A Slow-Learned Lesson

We are all broken. To one degree or another, the best among us are broken. We’re all in need of some sort of healing, or growing. We all need to be restored, to be put back together.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about brokenness and restoration. Now I’d like to share something with you, something that I’ve only learned through the long, slow, arduous process of repeated breaking and healing.

It is this.

The magnitude of my suffering has never been in proportion to the magnitude of my misfortune. Instead, the magnitude of my suffering has always been proportional to my brokenness.

Hatred, discouragement, bitterness, selfishness, greed, lack of faith, an unwillingness to forgive – these are some of the attributes of brokenness.

These things magnify, ten-fold and a hundred-fold, the effects of misfortune. Misfortune may be an illness, an automobile accident, a house-rending tornado. All of these things are more devastating if you’re broken.

Sometimes our brokenness is a direct contributor to our misfortune. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, and our brokenness leads to crippling debt, a loveless marriage, a painful betrayal, a messy divorce, or cirrhosis of the liver.

In every case – whether we contribute to our misfortune, or whether it’s caused by circumstances we can’t control – in every case, our degree of brokenness affects both our level of pain and our ability to recover.

Enter God.

I’m going to ask you to do something very hard. I hope you’ll try it.

Instead of appealing to God about your suffering, appeal to him about your brokenness. It is here, in the healing of your brokenness, that your suffering will begin to diminish.

You can approach him again, later, about the suffering. You’ll know when it’s time.

Meanwhile, God can do things in you that you cannot do. He wants to. Why not let him?

–Bob Young
[6/15/2017]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

You (Vision 4)

"Hope in a Prison of Despair" by ArtistEvelyn De Morgan (1855–1919)

“Hope in a Prison of Despair” by Artist Evelyn De Morgan (1855–1919)

You just want to be loved. Is that so much to ask? Is that so hard? You look in the mirror, or you close your eyes and look inside your own head, and you see yourself, and you say, “I’m a nice person. I’m loving. I listen. I’m accepting. I don’t fight a lot, or quarrel, or tell people they’re wrong. I smile. I go along.”

And yet. And yet, relationships always end in pain. Mentally abused, emotionally abused, physically abused, sexually abused. Criticized. Belittled. Demeaned. Degraded. And, if you’re lucky, abandoned.

But even when you’re alone again, it doesn’t get any better. You hate being alone. It feels like failure. You look for that next relationship.

“This time it’ll be different. This time it’ll be better. I’ll be more careful this time. I’ve learned my lesson.”

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Should I try to teach you a lesson? Should I tell you where you went wrong? Should I give you advice? Should I tell you what to do next time?

No. There are probably people in your life who have earned the right to have those talks with you, but not me. Me? I’m just here to bring you healing. Healing for today’s pain. Healing for the bruises on your heart and mind. Healing for the scars that no one sees.

Notice that I didn’t say I’m here to heal you, because I can’t. I’m here to bring healing. But I’m not the Healer.

You know where I’m going. I don’t have anything to offer that doesn’t involve Jesus. I mean, he’s it. When I say I’m here to bring healing, it’s just another way of saying I’m here to bring Jesus.

I know. “If Jesus cared squat about my situation, Bob, wouldn’t he have already done something? Wouldn’t he bring the right person into my life? Wouldn’t he protect me from stupid mistakes? I mean, Bob – it’s not like I flipped Jesus the bird or something! He’s welcome to help me out. But what do I get? Nothing! Instead of bringing healing, how about if Jesus would just keep me from getting hurt like this in the first place?”

How can I say this? How can I help you understand, without sounding condescending? Father, I ask you to help the Reader understand. Life isn’t fair. Jesus knows pain, and betrayal, and abuse, and abandonment. It’s not like he gets all the comfort and you get all the suffering. Jesus suffers daily. But that’s for another article. For this article, for this moment, I just want to bring you into Jesus’ presence so that you can be healed.

May I pray for you? May I bring you into the full awareness of Jesus’ presence? If I may, then just keep reading. If not, then just click away. The Internet is a big place. You don’t have to be here. But, please. Stay.

Father, thank you for understanding, for knowing, what pain is. What it feels like. How bad it can be. Thank you for comprehending how unrelenting, how incessant, our pain can be. Thank you for knowing despair as your own experience. We see Jesus, on the cross, as he cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And we know that you understand. And yet, you have brought us something else. Resurrection. Yes, the tomb. But out of the tomb, new life. Our tomb becomes our womb, and we are born again. Father, for this one beautiful, precious person, reading these words right now, I ask it all. Your entire gift. Freedom from pain. Healing. Hope. New life. Forgiveness where forgiveness is needed. And a rejection of Satan’s accusations where there is no guilt to begin with. Bring strength for the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next chapter of life. Bring courage. Bring the strongest rejection of death. Bring No! to thoughts of ending it all. Bring Yes! to rising up, changing ways, changing friends, changing jobs, changing locations, changing habits, changing choices. Break chains, open doors, show options, illuminate good paths, draw new friends, replace tears with joy. Heal the hurt. Heal the heart. Heal the mind. Heal the body. Do what only you can do, Father – and the Reader and I, we’ll give you the thanksgiving and the glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

–Bob Young
[8/20/2016]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

You (Vision 3)

20160806 You Vision 03dYou’re a cutter. That’s okay. I don’t condemn you, or even criticize you. I mean, it’s not okay, because you’re hurting inside, and I don’t want you to hurt. But it’s okay in the sense that it doesn’t need to come between us. It makes me ache to feel your heart’s pain, but it doesn’t make me turn away. You know? Am I getting through okay?

There’s a cutter in the Bible. Did you know that? Cutting is old, really old.

“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’”
(Mark 5:1-7, ESV)

Jesus had no desire to torment him. That’s not like Jesus. If you read the next few verses of this story, you know what’s really great about it? What really makes my head spin? The best part – the very best part – is that Jesus started healing the guy before he asked to be healed.

The cutter was confused, though. Jesus was speaking to the unclean spirit: “Get out! Go away!” And the cutter, he was confused, and thought that Jesus was yelling at him. That’s why our cutter friend said, “Jesus, don’t torment me!”

The thing about cutting is, you really can’t help it. It’s not like you can just decide to stop or something. So when he thought Jesus was yelling at him, it all seemed so hopeless. It seemed like Jesus was like everyone else. The cutter expected Jesus to chase him away. It really didn’t occur to him – it couldn’t occur to him – that Jesus was chasing away the problem. Jesus wasn’t there to chase away the cutter; Jesus was there to chase away the Tormentor.

It’s interesting that the cutter knew Jesus’ name: “What have you to do with me, Jesus?” It’s not like Jesus was unknown to him. He just didn’t know yet why it mattered, how it could possibly matter. He already knew who Jesus was, but here’s my favorite part of the story: Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” (That’s in verse 9. It’s not in the part I quoted above).

Then the story goes really crazy, but if you’re a cutter, you’ll totally get it. The answer Jesus got was, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Whoa. When you read the story, you have to ask yourself, “Who is Jesus talking to, and who’s answering? Is Jesus talking to the cutter, or to his demons? And, who’s answering? Who is it, really?”

Now, I’m not saying you’re demon-possessed. But you kind of wouldn’t deny it, either, even if I did, would you? It’s like sometimes you’re thinking straight, and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you’re living your life, and sometimes it’s like you’re watching somebody else’s life, like you’re an outsider or something. But the stupid pain. That’s the constant. Not the pokes, not the slices. Not the glass or the blade or the needle.The deeper pain, the splitting of your soul where the agony oozes out, but never goes away. That’s the real pain.

And that’s where Jesus, who wants to know your name – Jesus, who wants to know you – enters in.

The cutter said to Jesus, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” Do you get what’s happening here? It’s really kind of beautiful. Out of the cutter’s mouth come the words. It sounds like the demons are speaking. It’s not him, it’s them. This disembodied sense of other. But it’s him. He speaks. And he asks Jesus to “send me away.” He wants the pain, the other, to be gone.

And that’s what Jesus does. Jesus, who wants to know his name, who wants to know him, does the miraculous. Jesus reached inside his very soul, knew him, pierced the cutter’s bleeding heart with his own healing hand, and took away the pain. Oh, more than that. Jesus didn’t just remove the pain. He removed its very source. And then Jesus closed up the wound. He healed the ragged, jagged edge. And, then, the most beautiful part – Jesus filled the empty spot created by the absence of the pain. Jesus filled the emptiness with his own presence and love.

You see, healing isn’t complete when you’re emptied of the horror and pain. Healing is complete when you’re filled, when you’re filled with what you were always meant to contain.

This is a spiritual truth. You can’t use words to really tell me why you cut, and I can’t use words to really tell you how Jesus changes things so you no longer need to cut. It’s a spiritual truth, beyond words. But it’s truth.

May I pray for you?

Father, give your much-loved child this mercy. Know her! Know him! Show your child that there is no condemnation, that you have come for the very purpose of taking the pain away. Be the ears that hear, and the voice that is heard. Speak heart to heart of your tender love, and command Harm and Pain to leave. In Jesus’ name I ask it for this Reader, right now. Amen.

–Bob Young
[8/6/2016]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

P.S. You may have noticed that the truths in this article are equally valid for other situations and other people, too. Really, it can apply to any sort of self-harm or self-destructive practices. Who do you know that could benefit from this message?

Nine Lepers

Nine Lepers

Chapter 1: The Angry Leper

Matthat still had his eyes closed. The sounds of the morning’s activities were beginning to intrude on his sleep, and he was just beginning to wake up. He was vaguely aware of two young girls passing by his window, talking to each other, water sloshing in their jars as they carried them home. The birds were up. He could hear wings flapping as they came and went from the roof, searching for food. As he became more awake, softer sounds, farther away, began to register. A dog barked. Doors opened. Cooking fires crackled. Next door, Jude groaned sleepily as his wife urged him to get up.

“Thank you, God, that I don’t have a wife to nag me,” Matthat said to himself. He always prayed this way. If you asked God to describe Matthat’s prayers, God would tell you, “Even when he thanks me, he manages to get in a good complaint.”

Matthat opened his eyes now, and looked at the dim, early light coming in through the window. It was too early to tell yet if this day would be sunny or overcast, but it wasn’t too early to get up. He would need to be in the barley field soon. He sat up on his mat and rubbed his eyes. Then, without even changing position in his small one-room home, he reached into his bag hanging on the wall and pulled out a barley loaf. He pulled off pieces and ate them, chewing slowly, and occasionally taking a sip from his waterskin.

It was time to go. Matthat tied the thongs on his sandals, grabbed his bag and waterskin, and ducked a little to get through the door. He turned left and walked down the dirt street. Now, most people who lived in the section of the village where Matthat lived, and who wanted to go to the barley fields west of town, would turn right at the next intersection. Doing so would take them straight to the main road by the shortest possible route. Matthat never went that way. If he did, he would have to walk right past his parents’ home, and he certainly didn’t want to do that. No, the less contact he had with them, the better, as far as he was concerned. So Matthat continued walking down the street until he came to the third intersection, and then he turned right. This route took him out of town on a smaller, less traveled road that wound around the back side of the barley fields. There was one stretch of this road from which he could see his parents’ home, situated on the edge of the barley field the family had owned for generations. But he was safely out of earshot, and far enough away to be difficult to recognize. He was just another person walking on the road.

Often, he didn’t even glance in their direction when he came to the place where he could see his old home. But today he looked.  There was his parents’ house, where he had been born twenty-seven years ago. He had lived there until he was twenty-four, when his leprosy appeared. Closest to his parents’ house was the home of his older brother, Nathan, and Nathan’s wife and son and daughter. Set back a little farther, right by the edge of the field, was the house, currently empty, that would be Matthat’s if he ever married. If he ever decided to forgive his parents and brother. If he ever decided to go home again.

Matthat turned his eyes forward to the next field, and for the first time this particular morning he smiled. The plants were doing well. This field was owned by Lemuel, and this was where Matthat worked. Lemuel had known Matthat’s family since long before Matthat was born. When the priest had pronounced Matthat clean and cured of his leprosy, Lemuel gladly hired him, without asking too many questions or reminding him that he should be working on his father’s land. Lemuel was old now, and his joints were getting stiff. He needed someone who could walk easily and do all the bending and lifting required to water and weed the crops.

Lemuel was outside feeding his donkey when Matthat came up the path. “Good morning, Matthat! Did you sleep well?”

“Well enough, thanks. How about you?”

Lemuel grimaced and groaned. “Oh, I sleep well enough – twenty times a night! It seems like I’ve just fallen asleep, and then I wake up sore. I roll over to ease the pain a bit, fall back asleep – and the same thing happens again. Take my advice, Matthat. Stay young, and don’t grow old.”

Matthat laughed. “I’m sure it’s good advice. Now, can you tell me how to accomplish it?”

Lemuel put some more hay in front of the donkey as he said, “If I knew how, I wouldn’t be stiff and sore.”

Picking up the hoe, Matthat gave his cheerful retort: “Well, I’ll think about the problem while I’m weeding today. This evening I’ll come back with the answer, and we can both be boys again.”

He headed out across the field to where he had left off the day before. He enjoyed the smell of the growing barley grass as he walked. The sight of the healthy plants pleased him. He felt like he was accomplishing something useful, something worthwhile.

But as he walked, his mood began to darken. Today he would be weeding close to the boundary between Lemuel’s field and his father’s. Every step closer to the edge of the field made the past seem closer to the present.

He kept his eyes to the ground, then, and concentrated on the work at hand. With the skill that can only be obtained by experience, he worked the soil, removing as many weeds as possible, yet without disturbing the roots of the barley. Soon he wasn’t thinking much about anything at all. The whole universe was distilled down to the dirt, the plants, an occasional bug, and his own breathing. Stop, wipe away the sweat, and bend again.

At midday, though, the comfortable monotony was broken by the sound of his brother’s voice coming from the next field.

“Matthat! Hello! It’s good to see you!”

He barely looked up. “Hello, Nathan.” He went on with his weeding.

Nathan wouldn’t be put off so easily, though. Matthat could hear the brushing sound as he walked through the field, coming closer.

“Lemuel’s crops are doing well, Matthat. You’re taking good care of his field.”

Matthat kept on working. “Thanks.”

There was a long pause, and then Nathan tried again. “It’s been a lot of work without you, but Father’s barley is doing well, too. We hired a man to help out, since you haven’t been there. I’m sure you’ve seen him.” No response. “Do you think you’ll come back to help us next season? You know you’re welcome.”

It was too much for Matthat. Now he stood up, faced his brother fully, and the words boiled out of his mouth. “Oh, I’m welcome, am I? Sure, you and Father want me around when there’s work to be done! You want me around when you need me! But where were you when I needed you? For over two years, while I wasted away in the lepers’ camp – how much did you want me then?”

“Matthat, we did what we could. You had leprosy.”

“How many times did you and Father come see me, Nathan?”

Nathan was silent.

“Twice, Nathan. Once after each harvest, you and Father came and brought me blankets and clothes. At first, I woke up each day thinking, ‘Maybe today they’ll come and see me.’ But each day was the same. The servants of the priests came with their baskets of food, set them down outside the camp, and left as fast as they could. Even Mother couldn’t bear to come more than once a month. My own mother!”

Nathan responded quietly, gently. “Matthat, you had leprosy. Would you have liked it better if we had all caught your disease? If we had become leprous, too, and joined you in the camp? We’re just glad you’re well.”

Matthat had hoped that his words would produce a different reaction. He had hoped that his brother, with tear-filled eyes, would say, “Oh Matthat! I was so wrong! Truly, I neglected you, and I shouldn’t have! Please, I beg you, forgive me!” Since he didn’t get the response he wanted, he turned his back on his brother and began walking across the field away from him. As he walked he studied the ground with careful intensity, looking for any stray weed on which he might vent his wrath.

Frustrated and disappointed, Nathan turned and walked back to his father’s field. He, too, had hoped for a different reaction. He had hoped that Matthat would say, “Oh Nathan, I’m being too harsh on you! It was wise of you to avoid risking the possibility of becoming unclean yourself – you have a family to provide for. The priests took care of my needs – you needed to take care of your wife and children!”

Matthat found what he was looking for. Here was an area with plenty of weeds to be removed, and it was a long way from where he had left Nathan standing. Being careful to remain facing away from his father’s field, he began weeding again. As he worked, he justified his anger by remembering the painful past.

All he had done was bend over to pick up a bucket. That’s all. He picked up a bucket, and his life was ruined. As he bent over to pick it up, his hair parted and fell along his cheeks on both sides of his face. His neck was exposed. His father had been there. He noticed a white blotch on Matthat’s skin, right at the line of the collar of his robe. Matthat didn’t know it was there. It didn’t itch, or at least not that he had noticed. Perhaps he had been rubbing the back of his neck; he didn’t remember. It certainly itched later. But his father had noticed the spot, and it concerned him so much that he immediately took Matthat to the priest to be examined. Matthat still couldn’t remember exactly what the priest had said. He just remembered being numb with shock. He had been pronounced unclean.

 

(To be continued…)

The Healing of Ten Lepers James Tissot, 1836-1902

The Healing of Ten Lepers
James Tissot, 1836-1902

Author’s Note

In Luke 17, Jesus healed ten lepers. Only one of them ever came back to thank him. Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed [healed]? Where are the nine?” (Luke 17:17) The excerpt above is from my book, Nine Lepers. In this work of fiction, I explore some possible worlds of people who have been healed, or in other ways received God’s blessing, and yet continue to live their lives apart from God. Are you interested in reading more? Would you please share this excerpt with others? I hope you’ll comment below, too. May God bless you richly – and may you live your life as an appropriate response to his grace.

–Bob Young
July 2, 2016
All copyrights reserved.

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

"Jesus Heals Two Blind Men" by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib Egyptian scribe (most likely a Coptic monk) Circa 1684 Walters Art Museum Manuscript W.592

“Jesus Heals Two Blind Men”
by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib
Egyptian scribe (most likely a Coptic monk)
Circa 1684
Walters Art Museum
Manuscript W.592

Matthew told us an interesting story in his Gospel:

“And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ And stopping, Jesus called them and said, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.”
(Matthew 20:29-34, ESV)

God is sovereign, and Jesus can do what he wants. Still, if we are to take Jesus’ historical behavior as an example of how he behaves today – if the gospels give us any precedent by which we might understand Jesus – then we will acknowledge this: he doesn’t take away your blindness if you don’t ask.

Luke told us this story in his Gospel:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
‘He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
(Luke 4:16-21, ESV)

Yes, Jesus gives sight to the blind. But not all of the blind want to see. There is more than one type of sight, and more than one type of blindness. Some who are blind in one way, because they can see in another way, say “We are not blind.”

Jesus told the religious leaders that they were blind:
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, . . .” (Matthew 23:16)

It’s dangerous to protest Jesus’ words, and say, “We aren’t blind.”

“Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.’”
(John 9:40-41)

I’m going to invite you to do something that is unsettling, frightening, even terrifying. I invite you to join the two blind men that Jesus met on the road to Jericho.

“Lord, let my eyes be opened.”

If you don’t mean it, of course, nothing will change.

Or, if you’re not blind, nothing will change, either.

But if you mean it, and if you are unwittingly blind, everything will change. Because Jesus was sent to recover the sight of the blind.

How will it happen? How will you begin to see with spiritual eyes that have been opened to the life and activity of Jesus?

It will be a miracle.

You’ll experience an inner transformation. You’ll think thoughts you never thought before. You’ll see people differently, and you’ll hear them differently. Sometimes their words will be the audible voice of God, speaking to you. Your perspective will change. The Holy Spirit will be alive and active in you, and there will be no mistaking his thoughts for your thoughts.

Why? Because his thoughts are not your thoughts. His thoughts are higher than yours. You could never think his thoughts in a million years. God has to reveal his thoughts to you. And when he does, you see.

It starts with asking.

“Lord, let my eyes be opened.”

How brave are you? How desperately do you long for the ability to see as Jesus sees?

Just ask. It’s what Jesus does, and he’ll do it for you. But you have to ask.

–Bob Young
[5/21/2016]

Did you like reading this? Then you should buy one of my books. (Thank you!)
Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

 

How Christ Sets You Free

Photo credit: 19th century Italian prison by Giuliana Radice

Photo credit: 19th century Italian prison by Giuliana Radice

Now I will tell you why many Christians aren’t freedom-bringers or chain breakers. It is because they aren’t free, and their chains aren’t broken. Many Christians can’t join Jesus in setting the captives free, because they are still captives. Many Christians can’t join Jesus in healing, because they’re still sick themselves.

The reason many Christians are still captives is because they became Christians for their own benefit, rather than becoming Christians for Jesus’ benefit. We have done the world a disservice by selling Christianity on the merits of what it brings to the believer.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “ I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
(Philippians 4:12-13, ESV)

May I speak to you in very personal terms? If you will allow this, then keep reading. As long as you’re looking for the gain that comes from being a Christian, it will elude you. Remember that you have called Jesus Lord and Master, and rightly so. Your life is now for his benefit. Your joy, your gain, will be found in the only place it exists – in your submission to your Lord and Master, Jesus.

Now that you belong to him, if you seek your own happiness, it will be happiness without fulfillment. If you seek your own wealth, you will find that possessions are no vaccination against poverty. If you seek your own security, it will come with fear, behind walls and locks.

Here is a mystery:
Jesus Christ gives you freedom as you apply hammer and chisel to the chains of the one next to you.
You are fed as you feed others.
You are healed as you heal others.

You cannot for long be simply a “receiver” of grace. God’s grace isn’t something you contain; it’s something that passes through you. You are not a pond to hold God’s living water. Water in a pond grows stagnant. No, you are a streambed, and you will continually enjoy his living water only when it passes through you to others.

–Bob Young
[5/1/2016]

Did you like reading this? Then you should buy one of my books. (Thank you!)
Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/Bob-Young/e/B00E6Z8PKW

 

 

A Beginner’s Guide To Hearing God Speak

"The Praying Hands" by Otto Greiner (1869–1916)

“The Praying Hands” by Otto Greiner (1869–1916)

I’ve been teaching it wrong for years. Now I know better, so it’s time to teach it the right way.

Many times, in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and articles, I have made statements similar to this: “Start obeying what God is telling you to do right now, and you’ll hear God’s voice more and more clearly.” It’s true enough. But it’s not the first step. It doesn’t work for beginners. After all, it’s scary to obey when you don’t know the One who is giving you the orders very well. It makes you nervous, and you ask yourself, “Am I really hearing God’s voice, or is this something I’m making up? Or, even worse! – Am I hearing some other voice?”

So while it’s true enough that you’ll hear God more and more as you obey what he’s already told you, there needs to be some clear teaching about how it begins. It’s interesting to me that the same Bible passages I use to teach hearing and obedience are the very passages that teach what comes first!

Consider the story of Gideon in Judges, chapter 6:

Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
(Judges 6:11-13, ESV)

Do you notice what the very first thing is that the angel of the Lord said to Gideon? It wasn’t, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” No, that comes next, but it’s not first.

The first words Gideon heard were words of encouragement: “The Lord is with you . . .” And the second words Gideon heard revealed a new picture of himself; the angel told Gideon how God saw him . . . “O mighty man of valor.”

I’ve been teaching it wrong. I’ve been leaving something out, and I didn’t even know it.

Before God tells you what he wants from you, he gives you what you need.

Gideon had a discussion with God, and went through a period of reassurance and experience that prepared him for what was to come. And sure enough, he became, through obedience, exactly what God had already seen – a mighty man of valor.

For our next example, let’s move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and from a man’s story to a woman’s story. Consider, now, young Mary, who was about to become the mother of Jesus.

The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
(Luke 1:28-30, ESV)

It’s the same thing here as with Gideon: Before God tells you what he wants from you, he gives you what you need.

Mary needed to know, first, that God was with her. Oh, she knew God was with others, like her pious relatives, Zechariah and Elizabeth. But to personally hear that the Lord was with her? She wanted that to be true. She loved God. But – you know how it is – we need to hear it. We need to hear it from God.

You need God himself to speak his love to you. You need God himself to say that he delights in you, that he’s with you, and that there’s no more reason to be afraid.

And God knows that there is no point in telling you what to do until he has met your deepest and most basic needs. He heals you. He fixes what’s broken in you. He cleans you. He restores you. He strengthens you. He fills you. This is what you will hear first.

And now I’m going to tell you how to hear God’s message of deliverance for you.

For this part, we’ll go back to the Old Testament, to the story of a young boy named Samuel.

And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
(I Samuel 3:10, ESV)

This wasn’t the first time that God had spoken to Samuel. God always speaks first. God initiates contact. God has already reached out to you. But this was the first time Samuel knew what to do. “Speak, for your servant hears.” This time, alone in a quiet room, free of distractions, Samuel was ready to hear God.

Will you do this? Will you come to the appointment for your healing? The bloodiest hurt in your heart, the deepest scar in your mind, the most terrifying fear in your soul – God is ready, not to tell you what to do – but to give you what you need.

When he speaks to you it may surprise you, and that’s part of how you’ll know it’s real. The hurt, the scar, and the fear often have a different source than what you think. When God speaks to your real need, and fills the real emptiness, you’ll know that it was him, and that he knows you better than anyone.

Find your time to listen to God. Don’t try to predict what he’ll say. Just listen, and let him speak. His still, small voice will lead you to the most powerful force in your life.

–Bob Young
[4/22/2016]

 

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Books by Bob Young
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