Today’s sermon started with a video where we learned about active listening. Think of a piece of music, if one instrument was removed, would you notice the difference? Generally not, we hear the tune more than the individual voices that makes it up. But when you first start out by hearing that instrument’s individual part, and then listen to the music both with and without, you can hear the difference very clearly.
What if we made an effort to tune into God’s voice? God’s voice is like one instrument from the music: You have to know what it sounds like first, and then you can start to pick it out from the surrounding noise. But you can’t do it if you start with the song as a whole. You have to know what the instrument sounds like.
Relationships are all about communication. Not just verbal, but everything we do communicates who we are. To do the degree that that is honest, we have a relationship. God wants to be in a relationship with us so this communication with him is extremely important. And the thing is, he is not always obvious. He exists in the still, small voice. It is inconspicuous, and almost indiscernible.
If you are not listening for it, you will miss it.
Dallas Willard, in his book Hearing God, said:
“God ordinarily will not compete for your attention.”
He wants to be sought. This seeking is what builds our character to be able to hear his voice in the first place.
As Paul says, the voice lives in what we call our imagination, which is the mind’s ability to see/experience things on the inside. Paul says what we see is mediated, as though through a mirror. We need to become people who learn to trust our imaginations because this is where we hear God.
The imagination is the inner chapel. When information becomes experiential, that is when it becomes transformative.
God wants to be speaking to us this way all the time. This method of continuous communication was supposed to be ordinary. In the book of Acts, the disciples would ordinarily be guided by the spirit because they would listen to what was going on in their mind/heart/imagination. That was normal for them. But the world has a different normal.
Our norm is not normal to God. God has not changed — he is still talking to people, still wants to open eyes, wants to transform people. What has changed is not God’s normal but our normal. The head is still sending messages to the body, but the body is not hearing it because our mindset has changed.
Romans 8:5-7,9 —
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.”
Living in the Flesh doesn’t refer strictly to the body and the physical world, rather it refers to a false way of looking at physical world, as though that is all there is, as if Jesus Christ is not Lord and God is not speaking, not audible and not discernible. So that’s why Paul says the flesh is hostile to God. But when you live according to the Spirit, you take your orders from a higher source.
Ask yourself honestly, does this describe you: You wake up and maybe say a prayer, but before too long your mind is filled with what you have to do, places to go, meetings you have, people you have to impress, etc., etc., etc., and then you spend rest of your day doing that. You maybe say a prayer at end of the day, but 99% of the waking moments of the rest of the day was lived as though God was not real, and had nothing to say to you. You can make your own decisions and follow your own plans. This norm is hostile to God because his voice is just one of a hundred other voices.
We live with a flesh-filled mindset, our minds are filled to the brim with all the stuff we have to do in our lives, our own plans. It’s like the game Where’s Waldo. He is surrounded by all these other things which drown him out and he gets lost. No wonder we can’t find Waldo! We invite Jesus into our already-crammed minds and we wonder, “where’s Jesus?” We have crowded him out with a thousand other voices.
The essence of the flesh is to do things our way. To invite the Spirit in is to be willing to do things HIS way. The question is, is Jesus lord of our life or not? We confess our life to him, but when it comes to actually living our daily life, really only 1% (or less) of our life is surrendered to him. Surrendering your life to Christ means you surrender this moment and the next and the next, which means you die to your own self, that fleshy, self-interested self. You have to shut all of that out and “Waldo” will appear.
Matthew 6:31-33 —
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Instead of striving first for clothing, food, the house, what’s convenient, etc., strive for the kingdom of God. Start with the voice of God, start with the “bass line” and the rest will take care of itself one way or another. The only thing that will cut through all that is your passion to hear the voice of God.
When God is hard to hear, ask yourself, do you really want to hear what he has to say?
The truth is that while Greg was preparing this sermon, he had a great sermon on hearing God all planned out and ready to roll, all while God was whispering to him about a different message, but he blocked it out because he had the sermon planned out and he knew it would go over well. So while he was preparing to preach on hearing God, he was ironically resisting doing just that! To say yes to the Spirit in this case meant he had to start over from scratch at the last minute, to step out of his comfort zone and not be sure what to say, and risk that the sermon would not go smoothly.
The ironic thing is that most religion is flesh, just dressed up self-interest. What makes you most comfortable, what gets you the most points, what makes you the most popular or successful, what gets the most attendees in the door, this is the essence of the flesh and religion is just as fleshy as any other business. It’s what we do in our head by being addicted to our own self-thoughts. It’s called being lord of your own life.
At the heart of this “fleshy” mindset is xenophobia, the fear of the other. It’s the fear of what we can’t control, don’t feel comfortable with, don’t have experience with, don’t like the smell of, don’t understand, anything that seems “weird.”
But the thing is, the Kingdom of God moves in the exact opposite direction! If the way of the world and flesh is xenophobia, then the way of the kingdom is xenophilia — a LOVE of the other!
This is why Jesus broke every social rule there was, talking to people he wasn’t supposed to talk to, hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes for crying out loud. The kingdom is defined by radical inclusivity. And yes, sometimes (maybe usually) the world will punish you for it. So be it.
The essence of the kingdom is always pushing back against xenophobia. We have to start by recognizing ours, because we all have it. Any time you have thought “that’s weird” that is your xenophobia at work. Recognize it and push back against it.
If you aren’t in a church where your xenophobia is regularly being pushed back against, then you’re not in the right environment! This consumer model of church is inherently xenophobic — whatever your preference, we can meet that and whoever gets the most attendees wins. We end up with something where this is the church of these preferences, that is the church of those preferences and that is the church of those other preferences, and we are all segregated in the name of Jesus Christ…
Instead, think of it this way: Maybe if you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re not being challenged enough. If the people around you don’t look like you or if you don’t love the music or if you don’t like the culture, then that’s great, you should stay around because that means it is pushing you to love real OTHERS.
Woodland Hills has been moving in this direction of increased diversity, increased inclusivity and honestly increased weirdness, and it is great. The ones who are already equal may not be real into it but the ones that are unequal hunger for it and God shows up.
Xenophilia pushing out and overcoming xenophobia is the power of the cross! Because God is the ultimate stranger, the ultimate other.
When you invite God in, all bets are off. You lose your self-centered comfort and security. He wants to dialogue with us all day long. Can we live and think as if it is true that God is a relational, loving God who wants to talk with us in that still, small voice? Confess your xenophobia or your fear and ask God to help you.
So as you go through your day-to-day life, have your ear cupped. More than what you will wear, how you do your job or who you have to talk to today, be listening for God’s quiet voice mixed in the din. Make that your highest priority.
Hide Extended Summary