How to Hear God’s Voice

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If you clicked on this article, I’m guessing that hearing God’s voice hasn’t been the clearest facet of Christianity to understand. In the Bible, we see men like Moses and Abraham hear God so audibly- or so we assume. Moses goes to a burning bush, Abraham is told to sacrifice his son. Both situations are seemingly ridiculous unless the men were certain it was God talking to them.

Which they were.

I’m not. I’m almost never certain that I’m actually hearing God. When I think I’m hearing Him, its not clear enough to follow without doubt. I’ve heard Him give crazy directions. I’ve followed them, and they ended up being true. BUT I’ve followed others, and I was completely wrong. I’ve been wrong in hearing Him, and at times, I’ve gotten extremely flustered with the idea of hearing God. Wasn’t hearing God supposed to be restful? Without burden? It felt the opposite.

I wish I could give a step by step guide on hearing God. I’ve looked for those, but I’ve realized that they didn’t exactly work for me. I seemed to hear God a lot differently than others. I got jealous of my friend who heard from God so vividly. I got jealous of the people who would get “words of knowledge” for people… or people that didn’t get anxious at the idea of being asked, “Well, what did God tell you about it?”

The truth is: no step-by-step guide worked for me because I am not the same as anyone else.

I hate that its taken me so many jealousy-infused years to realize this. I may not hear God’s voice in the same way that my friends do, but that doesn’t make the way I hear it worse.

Maybe God talks differently to us all because most parents talk to their unique children differently. My mom, for example, knows my sister’s personality enough not to talk to her in the exact way she talks to me. My sister is unique, and is encouraged in daughtership differently than I am.

Why would it not be the same with God? Sure, there are some things God would never say. He doesn’t lie, He is good, He loves us. But, in terms of how He talks to us, I believe He knows us all well enough not to talk to us the exact same way.

In Romans 12:4-5, Paul says,
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. refers to all people as making up the body of Christ.” I love that Jesus never expected us to have the same gifts.

So, while we all want to know exactly how to hear God, I would dare to say we already do. The verse in the Bible that says ‘sheep hear the Father’s voice’ was always daunting to me. I thought if I wasn’t hearing everyday, I must not be God’s sheep. But rather I know God says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Being a daughter of God is about accepting His gift and sacrifice and putting our belief in Him, so how could there also be a qualifier like hearing His voice in a certain way? It would be convenient if something like that could prove that we believe because we like proof. We like to know we are safe. But the crazy thing is that Jesus said that even some who prophesied in His name would be strangers to Him. (Matthew 7:22-23)

So, I suggest that instead of understanding hearing God’s voice as proof to our status as sheep, we let our status as sheep (that comes from belief) encourage us that we already hear God’s voice. Perhaps if we can do that, we can start embracing our God-given uniqueness…and become more confident in our own way of hearing God. This could be through something audible, or through the beauty of the breeze. God knows what you need and He knows how to encourage you in sonship and daughtership.

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Life In The Dirt

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Over the last few days, you might have been following the headlines about EgyptAir flight 804. A few days ago, when the death toll first came out, I read that it was 66 passengers and crew lost on a plane built to carry 170. A wave of relief washed over me, that the plane wasn’t full to capacity.

And then I felt sick. 66 lives gone in a second, and I’m happy there weren’t more? What kind of twisted mentality is that?

We live on a horrifically dysfunctional earth. It’s a world where tiny children fight cancer, where schoolgirls are kidnapped into sexual slavery, where people die of hunger when a bowl of rice that costs 2 cents could save them, where elderly folks are left lonely and filthy in nursing-home beds.

It hurts and it’s overwhelming.  So we avoid it, try to rationalize it (only 66 lives), stuff it down, or grieve briefly and then hurry on because if we actually stop and realize the weight of all the suffering, we’ll crumble. I get this, really. I have a panic disorder that can flare up with too much pain and stress. When your body reacts to heavy, fearful things by shutting down, you tend to run from those things.

But self-preservation isn’t a virtue found anywhere in the Bible. As Christians, we are called to more.

So what does the Bible say about how we engage with a torn-apart world?

I want to look at two episodes from the New Testament: the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), and the story of Lazarus’ raising from the dead (John 11). Both stories show Jesus coming in direct contact with this world’s brokenness. They’re a little different: the woman’s brokenness is the consequence of her choice, while Lazarus’ death is brokenness from living in a fallen world. But both are the results, direct and indirect, of sin.

In John 8, Jesus is teaching in the temple when there’s a sudden commotion. A group of Pharisees and religious teachers—a mob, really—enter the courtyard, dragging a woman they’ve caught committing adultery. They shove her in front of Jesus and demand, “Teacher, in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

The woman shrinks into herself, clutching her torn clothes, ugly guilt written all over her face. And Jesus says nothing. He bends down, into the dirt, and writes with His finger.

“Tell us!” the Pharisees insist. But Jesus keeps writing. The only One in that entire rabble of accusers who has any real right to judge her, and He’s silent.

Finally, He straightens up and looking each man in the eyes, says “Any one of you who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The arrogant, challenging crowd goes silent. Shoulders droop, feet start to shuffle. One by one the men slink away, their hypocrisy exposed by Jesus’ mercy, until the woman is left alone before Jesus.

“Woman,” He asks, “where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she stammers in shock and relief.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” He says gently. “Go and sin no more.” He rescues her from her sin and then commands that sin, the death in her soul, to STOP. And she stands straight, able to breathe again for the first time since the mob found her, and walks away into new life.

The set-up in John 11 is simple: Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, has died suddenly. Jesus takes his disciples to Bethany and when they arrive, Mary runs out to fall at His feet. Sobbing, she cries out, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Two things stick out to me, reading this account. Jesus already knows what the end of the story is. He’s fully aware that he’s going to put life back in Lazarus’s body, that in about five minutes the tears will turn to laughter. The pain and despair are so, so temporary and He knows that. But He looks at Mary’s anguish, kneeling before Him in the dirt, at Martha’s tears back in the crowd, and He weeps. He cries, simply because they’re hurting.

The second thing is that John says Jesus, seeing the sisters’ pain, was “deeply moved”. The Greek word used here, embrimaomai, literally means “snort like a horse”. The expression is the most emotionally intense found in the New Testament. Jesus isn’t mildly ticked that Lazarus is dead. He’s furious. Picture His eyes blazing through the tears, teeth grinding, strong hands clenched into fists. Better than anyone else, the Creator of life knows how fundamentally wrong it is that death even exists, that it has power here, and He will not tolerate that power.

Jesus walks up to Lazarus’ tomb, fixes His angry gaze on the door and commands death to STOP. “Lazarus, come out!” he shouts loud. And somewhere in that tomb, Lazarus’ dead heart starts beating. His lungs suddenly expand and he takes his second first breath. Out he walks, in his grave clothes, to the sunshine.

There’s a pattern developing here of Jesus being relentlessly present in pain. He wades into the world’s dirt again and again, despite the cost. He shields hurting people from condemnation while not tolerating their sin. He extends mercy, calls out hypocrisy. He weeps for the hurt and gets ferociously angry at the wrongness of it all. He is emotionally available to the full suffering of this world He’s come to save.

Love like this is hard. It triggers anxiety and exhaustion and heartbreak. It led our God to torture and execution on a piece of wood.

“Pick up your cross and follow Me” isn’t just an explanation of what the world might do to us for following Him. It’s a command that we will love the world to the point of ultimate sacrifice, like He did. Are we ready for that? Are we ready to walk into the broken places, to weep and protect and offer mercy and be furious?

One of the Grafted team’s favorite phrases is “not too young to move mountains.” I want to encourage and even challenge all of us, that moving mountains begins by moving one pebble at a time. It’s not that we’ll necessarily find ourselves raising a friend from the dead. Some of the miracles Jesus did may very well be a preview of a restored Earth, not a blueprint for our daily lives. For us, it might start with one bowl of rice, one mosquito net, one soiled bedpan, one brick of a house, one hour spent in prayer allowing ourselves to hurt for the things that God hurts about.

Every day the world breaks a little more, whether we open ourselves up to it or not. When a prostitute looks around and says “help me”, who steps forward saying “I will”? When children’s tummies bloat from malnutrition, who shows up with electrolytes and protein? When refugees are running and hiding and drowning because there’s no safe place, who opens their homes without fear? When the spiritual death in our neighbors’ and friends’ souls is slowly killing them, who gets on their knees and goes to battle?

There’s a lot of amazing believers out there who already do this. But couldn’t it be all of us? What if it could be said of every one of us that to find a Christian, you should look in the places too awful, too dirty, for anyone else to go?

We are ambassadors of the hope that the world was never meant to be broken, and that someday it will be whole again.

We have that hope because when Jesus comes into the picture, condemned women and dead men rise up, from circles of judgement and underground tombs. And then He turns and walks further into the dirt, towards you and me.

“Come out,” He says, Life standing surrounded by Death.

We just have to follow.

 

 

 

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Labor Not In Vain

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Monday is the most despised day of all time. It’s practically a four-letter word, isn’t it? Monday means the weekend is over, and that of course means we must get back to work. And oh, how we hate work.

I’ve been a barista for the past few months, and every morning I get person after person dragging into the shop, ordering their coffee, then forcing themselves to work. As much as I get it (who enjoys being up at five in the morning?), it often makes me sad that so many people seem to dread their every day.

I realize we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes we don’t always get to make money doing what we love. But why do we hate work as a whole? Why do we resent being industrious? Where did we get the idea that work is a punishment? Surely spending every work day in misery can’t be what God intends for us.

So what does God think of work? Well, in the Bible the first glimpse we get of God shows Him busy at work! For six days, He is creating the earth, putting things in place, setting the world in motion according to His perfect plan. And after creating man, God gives His new creation a job to do. So contrary to popular belief, work was not a result of the fall. It came before! When God placed Adam in the garden, He gave him tasks, a purpose to fulfill, because that is what God Himself was doing. His desire was for man to work on the earth alongside His divine work.

God has stamped His image on all of creation, and that includes work. Work is not a punishment; it is a gift! A gift that reflects the very nature of God, what we are to imitate as Christians. Only after sin entered the world did work become hard and a burden. We began to resent it, neglecting God’s original plan for us and the industrious mindset with which we were created.

I get it, work can be hard and boring and stressful. But if work is part of the nature of God, and we are to imitate that nature, it is time to change our perspective! God wants us to be creative and industrious and excellent in our work, because that is within His nature, and He does not expect us to be anything He is not.

I’m not saying all work will consist of sparkles and rainbows and all happy things. You might be thinking, “I sit in an office all day. How is that using my talents and creativity?” Our work isn’t just limited to how we make money, but whatever it is God is asking of us, whatever purpose He’s given us to fulfill. And if that purpose includes working in an office, then we should be giving it our all.

How we fulfill our earthly work showcases God’s divine work. If we go about our work half-heartedly and cutting corners, we are not reflecting well upon our Creator. We should arise each day with eagerness, ready to be industrious and hardworking in whatever tasks He has entrusted us with. We are to pour our heart into doing our jobs well, being an encouragement to those we interact with, and using our talents for the glory of God. Christians should have a reputation to the world as people who work exceedingly well, because that is how our God performs His work.

I once read somewhere (let’s be honest, it was probably on Pinterest), “Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.” Any job – whether it’s running a company, sweeping up hair clippings at a salon, mowing a yard, or baking a cake – can be done with excellence or not. And when we autograph our work with excellence, it points to the excellent Creator who gave us the gift of work in the first place!

God is always at work, and so should we be. We were created to create! No matter where we are or what we’re doing, we should be all there, throwing our heart and soul into whatever tasks God has given to us, letting the quality and attitude of our labor point the world to His eternal work.

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Zimbabwe: The Journey

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Every year in summer camp and I was excited as ever. Starting at the size of a pint I was the shortest 8 year old in the class. At the front of my young mind, a wonderful man of God. The one, the only . . . Uncle Buddy! This man was our story-telling missionary who didn’t stop moving and sharing even while he was on leave in America. I listened to this man with every ounce of my attention and for 5 years my dream was shaped and my heart fully inspired. There was nothing that could stop me from being together with God’s dream. Nothing could separate us. The fact that God held me down with this anchor of a dream in my heart is by far the most loving thing He has ever done for me. My teenage years endured major attack from the devil. It seemed he knew more than I did about what I was capable of doing within God’s power. In fact I had no earthly idea. All I knew is that I was telling God “I am up for anything”. The devil knew the divine power of that long before I did.

At 18 years old I graduated and caught a rocket to outer space. No literally. . . well almost. Five or six months prior to my high school graduation I got into correspondence with the founder of an orphanage in Zimbabwe(a place I had never heard of before). I told Him quite simply “I don’t know what God wants me to do, I just know He wants me to help people”. Within a few emails we agreed I should come “check out the orphanage” for 5 weeks and see what it’s like to live in Zimbabwe. I did not even think twice. I knew it was what God wanted with zero doubt. However, that lack of doubt was a luxury I did not have forever. Thanks to turbulence coming directly from fans of the“American Dream”. But never mind that! At this point I had yet to encounter such opinions. I graduated, made plans to go to the other side of the world all by myself, and got funded by a complete stranger at the last minute(I did not find out who the stranger was later). I was off, and so it began! The journey to love. A love that completely casted out all fear.

After returning to the U.S. I was ready to move to Zimbabwe permanently. I didn’t know how but I knew it was what God placed in my heart. It wasn’t long until I met with my mysterious sponsor who was a sweet and amazing woman from the mountains of Colorado. It turned out that her late mother had funded this orphanage and in her last years she left wishes and inspiration behind with her daughter who now sat in front of me. The ultimate mission: to never abandon the orphanage children. We met at a Starbucks and excitedly talked over coffee about all of the amazing possibilities. By the end of our meeting we had both shocked and inspired each other. To say the least our minds were lit and hearts overflowing. I could not believe out of the millions of people in the states we had found each other because of this orphanage. She was determined to send me back upon hearing that I was nothing short of ready to live there permanently. We parted with each other’s contact info and tentative plans in the making. These plans filled out with confidence in a matter of weeks through emails and phone calls. By this point I had been introduced to my lovely friend, Opposition. From all directions came discouraging words and advice to rethink what I was doing to my own future. It went deep enough to hurt this time but nevertheless God enabled me to go without any fear of going to Zimbabwe. I just had to work on my fear of disappointing some of my people in America. Another beautiful journey I got to take with God.

So once again I was off! This time for 5 months instead of 5 weeks.

I had all kinds of self assigned work as well as project check up requests from an organization called ZimOrphans. I celebrated my 19th birthday overseas, I learned the beginnings of their tribal language Shona, and I started excitedly exploring the “be-all end-all” of my being in Zimbabwe. The strategies shot to the stars and I began writing everything down. The goals in mind? End the orphanage’s unstable lifestyle of relying on donations, and introduce these kids the love of their lives, God. This trip consisted of taking down records for every child, creating a Bible studies for the teenage girls, and researching agricultural possibilities of gardening areas nearby as well as a farm. I found myself sleeping with orphans in over stuffed beds and tending to wounds from simple falls to brutal beatings. I knew I was meant to be there. The possibilities were endless but the one thought that daunted me was this “How do I form a team?”. I began thinking of ways to find people. Little did I know as I flew back “bright eyed and bushy tailed”, that it would be a long time before I would return to Zimbabwe.

I was planning to stay in Zimbabwe for a year or two. I tried everything I could think of to follow through with my plans. But there it is…did you catch it? The words “my plans”. God knew the training I would need to go back for what HE wanted me to do. At first the confusion was amazing and not in a good way. It took me longer then I would like to admit for me to realize two things. One, doing God’s work does not rely on location. I was waiting to go back to Zimbabwe to resume being a missionary. Two, God’s placement of me is, at all times, purposed. I was thinking God wanted me in Zimbabwe and I just couldn’t get over all the road blocks. As if anything was ever in MY hands. God had me in the states for many reasons. He trained me through everything from teaching children to managing a house for homeless women to moving to CA temporarily to help raise a newborn niece while my brother was overseas (military). When I recalled Uncle Buddy and realized there is no “off” button for missionaries God gifted me with a best friend to do ministry alongside. He gave me the gift of leadership and teamwork. The gifts of humility and hard work.

I came back full circle to where I was at the age of 18 years old saying to God “ I am up for anything”. Now I was telling God “throw me full-fledged into anything, whether that be America or Africa. I will invest myself with all I can give in whoever You put in front of me, whether that’s the kids of Texas’ ghetto or the kids at the orphanage. I no longer account for where I am on the world map. I 100% Surrender.” And THAT is when I got the call. An urgent call from the organization in Florida I had worked with previously. They were telling me that the director of the orphanage had died and they were asking me if I was able and/or willing to return to the orphanage to account for all children remaining at the orphanage if any. This bittersweet moment brought me to my knees. It seemed God was waiting for my full surrender to let me go back. I ended up being backed and sent by an organization I had grown to call family. Compassion United, founded by the same people who pastor my church, head up the children ministry I taught in,  and run the women’s home at which I was a working. CU leaders and I met together and concluded a three month exploratory trip was in order. We needed to figure out if the orphanage was falling apart or in chaos? What needs to be done? What is even possible?

So now we have caught up to the present! The third trip commenced in July and lasted through October 21st of this year! What we discovered is that 2/3 of the kids remained and the orphanage was indeed progressively falling apart. They have been eating only corn and cabbage for 5 months now and are actively losing immune system and overall strength. A 2 acre Garden Project has begun and I am in the process of designing the piping system to run recycled water to it. Also discovered was the fact that almost every time it rains the electricity goes out for days and at random on regular days as well. So making immense efforts for a Solar powered water pump that will save lives when there is no electricity. These things will be accomplished this year Lord willing and some other projects in the making will be more towards Spring of 2017. Some of the later projects are once again aimed towards the children’s diet/health. Things like hydroponic fish breeding as well as pig farming. There are a great number of missions and humanitarian aids in sub-Saharan Africa and getting the orphanage registered with bigger aid organizations will carry them in times of crisis, however, in times of medical emergency there is no way to get the children to the hospital(8-10 miles away) immediately because there is no vehicle. Myself and the administrator(a native team member) will be able to take the kids to the hospital in emergencies if we can get a vehicle and that is just the tip of the iceberg for changes made possible by having a vehicle. Now, in the midst of all these projects there will be discipleship. At the center of every effort will be Christ. At the moment what we are looking at is myself and a few native team members who are willing to make a commitment towards that war-front but I would like to take this opportunity to tell all of you who are reading that I am looking for people to come and help in all areas. There is a lot to do and these kids are wonderful.

This third trip was unlike the first and the second. I was placed more in a leadership position. It was not until I was on the airplane looking out at the Atlantic that “the overwhelming” came. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. The devil tries to crush our courage. But praise God for best friends. The letters of a best friend and sister in Christ tucked into my backpack were no doubt by God’s hand. One reminded me to worship while the other brought me Elizabeth Elliot’s wisdom. She once said that it is not about having zero fear but rather learning how to march against your own fear. If you have a dream from God, never give up and be willing to dedicate your whole life to it. It has been 15 years since God placed all of this in my heart and 5 years since I started the physical journey. It has been beautiful and it has been painful and it’s not over yet! I will keep pressing on until these kids who think they are nothing one day have the courage to dream with me.

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Embracing the Awkward

February2016-1 copy_embracing_the_awkward Two years ago, I was exploring the great city of London with some good friends. We couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day. The sun was shining (a rarity for bleak British weather), and we were blissfully happy after crossing Tower Bridge and touring underground an eight-hundred-year-old church. That’s when the video camera came out, and amidst bursts of laughter and shaking sides, we broke into giddy – albeit uncoordinated and clumsy – dancing, right there on a crowded London street. And to this day, it is one of my favourite memories (and the video footage still makes me laugh).

Why is this memory so special to me? Well, if you know me, you know I am not a person who takes myself very seriously. I laugh at myself when I trip over words, pull ridiculous faces, and joke around with strangers. So dancing on the streets of London was not a stretch. But there was a time I never would have dreamed of doing such an embarrassing thing. And I know a fair amount of people who would find the mere thought mortifying.

I used to be so aware of how I looked to other people. I didn’t like acting goofy or publicly doing anything that could be considered awkward. If I ever blurted out the wrong thing or got a weird look from someone, I would kick myself about it for days. I always wanted my hair to look decent, I would never go out makeup-free, and I was strategic about what I posted online. After all, I wouldn’t want to ruin the illusion that I never stuck my foot in my mouth or had a bad hair day, right?

Thankfully, through an adventurous season of growing and God placing some important people in my life, I realized how this obsession was a form of selfishness, vanity, and pride. Ouch. I gradually learned how to get over myself and stop taking myself so seriously. If you think this sounds pretty trite, just hang on, because oddly enough, not taking myself seriously has been one of the most humbling and liberating lessons I’ve ever embraced.

As I stopped worrying about what other people thought of me, I realized I was thinking of myself much less. Since I wasn’t as consumed with keeping up my own appearances, my thoughts naturally began to shift towards others. I wasn’t so anxious all the time, always concerned about my own wants and my pride. This was a very humbling process, but through it the Lord showed me my pettiness. So I accidentally said or did something a little embarrassing. So what? It’s not the end of the world. I shouldn’t think so much of myself that a little slip-up has the power to ruin my day. But more importantly, I stopped focusing on trying to please people, and rather focused on how my actions pleased the Lord.

On a bit of a deeper level, before He left this earth, Jesus commanded His followers to go and make disciples, to shine His light to all the world. It is nearly impossible to fulfill this commandment if we are scared of what people think of us. Jesus even warned us that we would be mocked and taunted. So if we live according to what people might think, we will be timid about being the light of Christ. But that isn’t an option! Light must shine, and it must shine boldly. Life is not about us and how perfect we look or how comfortable we feel. It is about loving people and loving Jesus and living fully and joyfully. We shouldn’t be so caught up in ourselves that we throw away opportunities to shine our light or bring joy to others. And instead of worrying about pleasing people, we should only be concerned about honoring Jesus in how we live and love.

I’ve learned to embrace my awkward moments and laugh at myself. After all, those moments can turn into some of the most treasured memories, just like that day in London. Our dancing was a little odd, a little awkward, and certainly very public. But I don’t even remember those aspects. What stands out to me is the laughter and fun I was having with my friends. Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone is totally worth it just to make someone else smile. We shouldn’t cheat ourselves or others out of some fantastic memories just because we can’t swallow our vanity and loosen up a little.

From time to time, we all do stupid things or find ourselves in awkward situations, and sometimes our sentences don’t come out quite as witty as we intended. And that’s okay! Just laugh at your imperfections and move on. If you can do that, then what other people think won’t bother you anymore, and you can spend your time and energy dwelling on much more important things. I challenge you, friends, to kiss vanity goodbye and turn your focus where it should be: on Christ and on people. Do something out of your ordinary and make people smile. Dance on the street with your best friend. Relax and laugh and don’t be afraid to look a little silly. The joy and memories you make will be well worth every second.

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