Follow one man’s journey of learning to hear the voice of God. By putting words to the things God has shown him through some amazing experiences, John Eldredge helps readers shed light on the miraculous truths that God is showing them right now.
Our deepest need is to live in conversation with God. To hear his voice. To follow him intimately. This is the single most life-changing habit that a human being can adopt, because it brings us back to the source of life. Yet most Christians have never been taught how to have a conversation with the Creator.
In this revised and updated edition of his classic Walking with God, John Eldredge opens his personal journals to tell a year’s worth of stories about walking and talking with the Lord.
Some of John’s stories will help readers recall lessons they didn’t know had been forgotten, some will open up new horizons, but they will all help readers tell and interpret their own story: the story of their intimate walk with God.
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About the Author
John Eldredge is a bestselling author, a counselor, and a teacher. He is also president of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God, recover their own hearts in God’s love, and learn to live in God’s kingdom. John and his wife, Stasi, live near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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Walking with God
How to Hear His Voice
By John Eldredge
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 John Eldredge
All rights reserved.
A Time of Restoration and Renewal, and for Finding Our Way Back to Joy
Slowing Down to Listen
This story actually begins back in June, with the first day of summer vacation.
I'm sitting on the porch of our cabin listening to the rain on the tin roof and watching it fall on all my plans for the day. I cannot hike. I cannot do chores. I cannot fish. The mud is so deep I cannot drive anywhere. I'm trapped. Pinned down. With myself and God. There is nothing I can do but pay attention to what surfaces inside of me when I cannot charge into the day. I am paying attention, my journal on my lap, and this is what I begin to write:
I am tweaked again.
Royally flippin' tweaked.
I'm so tired and wrung, my body hurts from being tired.
Or hurts at the first chance to let down and be tired.
Granted, it has been a hard year. So much going on, so much required. But God is after something. As I journal, I feel like a prisoner writing his confession.
And I know why I'm tweaked.
I'm tweaked from pushing.
Pushing, pushing, always pushing.
This pushing is such a way of life for me, I barely know how to live otherwise. I'm always working on something. Trying to make life better for me or for someone else. It feels like I heave myself at life. Always looking for some way to improve things. I come up here to the ranch to rest, and in the first ten minutes of quiet, here is where my mind goes: I ought to teach Sam how to cast a fly rod. We ought to finish that back fence. I ought to work with the horses every day we are here. I could paint the door now. Better look at that topo map for my trip with Luke in August. Make a plan.
Jesus, have mercy.
This rain is a mercy. I am forced to stop. With a bit of pouting, I begin to accept that this deluge is from God. I cannot live my life like this — always working on something. Trying to make life better. Pushing. It's the first day of my vacation, but I can't enjoy it because of the condition I'm in. And I did this to myself. I'm frayed like an old rope because of the way I live my life. And I've got a pretty good sense that this isn't the life God would have me live. I'm pretty sure there isn't a verse that goes, "He leadeth me to utter exhaustion,- he runneth me ragged." In fact, doesn't Jesus say something about his yoke is easy and his burden light? Maybe I have some other yoke on me than the yoke of Christ.
Did I really need to take all those trips this year? Really? Did I really have to come through for everyone I felt compelled to come through for? Really? Here is the embarrassing question: Did I even ask God about those things? Now, I know, I know — our lives seem so inevitable. There's always a reason. There's always a defense. "But I have to live like this! If I didn't carry the world on my shoulders — who would?"
Drip. Drip. Drip. This downpour shows no signs of letting up. It is as persistent as the Spirit behind it.
Trapped on the porch, I know the issue is far bigger than this vacation. I know that full well. The issue is the way I live my life. And forced for a few moments to stop, I also know that I don't want to live like this. The very things I'm doing to try to make life happen — all those things that feel so inevitable and unavoidable — are draining me and preventing me from finding the life God offers. If you're about to run out of gas, the best thing to do is slow way down to conserve fuel so that you can make it to the next station. What I do is gun it. Put the pedal to the metal. No wonder God had to command us to rest. We wouldn't do it otherwise. Even with the command, we don't really do it.
Sitting here on the porch with God, I return to what I have forgotten — that there is a life out of which everything else flows. A life that comes to us from God. Jesus gave us the example of the vine and the branches. He is the vine, we the branches (John 15:5). The essential point of the imagery is that life flows from the vine through the branches, and only then do we get fruit. The branches are merely channels. They cannot make abundance happen. The branches need life to bring forth all the joy those grapes offer — the feasting, the wine, the merrymaking after the harvest. That life does not exist in the branches themselves. They — we — have to get it from another source. From God.
Now, rest is just one of the ways we receive the life of God. We stop, set all of our busyness down, and allow ourselves to be replenished. This is supposed to happen regularly. The original prescription was weekly. So why does rest feel like a luxury? Seriously, it feels irresponsible. We think we can drive ourselves like oxen fifty weeks a year, resurrect in a two-week vacation, then go back and do it all again. That is madness. My pushing and striving cut me off from the life I so desperately need. I don't even think to stop and ask, Is this what you'd have me do, Lord? Do you want me to paint the bathroom? Volunteer at church? Stay late at work?
So God sends this downpour to keep me from squandering my vacation by running like a greyhound. He loves me too much to leave me to my own devices.
I'm back to the shepherd and the sheep. When the sheep follow the shepherd, they find pasture. They find life. Life doesn't just magically come to us. We have to make ourselves available to it. There is a lifestyle that allows us to receive the life of God. I know that if I will live more intimately with Jesus and follow his voice, I will have a much better chance of finding the life I long for. I know it. If I will listen to his voice and let him set the pace, if I will cooperate in my transformation, I will be a much happier man. And so a new prayer has begun to rise within me. I am asking God, What is the life you want me to live?
If we can get an answer to that question, it will change everything.
On Learning to Listen
We are invited to become followers of Jesus.
Not just believers. Followers. There is a difference.
Follower assumes that someone else is doing the leading. As in "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. ... He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice" (John 10:3-4). The Bible invites us to an intimacy with God that will lead us to the life we are meant to live. If we will follow him. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; / I will counsel you and watch over you" (Psalm 32:8). God promises to guide us in the details of our lives. In fact, the psalm continues, "Do not be like the horse or the mule, / which have no understanding / but must be controlled by bit and bridle / or they will not come to you" (v. 9).
What would it be like to yield to Christ in the details of our lives? What would it be like to follow his counsel and instruction in all the small decisions that add up to the life we find ourselves living?
It would be ... amazing.
I think we would find ourselves saying, as David did, "You have made known to me the path of life" (Psalm 16:11). This is the privilege and the joy of sheep that belong to a good shepherd. He leads them well. He leads them to life. So, back to the question, What is the life you want me to live? It is a good question — maybe one of the most important questions we could ever bring to God. He created us, after all. He knows why. He knows what is best for each of us. If we could learn from him the life he wants us to live — the details, the pace of life, the places we are to invest ourselves and the places we are not to — we would be in his will. And there we would find life.
But it's too big a question to ask. I find I have to start with something smaller.
This weekend, the first of our summer vacation, my simple question was, What would you have us do: should we go to the ranch or stay home? (The ranch for us is a place of rest and restoration. At least that's what it is supposed to be.) I knew I had to start there, with one simple question.
This is step one in learning to listen to the voice of God: ask simple questions. You cannot start with huge and desperate questions, such as, Should I marry Ted? or Do you want me to sell the family business tomorrow? or Do I have lung cancer? (Paranoia rarely enables me to hear God's voice.) That's like learning to play the piano by starting with Mozart, learning to ski by doing double black diamonds. There is way too much emotion involved, too much swirling around in our heads. I find that to hear the voice of God, we must be in a posture of quiet surrender. Starting with small questions helps us learn to do that.
Remember the story of the prophet Elijah after his triumph on Mount Carmel? He ran and hid in a cave. And there God spoke to him.
The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)
A gentle whisper. "A still small voice," as some translations have it. To hear that gentle whisper, we have to settle down. Shut out all the drama. Quiet our hearts. Now, as we grow in our personal holiness, we can be quiet and surrendered even in the major questions. But that takes time, and maturity. Don't ask that of yourself as you are starting out. Begin with simple questions.
I can sit quietly with the question, What do you want for this weekend: should we go to the ranch or stay home? It's not a life-and-death matter. I am not desperately hoping to hear what I secretly want to hear. There is not a great deal of drama around it.
What I'll do is sit with the question before God for several minutes. To help me stay present to God and not begin to wander (Did I take the socks out of the dryer? Is tomorrow the phone call with my publisher? Where did I leave my cell phone?), I will repeat the question quietly in my heart. God, do you want us to go to the ranch or stay home? I am settling myself before God. Do you want us to go to the ranch or stay home? Settle down and be present to God. Pause and listen. Repeat the question. Should we go to the ranch or stay home? What is your counsel?
And while I am doing this, I am also noticing my heart's posture on the matter. Am I willing to hear whatever it is God wants to say? That is absolutely critical. If I can only hear an answer that agrees with what I want to hear, then I am not in a posture of surrender to God's will, and it will be hard for me to hear him at all — or to trust what I do hear, especially if it is the answer I'm looking for. There is no more decisive issue when it comes to hearing the voice of God than the issue of surrender. Which is beautiful, really. We are drawn to God in search of guidance, but we come away with a deeper holiness because we are learning to surrender. Sometimes I will even say as I'm listening, Lord, I will accept whatever it is you want to say to me. It helps me bring my soul to a posture of quiet surrender.
So there are the basics: Start with small questions. Repeat the question quietly in your heart to God. Bring yourself to a posture of quiet surrender. And let me add this — I am assuming we are talking about matters of counsel or guidance that are not directly addressed by Scripture. You don't need to ask God whether or not to commit murder or to run off with your neighbor's television. He already spoke to us about those things. You don't need to ask him if you should rest. He spoke to us about that too. But sometimes we don't know where or when or exactly how to rest, and so we need to seek further direction by listening.
Now, if I don't seem to be able to hear God's voice in that moment, sometimes what I will do is "try on" one answer and then the other. Still in a posture of quiet surrender, I ask the Lord, Is it yes, you want us to go? Pause. In my heart I am trying it on, letting it be as though this is God's answer. We should go? Pause and listen. Or is it no, you want us to stay home? Pause and let this be his answer. We should stay home? Pause and listen again.
Quite often we can sense God's direction on a matter before we hear actual words. You may have heard someone use the expression "I had a check in my spirit." It refers to an internal pause, a hesitancy, a sudden reluctance to proceed. The Spirit of God may be impressing you with the will of God by making one answer seem very unappealing or wrong somehow. Arresting you, stopping you. Our spirit is in union with the Spirit of God, and he often makes his will known to us deep within before it forms into words. By "trying on" the possible answers, I find it enables me to come into alignment with his Spirit. And, over time, those deep impressions begin to form into words. A simple yes or no can be so encouraging as we learn to listen.
I heard, Yes — go. It will be good.
For more on this topic watch Video 2 at RansomedHeart.com/WalkingwithGod.
Whole and Holy
And now it's raining.
I'm pretty darn sure God told me to come, and now it's raining.
Don't let this throw you. Things may not unfold the way you think they will when you're following God. Remember — he is after both our transformation and our joy. The one hangs upon the other. I needed rest more than I knew. But I am so addicted to busyness, I was about to turn his gift of rest into a week of chores. Fix the fence, paint the door, get 'er done. So he has to pin me down on the porch so that I don't wreck the gift he's trying to give.
And now that I am pinned down, I can see what God is bringing to the surface. I am acutely aware of my drivenness. If I keep up this pace, I will burn out. Have a heart attack. Go down in flames. And now I can walk with God even more intimately as I cooperate with him in my transformation. He's got me here on the porch so that he can bring to the surface just how compelled I am. And so that, together, we can explore why. This rain shows no signs of letting up. Looks like I have hours to discover what God is after.
Pause. You do know what he is after in your own life, don't you? Maybe that's why we stay so busy — to avoid knowing, so we can avoid dealing with it.
And you do know that the "quick fix" doesn't ever work. Simply telling myself, "You are too busy, John. You've got to slow down," is about as effective as telling an addict to quit. (Has it worked for you?)
There are forces driving the way I live, reasons and compulsions written deep in my soul. I know where my pushing and striving come from. They come from unbelief, from some deep fear that it's all up to me. Life is up to me. I've got to make as much headway as I can before the bottom drops out. Make hay while the sun shines 'cause it isn't always going to shine and what's that underlying dread? God is not just after behavior modification (as in, stop it), but real and deep and lasting change.
And that brings me to another assumption that we must hold if we would walk with God — true holiness requires the healing of our souls.
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. (Ephesians 1:3-4 msg)
Whole and holy. The two go hand in hand. Oh, how important this is. You can't find the holiness you want without deep wholeness. And you can't find the wholeness you want without deep holiness. You can't simply tell the meth addict to quit. She does need to quit, but she requires profound healing to be able to quit. You can't just tell a raging man to stop losing his temper. He would love to stop. He'd give anything to stop. He doesn't know how. He doesn't know all the forces within him that swell up and overwhelm him with anger. Telling him to stop raging is like telling him to hold back the sea.
For too long there have been two camps in Christendom. One is the holiness, or "righteousness," crowd. They are the folks holding up the standard, preaching a message of moral purity. The results have been ... mixed. Some morality, and a great deal of guilt and shame. Very little lasting change comes from this approach. Hey, I'm all for purity. It's just that you can't get there without the healing of your soul.
God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Excerpted from Walking with God by John Eldredge. Copyright © 2016 John Eldredge. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Prelude: Learning to Hear the Voice of God, 1,
SUMMER A Time of Restoration and Renewal, and for Finding Our Way Back to Joy, 21,
FALL A Season of Crisis and Struggle, but Then Breakthrough and Discovery, 75,
WINTER Finding God in Our Losses, in the Mundane, and Sustaining Our Hearts Over What Can Feel Like the Long Path of Obedience, 117,
SPRING A Time of Resurrection, Recovered Hope and Desire, a Time of New Beginnings, 175,
IN CLOSING, 207,
EPILOGUE Through the Seasons of Life, 209,
Appendix: The Daily Prayer, 221,