Many years ago in the midst of my frustratingly obsessive pursuit of “ministry” (a worthy discussion in itself for a future post) a wiser more lived mentor said to me “if you’re called to this kind of life it won’t matter what you do or how hard you try you’ll never get away from it”. At the time it appeared to me a cynical statement but over these last years I’ve realized they weren't being negative at all, they were leaning into the wonderful all things work together for the good of those who love him God that we worship.
We are all in some way, falling forward into a calling so natural to us we can't even see it.
Questions around calling and what God is doing in one’s life have been a conversational magnet in my travel, possibly because it’s the root cause of so much discomfort and dislocation in our lives. In almost every conversation I’ve had with others it’s been so crystal clear what they’re called to that it’s surprising to me that they can’t see it themselves. And I’ve many times had mentors and friends say exactly the same thing about me.
The truth is, your calling has been active in you since your birth. Your mind, your emotions, your desires have wired you to walk in a particular garden of dreams since your first thought and every aspect of your journey since then has been God’s invitation through Christ to recognize it earlier rather than later. Because when you do you will come alive in a way you never would have without it.
It's not your pre-determined destiny to outwork perfectly according to forethought details. It's an invitation to partner with your Father in outworking your calling with color, personality and uniqueness.
Many of us however, deny the gravity of it's fullness because we feel as though our calling should be hard, full of self denial or more religious than it appears to us. The truth more often is that God has given us a great desire for the very thing he’s called us too. True sacrifice in that sense doesn’t exist in the kingdom because how can it be a sacrifice when we gain something of greater worth than what we’re leaving behind?
The reason you're blessed with more than you give is because through it the Spirit illuminates in you every divine strength necessary for creating a greater future in that area. Your calling is that “sweet spot” where your gifts awaken and you find unnatural reserves to keep going even when that going is tough.
It makes you alive, not because it's easy, but because it's pentecost-full and exciting.
Your calling is a vocation that constantly gives you life, even when it’s exhausting. Because it’s the place you connect most easily with the beauty and reality of the Designer.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10
These exciting and fulfilling works aren’t your own. They’re tailored to you but they don’t originate in you, they’re your Pentecost-full endeavors, your invitation into the divine co-labour of Christ. But the resurrection of our heavenly vocational life is the destination beyond the journey of the cross.
Our nature is to evaluate our success according to money and influence. God evaluates success through the framework of relational fulfillment, redemption and the reconciliation of creation. Enter the “mad” success of the cross and the reason many of us never see the great fruition of our calling.
So in the world of God’s upside down kingdom we trade worldly success for an explosive inner life, deeper relationships with others and intimacy with him. We lift up the cross to creature comforts and take up the resurrection in an ordinary life that inhales and exhales eternity.
Is your more grace empowered life on call waiting? How do you know? Is there something that drives you, fuels a God dream, something that when you do it you come alive and others around benefit from it beyond your natural ability? Don’t think about the cost for a minute or how scary it is. Imagine the possibilities are endless because God is. Imagine God mailing you a letter today saying he’s got every detail and dollar covered, what would you feel your next step would be?
Then go, trust him, and believe that he really did mean it when he said he has prepared an abundant life and good works for you to do.. Live an extraordinarily ordinary life with the kind of peace in circumstance that will confound the world.
Your wild and absurd hunch may just be the ignition that redirects history for another of God’s created yet to find his love.
“This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him.” 1 John 4:10.
Have you ever met one of those incredible people who despite their having no training in their area of expertise excel in the vocational endeavor they’ve embarked upon? These exceptional people often have the personality, the gift of the gab or life experience to make them perfect for a role they have no traditional training in. If you know someone like this you’ll probably love hanging out with them and have the same sense of amazement at their fumbling forward into constant success as I do with those friends of mine.
I’ve found it’s also possible to find these people in spiritual vocations be they communicating heavenly truth, building heavenly community or speaking heavenly poetry. Their lives aren’t necessarily marked by that strange grace-success but by a creativity or mind so natural to them they breathe progress. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, these are beautiful people.
The limitation is however that a great mind or a talented individual in themselves don’t contain the necessary qualifications for a legacy leaving spiritual life. It’s not that they can’t leave a beautiful legacy or that there’s anything wrong with the DNA of their natural gifting, it’s just more true that the kingdom of heaven progresses through the dwelling of God’s grace among his people through Pentecost empowerment.
This is the leveling field of God’s divine grace, that the intelligent, the wise and the gifted are in equal qualification with the unlearned and unconfident nobodies in whom the world refuses to believe.
Long before Jesus rose miraculously from the grave humanity was talented and gifted. Great minds, brilliant architects, leaders and artists graced the earth. These creatures of the Creator progressed humanity and added to the cultural beauty of our history but there was one irrefutable issue, we toiled in our work and it rarely took eternal effect. "All is meaningless" as the famous wisdom teacher wrote as our working for progress often ended up starting a new cycle of eventual death in the industry we strived in. Divine life wasn’t yet fully flowing in our works, not like it was intended.
Enter Pentecost, the experience of God’s divine presence not just upon, not just visiting, but indwelling a people group in such a way that their talents, works and brilliance became uniquely heaven empowered. Our toil turned to rest and our love starting busting out internally from eternal wells rather than a self exertion of brute strength and desire.
What this means is that love itself, demonstrated in all our work and creative endeavors, went from something we need to grow in to something we simply need to flow in. A Pentecost-less life can achieve much out of the raw strength of it’s personal talent, but a Pentecost-full life can not only achieve it with a greater longevity, but a greater love.
Why? Because God had prepared these works for us since the beginning of time, works that will add color to the canvas of the world in a way we could have only dreamed about even days before our Upper Room experience. We're now not just living, we're living through Him.
So, are you living your life purely from your natural ability? Do you love from the small well of your own storehouse? Are your dreams easily achievable within the realms of hard work and a little luck? Then quite possibly your life, your love and your dreams are in danger of a Pentecost-less existence. It could be time again to come to the water and drink of the strength of heaven who will lead you in the direction of eternal pleasure as well as fruitful work.
We weren’t made just to live only naturally brilliant lives, we were made to live divinely empowered one’s. We’re new creations living through the Pentecost-full life of Christ, breathing creativity into every human domain with a legacy that will leave the world speechless before it’s humility.
(Blog photo: A typical Western image of the Pentecost by Duccio di Buoninsegna)
I'm confident that when James the biblical writer penned his famous illustration likening forgetting what your reflection looks like to hearing but not obeying the words of Jesus, he would never have imagined a generation who would spend almost more time in front of a mirror (or a screen) than away from it.
Before the proliferation of mirrors in the year 1500 people would have rarely had the opportunity to look at themselves throughout the day. Though of course they weren't immune to others opinions of themselves they still largely spent their time of self-reflection based on who they were on the inside - their character and the invisible personal aspects of their nature - and not their appearance as others see it. Today, we are far more owned by our exterior world both in how we appear to others but also in how our opinions and views translate to the outside world.
My generation is losing touch with what it was like before we put our whole lives on show for others judgement and I'm guessing those growing up into the world of image and social media will have little reference point to guide them.
How is your inner person? Where is your focus? Are you thinking of your life in twitter styled thought projections? Do you experience great moments through the mind frame of how it will look to others when you post it? How many filters do you apply to your photos and how heavy to you need to use them before you feel like your seemingly plain life is validated before your peers?
I've got to be honest with you this pendulum has swung plenty in my own life over these last years. I wish I was immune to the pressure of having a life that looks a certain way but the truth is, and especially as an artist, I often feel as though my life should appear more creative, more exotic, more interesting than it does. Feeling like it's not has led to a few down days as my Instagram feed has been filled with friends playing stadiums, meeting other great musicians or selling charting albums. All worthy of genuine celebration until they become modes for comparison which can sneak up on us easily enough on our weak days.
Over these last 6-9 months I've had long spells off social media to focus on study or prayer and during these times I have literally felt like I've got my mind, even better, my peace back. I've realised that in increments living our lives from the outside in rather than from the inside out robs us of our present moments. The former robs us of truly discovering God, discovering ourselves and discovering others. The latter is an invitation to the only moment that ever truly exists for us relationally, the right now.
As I've had these seasons apart from the screen I've become aware of how much we accept this scrutiny from all others to be part of our everyday self-shaping. Why does the world need to see everything I'm doing, my personal life, where I am and what I'm thinking?
Quite simply, it doesn't.
I believe the right now is our eternity-now, the resurrection life we've been gifted in Jesus. To be in this moment is to be in Christ, in eternity, completely whole and completely accepted. Any likes, shares or views we may receive from the vacuum in others lives is simply superfluous to that beautiful truth. Our tomorrow with God starts today in the very seconds we relent ourselves to who we are in him first and allow ourselves to receive his love and validation.
God made us how we are because he loves us. Our imperfections only serve to heighten humanities beauty and our weaknesses are no obstacle for Love.
We can discover ourselves long before the mirror or society tells us who we are.
We already have, in Him.
Relationships, when they’re limited to being purely transactional lose the beauty of their original intent. Having a best friend or a lover isn’t about knowing you’ll always have at least one person at your party or someone to help pay the bills during tough times. Those relationships are about truly knowing another and being known and the truth is that after many years of spending time with one another the line between who you are and who they are becomes more and more blurred. After nine years of marriage I know for a fact that Katie and I sometimes laugh the same way, have the same thoughts at the same time or just “know” when the other person is feeling uncomfortable in a room. I remember being at university and my new friends being able to tell what suburb and high school I came from due to my vocabulary and even the nuance of my voice.
Perhaps one thing Modernism had robbed us of a little and Post Modernism attempted to reverse was that our relationship with our heavenly Father is no different. Hundreds of years of transactional law and knowledge without intimate relationship was brought to something of an aggressive end in Jesus when he lived among us with incredible patience and compassion. Jesus exemplified what life in God could look like. We were no longer to just imagine calling him in to situations or our hearts but were invited to be called into him permanently.
So, if our earthly relationships involve our involuntary blending into the cultural likeness of those around us how much more so those of us caught up in the divine dance of the wonderful God? If we find ourselves sounding, looking, thinking and imagining like the people we spend the most time with, how much more so the very One who dwells within us feeding our every life giving thought?
Personally, this is how I view the existence of seeing pictures in my life. I’m a visual person, almost everything I understand comes through seeing. I don’t remember facts well at all but show me a picture representing a fact and I’ll remember it for life. This is possibly why God has historically used pictures to communicate to me. I used to imagine them as emails being sent to me in order that I could deliver a message to another person but now I realize that they are like a momentary screen share between God’s imagination and mine. I’m seeing what God is feeling and seeing because he’s in me, not receiving a message from a distant Person. We are one, so of course our thoughts and imagination will reflect that more obviously at times.
Pictures on the whole I would define slightly differently from visions. For me pictures are often static and brief whereas visions act out like stories and can morph. Almost 100% of the time I could pass pictures off as my imagination except that upon acting on them I’ve found them more often than not to be profoundly true.
I once saw a picture of a hole being punched through a friends heart as I spoke to them. I felt God saying they were about to experience a broken heart but that God would restore them beyond their pain. They weren’t even in a relationship at the time and I didn't feel close enough to them at the time to share the word. A year later when I saw them again they’d been through the hardest year of their life due to a break up with a new love.
We are often so afraid of our imagination because we believe it’s driven only by our own agendas and that’s necessarily true many times. But the other truth is that we’re moving and flowing in the midst of The Very God and sometimes his foresight pierces our minds sight and we’re invited into his perfect imagination for another. That process occurs naturally more and more as we spend time with him, knowing him more deeply, and learning to listen.
Pictures are often not literal. They’re an invitation to explore the color and imagery of meaning in another’s life. Sharing pictures is as dependent on our understanding of God’s love for people as it is on the interpreting of signs and wonders. We can’t truly grasp the meaning of the images we see without a deep and lasting relationship with the One who gives them. I used to believe in an urgent passing on of everything that popped up but now I feel more sure that God wants me to sit with them a little while until he makes their meaning clear so I can use it to truly love the person involved.
Pictures, I believe, are like poems. They offer more than one reflection on an issue through embellished color and tone. How they’re interpreted is up to the receiver of that particular piece of art, their maturity, grace and compassion.
So, the next time something flashes into your minds eye and you’re tempted to think nothing of it why not just take a moment to write it down, pray about it and let it inform your relationship with God and that person. It may just influence you’re compassion, wisdom or intercession in a way that could change their life and at least as incredibly or even more so, encourage you that you are hearing his voice more than you’d ever realized.
My children are persistent. There’s no running away from the fact that they’ve inherited their fathers stubbornness when it comes to understanding the how’s and why’s of life or in adventurous things like staying up late or eating more sweet things. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for my eldest to ask 10, 20 or a hundred times for something that I’ve already said no to time and time again. The result? Silence. I simply get bored of saying the same thing every 2 seconds. Eventually his constant asking me for whatever it is he wants turns into an inquisition into why I’m now silent about it. Every time it happens he seems confused that I simply had made my point and there was no advantage in saying it another 100 times.
Personally, fewer things have driven me toward madness over the last number of years walking with God like his complete and lasting silence on an issue. I’ve also seen countless friends frustrated and disappointed in those seasons where the Spirit seems to be whispering so faintly that he’s entirely incomprehensible toward our deepest longings. Or so we think. I used to believe that these moments or seasons of silence were God’s withdrawal from my life due to a lack of prayer or a particular sin. But how could I then make sense of His invitation to have my life hidden away in Him (Col 3:3)? Or the parting word from His very own lips “I am with you till the end of the age” (Mat 28:20)? I understand now that silence is actually a pleasure you can only share with people you’re intimate with. It’s a sign of relational security.
I’ve learnt to love silence because sometimes it’s the only way for God to gain my attention in a busy world and force me toward the truth I’m seeking but refuse to see. Silence is often the form of communication He uses when he wants to bend my stubbornness and teach me to grow stronger on the straight and narrow. Silence can be the divine arrow showing us the path we’re so deliberately avoiding or assuring us of the journey we’re already on.
Perhaps the writer of Proverbs was even winking at this quiet habit of God when he reflected;
“It’s the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (25:2).
But what do we do when we’ve sought and not found, asked and not received, knocked and the door remained closed? Of course the broadest place to go is the Good Book. Scripture is full of general and sometime’s specific revelation around the issues that drive our life. If you’re praying about whether you should give a portion of your household income to the poor you’ll find an unwavering narrative from beginning to end declaring a resounding “Yes!” The Spirit went to great lengths to help us set the general directions and decision-making values of our life in highlighting the life and teaching of Jesus. Does this decision foster love for God and others or does it drain it? That beautiful book has saved me from many bad decisions but it hasn’t always helped me in every season of silence either.
Another place to look is people because God made and loves community. He has gifted it with everything we need from words of wisdom to prophecy to teaching and counsel. Sometimes His silence drives us toward the spiritually wise, gifted and experienced in our lives to gain new perspective and be humbled. When we reach out to others it doesn’t just help provide an answer but deepens our relationships, humbles us, encourages our vulnerability and glorifies God who is alive in His people. God’s silence may be as much about driving you toward deeper community, as it is about the answer you seek.
The Spirits silence can also help us to stay the course. I was 12 when the Spirit first spoke clearly and undeniably to me about sharing the gospel and playing music. I had a vision and shook for close to an hour and it was an experience that has in every way shaped the rest of my life. Over the years in seasons of doubt, disappointment and frustration I’ve come to Him again asking Him what I should do. Should I quit? Should I get another job? Did I hear right? Almost every time I get silence, utter silence. In those moments I’m forced to look back at what started me down this road and why I believed it was right in the first place. Sometimes God is silent because just like me with the boys, yesterdays orders are still good ones (as John Wimber would say). Silence can be His way of saying, “stay the course” and more often than not it’s been the case for me.
Another reason for God’s silence (harkening back to the proverb writers meditation) is that God wants us to seek out the answer ourselves. Six years ago I had a series of 6 dreams all the same with minor variations and a progression of the plot. They were literal and clearly from God but I just didn’t know what to do with them. For all of these years since I have spent time studying the imagery, praying about them and seeking advice from gifted bible teachers and elders. As I have, my life has grown and they’ve undeniably changed the course of my steps regardless of my still being unsure exactly what I’m to do with them. The very process of seeking the answer has transformed me.
God will often use His silence to deepen our trust and love in Him. Sometimes in seeking the answer for our job, partner or family God leads us on a journey of reflection and kingdom awareness that transforms our minds beyond recognition. The process of that transformation often bears more fruit in who we are than the final decision itself, and in view of eternity with our Father is surely what matters the most anyway.
Has this article helped you in your season of silence? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.
A friend of mine once confessed over the dinner table that she “never heard God’s voice”. She was despairing a little because she wondered why she couldn’t hear Him despite her deep desire to do so. I asked her if she could think of a moment in her life when she felt God’s presence most clearly and she didn't even need time to think about it. She recalled standing in the supermarket and out of the blue beginning to weep over a woman picking up a bunch of bananas and putting them in her trolley. She had no idea why; she just felt an overwhelming sense of God’s love and compassion for the person. That sounded like God speaking to me! My friend had experienced these moments so often that she’d believed it was totally normal and she was genuinely surprised that this wasn't a common experience for me.
The way she heard from God was a rising up within her as a gentle nudge toward another person. She wasn’t hearing an audible voice and she didn’t even know exactly what God might be saying yet but if in that moment she’d taken a step of faith with this woman she may have just found out. So often we don’t get to say those fateful words “God told me” until after we’ve acted on a hunch and found that it was indeed Him guiding us in the first place. It’s called faith. Personally, 9 times out of 10 that I've shared a word with someone I wasn't totally sure it was God until after the fact. It was hearing their story of how it spoke to them that finally confirmed it.
If my friend had acted on the strange love she'd felt God would have given her in that moment everything she needed to bless this fruit-picking stranger through pictures, wisdom or a spirit of love and empathy. Even i fit was a simple "God loves you."
Today as you and I stand we are not what we were. We may look the same, sound the same and for better or worse even smell the same but beneath this ordinary skin lies an extraordinary creature, a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). What’s decisively magnificent about our new nature is that though our physical eyes can’t perceive it (and let’s be honest sometimes even our natural minds grasp it) we have been well and truly invited into the community of God. We are in the Son, alive to Him through the Spirit and securely adopted by our Heavenly Father. This beautiful eternity-now relationship with God has come to be described by many theologians as the divine dance.
Because we are adopted into the family of God by the Spirit we inherit His communication style. From within the very heart of our Father himself we find we know things, understand mysteries and see things. When God spoke to my friend He didn’t speak like you or I might speak to one another and why would He? He speaks from within us with swells of knowing, imagination and conviction. This is life in the Spirit.
Paul put it this way;
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” - Romans 8:26.
In other words, that overpowering feeling we don’t know what to do with is the Spirit praying through us and often God invites us to be the hands and feet of someone else’s miracle in the midst of it. All we need to do now in beginning to recognize God’s voice more is grow in discerning the difference between his voice and ours. Or to put it another way between his emotions and ours.
Here are a few simple starting points if you want to grow in this area…
Something to try this week:
For the next week try sitting quietly for 5-10 minutes a day and simply asking God to make you more aware of His life within you. Write down every feeling, picture, thought or scripture that comes to you. You may be surprised at what you hear! If you feel brave enough post a story in the comments section below… it may just encourage someone on a similar journey.
From time to time a strange peace comes upon me that leads my day in a radically different direction than I woke up expecting. This was one of those days and here I was standing up the front of an auditorium at a conference for a church network that I wasn't even a part of (yet). A friend had mentioned the event earlier in the weekend and though I had no natural reason to go I kept feeling led all morning to go along and that God would have something for me there. Now, here I was up the front praying for someone and asking God to break into his life.
A few moments into putting my hand on his shoulder I saw something strange. I saw him clay pigeon shooting and he was nailing every shot. I've never done clay shooting and never even thought about it so it was an unusual thing for me to see. I proceeded to share the interpretation I felt the Spirit give me, which applied to a specific area of his life and how he should approach it. It seemed to be really moving him as we spoke and prayed and God gave him encouraging words.
After we'd finished praying he turned round to me with a kid in a candy shop kind of surprised look in his eyes. As it turned out earlier that year he'd actually tried clay shooting for the very first time and was bizarrely talented at it. He explained to me that he and his wife were so surprised at how out of the blue accurate he was because it's not at all his area of experience or expertise. It was something random that only they knew about. The result was that he knew that God was speaking directly into his life and the words that followed weren’t just my imagination but God's intimate intention. God had used that stange event to speak very specifically into the way he was to approach this season of his life and his speaking that way helped to bypass his cautious mind and send the word deeper into his heart.
God loved this person so much that he'd gently led me in the direction of that conference, prompted me to pray for him and then gave a word of knowledge to open the doors of his mind. We were both blessed by it and I walked away full of joy.
I've dreamt of hearing God’s voice for others almost my whole life. I remember as a 12 year old at school walking around during lunchtime saying "God, the only thing I want in my life is to hear your voice and to share it with others like the prophets in the bible heard your voice." I've always believed that for God to speak specifically into someone’s life through another breaks open our hearts and cuts straight to the core of humanities deepest desire - to know and to be truly known by God.
What I've come to learn since then is that God doesn't speak to the majority of his people today in the same way he spoke to the prophets of old and that's an exciting thing. He now speaks through every common person in his Son by literally residing and living within us.
Pentecost changed everything.
Jesus himself claimed that it was better for him to leave so the Spirit could come (John 1:7) and boy was he right. Jesus traded his one body for the universally present Holy Spirit who would dwell in every believer at all times communicating God's fatherly heart for every child. This is the promise, that you can know God even more intimately than the Old Testament prophets and you can hear his voice from within his very self. The Spirit eternalized the promise “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27) and brought to pass the great poets word that all people would see visions, dream dreams and prophesy (Acts 2).
The problem is that we can be so caught up in how we expect him to speak that we can miss his voice entirely. We can get so stuck on hearing him audibly, or through the prophecy of another or a miraculous sign. I remember a friend at high school telling me he didn't believe in God because he didn't turn the car on in the exact moment he asked him to as some kind of sign he was there. Of course God still speaks in signs and dramatic visions but for the majority of us for the majority of the time God speaks through the deep swells, pictures and imagination of his Spirit within us.
He can be a faint but real whisper, a quiet brook and a gentle breeze or he can appear to us in a dream or dramatic experience.
It's been 20 years since I prayed that high school prayer and though today I'm no expert by any stretch of the imagination I've certainly learnt to open my ears in ways that I had never considered back then.
So, I wanted to write a blog series that could share the few things that I have learnt about every day hearing from God and to help empower you to truly grasp and believe that you can walk with your Father in a way where you can confidently say "God told me." For a lot of you it wont be revolutionary I’m sure but if there’s anything throughout these posts that empowers you in one aspect of your listening then it’s worth it. I’ll be posting about revelation, impressions, visions, pictures, dreams and swells and sharing stories of my own along the way.
Here's to walking with God in the garden again.
Think of the greatest artists of all time and their contribution to history. Michaelangelo, Picasso, The Beatles, Beethovan. We celebrate the beauty and life these people have brought to culture through their genius and devotion.
But there is a far greater artist than these. We live inside a work of art that paints something new above us at the close of every day. Life in this work of art sings melodies to us at every corner. It moves and sways with the currents of the wind and conceals life in the depths of unsearchable waters.
Have you ever stopped to consider the joy and brilliance of God to create this work of art that continues day to day to create works of art itself?
God created creative life.
So stop. Take a breath and look around you. God is speaking to you in the wisdom of every cell in creation. He’s whispering to you a love poem written in every colour imaginable in a universe of unsearchable cosmic beauty.
Don’t limit God to just words on a page or to intangible distance. Walk with him in the garden and feel his whispering breeze against your skin.
You’re enveloped in God’s life. You’re his object of affection. He is closer than you know.