Asking & Waiting

As finite beings,we often find ourselves in places where we have no power to influence or control things.  (Increasingly, as I get older, I am more in touch with my limitations).

When you come to the end of yourself  as a believer, you have only two options. Both involve asking. One  involves waiting.

Option # 1 - You can ask God to intervene miraculously. The Bible is full of this kind of asking and it should be our first response to crisis or trouble.  

      But when we ask, and God chooses not to act, we then go to option #2

Option # 2 - You can begin to pray/intercede. The Bible is full of stories of God's people patiently asking, and patiently waiting for God to respond as they pray (Abraham, Joseph, Jeremiah, Zachariah, Paul,  etc...).

- This is the definition of long suffering or patient endurance. It is part and parcel to the Christian life. It is a  posture of trust, and of watching and of waiting for God's deliverance.

- This is what I believe Paul had in mind when he instructed the early church to "pray without ceasing"... He wanted them to take on the posture of prayer and intercession ... of turning to God and trusting him to act, in his good time and in his good ways.

Option # 3 - I guess there is a third option... despair/giving up... but this is the path of cynicism and hopelessness.

If you have found yourself choosing option #3 in some part of your life (as I have found myself), ask God for the strength to choose option # 2 again. There is much to learn and much he can teach us when we adopt such a posture

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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God Carried Us Through

This weekend my wife and I had a chance to get away for our 22nd wedding anniversary. We had a great time, and I won't bore you with the details.  But one thing that stood out to us over the weekend was God's goodness and faithfulness.

Over dinner, we talked through the 22 years we have been together, the highs/the lows, the disappointments/ the triumphs, the lean years & years that were more prosperous, etc...

It was a rich time of remembering the journey, and it was clear to us how God had carried us through... had watched over us... had provided for us every step of the way. 

In any one moment, we may feel vulnerable, alone, afraid... but in a lifetime of relating with God, we can look back and can see God's hand in our lives and so add our testimony to those who have come before us.

Psalm 86:15 - "But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness."

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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All Saints Day

This Wednesday is All Saints Day and unless you are from a Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican background you may not have ever celebrated this day or thought much about it. Without getting into all the history, the basic premise of the day is sound. On this day, we remember all  those who have come before us who have shaped our faith. We remember and we thank God for them.

So as to stir your memory ...here is an exercise you can do...

Start by asking...
Who of his Saints did God use to bring you into his Kingdom? 
Who shared their faith with you? Who mentored you?  Who prayed over you? 
What church and what tradition informs you understanding of biblical truth?
What modern writers, thinkers, or pastors have shaped your understanding of God? 
What ancients writers, thinkers of pastors have shaped your understanding  of God?
       REMEMBER AND THANK GOD

Now go back further:
Think about the early church - the apostles and leaders teaching,  witnessing and sharing what Christ had deposited in them.
Think about the earliest Christians...practicing & sharing  their new faith.
Think about the generations  of Christians that followed, each one passing the faith on to the next.
Think about all the key leaders God raised up in every generation to lead and pastor his flock.
         REMEMBER AND THANK GOD

Now go back further:
Think about the patriarchs,  the judges, the kings, the prophets, the priests, and the Psalmists - all embodying what faith looked like in their day.
Think about the scribes, the copyists, and the teachers of the law who faithfully transmitted the Torah.
         REMEMBER AND THANK GOD

Hebrews 12:1 - "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,the pioneer and perfecter of faith."

Grace and Peace,
Brad Swope

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Drivel & Distraction

A challenge: Much of our technology is supposed to save time and make our life easier. But do we ever actually save time and so have time left over?  (Imagine technology saving you so much time you have an extra hour each day?)... Or does the time we save just mean we cram more into our lives?

If in this fall we are talking about ruthlessly eliminating hurry, practicing being present to people, and practicing sabbath rest... it means we must deal with busyness, and distraction.

We must consider if we are giving our time to meaningful things or to drivel & distraction:

...if time saved (or created) is then used for things we believe in and are life giving, or given to that which we have no memory of the next day

Do we have  time in our lives... to think, consider, reflect, read, rest, relate?

Or is it filled with activity, distraction and amusement (the work means "no think")

As we try to slow down and have more margin, let's also consider what to fill our lives with and what to eliminate.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope
 

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What is "Well-Being?"

Who is really well off? How do we define well being?  Can we feel secure in an insecure world?

Typically, in the west, "well-being" is largely a function of money (the well-off, have the most; the well -off are the most secure; the well-off have it made).

But somewhere deep inside, we know that money really can't ground our being or secure our existence. (You probably have more money and possessions than you did 20 years ago... Do you feel more secure?)

Here is a different approach to finding our worth and security...

  • The Bible tells us that God created everything ex-nihilo (out of nothing); that all material existence is sustained by his immaterial being; that he is the basis of reality.
  • It tells us that we can know God in Christ.  It tells us that this knowledge brings us into life now that will bleed into eternity ( an eternal kind of life).
  • It tells us that those who enter into life have it in abundance. It tells us that nothing can take this life from us. 

That means the most well-off people in the universe are those who know him, who are sustained by him, whose existence is secured by him. 

Romans 8:35 - "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

If God secures our lives now, and then for all eternity, then we truly are the most secure, the most well-off people in the world.

Brad Swope

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Being Present, Right Now

How often do you find that your mind is not on the moment you are in, but you are thinking instead about something that has happened previously, or thinking about what something that is about to happen?

For instance, you had something upsetting happen earlier and you are still dwelling on it, OR you have a big meeting later in the day and it is on your mind.

A person with you might say, "Where is your head right now?" What they are really saying is, "You aren't present with me right now."

In the same way, how often do you find yourself, distracted with your phone/social media, even though you are with people, OR unable to focus on what you need, to so you turn to something like social media?
 
We might say that the phone and its applications have largely robbed us of being present to others, or that when we don't want to be present to something difficult, we seek out distraction.

Today, I sat down at Starbucks to work... and I had a lot of work to get down in a short time, but, because I am practicing being present, was aware of the person next to me, and when they struck up a conversation, was ready to be present.

It turns out she is a former Muslim who had just started going to church, and that she had just lost her mother to cancer. We had an amazing conversation and I was able to encourage her and pray for her.

I say this because - this moment would not have happened unless I was actively seeking to be present to God and/or to the people around me in the way I am not usually.

I also practiced this last night when instead of turning on the TV in my tired state, I tried to be present to my children and spent 30 minutes with my son, hanging in the hammock.

As part our fall challenge, I wonder what will happen in your life if you are aware of how often we are not present to the moment, and, if you ask God to help you with this, what you might discover.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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Finding Our Lives - a Spiritual Challenge

Yesterday, as part of a fall  spiritual challenge, I named three things that I felt God was challenging all of us to work on as a church this fall:

1) To Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry
2) To Practice Being Present
3) To Practice Sabbath Rest

For the next three weeks I will talk about each of these in turn. This will give us a chance to go more in depth and to compare notes as to what we learn

Over twenty years ago, Dallas Willard said something to me and a group of twenty something pastors that I have never forgotten, but never applied. He said that for our lives to flourish as disciples we had to "ruthlessly eliminate hurry."

Standing where I am, I see that he was a prophet, predicting where all the technological advances would take us as a culture. We are hurried, harried, busy and driven. We over commit, plan poorly, and are not master of our own schedules. So we rush around like chickens with our heads cut off.

What does hurry do to us?
1) We miss important things when we hurry
2) We treat people poorly when we hurry
3) We cannot be present to God's direction when in a hurry.  
4) We cannot be present to people when we are in a hurry.
5) We introduce unneeded anxiety into our lives when we are in a hurry.

What would it look like to eliminate hurry?
1) You would have to own your schedule
2) You would have to cut some things out
3) You would have to be ok with some margin in your day

What we might do to eliminate hurry?
1) I am planning to build ten minutes before and after things I have planned this week
2) I am working on my schedule now, trying to see what needs to be cut out to create more space

Who else wants to practice "ruthlessly eliminating hurry" with me this week? What ideas do you have?

Grace & Peace,
Brad

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Seasons

Yes it is time for the annual "Seasons" blog post.  Yesterday I dropped off my daughter at college. This week fall sports begin for two of my kids.  The class I teach at William Jessup started a week ago. Vacation is long behind our family, and a full fall lies ahead.

Every turn of season means saying goodbye to one way of living/being/relating and saying hello to another. If summer gives us more space to relax, travel, BBQ etc... the fall feels like a time of engaging more fully in our work lives.

(My mother told me today that after a busy season of hosting many people at her house, she feels like God is leading her into a season of rest. The former season left her empty, a bit fragile, and exhausted. She hopes the new season of less activity will be restorative to her.)  

The change of season always reminds me that there are seasons in our spiritual lives as well. There are flourishing seasons of faith and seasons where the fields of faith lie fallow; there are seasons where we feel engaged, and seasons where we feel detached; seasons when God feel present and seasons where he seems hidden from us.

The key to know is that God is NEVER absent from any season of your life. He is always at work in our lives.  What season you are in?  And what does God want to do in this season of your life? 

Brad Swope

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Prayers for Those in Texas

It's hard to know what to do as we see people suffering under the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.  But there is two things that we can do, even as far away as we are.

1) We can pray. They expect rain through Labor day weekend.  That means flooding will get worse. The area affected by flooding is about the size of Lake Michigan.  Pray for the storm to dissipate. Pray for daily bread (what people need to survive today) for all those who suffer - rescue, shelter, food, clothing, & hope . Don't dismiss this. We don't know exactly how we participate with God through prayer, but we know that the scriptures say that we do and we know that God asks us to pray.

2) We can give. Below is a list of charities who are taking donations specifically for those effected by Hurricane Harvey. As you feel led, give and pray that the money would be stewarded well so as to bless a maximum amount of people. 
 

  • American Red Cross. To make a financial donation, visit the their website, call 1.800.RED CROSS or text HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation for those in need.
  • Catholic Charities of USA. To make a financial donation, visit CCUSA's disaster-specific website or text 71777 to make a donation.
  • Global Giving. To make a financial donation, visit their website or text HARVEY to 80100 to donate $10 to Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
  • Salvation Army. To make a financial donation, visit www.helpsalvationarmy.org, call 1.800.SAL ARMY, or text STORM to 51555.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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Influence

I had the chance to go to a U2 concert in Amsterdam a few weeks back. (I have been going to U2 shows since the early 90's). The concert was great  and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. But it got me thinking about influence.

During the concert, while 45,000 sang every song and danced to every tune, Bono, as he always does, took time to "influence" the crowd to think about larger issues, such as racism, global health, women's rights, etc....  He didn't preach, he didn't scold, he didn't manipulate... he influenced.   And he did all this without ever diminishing the performance of his craft.

U2 and Bono have been "influencing" their fans for 30 years for the issues they are passionate about. Bono, started (Red) in 2012 and since that time the company has generated more than $465 million for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to support HIV/AIDS grants in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. 100 percent of that money goes to work on the ground – no overhead is taken. 

It inspired me and made me think that "influence" is possible for all of us. Without needing to be a rock star, as we live our lives, and perform our jobs, we can always carry with us our deepest convictions - about God, about justice, about truth, about compassion - and we can weave these things into the way we live our lives and perform our craft.

Here is a blurb from a class I teach on Mission and Calling that tries to sum this up

"The new world that God intends is not going to come about in some ethereal way or just drop out of heaven. God intends, as he always has, to slowly implement his rule and his reign through human people who choose to join him in his mission. Jesus mission included the preparation of a people who would implement the victory that he had achieved. It is Jesus’ disciples who carry and share in Jesus mission of reconciliation.  Jesus calls women and men to follow him, working in ways big & small, visible & invisible, local & global, to embody and implement the life and goodness of God. These disciples understand they are called to literally cooperate with God to help bring his kingdom into reality.”

Grace & Peace, 
Brad Swope

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Questions and Ideas

Last week, there was a "hole" in the schedule and I preached a sermon on a topic suggested to me by someone in the church.  It was a great topic and i got great feedback that God had spoken to a lot of people through it. Afterwards, I thought about how important it is to allow God speak through the congregation in ways such as this.

This week, I am planning the fall preaching schedule and thought, "Why not ask what topics or subjects others might have on their minds that might benefit our church. Perhaps I can then intersperse a few of these topics throughout the schedule this fall."

So... I'm asking: Do you have a question you'd like addressed? Do you have an idea for a sermon? Do you have a subject you think God might want us to explore as a church? If so, send it to me.

While I can't promise that I will cover them all, I do think we might find more ways for God to speak through the congregation to the church about topics that are very important.

Please send me thoughts and ideas at bswope@rosevillehorizon,org

Grace & Peace,

Brad Swope

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A Different Kind of Season

At 79 years old, I am watching my father turn into a contemplative, a mystic, a man who loves prayer/silence/solitude... a man of depth, a man who is delighting in God.

Don't get me wrong. My father has loved and served God throughout my entire life. As a pastor, he has preached the word and cared for people and started three churches. He has led many people to Christ, has baptized scores, has led prayer meetings and weddings and funerals.

But this is a different kind of season. He is retired and now has time to spend hours a day on his sun deck, reading, praying & thinking, just being with God. He seems satisfied, at ease and at rest in ways I have never seen before. And prayer seems to be where he  finds most contentment.

And though the opportunities to "influence" people are greatly diminished, as he has no platform, pulpit or church, I can't help but wonder if these will be some of his most fruitful years.

(Incidentally, I saw this same thing happen with my father-in-law in the years before he died)

I wonder what might I learn from both of them, even living in a season of my life that looks nothing like they one they are/were in?

Grace and Peace,
Brad Swope

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Keep Your Ideals, Even When It's Hard

In the sermon yesterday, our speaker said something that I found myself thinking about the rest of the day. In speaking about the part of the Lord's prayer when we say, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," she  said, "We don’t live in a perfect world, BUT, we should live as though we do."
´
Then she offered this challenge... "Keep your ideals, even when it’s hard. Live on earth as though you were in heaven."

When you are young, you tend to be idealistic, passionate, holding deep convictions, wanting to change the world... (for example, as a new Christian, the first time I read the Sermon the Mount, I thought I had the blueprint for human life as a Christian, and I dedicated myself to living it out).

But then life happens... and you realize after getting hit with a 2 x 4 a few times, that life is difficult and often doesn't reward your ideals. (Sometimes turning the other cheek means your get hit twice).

And so, you find over time that some of your ideals go to the wayside, or are softened or just become things you no longer believe work in the real world.

And that is why I loved her challenge... the kingdom of God is a present reality, but it is also a future hope... we live in the kingdom now, and lean towards the perfect fulfillment of that kingdom some day. In other words, we live now, as if God's will is being done fully on earth, even though it is not.

We dare not give up on the "project" of the Kingdom of God. Instead, we must dig in, and find ways to live out..."love your enemy", and "do not lay up treasures" and "judge not"  even in a world that does not reward such things.

Perhaps, this decision to dig in and live within God's kingdom, done now not with rose colored glasses, but with a understanding that it is not a silver bullet to fix the world, will in fact yield even better fruit than when we tried to do it in naivety.

Grace & Peace,
Brad
 

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Real Satisfaction

In 1965, the Rolling Stones wrote a song that contained a perfect theology for what life without God is like:  "I can't get no satisfaction, I can't get no satisfaction... 'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try... I can't get no,  I can't get no...satisfaction."

Last week, I found myself, on a couple of fronts, deeply unsatisfied. Then I found myself thinking about something I had just read by Dallas Willard in which he said, "There is no substitute for simple satisfaction in the word of God, in the presence of God." 

Dismiss it as spiritual hyperbole right? Just another Christian writer exaggerating about the spiritual life... I wondered... 

So I spent the weekend, leaning in to God, asking him to be my satisfaction.

You know what happened? I found myself becoming measurably more satisfied, especially in the little things: rights became privileges; irritations became opportunities; problems became prayers.

I'm carrying my experiment into this week... I am asking God not to teach me satisfaction, but to be my satisfaction ... in other words, I am asking for God to teach me to be satisfied in the life I have in him.

Seems to fit with Easter week.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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Is Evengelism Just for Other People?

Is evangelism just for other people? Perhaps not...

1) Think of three people in your life right now that you know would really benefit by trusting Jesus and coming to a place of faith.

2) Stop and pray for them.

3) Consider inviting them to one of our Easter week services:

Sunday, April 9 - Palm Sunday - We remember Jesus's triumphal entrance (BBQ to follow service)
Thursday, April 13 - Maundy Thursday - We recreate the Lords' Supper (7 -8 p.m.)
Friday , April 14 - Good Friday - We remember the Crucifixion (7 -8 p.m.)
Sunday, April 16 - Easter - We celebrate the resurrection

See the complete schedule

4) Pray that God would give you an opportunity to ask.

You have just done the work of an evangelist!

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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What's Missing in Social Media

I continue to be struck by how unproductive social media is in starting up constructive conversations about important issues. In trying to assert something we feel strongly about on Face Book or Twitter, what ends up happening is that we either offend others with a differing view (and thus get unfriended) or we preach to the choir (we get amen's from those who already agree with us).

Have you ever had you mind changed by someone on facebook? Probably not. Why is that?

What's missing? What's missing is conversation between two people in real time and space who are forced to interact not just with a meme, but with a person who represents the meme.

In a conversation, you have to consider the person speaking the words; you have too interact with someone who thinks differently about things than you do; and as a Christian, you must interact knowing that this person is also loved by God and made in his image. Thus, the possibility of respect, decorum, manners, exists as does the possibility of an actual constructive conversation.

But on the internet, you don't deal with a person, you deal with a screen and you deal with words ..and so somehow, the person becomes disassociated from the exchange. With no person in view, you can demonize, denigrate, and dismiss. (Go on Facebook now, find a provocative post and follow the comments to see this in action).

I want to live in a world and I want to pastor a church where real people talk to each other, where those with differing views are forced to "love" each other even if they do not agree with each other (love here is an action not a feeling)...

This world does not seem to be possible on social media.

Let's leave facebook to do what it does best - puppy videos, nature scenes and birthday announcements and let's not expect it to change hearts and minds. Let's have actual conversations with real people, in real space and time and see what happens.

Grace & Peace,
Brad

PS - I was recently called on the carpet by a friend after posting something I thought was innocuous, but which after reviewing the post, I saw did exactly what I just wrote about. To this friend I dedicate this post.

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God Acts on His Own Terms

Have you ever noticed how much of your own dissatisfaction with God is because God acts on his own terms and does not live according to yours?

Have you ever noticed that virtually all biblical stories are about God asking people to align their lives with his purposes, and NOT God aligning his purposes with their desires?

Have you ever noticed how small we make God when we want him to be more like a genie and less like an omnipotent God who keeps his own mind, who has a will, who is enacting a plan and who operates according to his own timetable?

Last week I found myself having a "poor me" moment... then I read a devotional where the writer pointed out that God invites us to live our lives on his terms, not on ours. I felt a little chagrined at my little pity party and so tried to instead re-boot my day asking God more about what he was doing.

What would it be like for us in moments of self pity to say instead, "OK God, apparently I'm not going to get my way here. What is it that you want? What is it that you are doing? How can I live on your terms rather than requiring you to live on mine?"

Just a thought.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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Practices for the Season of Lent

There are three traditional practices that Christians observe during the season of Lent - fasting, praying, and giving to the poor (following the three issues Jesus speaks directly to Matthew 6 in the Sermon on the Mount.) Historically, Christians have tried to reincorporate these practices into their day to day lives so that habits are formed over these forty days. 

I thought I would share what our family is doing with one of these practices in case you need practical ideas. Each Sunday night, a different family member will choose a charity that they want to give money to and we will donate $25 to that charity as a family. We will then spend time praying for that charity.

The kids are giving up their allowance, and/or donating their own money for the charity they choose. Last night we picked KIVA, a micro-finance organization that seeks to support entrepreneurs across the world and donated $25 (www.kiva.org). On the website you get to choose a person who is starting a business to lend money to. They repay the money over time and then you lend it to someone else.

We found it to be a way to engage our kids on an important topic, and to give to the poor at the same time.

I encourage you to find your own way to engage these practices in your season of Lent.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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What To Do With Our Feelings

This morning, I woke up "feeling" frustrated and agitated.

I had 30 minutes before the family awoke. So I sat down for time with God. (I didn't "feel" like doing this).

I expressed my "feelings" to God, asking for his help in sorting them out (not wanting to make too little or too much of them).

God led me to sit quietly and it felt like the intensity of the "feelings" began to drain out of me... (the "feelings" lost some of their power). 

And then I took a few minutes to process why I was "feeling" what I was.

I was able to leave that time without those "feelings" (which were still there, but largely diminished), from dictating how my week would begin (my attitude, my actions etc...).

I say all this to illustrate an old quote by Dallas Willard: "Feelings, while real, are not reliable guides for how to live our lives."

It's important for us to process and understand our feelings, but not live from them, because they will often lead us to live in ways that are counterproductive, or unwise.  Our will is deeper than our feelings and thus we can, even while feeling strong things, choose well and wisely with God's help.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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Hearing God Speak

I was asked an interesting question from a young person... "How come I never hear God speak?" They explained that they heard everyone talking about how "God said this" and "God told me that"... and it didn't match up with their experience. They came to the conclusion that they must be doing something wrong OR that people were faking it.

Our conversation got cut off, so I was not able to fully answer their question. But I've been thinking about it ever since.

In reflecting on the notion of God's speaking in my own life... I have never heard the audible voice of God. Rarely has God spoken to me in ways that redirected my life (perhaps I can count on two hands, those kinds of times). And their have been seasons when it does not seem like God is "speaking" at all.

But the truth is, I do hear God speak to me - but it is less like a voice and more like a sense of his presence, a sense of his peace, a thoughtful reflective space where my soul becomes aware of something God wants to communicate... this communication occurs within my thoughts and when I am quiet.

For instance, I was awake last week at 3 in the morning and could not go back to sleep. My mind was filled with tumultuous thoughts. And then as I prayed, my thoughts gained clarity and I felt like God directed me to four truths - things he wanted me to see. I wrote these down and have returned to them again and again since then.

To me, this was an occasion of God's speaking, but also as clearing away confusion and directing my thoughts towards his truth. And the way I know God was involved/that God was communicating to me... was that these thoughts had resonance, and bore good fruit in the days that followed.

This way of speaking is the main and plain for me. And I would argue, this way of God speaking is the main and plain for most people. When God speaks to us, it is less with a "voice of thunder" and more as internal impressions (the "still small voice") that seem to come from a deeper source than my own mind (this is also how God speaks through scripture to us).

So the trick is more to attend to God, to find quiet, to reflect, to think deeply, to direct our questions to God and to wait...

And the reason many of us do not hear God in this way, is that we no longer know how to do this. We no longer know how to wait on God.

Perhaps this is something we all can practice in the Lenten season that starts in a week.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

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