13- LIFE IN GOD'S KINGDOM--Communication - Part 1
By Colleen Donahue
The next two studies should be part of the one just finished on relationship as they are closely connected. But like relationship, it's so important that it needs a look on its own. Communication as we will soon see takes in our whole being so that it's much more than just talking.
If you have ever drifted away from another person that was once a friend or a spouse, I can almost bet that at the base of the divide was lack of communication in some way. Someone stopped listening, or talking, or asking questions, or praising the other person until finally all that was left was a hollow relationship with nothing inside. Relationship without communication becomes almost meaningless.
So it is with our relationship with the Lord Jesus. At the first He is everything to us. But if you don't communicate with Him then soon you drift into religious ritual of doing, doing, doing without the deep rest of abiding in Him. I am purposely not calling this communication with God "prayer". As soon as we do that we may feel completely inadequate. So let's keep to what we know something about for the moment.
We have been "put right with God" through the work of Jesus on the cross. But it's only those who appropriate His work into their lives that have "peace with God". We do this by repenting of our sins, thanking Jesus for crucifying our old natures in Himself when He was dying, and then, receiving His Spirit to indwell their own.
This is the ground work that must be in place for ongoing communication with God. It's called being "born again" and when this takes place we become part of God's family, part of His kingdom and we are at peace with Him. Real communication only works between two people who are at peace with each other rather than at odds with one another.
In fact, if we are not at peace with God then you'll probably have little or no inclination to want to talk with Him. If we are sufficient in ourselves, and with all the answers, then we'll have no need to talk with God. But if the day comes when we are weak, have no answers to what we're facing, and are helpless to change, then it will be a good day. That's because we'll have reason to look up to our Father who has been waiting for us all along.
The Father is crazy about us. He loves when we come to talk with Him about anything and everything. Nothing is too small or too big. Once we get started, pretty soon we'll be talking and listening and loving each other all day long.
1. While there are many similarities between communicating with people and communicating with God, there is one huge difference. I start with this difference not to make us afraid but rather aware that we have the privilege to talk with the almighty God of the universe, the Lord of Heaven and earth. How does a recognition of this come?
Psalm 46:10a / Habakkuk 2:20
It's the same thing that Jesus was getting at when he gave us a pattern for prayer. What's the first thing He tells us to say?
This didn't mean we were to spit back this memorized line as we usually do. He wanted us to pause and recognize WHO we were talking with. We live in an age that is constantly going and doing and moving. It's a noisy time. So if you are going to deepen your relationship with God you will need to learn to be still and know that He is God.
2. What command does God give to us in this verse?
In some Bible versions it says, "Obey me...." but in many versions it says, "Obey my voice...." This means that God wants you to recognize his voice and that it's possible to do so.
Remember when you were a child out playing? The only voice you responded to was your mom's voice because you knew it and were tuned into it. So too, only those who belong to Jesus will know His voice which is also the voice of our Father.
3. There are times in history and even today when God speaks audibly. But most often God's voice comes to us when the indwelling Holy Spirit communicates to our spirit and we just "know" something that we couldn't otherwise know. By receiving the Spirit of Jesus (called the Holy Spirit) into our own spirit He becomes the receiver by which we hear God speak.
John refers to the indwelling Spirit of God as the Spirit of Truth because He helps us to sort out what is really from God vs. other voices -- including our own.
John 14:17 / John 16:13
4. The main way that we hear the voice of God is through reading and studying the Bible. That's why the Bible is called "the Word of God". What instruction did God give to Joshua as the one who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land? Make a list from these two verses.
All of scripture -- both Old and New Testaments -- is inspired by God. It is his voice or word to you. If you don't read and study it on a regular basis what will you miss out on?
2 Timothy 3:16
It is this voice of God through His Word that will equip you for your purpose in life.
2 Timothy 3:17
5. God's written word is called the Bible, but His Son Jesus is called the living Word of God. Why?
Where did Jesus, the living Word, come from?
And what was He born on earth to do?
This "truth" that Jesus came to testify to is the truth that there is a God who is the Creator of Heaven and earth and who is also our Father who lives in Heaven.
So when we listen to the voice of God we may be hearing it through the Bible. We may be hearing it through revelation from the indwelling Holy Spirit. Or, we may be hearing it from Jesus who is alive through his followers. All are one and the same voice. But it is a moment by moment abiding in Jesus, as the living vine, that will tune our ear to the Father's voice. Remember Jesus' stern warning to the Pharisees?
Let's suppose that you are married to a man or woman that has a book written about them. Every night when you come home from work you grab that book and start to read. You are eager and anxious to know all about the person you married. Meal times are especially a favorite for reading and of course when you go to bed. Then, when you get up in the morning you take the time for more intensive study of the book. And while you are reading all about your wife or husband they are sitting there at the table or next to you in bed waiting for your attention --- waiting for you to know them as a REAL person living in the same house! This is an absurd example, but it's what the Pharisees were doing. They studied all that the prophets wrote about the Messiah who was coming. They memorized verses and meditated on them. But when Jesus finally came into their midst, having fulfilled every one of the prophesies, they did not recognize Him.
So, while it's important to study the written word of God, it's equally important to spend time with the living word -- Jesus.
6. If you are just getting started in your relationship with Jesus start with five minutes of just being still and quiet. Go somewhere without distraction and let Jesus know that you'd just like to "hang out with Him". Getting your soul (mind, will and emotions) quiet is not easy, but soon five minutes will turn to ten. This is where King David had to start as well.
Psalm 131:1-2 (especially vs. 2)
A weaned child is one who is no longer dependent on his mother's milk and is now ready to eat real food. When you make this simple start to sit still with Jesus, you are declaring that you are ready to start hearing his voice -- directly.
PERSONAL SHARING ALL DAY LONG
"Good morning Father. Thank you for a good night of rest. Thank you Jesus for watching over me all night and praying for me continually. Thank you Holy Spirit for your indwelling presence and for this coming day with you."
This is how I wake up. I start the day with a recognition of God and all He has done for me while I slept. It's similar to how we greet our spouse or roommate. It's also the beginning of ongoing communication throughout the day.
The sooner we realize as a young believer that the Spirit that filled Jesus is dwelling in our own spirit, the sooner you'll understand why we listen and share together all day long.
One of our greatest privileges as children of God is that we have continual access to the throne of God -- our King and Creator and Father. So after learning to be still so we can listen to God, then it's important we begin to share our life with Him the same way we share it with our spouse and friends.
7. This will mean listening and talking the way we would with another person. We are conversing with our Father in Heaven. We don't need to talk loud, wave our hands in the air, and repeat certain phrases over and over. We'd think it strange if someone did that to us when we were standing in the same room. God is by our side as well. In fact where does it say we are located spiritually in relation to God?
There is no need to shout, wave, and repeat. He can see and hear us just fine.
So as we go through our day, we can include God in everything. We can do so all the time and anywhere. Here are personal examples for me as I travel in my job as a sales representative.
-"Father, this is a difficult part of the city to get a parking place. Could you open one up near to where I need to go? (Then I make sure to thank Him for it!)
-"Lord, this is a difficult customer. Help me to be a blessing to them. Work through me so that they will see you. "
-When my plans fall through I look up and say, "Lord Jesus what is YOUR plan since my plans have collapsed?" Then I listen and do the next thing that comes up in my spirit.
-"Lord, as I make phone calls this morning to confirm appointments would you give me your grace and favor so that I will have the fullest schedule you'd want me to have?"
-"Holy Spirit, will you help me to understand why this situation happened and how I could do it different the next time? "
8. Can you see how specific and personal our communication with God is meant to be? And when God gives me a parking place, shows me what to do next, grants me favor with customers etc. I am quick to thank Him for the answer. And so we go back and forth all day long. This is the kind of praying Paul was advising to the Philippians.
And when you go through your entire day with Jesus like this, you'll find that walking in His continual presence becomes a reality. It's abiding continually as a branch on His vine and letting the sap of the Holy Spirit flow through us. What happens as a result of this personal sharing all day long?
9. Because the indwelling Holy Spirit is a spiritual reality rather than a physical one, it means that even while we are talking with other people, teaching a class, or working on a machine we can be sharing with the Lord and He with us. The Holy Spirit is our live-in helper. He will communicate to us whatever the Father and Jesus want us to know and understand.
And because our relationship with Jesus is close and personal, Jesus encourages us to go to the Father directly and use the authority of His name.
What does this mean?
In earlier days people had accounts with their local stores. A mother could send her child down to the grocery store to pick up milk and eggs. At the check out counter the child might say, "Hello Mr. Johnson. My mom asked if you would put these things on her account." Mr. Johnson knowing the child was coming as the mother's representative would let them take the items based on her authority.
Well, if we belong to Jesus, God knows us as his own son or daughter. So He can honor our request directly, knowing that Jesus sent us.
We may hear others say at the end of their prayers, ".... in Jesus' name -- Amen." What has become a tag line to prayer really means that we are coming to the Father directly for such and such because Jesus has asked us to do so. We come in the authority of His name as the Son of God and one with the Father.
PUT YOUR OWN OXYGEN MASK ON FIRST
As a young Christian I wanted to communicate with God but it frustrated me. I'd run out of words and things to pray about. I knew from the Bible I could pray for others and circumstances and God would move on my behalf. But no sooner would I start praying than my mind would be off to my own problems and circumstances.
Like so many of us, I had a lot of my own "issues" and problems which dominated my life. This is partly what made it so hard to keep focused on others and their problems when I had a mountain of my own.
Then I learned something that changed everything for me. God loves to hear his own words shared back with Him. When he hears any of his children saying to Him, "Father, you promised that if I didn't worry about anything and instead talked with you about everything then your own peace would guard my mind and heart as I walked through my day with Jesus. I have this situation to walk through today and I need your peace because just thinking about it all makes me anxious. I come to you now and ask for that peace which you promised me. I thank you in advance for it."
This prayer is straight out of Philippians 4:6-7. I heard from more experienced believers about how they "prayed the word" and my heart responded with a big, "Yes!"
If you have ever been on a flight with your kids you've heard the flight attendants tell you that in case of emergency the oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling and you are to put your own mask on first and then your kids. If you don't, you won't be able to help your kids.
This principle is also true in prayer. If we are filled with our own issues and problems we'll have little energy left to be praying for others. So, here is what I did. Over the course of one year, I set aside several hours on Sunday afternoon. I made a long list of all my problems and issues. Here were a few things on that long list:
A. Fear (I was a new sales representative and having to approach buyers only to be rejected was frightening!)
B. Overwhelmed with too much to do.
C. Thinking wrong thoughts
D. I was too quick with my words
E. I needed rest for my soul
F. I was always on the edge financially
Then, with my Bible in hand and a book of God's promises organized by topic I set to work. I remember starting with fear. You can't say you have faith in God when fear is paralyzing you, as it was with me. I noted down verses about fear, and then using some of them, I wrote out my prayers to God concerning the issue. Here is what I wrote:
WHEN I AM FEARFUL
Dear Lord – These fears: ______ keep coming to my mind and heart. They feel very real but I know that they are all FALSE EVIDENCES APPEARING REAL (F.E.A.R) and Satan is behind them all!
I will be strong and not fear because I know you will come. (Isaiah 35:4) Even if I feel fear, I will walk through it and not be afraid because I know you are with me. (Isaiah 43:5)
You are with me to rescue and save me through whatever happens on this earth.
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, your unfailing love for me will never be shaken.
On you I have set my hope and you will deliver me and continue to deliver me.
(2 Cor. 1:10)
God, you haven’t given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and of self discipline. (2 Tim 1:7)
I exercise that now and set my mind on things above and not on things here on earth. (Col 3:3)
Lord you are my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Heb.13:6)
Then I moved on to another issue. It was easy to think wrong thoughts, it would plunge me into depression. Here is what I wrote:
I FEEL DEJECTED (Sad)
Dear Jesus, A great sadness has been hanging over me. Here is what started these feelings: _________________.
I call upon you now to keep me from self pity and from wallowing in this thought pattern. This is my moment (day) of trouble and I am calling to you because I know you will answer me.
I put my hope in you Lord for in you is unfailing love. With you is full redemption. (Psalm 130:7)
I am coming to you in prayer and I know you are listening. I am seeking you with all my heart and I know I shall find you even amidst my overwhelming feelings. (John 29:12-13)
Thank you Holy Spirit that you help us in our weakness. I don’t know how to pray for myself but you do and are interceding for me with groans that words can’t express. You are interceding for me according to God’s will. (Romans 8: 26-27)
Lord Jesus, because of your shed blood that covers all my sin, I can now approach the throne of grace with confidence so that I may receive mercy and find grace to help me now in this time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Even as I come near to you I know that you are coming near to me. I humble myself before you. (James 4:8,10)
I did this for every problem and issue on my list. You can see why it took me a whole year of Sunday afternoons! Then, in my prayers times I would pray my own prayers I had written to the Father. They were HIS WORDS woven into my life situation and I think they must have been music to his ears.
Over the course of the next few years I prayed my own prayers that I had written and carefully organized in a notebook. They were precious to me because I wanted God's victory in every area. When I first started praying them most of the time my behavior didn't match my prayer. But then I learned another very important principle. Please listen carefully.
10. The world tells us that when we SEE something then we can really believe it. But God's way is the opposite. His words are always true and reliable and when we agree with what God says --- even when our behavior doesn't match up ---- then it's only a matter of time before the change comes.
Romans 1:17 / 2 Corinthians 5:17
For example, I often prayed 2 Timothy 1:7 because of all the fear I lived with. I prayed the verse like this:
"God, thank you that you have not given me a spirit of fear and timidity, but one of power, love, and self-discipline. With that spirit I can go forth confidently into this day."
After I prayed this I still FELT fear and DIDN'T FEEL very confident but I was determined to stand on God's truth and not let fear control me. So although my feelings weren't quite as bold as my prayers, I was living by faith in God's word rather than how I felt.
I will never forget the day when I realized I didn't fear approaching buyers anymore! It didn't happen overnight. But as I kept on declaring God's truth back to Him, He was working slowly, imperceptibly, but steadily to change me from the inside out. The circumstances hadn't changed but I had changed!
Today, about 15 years later I can declare that most of my long list of problems are gone. I am also confident that the others still on the list will be crossed off as well, because God is faithful to fulfill his word in our lives so we can fulfill the purpose He has for us.
It cost me something to see these changes. I had to set time aside. I diligently sought God's word for my problems. I re-wrote verses into prayers. Then, I spent time in God's presence sharing them with the Father. I can only imagine the smile on His face as He heard his little girl saying, "Father you said....and I believe this is true. I count on you to make this real in my life."
11. This will be true for you too because the Father loves diligent seekers. He promises to reward those who earnestly seek him.
DECLARE WHAT YOU WANT
During these years of sharing with God about my problems, I learned another important principle. It isn't good enough to get rid of bad habits and behaviors. you have to replace them with good ones. For deep-seated problems that come naturally because of our old sin nature, these are things that only God can change through his indwelling Holy Spirit in our life.
12. I thus reasoned that if declaring God's word could change the negative aspects of my life it could also work into my life the character of Jesus that is God's will for all of his children. Once again I turned to God's word. The word is like God's scalpel that is able to dissect our thoughts from our motives and reach down to the depths where change must occur.
Every time I read in the Bible a verse that was something I wanted to see in my own life I would rewrite it as my own prayer. Here are a few examples of these declarations to God that I still share with Him:
Philippians 1:6 --"God has begun a good work in me and He will continue that work until it is finished on the day when Jesus Christ returns."
Philippians 4:19 --"Thank you Father that you take care of me so well. You supply all my needs from the storehouse of your riches. You have given to me your Son and in Him I have all my needs met.
Colossians 3:10-- "I have put on my new nature -- Christ himself. Daily I am being renewed and growing to become like Jesus as I seek Him and learn to know my Creator."
Colossians 3:15a -- "The peace of Christ rules in my heart."
13. In my times with God I was not only sharing His word back to Him concerning my problems but I was declaring what I wanted in my life as a replacement. The more I "prayed the word" over and into my life, the more I realized all that Jesus had accomplished for me and the bolder I became.
14. Now, years later, I can testify to you that there have been a lot of changes in me. I am more like Jesus today than I was yesterday. Things that seemed impossible to change have changed. And although the Father will continue to work in me until the day I walk into Heaven, I am confident that He will be faithful to complete that work. He will do so for you as well. You can count on His word.
SET TIME APART
I will forever be grateful for my Pastor who said this in one of his sermons. "If you want to know God you need to set some time apart with Him everyday to read the Bible and pray." Lights were flashing in my head. Why hadn't I thought of that myself?
At the time I was a busy college student with a heavy load in the sciences, but the next morning I got up one hour early to get started. I had decided to read and study the Bible for a half hour and then talk with God for the other half. And so began a life-long habit that expands in time whenever I can. I grew to love this early time with Jesus. I was learning so much and that was good. But best of all I was coming to know and love HIM. I couldn't wait for my morning hour!
This idea of setting time apart can be paralleled with our human relationships. You may banter back and forth all day long with your spouse or friend -- and that's good. But it's those times set apart with them over dinner or taking a walk that become the bedrock of your relationship. It's in these times that you share on a deeper level and come to know another's mind and heart on the things that are important.
15. Jesus was very practical about setting time apart. What is his first instruction to us?
It is what Jesus did.
Mark 1:35 / Luke 5:16
Sometimes when he had important decisions to make --- like who were to be chosen as apostles from the disciples that followed him -- he spent extended times alone with God.
16. The question every new believer asks is "When is the best time to spend alone with God?" Jesus doesn't say a definite time directly but only sets for us an example as we already saw in Mark 1:35. He was following many saints who had gone before him such as King David.
Psalm 5:3 / Psalm 119:147
When I read this verse I saw what God's best time was for me.
Meeting God in the morning made great sense. We wake up with a clean slate. It's not yet filled with the encounters of the day and thus we are more apt to hear God's voice. I wanted that more than anything else but there was a big problem. I was a "night owl". As a college student I would stay up until 2-3 in the morning to study and then sleep until 10 AM.
But I wanted God to wake me up and speak to me! I really wanted to hear his voice before the day started. I made the "cold turkey" decision to go to bed by 10PM every night and get up to meet God at 6AM.
I struggled with this for two weeks. I had to force myself to go to bed even though I had a lot more studying to do. Then, I'd get there and couldn't sleep. The 6AM alarm came way too fast and I felt in little shape to hear anything. I had to pry my eyes open to see the words in my Bible! I was a mess.
But God was watching me through these two weeks. He saw my determination and I like to think He was cheering me on from the side-line. At the end of two weeks my internal clock had been reset. From then on I easily rose by 6AM and often earlier. I loved when God woke me up before my alarm clock. It meant more time with Him.
On a side note, this decision to become a morning person changed my life as a struggling student. As a "night owl" I constantly struggled to keep awake and I was always behind in my school work. Hence I stayed up later and later to catch up. This meant I often slept through my classes.
But with my new schedule I would wake up refreshed to meet with God at 6AM. Then I made a commitment to be at the university library by 8AM just like I was working a full time job. So, before my first 10AM class I would already have two hours of study time with a fresh and alert mind. The end result for me was that I was never behind again. In fact, I was always ahead of time. I don't think this qualifies as a miracle, but to me it was. God had taken my determination to set a time apart with Him and blessed it out of all proportion.
The morning hours before the day begins should be a consideration for most of us, but if you are working the night shift your "morning" might be at 1PM when you get up. The important thing is to set a regular time and place and then commit yourself to show up. God will already be there. He's excited to meet with you!
SUMMARY - Communication - Part 1
Once we are right with God then it's natural to want to start communicating with Him. And our Father is delighted when any of his children spend time with him. He's always available, always ready to meet us right where we are. He wants to listen to our thoughts and questions but He also wants to answer them, which means learning how to listen for the voice of God. The main way we hear the voice of God is in reading the Bible, which is why it is called "the Word of God". But, His Son Jesus is called "the living Word of God" and so to "major" in His life and teachings is another way that God speaks to our spirit.
As new believers we still have many problems and issues left from our "former life". But no sooner does Christ's Spirit move into our spirit, He sets about changing us from the inside out. So we will be talking out all kinds of things with Jesus that need changing. The Holy Spirit will be lighting up the words of scripture so that we start to see how to apply it to our situations. It can and should result in sharing with Jesus all day long. For we can do so while we do other things.
By using God' Word in the Bible, our communication can go the heart of our issues and problems. All of God's word is true and therefore useful to produce the changes that we long for and need. By speaking God's word directly back to God we are saying to him, "Father, you promised." Or, "Father, your Word says this _______. Therefore, I am standing on your Word for my own life." The Father loves to hear his children pray His Word back to Him because He sees we are serious about wanting the things that He has promised. And we can count that in His own timing it will be done.
When God's word says something, we can count on it. We may not SEE it yet but we TAKE IT BY FAITH that God will do what he says. The world says we need to "see it to believe it" but God says the opposite. We believe his word and then we will see it in our own situation. Gradually we become bolder in our asking when we start to see the answers. It isn't good enough just to get rid of bad habits and behaviors. We have to replace them with good ones which means we need to ask God for what we want.
In addition to talking with God all day long, (while we work or go to school), we need to set a definite time apart with Him. If possible -- the morning -- BEFORE the activities of the day start, is the best time. Every believer needs a time and place where we can be alone with God. It's the most important meeting that we ever have in our day.