Discernment & Prayer (Mirror, Mirror #10) Notes
Discernment & Prayer (Mirror, Mirror #10)
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • July 5, 2015 • Rev. Donnell Wyche, Executive Pastor
This morning we wrap our 10-week journey with Simon Peter. We aren’t done telling his story, and I want to revisit him soon. I hope you have learned something about the Art of Being Yourself over these past 10 weeks. I pray that you have been encouraged by Peter’s story. I pray that you see and accept the invitation from Jesus to join him by going through the narrow gate, leaving behind whatever it is you are holding onto for safety and security and trusting God for what’s next. I hope you see that it doesn’t matter who you are, what your background, what you look like, what gender you are, God is welcoming you into his Kingdom. I hope that you have been able to take a new step of trust and surrender towards God. And I pray that the King, the King of Glory has met you in your step of faith.
Two weeks ago, the practical tip was to let your life speak. An ethereal invitation that may have been lost on many of us. This invitation was made as a means of providing a hand-hold for us as we try to live in an open posture. As Parker Palmer suggests “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”
This is an invitation to slow down, observe, and reflect. We are being invited to become aware of how we have related and responded to our lives so far. What’s worked, what hasn’t, all of this helps in the art of being ourselves. And as a church we are committed to helping each of us take the next step in our faith journey.
Did you know that we have a website dedicated to the practical tips? It’s available at practialtips.org.
Each week, our Spiritual Formation team gathers and expands the practical tip from the past week’s sermon; this team’s single goal is to help you and I take a step toward Jesus in our spiritual formation with the hope that we will meet and encounter the living God and experience his grace and mercy as we expand our trust and grow our intimacy with him.
In addition to the dedicated website, we also have Spiritual Formation page on the church’s website with lots of resources and tools to help you grow spiritually. Take some time this upcoming week to visit these two sites to see if they can help you take a new step of trust this week.
Learning to Be Present
As we wrap up our time with Peter this morning, I just want to continue with the very next scene that unfolds in Peter’s story: The Transfiguration. Remember, last week, we looked in on an explosive exchange between Jesus and Peter. They go toe-to-toe over what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. Peter wants Jesus to overthrow Rome, and Jesus insists he must suffer and die. Things escalate, words are exchanged, names are called. As a matter of fact, Peter is called the Satan. Strong language. Jesus communicates that he needs to resist Peter’s plan and has to trust God.
In this next scene, the Transfiguration, it unfolds with Jesus and Peter together again, apparently reconciled. Exactly, how do you recover from being called Satan? I’m not sure. But apparently it takes about a week:
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (Matthew 17:1–3)
After six days, Jesus has Peter, James, and John with him for his transfiguration. Why these three, why six days? Interestingly enough, all three of these disciples have had their names changed after agreeing to follow Jesus. Is it possible they were invited because Jesus knew what was coming would shake them to their core, and they needed to be grounded, reassured, so they would be willing to take the next step in their faith journey?
Not sure. As the scene unfolds, Peter witnesses something truly amazing, which is saying something for him. Hanging out with Jesus has allowed Peter to see dead people come back to life again, allowed him to walk on water, to see uncontrollable storms calmed. If that wasn’t already a lot to process, Peter is now in the company of the faith leaders of Israel: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. They are all there, and they are alive. How could this be? Didn’t Moses die? And Elijah, wasn’t he the prophet that was taken into heaven via a chariot of fire? And here they are talking with Jesus. Sharing what might easily be better described as a shared drug induced hallucination, Peter is actually getting a fuller understanding of what it means to be held in the hands of God.
I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29)
I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to witness this scene, what would I do?
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
I would probably try to make sense of it just like Peter did by offering to build a memorial to what he witnessed. As Peter is stumbling through this experience, verbally processing it all out loud–what they say most extroverts do–a voice breaks in.
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 17:4-8)
Ouch, God speaks and basically tells you to “shut up.” It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Peter. First, he reveals the messianic secret, revealing that Jesus is truly the Messiah. Then when Jesus tries to explain what the vocation entails, Peter rebukes Jesus, only to get called Satan in return. Pain! Then after reconciling with Jesus, he’s been invited into something significant, something really important, Jesus is transfigured and changed before his death on the cross, and while Peter is verbally processing what he is witnessing, God interrupts and tells him to shut up. Oh, boy!
He holds us in his hands
Let’s pause here and push in for a moment. There are four times in the New Testament that God’s audible voice is mentioned or recorded. I’ve talked about the need for us to allow our lives to speak to us. And that only happens when we are in the same posture as Jesus, learning to sit, listen, and ask. What did Peter experience in this interchange?
Peter’s reaction to the voice of God is to fall facedown in terror.
But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”
I don’t want to paint the Father as terrifying and Jesus as our protector. Remember Jesus reveals who God is to us. He trusted the father for everything, including his life. He instructs and teaches us that the father can be trusted.
Jesus speaks the words we all want to hear, “Don’t be afraid.”
God speaks to us too, and more importantly, He hears us. From my reading of scripture, and through my personal experience, and the experiences of others, I believe he also wants us to know and follow His voice when he speaks to us.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)
Unfortunately for many of us, we won’t ever hear God’s audible voice the way Peter did. We won’t have the same intimate, yet jarring, experience that Peter had. Yet, as we seek Him, we learn to discern God’s voice, don’t we?
As I’ve been discovering a deeper self-understanding in counseling, I realize that this whole “Art of Being Yourself” work is really important as we hope to flourish. Stories sit at the epicenter of our experiences of life. Individually and collectively, we give meaning to life by telling stories. This is something that is found in all human culture. If we aren’t mindful of the stories we tell, they have a way of dictating how our lives unfold. I’m learning this weekly as I spend time telling my story in counseling and seeing how the stories I tell conflict with or enhance the reality of the life I experience.
One of the gifts we receive in a loving, nurturing environment is the ability to be confident and to make bonds with others. Researchers now posit that we form our confidence and emotional bonds early in our development as infants. These bonds form when we cry out and someone comes and responds to us, hopefully offering warmth, embrace, and soothing. This allows us and our body to self-regulate and to calm down. The researchers tell us that infants start to associate this comfort with their caregivers voice. In some cases, just hearing the caregiver’s voice can be enough to bring calm and peace. Two nights ago, I was playing with Alyvia, our nine month old, and she got bored and wanted mom. She started to cry out for her, then when Maria didn’t arrive, she started to really open up and wail. Then she heard Maria’s voice and almost immediately, she started to settle.
What would it look like to be able to settle like this in God’s presence? I think we all long to hear God’s voice because we imagine the comfort and peace it will bring.
As we rejoin Peter in this scene, I think Peter instructs us in the most basic way; he helps us to see that we can’t hear God’s voice or see him at work when we are distracted. And there’s an invitation that is offered from God, “Listen.”
As we take steps of trust, placing ourselves in an open posture, we want an immediate response. I remember when I asked my father how to hear God speaking, he told me it would take time. “I had to develop an ear to hear,” I remember him saying. He was inviting me to join Jesus in a posture of sitting, listening, asking. All too often, we struggle here. We struggle to hear God speaking in any way, shape, or form, so we just give up and assume that God only speak to those who...
- Read the scripture everyday
- Worship all the time
- Pray without ceasing
- Are righteous
But let’s let Peter continue to instruct us here, Peter was brash, loud, impulsive, he was himself, and yet he heard God speaking and I believe we all can too. The beauty is God speaks all the time, we just have to develop our an ability to discern his voice in our midst.
God isn’t the only one speaking, so it’s important for us to recognize the role of discernment in our discovery. The key to hearing God is discerning between His voice and our own, and this familiarity largely comes through practice.
We often pray and ask for God’s intervention and when God doesn’t show up the way we expect, we just assume that he’s disinterested, busy, aloof. But what if we learned the skills of letting our lives speak and develop tools of discernment?
This has been the hardest part of my discipleship, and I’ve often resented those who so easily seemed to be able to hear and interact with God. Then I discovered that God speaks to all of us differently. When someone finally helped me discover that I come alive when I’m in a group of people discussing theology and the process of the back and forth is a way that God speaks to me, a light came on. I can hear God speaking to me in the debates and discussions I have with others, and it unlocked something in my relationship with God. This unlocked a new intimacy, a new closeness, an invitation to be myself.
Throughout Scripture, God paints a picture of His relationship with us as one in which He speaks to us as His beloved children and acts on our behalf. Biblical characters didn’t call to God and then walk away despondent because they assumed He wasn’t going to answer. On the contrary, they waited expectantly and eagerly for God’s reply.
Hearing God’s voice is not a mystical experience for the “super-spiritual.” It’s a natural dynamic of being in relationship. God is still speaking today, and we can still hear Him.
If we believe that God designed us, then he has designed us for relationship with Him, and any good relationship requires two-way communication. God wants you to hear Him more than you do.
This starts with our expected and confident approach. God isn’t idle or insensitive to our requests, and I believe He will respond. Sometimes God doesn’t answer us right away — He invites us to come as we are....questioning, complaining, and confused. Sometimes he doesn’t answer us in the way we expect. If we value hearing from God, and if we are equally as certain that we will hear His voice, we will be determined to wait patiently for God to speak.
“If you want to hear God’s voice clearly and you are uncertain, then remain in His presence until He changes the uncertainty. Often much can happen during this waiting on the Lord. Sometimes He changes pride into humility; doubt into faith and peace.” Corrie Ten Boom
As we approach God to hear his voice, often we will experience fear, but I love that Jesus responds to Peter as he does, “Don’t Be Afraid.” In an early scripture, this concept of “not being afraid” is mentioned, but before he says, “Don’t be Afraid,” he say, “Take courage.”
Courage is the mental, physical, psychological, and spiritual fortitude to confront and withstand fear, risks, threats, and dangers. And it’s what we need as continue to follow Jesus into the unknown.
Practical Tip - Anticipating the consequences (Yeah)
If you have been asking God for help but feel that He hasn’t been responding, pray that He will help you see the things you might be missing that He is already doing in your life.
God speaks to us in the way we are listening.
“Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.” Psalm 5:3
God speaks to us in the way we are listening. Start a conversation with the Lord. Talk to Him and ask Him open-ended questions. Then after you ask the question, still your mind and wait.
Remember, God does not usually communicate with us as audibly as he did to Peter.
Many times, He will speak to you with scriptures, song lyrics, or the counsel of trusted friends.
When He does, continue the conversation. You could even write your prayers so you can look back later and see how He’s answered you.