How do we hear God?
How do we get to recognise his voice (John 10:27)?
We look up; we search the Scripture.
The Scriptures are a rich resource, not just of good words, but of God words. Although the word to which God leads you for this year will not necessarily be directly Scriptural, the Bible is a great place to start your search. There you will discover the God who loves you and wants you to flourish. There you will find stories of people of all generations encountering the reality of God in their daily life. And there you will meet the Spirit who both warns and encourages, so God can shape human lives like the potter shapes the clay (Isaiah 64:8)).
This New Year project aims to identify, under the Spirit's guidance, one thing, one word, which will shape our discipleship journey over a year. The phrase 'one thing' appears in the Bible five times. Jesus tells Martha one thing is needed, and his words to the rich young ruler are also about his lacking one thing. Paul uses the phrase to bring focus and clarity to his calling: I focus on this one thing; forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on…. (Philippians 3: 13,14). In Part One we noted how Jesus' parable of the good shepherd in John 10 reminds that God speaks to us, and that we can learn to recognise his voice. Come close to God, and God will come close to you (James 4: 8).
As you search the Scriptures for ideas about one word for your year, look for images that spark your imagination. For stories that challenge your mindset. For promises that give you hope and joy. One word from these sources might be your word, so keep notes of what you hear from the God who speaks.
A story of my own: One autumn I went on a silent retreat at Tyburn Benedictine Monastery in the Bombay Hills of Auckland, knowing I had some issues to deal with. I decided to use some of the time by reading and journaling Scripture. But when you are a preacher and writer like me, the temptation is for Bible reading to become an exercise in doing your job; you are always looking for a sermon idea or a useful illustration. I asked God to help me read less intellectually and more devotionally. The Spirit led me to the index of Solo, a devotional book based on lectio divina, the sacred reading of Scripture. By drawing and praying about stresses and struggles I was dealing with, I discovered one word that summed them all up. TRUST. I realised I wasn’t really sure I trusted God any more. I looked up "trust" in the index and slowly read and journalled all those readings. Back then I didn’t know about Get One Word, this exercise of discerning one word to guide our life with Christ. But looking back I have no doubt that TRUST was my word that year. And reading key scriptures where that idea appears was the best medicine my doubting heart could have received.
The Scriptures are the main way God reveals himself to us. But be alert for God’s voice in other places too – listen to songs, look in movies, notice turns of phrase. Rachel, one of the writers of the My One Word book that has guided my project felt drawn to a word in her communication lectures at university; "peripety" means tipping point – and her year turned out to be just that. So listen for God’s invitation in other words that come across your path.
- In a poem or a prayer.
- In a worship song or an inspiring sermon.
- In a greeting card or a love letter.
God is wanting to catch your attention and he may do that in surprising ways.
Mark's story: Mark L. was an architect who in 2009 had asked God to show him the obstacles that were getting in the way of His abiding in Christ. He felt drawn to the word WAIT, which he read in Lamentations 3:24: The Lord is my portion; therefore will I wait for him. Waiting was not Mark’s natural bent. He had a habit of bailing out when faced with a difficult situation. Rather than deal with conflict or face hardship, he’d change companies, change neighbourhoods, or change churches, instead of waiting for God to guide him through the difficulty. 14 days after choosing the word WAIT, Mark was laid off. Then his wife lost her job. Their world crumbled and "Wait" seemed like a sick joke. But Mark decided not to act hastily. He did wait to see what would happen. Clients started seeking him out and contracting him to do design jobs. In the middle of a recession when the building industry was in dire straits, Mark started his own company. Because of that word, he had peace of mind that prevented him from fretting. Mark learned God is utterly trustworthy. (adapted from Ashcroft and Olsen, 2012, p83).
Now not every situation is resolved by sitting on our hands and doing nothing; sometimes waiting involves an active dimension. But that counterintuitive notion had come from God. And Mark was ready to obey.
How about you?
Whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God, even out of the corner of their eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action (James 1:25, The Message).
Ask God for a word.
This post is Part Two of a four-part series on my own One Word project.
A useful discipleship resource is available.