Three months! That is all it took. Three months on the field, away from every regular source of spiritual feeding I knew, and I was quickly drying up on the inside. Shriveling. The reality of being a “spoon-fed Christian” caught me off guard. I thought I knew how to study the Word, but I began to recognize how dependent I was on quality devotional books, women’s Bible studies, the plethora of Christian resources, and my pastor’s weekly messages to keep me fed and refreshed. I definitely knew I was dying on the vine, and something had to change. So, I prayed a fairly desperate prayer! I prayed for the Lord to reveal new and creative ways to grow, because I was too busy for a Bible study, and the church messages were in a language I totally did not comprehend and would not ever learn (since the pastors spoke a simple tribal dialect and not a nationally-recognized trade language). Yet I was certainly aware I would have nothing left to give if I did not start receiving—and the result would be empty-serving.
Little by little, I began picking up the pieces of the puzzle that was God’s answer to my prayers.
The first came in a strange way—on a camel safari, of all places! We had gone with a group of students into the Northern Frontier District of Kenya, a dried-up parcel of land that reflected my spiritual condition. As we safaried looking for wild animals and exploring the area, I began whining about the blackened bushes, the parched land, and the empty waste of the countryside. What in the world were we doing out here? In the midst of my complaining, I noticed a small white fleck on a shriveled, sun-burnt bush that was up ahead. Asking one of the students next to me to grab what I thought was a piece of trash, she laughingly held out a small, lavender flower. How in the world that bush had produced this delicate little beauty, I will never understand. Yet, there it lay in the palm of my hand; there in that moment, God whispered a word of truth to my soul, “Even in the midst of the dryness, I have sweet spiritual gifts of life to offer to you, but you must look closely and pay attention with the eyes of your heart to receive them.”
That began a journey that I have been on ever since—looking for the sweet spiritual gifts of life from my Savior in the midst of the ordinary. A journey not unlike the one that landed Moses at a burning bush, shoes off, on holy ground. A journey to find God in the midst of the craziness of life, connecting His truth to my circumstances, and being renewed in the Spirit. It is a journey that has taken time and consistency, but one that has rewarded me with little presents reflected in the PRESENCE!
A second piece to the puzzle came in the form of two little books I picked up at our school library: Intimacy with the Almighty (Chuck Swindoll) and Ordering Your Private World (Gordon MacDonald).
The third came from a taped cassette message a supporter sent to me from home. (Yes, I know this dates me!)
Finally, the fourth came as a dear friend on our campus started an inductive Bible study, teaching me to dig into the Scriptures unlike I ever had before.
These four simple tools opened a whole new world of learning how to hear the Lord’s voice in a personal way! From them, I walked away with six simple steps I have learned to employ on a daily regular basis.
Solitude. After a day of ministering to sick men and women, Jesus finally closed the door to Peter’s home and went to bed. Yet, as was His habit, He rose early to go to a quiet place alone to be with His Father. After resting His body, His need to refresh His soul was just as great. It brought Him perspective, I think. For a man who had nowhere to call home or lay His head, the temptation to stay put had to be great. However, there with His Daddy, He revisited His mission, and when the disciples found Him, imploring Him to come because “everyone” was looking for Him, this was His response: Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come (Mark 1:30-39). Solitude: meeting regularly with the Father keeps our perspective about life and our mission in check. If it was that important for the Son of God, how much more important for me!
Stillness/Silence. God promises to speak to those who seek Him. The thing I had to remember was that He speaks in a still, small voice or a thin whisper (1 Kings 19:12). I will not hear Him, unless my heart is settled and I am quiet. However, we live in a noisy world. We do not seem to like silence—maybe we are afraid of it. Whatever the reason, hearing His voice is imperative to relationship. What kind of marriage would I have if I never talked to my husband or allowed him time to talk to me? In this crazy chaotic world, all of us need tolerance to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:11)!
Simplicity. I love Ecclesiastes 7:9 in the Today’s English Version paraphrase: God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves so very complicated. Yes, we have! Our busyness, our complicated lives of running here and there, keeping our schedules so full (perhaps because that is the only way we can find value?) that we have no extra time, will never enhance our relationship with the Lord. God reminded me of this one day, when I was running around trying to keep my head above water and still make the most of every little minute. As I jumped into my car one lunch hour to run errands, I hit the steering wheel, fully prepared to say, “Lord! I do not have enough time in my life.” Instead, what came out was, “Lord! I do not have enough life in my time!” Very sweetly, I heard deep in my soul, “Bingo! There is not enough of ME in your life. For I am not just your way and your truth, but I am your LIFE!” (John 10:10 and 14:6)
Searching. As Solomon walked the roads around his castle, the wisest man ever to live learned multiple lessons that he passed on to us in the Proverbs. Such is the background of Proverbs 24. Verse 32 is the key: I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw. As Solomon looked about at the fields and searched for the meaning in what he was seeing, he learned a lesson and applied his heart in understanding. This is how we are to approach the Scriptures. Like Solomon, we step back and take a look. We read. We find ways that the truth applies to where we are in life’s situations, and we take the lesson to heart. Learning to search, to pay attention, and to apply has been HUGE for me when it comes to hearing God’s voice. This is where a journal has also been a most-valuable resource. As I write down what I am seeing and what God seems to be speaking, somehow the Lord connects head to heart to hand, and through the words on paper, clarifies what He is saying to me personally.
Suffering. No, I do not jump up and down during the hard times of life. Yet I cannot deny those times drive me to the Lord more than any other season of life. It is in the difficulties I grow in character the most. I fully believe the Lord intends for this to be so—as I allow Him to refine me in the fire, I know I come out reflecting Him more clearly. If so, I will take those trials, simply knowing what they will bring. The Lord’s brother, James, says this so much better than I can: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2–4).
Surrender. Over the years, I have learned that there is a definite link between growing in intimacy with Jesus and my ability to surrender. The more sensitive my heart is to yielding to my Savior’s will, the more sensitive I am to hearing His voice. There is a promise in Romans 12:1–2 that underscores this truth: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will. We can know with certainty His will for our lives.
None of these six “S’s” are easy. None come naturally. They take work. Yet the reward is great. Much like the apostles who met with the Lord on the road to Emmaus, as we walk through life with Jesus and listen to His voice, our hearts will burn within us (Luke 24:13–32). We will grow in intimacy, without a doubt. As we grow in intimacy, the Lord develops our story with Him as the hero. As He becomes the hero of our story, we have a great gift to offer the world. There truly is no greater gift to offer than our own personal intimacy with Jesus.
Question to consider: What does intimacy with Jesus look like in your life?