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Can I Grow in Holiness Without the Church?
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  1. Subscribe to God Conversations!
  2. Similar authors to follow
  3. 4 Questions to Ask When Listening for God's Voice

God can use anything to speak — his messages are creative and can be delivered using any of our senses: By far the trickiest part of having a God-conversation is learning to recognise his voice among the others that we hear. Like water flowing through a rusty pipe, our experiences, mindsets and desires, all act to contaminate what we hear.

Indeed the first thing we need to know before we can get it right is to admit that we can get it wrong. The good news is that Jesus said his people would know his voice and having recognised it, they would be able to follow. God wants to be heard, even more than we want to hear. Every word we hear, vision we see or feeling we have needs to be tested. There are three ways we can do this: Would Jesus Say this?


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Has the Holy Spirit provided supernatural signs or indicators that it is from him? Having a God-conversation is not just about getting the answer to our questions. While God wants to help us in the everyday stuff of life, his heart is to build relationship. Dwell in it before deep questions arise and return to its truths when answers become unclear.

The more familiar we are with the heart of God, the more familiar we will be with His voice. During one particular coffee date I had with a student, we discussed an unhealthy dating relationship she was involved in. She lamented her frustration over not being able to discern what God wanted her to do. I asked her what her family, close friends, and spiritual mentors had to say. The people closest to her, who loved her and wanted the best for her, all warned that staying in the relationship was dangerous and they advised her to end it.

The people who love you…the people you trust and respect…what do they say? Have you asked them? Obviously, everyone should not be within your circle for wise counsel. Ask people who have made decisions that you respect, and who love you enough to want what is best for you. Allow their voices to enter the conversation and examine how their input is compatible with scripture and what you know to be true about the heart of God.

The Lord frequently uses the voices of others to echo what He is speaking to our hearts. You know that whisper? That sense of what God is calling us to?

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I cannot do justice to the understanding he brings to the subject. Our lives produce a shocking amount of noise. So he failed against the eyes of a very significant person in his life, and he failed in his own eyes. One of the ways I have found helpful to people in counseling ministry is: And that would just read off almost the entirety of secular like self-esteem literature which sees accurately that their self-esteem is a composite of what you think of yourself.

But being secular, it disorients from the true dynamics of both of those, one of which I would call pride — where I am the arbiter of reality — and one is fear of man — where other people are the arbiters of reality. So I would probably add a third piece. I would say that pride and fear of man are in front of the curtain on stage, and behind the curtain is the devil who is the archetype of pride and the liar that we believe. We fear and take our cues off of a false voice. You mentioned Twitter earlier, and no doubt social media amps up how we compare ourselves and how we project ourselves.

Is there a technological side to self-hate in this age of social media — especially visually — where what we see online becomes the voice we follow? I do think the visual technology accelerates certain forms of it, so we become immediately aware of forms of talent — say in sports or music or acting that, if you lived in a small town in in rural America, the talent is with whoever got the lead in the high school play.

The star athlete is whoever actually got to play quarterback. So, beauty and talent and money and possessions — because of the visual qualities of our culture and our media commits to us — we are immediately aware of the most beautiful, the most talented, the most athletic, the most wealthy, the most luxurious lifestyles, the most exotic bucket list.

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Probably start going back to photography, and photography was the first medium where then you could start to see parts of the world that you never visualized outside of your immediate experience. But then movies extenuated that and then the last 30 years has just been a highly accelerated awareness of what is out there. I was talking to somebody recently.

They commented on one of the reasons they realized they were going to ditch their Facebook account, in their words, were: What a great way to put it. And this can be very compelling. And this fear of man can feed self-loathing. Imagine what it is like. In our culture, you can choose any kind of sexual disorientation imaginable and you are extolled.

But having a body mass index over 30 is the cardinal sin: So how do we care for brothers or sisters in Christ who particularly struggle with self-hate? Are there any keys for how we can do this wisely? One of the obvious starting points is that we do a huge disservice to our brothers and sisters, to our children, to our spouse when we simply live by a different set of values. You think of the significance of a woman who does not live for her appearance.

But she is not obsessed. She walks into a room and she is instead asking: Who is the lonely person here? And there is a freedom about her. There is a joy. There is a kindness. There is a freedom from anxiety. And that is just one example where I do think that our faith and the kind of lifestyle that emerges from it is very compelling and very liberating — being in a place where you are not being continually judged by bogus standards. What does it mean?

That is not depicting the fact that he was apparently very handsome and a great warrior. It is talking about the fact that he lived the Psalms. He was keenly aware of his sins. He sinned flagrantly on occasions.

He was aware of his sins. He knew that God was merciful. He expressed joy and gratitude for the blessings God gave. I would say, to live in the way of his father David is to live the psalms.

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And if you are in a community where people are orienting their meaning of life to living the Psalms, living in the wisdom of the Proverbs, living in the footsteps of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, whose DNA is redemption, then approaching life is a venue in which the proud can be brought down and the humble can be raised up. That is just an atmosphere way that our conscience is renewed. You want to hang out with people who are actually putting their way together differently. If I were just to say one factor from a more pointed part, it does seem to me that as we think about the immediacy of the struggle of self-loathing, self-condemnation — I am so horrible.

I am just a disappointment. I am a drain on everyone. I am a loser — those are all voices, and they are voices that rob us. They rob a person of faith. They rob a person of joy. They rob us of love. It robs us of the ability to be thinking of others. The language I was thinking about as I was preparing for our talk was somehow to set up what you might call a contest of voices. We are having these political debates currently, and it is the most terrible form of debate: So what is a constructive debate?

How do you get a different voice talking?

4 Questions to Ask When Listening for God's Voice

My wife Nan and I happened to be reading in the end of Zephaniah and thinking about the issue of self-hatred. In self-hatred, one feels a deep sense of shame and imperfection. So here is a line out of Zephaniah: That is fighting the voice of shame or the sense that one is all alone and completely struggling and no one is for me or with me and the world is a dangerous place and people are judging me.

And so here it is: I am in your midst. You are not alone. I am the mighty one who saves. You think how that touches the sense of powerlessness, the sense that nobody could really love me, because I am so marred, I am so dirty, I am so shameful. I failed so badly. Think of how within self-loathing there is a very talkative inner world going on that is very unhappy. He will exult over you with loud singing. I am doing a bit of a barrage there, but you imagine to take in one precise eye-dropper of truth that would actually set up a contest of voices between the lie and something that is actually true.


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And in setting it that way, it is very different from, you might say, just cognitively rehearsing Christian truths, theological truths. He is actually saying something that competes with the false voices, and it is not just something you rehearse in your own head. There is another voice that is talking here. And it may take me a long time and much prayer and the help of others and reminders to hear that voice. But whenever I hear that other voice talking, I am actually pulled out of myself and I become open to the God who loves me. I become open to the reality that there is a place of mercy and hope and protection and welcome and refuge and affirmation — not affirmation in the sense of stroking your ego and making you feel good about yourself, but affirmation that gives you an identity with living.

You are a child of the living God and he is your Father — to hear that like the man I mentioned earlier in our conversation. I am your true Father and you are mine, and I am not going to forsake you. Those of us who love Reformed theology — as I know you do — will read our forefathers who perpetually stressed our self-humility before God. Fundamentally, what is the difference between destructive self-hatred and appropriate self-humbling before God in repentance? And do you think the Puritans in particular pushed us too far in an unhealthy direction here? So I more reflect some of the things I have seen contemporary Christians do with that heritage where it does become an overly scrupulous self-condemning.

Many of us are familiar with the collection of Puritan prayers, The Valley of Vision. And for that I commend it. That said, there is a continual tone that misses human suffering, and misses that the things we struggle with are not just the result of committing serious sin, but that we have been lied to. The man I mentioned earlier in our conversation, of course he is a sinner and he is very aware of that, but you might say he is hyperaware of it. And often where our piety lands within the Reformed and evangelical world is where sin is the only problem and suffering and the lies that are told us is kind of made secondary.

When you read the Psalms, it is not secondary. It is a parallel intertwined problem — sin and suffering; the evils we generate out of our heart and the evils that beset us in lies and aggressions. They are in this continual dance and interplay. And so I have actually written in my copy of The Valley of Vision interpolated a number of other prayers that capture the note of seeking God in the midst of afflictions and try to restore that balance to the Psalms.

And then the other thing that I think is going to be missing there, it is missing in tone — though it is present in certain words — is genuine joy and gratitude. Our God is good and he is great, and the doorway to that is not always, Look and see what a horrible person I am! I will rejoice and be glad in it Psalm Lord, clear the cobwebs from my mind. Awaken me to yourself. I am your servant.

The psalm is very aware of our sinfulness and very aware of our sufferings, and it is also very joyful. And all those things seem to get on the table in a really striking interplay. So I do see concerns in our piety and the emphases of our theology. Reformed theology is often so focused on the remedy to sin that restores our relationship to God.

All those arrows land in the New Testament and Jesus said: We have this foundation. But then the other parts of human experience are not, thereby, minimized. Yes, and not just soaking like the lives of those who make them feel more depressed! I have recently been thinking a lot about Psalm It starts out really joyful: God did hear me when I was in trouble. He did save me. He rescued me out of the pit. And then there is fruitful ministry and joy and song and I proclaim the name.

And then it has this turning point where all of the sudden, evils without number are besetting me. My sins are more than the hairs on my head. There are people out to get me. I am in trouble again — I am in this dual trouble with my sinfulness and my sufferings. And yet it concludes: As for me I am totally needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.