a guinness book of world record.

I love that in this story Jesus called them from the known into the unknown.  That’s the story of our life.  We all enter new seasons that no one can fully prepare us for.  There is a bit of courage and risk taking, faith and trust needed for that next step.

I love that in this story Jesus didn’t ask them to leave a little bit of their life.  He asked them to leave everything.

This story causes me to stop and think. What is it that I hold on to?  What is my miracle fish that points me to Jesus, calls out my fears and challenges me to a new way of living with Jesus?

The Space In Between

It’s the spot where life happens and you don’t record it. You don’t write it down, or take photos of it. You don’t journal about it, or draw pictures of it.  That’s what life is like these days for me.  I’m in the moment just trying to soak it all in.  Sometimes I look into the blogosphere and think, I should be writing this down!  But then it doesn’t happen.  There isn’t a FB status trite enough or deep enough to express what I’m seeing, thinking, feeling, or hearing in the space in between.  So it’s just for me.

Don’t get me wrong, the status updates run through my head, or the blog post get half written in my mind crying for a napkin or notepad to make the thoughts more tangible.  But ahh, in this space in between…it’s just not going to happen.  And I am okay with that.

Three things I am living, learning and loving these days….

1. Embrace the life I have.  Truly live it and do my darn’dest not to compare it to how I think other’s are living theirs.  My pastor always says, If you think the grass is greener on the other side, water your own grass!  True. True.

2. I am not a photographer- and that is okay.  While it feels like everyone I know can capture a photo a day of all things cute, adorable, or majestic I can barely find my phone half the day.

3.  I do not have to fill the space between.  We all need a margin. A Sabbath.  An unscheduled or un-documented moment.  The space in between with change with the seasons, but it is in paying attention to the ‘space in between’ that I find peace with what is surrounding it.

How to Pray When You Have No Words

It’s happened to all of us.  We come across a situation which we know needs prayer, but we draw a blank.  How do I pray for this one?   We know that God hears the prayers of our hearts, even the ones we cannot utter, but there is something about the act of prayer that is healing, peace-giving, or burden lifting.  How to pray when you have no words?

A couple weeks ago, our Grade schoolers at Quest were introduced to an awesome method of prayer- Praying in Color, by Sybil MacBeth.  The idea itself is not original- drawing or doodling while you sit- but the connection between our artistic expression without words as a form of prayer, is  a new idea to many. MacBeth lays out some simple steps so that anyone can pray in color.

Who has doodled at one time or another in your life?  Maybe while on the phone, or in a meeting, or while sitting around with pen and paper in your hand.  Your hand takes you on a journey.  I’m sharing this with you so that you can get a glimpse of what our kids learned at church (they brought prayers home on Mother’s Day), and if you want to know more, we have resources you can check out at church.

We know that prayer is a way to spend time to God, that is both speaking and listening.  But can we pray without words?  Yes!  We can!  When you center yourself on God, and reflect on who He is, and when you let your body engage (in this case, let your hand draw and create) without using words you can connect with God, worship God, and even offering up people, ideas, prayers and thoughts to God.  Here are some beautiful examples of prayers.

Basic tools for praying in color

  • Names of God (Father, Mother, Almighty, Jesus, Savior, Friend, etc.)
  • Doodling ideas (straight lines, cirles, squiggles, zigzags, arcs, spirals, etc.)

Steps to praying in color

  1. First center yourself.  Once you have your supplies ready (paper, black pen, colored markers or pencils), prepare yourself with a stretch, some deep breathes or a centering phrase, “here I am God!”
  2. On the center of your paper create a shape and write in it your name for God.  As you think about God, doodle on that shape until you feel the drawing is done.  Then add color.
  3. Next draw another shape next to the God shape.  Write the name of a person you’d like to pray for, or whatever it is that is on your heart (keep it simple!).  As you think about that person or situation, doodle and draw until you feel like that drawing is complete.  Then add color. Continue to reflect on that person and picture yourself giving them/their situation to God.
  4. Continue drawing shapes and adding prayers until you feel your prayer is complete.
  5. At the end of your prayer time, say, “God see my prayer”.
One of my first praying in color prayers
One of my first praying in color prayers

This prayer can take 1 minute, 5 minutes or 30 minutes!  There are so many different variation and things you can do. Maybe it’s a black and white.  Maybe you write out a verse as a prayer, Maybe you do a thankful prayer, or I’m sorry prayer.

Who is Praying in Color for?  Praying in color is for anyone who struggles with getting distracted, or can’t find the right words to pray, or falls asleep while praying, or cannot sit still long enough to pray, or is not sure how to pray for someone or something.  At the risk of sounding like an infomercial: Praying in color is for anyone and everyone!

In the Vine

A while back, I did an exercise with some kids at church to practice listening for God’s voice. I wrote about it here.  You see, I am an average person.  I struggle with the distractions in my daily life that make me think I’m not good enough, strong enough or smart enough to live an extraordinary life for Jesus.  I get bogged down by exhaustion in parenting, guilt that my 4 year old doesn’t know his alphabet, or that I haven’t been checking in on my 80 something year old neighbor.  There are days that if feels like life is all about me and my family’s survival when I know I want to be about others, and more than that- I want my care of others to come from an overflow or abundance of my life- that I am not just obedient to a command, but faithful to a lifestyle of generosity.   So my prayer is often, God I need to hear from you!  I think I’m on the right track, but I’m wavering a bit here! or it’s a bit more dramatic than that and sounds more like, God- where the heck are you?  I can’t really see you in this fog!  I think I hear your voice…but it’s a little far off.  Remind me that you are near!

Recently I received two very important words, that came not from unexpected places, but at a surprising time.  They were kairos moments.  Kairos is a greek word for time.  More specifically it means the “right or opportune moment for God’s purpose”.  Moments that God made his presence very clear to me, in a space and time that I was struggling for perspective.

God takes us though seasons of pruning.  In our lives, there are seasons of pruning or refining.  It is God’s work of care and compassion on us.  The big branches that need to come off, are maybe not that big of a deal, they are more obvious and simple to take care of.  It’s the small and detailed pruning that can be more time consuming and painful. I know this because I have 13 rose bushes that have been the bain of my existence since I inherited them 8 years ago.  I am a terrible pruner (leave the spiritual pruning to God, Katey!)  This pruning produces fruit that is way better though, so it’s worth it.

Another harvest season image from another friend: You are an orange tree.  You can try and try and try to produce coconuts and apples and bananas, but you are still an orange tree.  So stop striving. Relax.  Just be an orange tree.  That’s what you are good at.  You can produce amazing oranges!  And the great thing about being the orange tree is it doesn’t really have to do anything!  It just has to BE what God created it to be.  To take in the water, sun, and air around it.

In both of these words, I heard a simple message from God: Stop striving.  Just abide.  Stop trying so hard to do so much (even if it’s for My kingdom).  Remain in Me, and I will remain in you.  Hang out with me. Be with me. Sit at my feet.

If that wasn’t enough, I was at a worship night at church and underneath the strong beat of each song I could hear this proclamation, and it would literally not go away no matter how loud I sang.  I will not strive, I will abide. I will not strive, I will abide.  Okay God.  I get it.

But He wasn’t finished with this kairos moment.  A day later, I got a message from one of my storytellers for Sunday School.  They weren’t going to be there on Sunday, so I opened up the lesson.  The story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10).  Huh.  God desires our devotion.  “…few things are needed- or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  I spoke to gradeschoolers about the Love of God, the gift of His Son Jesus and our relationship with God being about devotion to Jesus.  Being with Jesus, not just for or about Jesus.

I will not strive. I will abide.

I have known and read this passage of scripture, countless times.  But today it carries fresh perspective.  Hope for my messy life to gloriously reflect God’s love and grace and mercy as a light in my friendships, to my family, neighborhood and in my workplace.  Even in the midst of a life filled with work and chores and people to love and babies to care for, there is this promise that if I just BE who God created me to be.  If I can REST in God’s presence.  If I can SIT at the feet of Jesus…I will have done enough today.  And tomorrow, I have to get up and have the same outlook as I carry on another day.

The Vine and the Branches John 15: 1-17

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 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. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

A Child’s Faith

I have wrestled in different seasons of ministry with this idea of when does a child’s faith become their own.  Those of us who work with kids in the church might not question the importance of our work because we are in it day in and day out, and we know personal stories of children who have been touched by God at an early age.  We know kids who follow Jesus.  We know kids who want to be disciples of Christ.  We know kids who worship and pray and share God’s love with people around them.  So what’s with the wrestling?

I regularly have the opportunity to hear adults’ faith stories.  Often [especially in the church], it begins like this (sorry to generalize): “I grew up in a Christian home, going to church, BUT it wasn’t until high school [or college] that my faith became my own”.  What is up with that?  My first question is why?

When I tell a child about the love of Jesus, when I teach basic Bible skills- like bible memory or  how to navigate book/chapter/verse, when I tell stories from the Bible that reveal God’s love for His people, I don’t do it in hopes that one day they will decide to follow Jesus as an adult.  No!  I want them to know Him now.  I want a child to believe that they can “own their faith” as a child, they don’t have to worship God just because their parents do.  But what does that mean?  Is a child capable of making that distinction between individual faith or, as James Fowler might describe it, the

imitative [faith] phase in which the child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith of primally related adults.

What makes a child’s faith real?  What makes a child decide to worship God because they want to not just because they are told it’s the right thing to do?  Is there any way to help a child understand that even if they go through seasons of doubt, or seasons of struggling with sin and reconciliation, that the faith of their childhood is still valid?  I want to believe it is possible.

  • I see genuine faith in the 6 year old who sincerely wants to be baptized to share with his church family, that he loves Jesus.
  • I see faith in my 5 year old as he chooses to pray with his arms open, palms up as a way to posture himself before the Lord.
  • I see faith in the worship songs played by a 5th grader learning how to play the piano.
  • I see faith in the art of the 4 year old, drawing herself and Jesus hanging out in a garden under a colorful rainbow.

Sticky Faith, it’s a book on my shelf, waiting to be read, and seriously calling my name late at night when I crash in my bed at the end of a long day.  I love the idea of kids catching a sticky faith early on in life.  How can I lead kids into a life of faith that’s sticky…a faith they don’t have to wait until college to own, a faith that they don’t have to wait until going through their “rebellious” years to turn to.  A faith that calls them to serve the church at a young age, and a faith that keeps them coming back to the Word, to Christian community, and to the feet of Jesus without a long absence.  A faith that sticks with them through the ups and downs of childhood, teenage years, college days and early adulthood, and chases them to the porch and rocking chair.

Take Heart

Part of a letter I wrote to the team I am privileged to serve along side at Quest and the parents I partner with. There is nothing new or earth shattering about these thoughts. But I felt convicted to proclaim them out loud again,

We live in an era where it is necessary to fight for a child’s heart.  When the world says there is no God, we say, ‘God made the earth and everything in it, look and around and witness the miracle of His creation!’  When the world says you are not good enough, we say ‘God made you and loves you just the way you are’.  When evil and injustice overwhelm the world and children are convinced there is no power over evil, we declare: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  And as believers in Jesus the Son of God, we cling to this promise as His disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  May 2013 be a year of witnessing the transformative love of Jesus capture the hearts of kids.

How the Holy Spirit is Like Mud

Today’s reflection is simple.  The work room was quiet today.  The focus was on getting the new walls up.  Time is spent making sure the 2×4’s and drywall were properly in place, and seams were covered, with some stuff called mud.  While I am very excited about the idea of this particular new wall (creating a room for our 4 and 5 year olds), I am a bit sad, because I have spent much time on the edge of that stage, teaching our gradeschoolers.  We won’t talk about it today, but the gradeschoolers will likely experience a bit of displacement through this transition. I can relate.  I have to find a new ‘sweet spot’ for teaching!

Children and Family ministry shaping takes time and intentionality. We don’t haphazardly fall into spiritual transformation and inspiring a family life of worship.  We make deliberate decisions that move us toward God’s embrace and closer to Jesus.  As we build a frame work for who God is, and who he has created us to be, I picture the Holy Spirit being the “gap filler”  just as the mud is to the drywall.  The areas that we might ‘just miss’ on, God gives us grace or an extra measure of forgiveness.  Where somethings not sticking, you need an adhesive to bring things together. The Holy Spirit is the mud that  makes our faith really stick.

The more [mud] the merrier I always say.

 

Theology of Children’s Worship Space Remodel

It is rather humorous that in the 3 and 3/4 years I have been back to work at Quest there have been now, 3 separate remodels on the little worship space we call Global Village.  I am honored to be a part of a ministry team  and pastoral staff who not only value the children of our church, but who agree with us that it is good to create safe and appropriate space for children.  And even more than that, we are blessed with the ABILITY to provide what we do.  I am so thankful, and never want to take for granted the fact that we even can spend money, time and resources on improving our facility when there are churches even here in Seattle where kids are happy to have a custodial closet or cold basement floor where they can learn about God.  Really, we are more than privileged.  And with that privilege comes responsibility.  To care well for our kids and parents, but also to share our abundance with others.  We strive to be an open source ministry, and any chance we get to pass along a good book recommendation, a great curriculum, extra craft supplies, or tips on leading kids and volunteers- we happy to share.  The emails that come to my inbox which thrill me the most, are the ones with requests to share stories, experiences and lessons we’ve learned over the years of building a children and family ministry from the ground up.

So I thought it would be interesting to reflect in these 7-10 days of construction on the idea of re:modeled Children’s Ministry.  In the 9 years I have been leading a children’s ministry, and the 9 years before of volunteering in Children’s Ministry there has been a constant state of re-configuring, re-imagining, or even re-building this relatively new concept of Children’s Ministry, which is actually now being re-defined as Children & Family Ministry. I thought it would be a fun challenge to relate a re:modeled children’s ministry to a construction remodel.

Day One: 

The first thing the construction company does is lay down a protective layer over the things that should not get damaged or destroyed.  This is important because as the old walls come down, a layer of dust and dirt is left covering most everything that is not covered.

Such an applicable message!  When changes are made in Children and Family ministry, the values that we hold most important should be guarded and protected through the season of transition.  In the many “seasons of change” that I have been through at Quest and the church I grew up in, the most important value I have found to guard, though there are others, has been relationships with people (be it pastoral staff, volunteers, children or parents).  The residue of hurt, pain, distrust, and miscommunication may be repairable, but they take a very long time to recover from.  I can testify to this, and am still learning from my mistakes.

Day one: When BIG change is taking place, protect that which is most important to you!

Psalm 69: 34-36, “Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them, for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah.  Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there.”

Keeping Kids Safe Training

Child abuse prevention is important topic for us to engage in- for church staff, volunteers and parents.  It is a reality in our society which the church cannot hide from. In fact, the church is often a place perpetrators will seek out vulnerable children.  Keeping Kids Safe Training is a combination of  presentation and dialogue . Keeping Kids Safe training will be provided several times a year, the next date will be fall 2012. Questions about Keeping Kids Safe Training can be directed to katey@seattlequest.org.