Read an Excerpt
hearing God's voice
Eight keys to connecting with God
By Vern Heidebrecht
David C. CookCopyright © 2007 Vern Heidebrecht
All rights reserved.
An Invitation to Listening to God
"My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me."
—John 10:27 MSG
When the journal opens, so does the ear of my heart. If God is going to speak, I am ready to listen.
"I'll never forget the summer I attended a ladies bible study," writes Terry, "and learned how to prayer journal. I was at the end of my rope with my unsaved husband, and seriously contemplating divorce. I had tried everything to bring my husband to the Lord ... dragging him to church, praying for him, and leaving hints around the house ... even fridge magnets that said 'Jesus loves you.' Nothing worked, and we were in trouble in every way. Then God stopped me cold in the Bible study when I read 1 Peter 3:1. I could not for the life of myself figure out how God was going to save my husband if I didn't help along. How could I "not say a word" and my husband would actually be won to the Lord by my behavior? Anyway, I figured I didn't have much to lose so at this point, I obeyed and kept my mouth shut from then on. It was July when my husband gave his life to Christ through the testimony of his boss at work. Go figure!" Journaling helped Terry process her frustration and faith before the Lord. A miracle happened. Both her and her husband's lives changed.
The Lord delights in affirming his work in us. Every once in a while he gives us an insight into what he's doing behind the scenes. For example, several months ago my wife, Carol, and I were enjoying a meal at a restaurant out of town. After we had finished dinner and paid the check, we walked over to our car and were about to leave the premises. Then, somewhat to our surprise, we noticed a man coming toward us, waving his hand and giving us a smile of recognition. I opened the car window, and he introduced himself as a person who had sat through a seminar on listening to God and journaling I had taught about eight years earlier. In the relatively brief conversation we had, he passionately related how the discipline of journaling had brought him into a new intimate knowledge of his Lord. He continued by saying, "Next to receiving Christ as my Savior, journaling has been one of the most important decisions I have made in my Christian life." When he saw me, he realized he wanted to say thank you for being introduced to the discipline of journaling. Similar stories in varied forms can be told by other individuals who have begun and continued this practice.
When I refer to journaling in a seminar or sermon, it usually draws immediate attention and evokes interesting questions. They often include inquiries such as, "What do you include in your journal?", "Who do you allow to access your journal?", "Does your wife read it?", and "How do you stick with it?" I will deal with some of these questions in later chapters.
A Personal Record
I began journaling about twenty-five years ago. I soon realized that journaling was a personal record of my journey with God through the many and varied experiences of life. I also discovered that there is something about interacting and responding to Scripture, impressions, and visions, that, in writing them down, made them more memorable. I learned how to hear God's voice through the practice of journaling.
Jesus gives us words to reflect upon and to listen to carefully when he says, "My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27 MSG). Have you ever heard Jesus' voice—and kept a record of those times? Do you worship the Lord because he knows you and is totally acquainted with you? Have you ever kept a travelogue of your experience of following the Good Shepherd through the difficulties and the delights of life?
Charles Swindoll speaks about the intimacy he discovered with his Lord through keeping a record: "My journal became the anvil on which most of my private thoughts were hammered out." There's something about writing out an experience, a confession, an anxiety, a prayer, or an expression of praise that helps everything become more specific, focused, and faith producing.
Gordon MacDonald writes about his journaling experience as follows: "Slowly, I began to realize that my journal was helping me to come to grips with an enormous part of my inner person that I had not been fully honest about." This reminds me of the words of Jesus: "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
Here's My Story
Many of the most significant beginnings in my life have come through the Lord's dropping a seed-thought into my mind and heart. This often comes through reading the Scriptures, enjoying a good book, or having a friend throw an offhand comment my way and later discovering that it was from the Lord.
The first significant reference to a journal that deeply impressed me was that of missionary Jim Elliot. At age 27 he died a martyr's death by the spear of an Auca Indian. In his journal, these words were inscribed: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." These words put meaning into his early violent death. In his journal, he had shaped his values and focused his life. He did all that God asked him to do. And because he kept a journal, we can be inspired through what God taught him.
Whenever we desire to undertake a new discipline or direction with the Lord that we know is of the Holy Spirit—for every good and godly desire does come from him—we need to recognize that implementing that discipline or direction still requires taking practical steps.
When I first began journaling it felt like taking a dive into a cool pool. It was refreshing, but also a brand new experience for me. I bought my first journal at a local stationery store. It was a hardback book with all blank pages. I sat down with pen in hand and wrote these first two short paragraphs as my first entry:
"I begin this journal because I sense this year will be a time of transitions for me and it is my desire to be fully conscious of what is happening to me.
Together with this, I covet a greater degree of personal discipline in my life, so God's grace will have ample opportunity to work through my life."
Next, I searched the Bible for an appropriate Scripture passage to use to begin this practice. I took these words from the Gospel of Luke: "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52 NIV). The observation I made was that as the Father had sent Jesus into the world, so he was sending me into that same world (John 20:21). So I began writing down areas in which I required growth in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and people. Once a month, I blocked off a number of hours to do this in the presence of the Lord. These proved to be rich times of praying, envisioning, and writing. My sometimes disconnected purposes and prayers went deeper into God's thoughts and words. I experienced times of confession, worship, and pure delight. It was good! Surprisingly, as I look back on that beginning, it wasn't as important how I journaled it as it was that I journaled. Yes, I had a learning curve.
The Next Step
Some years later, I heard Bill Hybels sharing at a leadership conference in San Diego. He spoke to us about his busy lifestyle and how he was caught in so much "doing" that he was losing out on the "being"—he was losing sight of what God wanted him to become. As the pastor of a growing church with eleven thousand attendees, he was often too busy to pray. The Lord led him to begin journaling. His story was very similar to mine. He visited a stationery store, bought a book, and became serious about keeping a record of his prayers, experiences, and insights before the Lord. In the book he later wrote about this experience, Too Busy Not to Pray, he wrote these passionate words: "Authentic Christians are persons who stand apart from others, even other Christians, as though listening to a different drummer. Their character seems deeper, their ideas fresher, their spirit softer, their courage greater, their leadership stronger, their concerns wider, their compassion more genuine, and their convictions more concrete. They're joyful in spite of difficult circumstances and show wisdom beyond their years." He goes on to describe how authentic Christians are full of surprises because they're following a God who's always authentic with them.
I experienced a significant learning curve following this leadership conference. I recall spending time in my hotel room praying, promising, and desiring deeply to have a more intimate daily relationship with God. I must confess that it took significant discipline to carve out time for journaling each day. I learned, however, that the strength it brought to me spiritually was worth it all. Journaling became a journey.
The great thing about journaling is that God will personalize and help you understand the Scriptures as they pertain to you. Whether you are mainly confined to home, working in the marketplace, or a student attending school, thoughtfully reflecting on the Scriptures through journaling will make a huge difference in how you live and enjoy your walk with God.
Later, inspired at a conference on prayer, I began using the acrostic ACTS to lead me through my Scripture reading and writing. This gave me a daily pattern to follow: Adoring God for who he is, Confessing my sins, Thanking him for his gifts, and bringing my Supplications (requests) before him.
Early on, by using this acrostic, I received two special blessings. First was my experience that adoring God for who he is made the confession of sins more real. Once I saw who God is and celebrated his compassion and love, it made the confessing easier and deeper.
Second, I found myself journaling through the books of the Bible that I would soon be using as sermon material in my pulpit ministry. As I did this, the Scriptures became more personal and opened up to me in new and dynamic ways. It was good to have the Spirit who inspired the Bible open the Scriptures to my heart. This gave me new joy and passion in my preaching.
Through these daily times of journaling, I discovered a renewed sense of joy and thankfulness. God is continually showing me new ideas to incorporate into my journaling which make it enriching and enjoyable. Although there is no blueprint for exactly how to journal, let me share with you some of my own experiences. I recall sitting before the Lord one morning and wondering how I could give more thanks to him for all the goodness and mercy that he had shown towards me. I began doodling with the word "thanks" and came up with the following acrostic which helped me to express my thanks and live my gratitude in more practical ways.
"This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it"
I thanked God for his unique gift of this day that was before me. I saw it like a field of fresh fallen snow. It was my privilege to enjoy and celebrate it. So I thanked God for it.
"I think how much you have helped me; I sing for joy in the shadow of your protecting wings"
(Ps. 63:7 MSG).
I thanked God specifically for a situation in which he had helped me the day before.
"I will call to you whenever I'm in trouble, and you will answer me"
I thanked God for a prayer request he had answered the day before.
"I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?"
I thanked God for something new that I would experience that day. I simply went over my agenda for the day ahead of me and began thanking him for new people and experiences that would be mine.
"Love is ... kind"
(1 Cor. 13:4).
I thanked God for someone who had been kind to me in the past twenty-four hours. Often I would give that person a phone call or send an e-mail message to express my thanks for the kindness I had received.
"My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me"
(John 10:27 MSG).
I thanked God for something I had heard him speak into my life.
This little journaling exercise helped me to experience the reality of Paul's exhortation: "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18). This little exercise of saying thanks to God is not intense or time consuming. As a matter of fact, it brought new zest to my time with the Lord. You may want to write a poem to the Lord one day, sing a song to the Lord another day, or draw a picture to glorify God at yet another time. There are many ways through which God communicates to you and you to him.
The place the Lord caught my attention was with the discipline of hearing God's voice—listening deliberately to hear what he was saying to me. I recall the first time I dared to write down something I sensed God was saying into my heart. It was an experience I entered into with some trepidation. I expected the Lord to scold me, or at minimum to warn me about all the things that endangered my life. However, I found the Lord saying things to me such as "I love you" and "I have good plans for your life." And then, God told me, "I have been waiting a long time to speak to you. Prayer has been a one-way street for you for too long. I want to speak into your life daily. I have important things to share with you." I was overwhelmed with the messages of love that I discovered in the Scriptures as God's voice was personalized in my life.
Journaling is not just for someone who has hours to spend at this discipline every day. It is something that each one of us can put into daily practice. We will never have time for devotions. We need to take time. As Bill Hybels says, "Any way you cut it, a key ingredient in authentic Christianity is time. Not left-over time, not throw-away time, but quality time. Time for contemplation, meditation, and reflection. Unhurried, uninterrupted time."
A busy young executive summarizes his thoughts about journaling as follows: "Journaling has made my quiet times with the Lord more enjoyable. It has helped me to go to a deeper level of reflection on Scripture and to wait for the word that God wants to impress on me. Writing my thoughts and prayers has also solidified my communication with him. This has resulted in heightened anticipation of what God has for me today. This increased my faithfulness to my times with him." What this executive experienced is what all of us wish for in our time with the Lord. Journaling can be an important pathway to get there.
Today I have over fifty journal books standing on a shelf in my study. They are a record of many of the things I, together with my wife, children, and grandchildren, have experienced in life. The journals are not homework assignments to be handed in for correction. They are simply the thoughts and insights that God gave me as I experienced so much of his grace and ministry.
My goal is to encourage you to begin taking pen in hand and recording the thoughts that God gives you. The main thing is to wait on the Lord and begin recording your thoughts as you read the Scriptures and hear God's voice speaking your name.
Remember that everyone who hears God's voice is never the same again. I invite you to discover the joy of developing a conversational relationship with God.
1. Have you ever kept a diary or a journal?
2. What were the difficulties you encountered in implementing your journaling discipline?
3. What steps will you take to overcome these barriers?
4. How could the use of the acrostic (THANKS) be of help to you as you express your gratefulness to God?
5. What are some other ideas you could incorporate into your journaling experience?
6. Read John 10:27: "My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (MSG). Have you ever heard the Lord speak to you? When? What did he say to you?CHAPTER 2
Learning to Recognize God's Voice
After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.
A sheep that has been with the shepherd for many years is better equipped to hear the shepherd's voice.
It is an amazing fact that sheep and other domesticated animals and pets unerringly recognize the voice of their master or mistress. The Bible teaches that as surely as sheep recognize their shepherd's distinct voice, so also we have been given the capability to identify the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Jesus said, "My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27 MSG).
This truth was impressed on me during a visit that Carol and I took to Israel several years ago. On a particular day, our schedule called for a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. About halfway into that excursion, our guide stopped the bus near an old stone block building, which he identified as the Good Samaritan Inn. As we disembarked and listened to the information our guide gave us, we noted a Bedouin shepherd was coming our way with a flock of sheep. The shepherd approached me and said, "For one American dollar I'll show you something special."
Excerpted from hearing God's voice by Vern Heidebrecht. Copyright © 2007 Vern Heidebrecht. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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