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Jul 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 26, 2015 – 1 Corinthians 2:12, 14-16

Contemplative Prayer Part Four:
Listening to God

And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city. (Acts 18:9-10)
It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.” (Acts 22:17-18)

Intro: From its infancy, Christian experience took this for granted: God spoke to people

Besides the verses above, the book of Acts provides many instances (e.g., 10:9-16; 16:6-10 & 23:11)
– notice that it was frequently while in prayer that people heard from God
• the means God used varied–in visions, by angels, in community and through his Spirit

We know Christians who seem to have open channel to God
– as though he talks to them all them time – even about trivial issues
• others of us feel like God never talks to us
◦ at least not audibly or all that clearly
• does God want to communicate with us? Does he talk to people today?
– Jesus’ promised to disciples:

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot hear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. . . . He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. (Jn. 14:18; 16:12-14)

• the Book of Acts provides examples of the fulfillment of his promise
◦ if God wants to speak to us, when and in what ways can we try to “hear” him?
• God typically speaks to us by his Spirit, through the Scriptures and in prayer
◦ however, we do not want to limit our willingness to hear him by any means he chooses
◦ to hear directly from God is always a gift of his grace

To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 13:11)
I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” (Lk. 10:21)

Contemplative prayer is a moment of focused attention on God with an openness to his grace

God’s voice enters us by way of our spirit, not our ears

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. . . . But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised [discerned]. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Cor. 2:12:14-16

Living in the Spirit deepens our understanding of God — through an “inner knowing”
– God’s work in our lives becomes clearer to us, because “we have the mind of Christ”
• but the process is subtle and mostly hidden from our intellect and senses
• stillness and silence are our best means of developing sensitivity to the motions of God’s Spirit

When first listening for God, our experience of his voice may be vague
– so vague, in fact, that we can easily dismiss it
• something enters our field of awareness — an impulse, impression, scene or object, or thought
• it’s like someone slipped an envelope under our door
◦ but if we run and open the door, no one is there
– later, our awareness becomes sharper
• we begin to recognize the moment of God’s communication – it has a unique “feel”
• we experience what God’s Spirit “discloses” in a variety of ways
◦ today we will go over two of them: discovery and discernment

In prayer, there are moments of discovery (revelation; e.g., Ep. 1:17)

When this occurs, we are not discovering new truths
– instead, it may be a new insight into an “old” truth (one that we already know)
• or it may be a new understanding of a truth whose meaning had eluded us
• or it may be a new application of a truth to our current situation
– the last point highlights the fact that the discovery is always personal
• it may sometimes be helpful to others, but its value is rarely universal
• the message is for me and primarily between God and me

This explains why, in our Lectio Divina meetings:
– twelve of us can go over the same passage,
• engage in the same conversation, in which all of us receive a valuable insight, gift, challenge
• yet each one receives something different

We do need safeguards, however, because we know we can be mistaken
– therefore we “test” the message that we suspect might be from God

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 Jn. 4:1)

• we are able to perform this test in scripture and in community
• and this brings us to another way we experience God’s voice

In prayer there are moments of discernment

There’s a cluster of words in the New Testament that have to do with discernment
– they all spin out of the Greek word, krino
krino and its cognates include to distinguish, to separate, to judge, to approve, to condemn
– we learn to exercise discernment rationally and intuitively
• rational: examine and note distinguishing traits
◦ then determine the meaning and “value” (right or wrong) of those distinctions
• intuitive: a perception that is experienced–for example, a “gut feeling”
◦ it’s like feeling for a pulse — we are not depending on what we see or hear
◦ to focus on what we feel, we may shut our eyes and try not to listen to anything else

Our intuitive senses are strengthened as we mature in faith

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Heb. 5:14, where the Greek word for senses means organs of perception)

– it is not with the physical senses that we “discern” good from evil
• in spiritual discernment, it is with our spirit’s organs of perception that we know (1 Cor. 2:13)
– our discernment, however, is not always discriminating between good and evil
• and we are especially not interested in always wanting to find and identify evil

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. (Php. 1:9-10, NIV)

◦ Paul wanted believers to look for “the things that are excellent,” superior, best
• sometimes we must discern between if the timing of something is right or wrong
◦ or we need to discern between two choices that are both good

It has been my experience in contemplative prayer:
– the grace to discern occurs more frequently than the grace to discover
– all sorts of things bubble to surface of awareness during contemplative prayer
• God shines his light on those things as we sit quietly in his presence, listening

A few examples of the discernment we receive from God in prayer

We discern appearance from reality (Jn. 7:24)
– my thoughts and feelings appear to be truth, but they are not reality
– concepts of God may be how God appears to our intellect, but they are not God
• God is not a concept
– the person I appear to be (to myself or others) may not be my true self
(Ro. 6:6; 13:14; Col. 3:9-10)

Abbot John Chapman, “We are two [people]. There is the natural self, which is rebelling all the time, and the higher self which says:–‘I don’t want this [e.g., trouble, problem, pain]; I hate it, it is not me; but I accept it as a trial, a suffering.’
“The difficulty is that the other self replies:–‘But I am rebelling, and I want to leave Religion. I want all sorts of things.’
“We have to take care to live on the higher plane. But we can’t feel we are living on the higher plane, except from time to time. On the contrary, the trial consists in the fact that we feel, very vividly, that the lower self is the real self; whereas we only know most obscurely and indistinctly and elusively that the higher self is the real self.”

We discern between surface and depth
– a few weeks ago, I was meditating on the phrase, “the surface of the deep” (Job 38:30)
• it snagged me because I had long thought of surface and depth as opposites
• and not two aspects of one thing–or one person
◦ I imagined the frozen surface of a deep lake — two layers of one lake
◦ immediately it became obvious that people I had considered deep had a shallow side and people I had considered shallow had a deep side
– in discernment, we see (and perhaps accept) the surface for what it is, but try to get beneath it
• sadly, the thicker the frozen surface of a lake, the stronger and more solid it is
◦ and the less likely anything will penetrate it and reach the depths
• in contemplative prayer we seek to thaw the frozen surface

We discern between the center and the periphery – what’s most important?
– we can’t count on the future–for example:
“When I have enough money, I’ll settle into living each moment”
“When I get married, I’ll be content.”
“When my husband makes the changes like he promised, I’ll address my own needs.”
• we live in this moment and we must be reconciled to it
◦ a life lived on the periphery is a waste of God’s grace
• in contemplative prayer, we keep returning to God, at the center of our lives

We discern between exciting and ecstatic experiences and “true spirituality”
– the human nervous system has a capacity to produce extraordinary states of bliss
• such states can be manufactured or worked up (or manipulated by others)
◦ most every ancient religion used rituals known to induce these states
• the more real God’s work in us, less we need spiritual thrills
◦ it is also important to live in God without them, because the real deal is very rare
◦ after all, we want God more than any sort of feeling, spiritual or otherwise

We discern between objectivity and subjectivity
– this is not a situation in which one is better than the other
• we want to objectify (emotionally detach from) our negative thoughts and emotions
◦ “This is what I may feel but it’s not me” or “I don’t have to own this”
• we want to be subjective in our relationship with God
◦ to personalize everything we learn about God
◦ to be emotionally, psychologically and in every other way attached to God
– rule of thumb:
• when you want to objectify something: label it (and keep your distance)
• when you want to be subjective about something: experience it (get up close)

Two examples that are cliche, but there is still truth to them:
When we need to discern between our walk and our talk
– we need lots of  help in seeing the truth about ourselves
When we need to discern between our needs and our wants

Joan Chittister, “Why not have all the things I can have? Because I don’t need them, and they clutter the soul and tie me down to the lesser things in life. No time for sacred reading while I clean the pool; no time for the family while I’m climbing the corporate ladder . . . . No time even to learn the value of money when what I use it for isn’t needed at all. But this degree of humility that calls us to be content with less frees us from the cloying burden of the unnecessary in life.”

Conc: After all of this, we can still insist, “God never talks to me!”

But when we do, it is possible that he responds to us as he did to Israel:

. . . I spoke to them but they did not listen, and I have called them but they did not answer. (Jer. 35:17)

How hard do we have to try to hear God?
Well, how much effort does it take to listen to your favorite music?
Don’t we just sit back and enjoy it?
Please take time this week, every day if possible, to sit back and enjoy listening to God


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  1. Ingrid Starrs / Jul 30 2015

    The mind is powerful. It works all the time. Like a computer, as long as it’s plugged in it’s an image-making machine. Four stages of brainwork gone uninterrupted will move something like this. First a thought or word drops into consciousness and then an image is created. Think lemon. What do you see? A piece of yellow fruit will appear. Weather your eyes are open or closed you can picture a lemon. The image evokes an emotion and the emotion stirs an action or reaction. Imagine sinking your teeth into that fresh juicy lemon. The emotion causes your mouth to pucker and your tongue to water.

    Thought, image, emotion, action, over and over again. You can’t stop it. The amazing thing is that the process happens without coming in direct contact with a lemon. It all happens with the memory of a lemon. Ninety-nine percent of thought is stimulated from past experience or future imaginings. If we agree that the past is over and no longer exists and the future is simply a dream then ninety-nine percent of the time we’re thinking about nothing. Absolutely nothing. With this model, if ninety-nine percent of thought is wasted on nothing then only one percent of thought is open to inspiration.

    Freedom is in the recognition that image looping has no purpose and we need but do nothing. The sweet sound of silence is God’s segue to drop in and take one measly percent of inspiration and multiply it a hundredfold. The practice of contemplative prayer can open our world in a way that we bond and connect with whomever and whatever we encounter peacefully. It can teach us to observe the flow of energy moving above us, below us, in us, and all around us without judgment.

    “Reality itself converts us,” as Paula D’Arcy puts it, “God comes to you disguised as your life.”

    I’ll never forget the first time I read the statement. It was like a switch flipped a high beam in my soul and everything became brighter. Before the statement I had cloudy encounters with God, dim communication at best, but after the statement it became clear God loved me so much that He wanted to communicate with me all the time. Ephesians 4:4-6

    I come from the perspective that we are born whole body and soul. If we are physically or emotionally damaged our natural impulse is to move in the direction of healing to become whole again. The Mother ship (God) always calls her Jedi Knights (us) home.

    Synchronicities, dreams, life events, all have meaning. They’re not random occurrences but messages from God for our growth and development. It is an unfolding process. When we look at life, our thoughts and the way our creative image making mind works it is awe-inspiring. When we learn to embrace everything as one God coming to us disguised as our life then we see and hear nothing but God communicating.

    Chuck your Reflexions always inspires me to think higher thoughts. I appreciate your years of devotion the way you celebrate discipline. It makes me want a more disciplined prayer life. Thanks for leading by example.

  2. Kathleen Scopaz / Aug 10 2015

    Would it be possible to post a booklist of books / authors mentioned during worship service and on Wednesday evenings? Thank you!

  3. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Aug 10 2015

    Yes, Kathleen. Both Jim and I would be happy to provide that information. Unless you have a specific subject in mind, it would be difficult to backtrack and provide a list of books we have referenced in the last several weeks–it would be a long list. But in the future we could provide those references immediately.

    (Our blog site requires that every comment be “moderated” before it is approved for posting.)


  4. Kathleen Scopaz / Aug 14 2015

    Wonderful! Thank you. Going forward would be great.

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