| Missional Living III: Listening to the Spirit
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.
The night before He died, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet
and shared the Last Supper with them, and then said:
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
He didn’t say: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you go to Church every Sunday and tithe 10% and prayer every day and read your Bible and don’t drink or smoke or do drugs or watch R-rated movies or cuss.
He didn’t say: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you protest for – or against same-sex marriage and vote for the right party.
He DID say: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love.
If you love as He loved, by praying with people and healing them and feeding them
and telling them the truth about a forgiving, loving God,
and being willing to go the distance to prove that love – and doing it in person.
Our purpose in life is the same as the purpose of Jesus Himself.
He said in John 20:21, As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
The Father sent the Son to bear witness to the truth that God is love.
Jesus came to make the love of God personal, to make it human.
That’s our mission as well -- same God, same mission.
We’re to represent God in this world and make His love real and personal.
When we do that, God Himself becomes real and personal
and all of a sudden others are caught up in His mission, too.
Two weeks ago, I started a series on how we can make our faith personal.
Very few of us have the gift of evangelism yet every single one of us
has the ability to make God’s love personal in our own little world:
among our friends and family, among our neighbors and co-workers and classmates,
among the people we encounter every day.
We can live our lives in such a way that people who see us are led to question us,
to want to know why we’re the way we are.
And that’s our opening to share the love of God in Christ with them.
We’re people on a mission and we can all live like it.
But we may have to pick up a few new habits.
You can remember these new habits with an acronym: B E L L S.
B stands for Bless others. E stands for Eat with others.
I talked about Blessing and Eating last week.
The first missional habit is Bless Others:
Bless at least three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of our church.
The second habit is Eat with Others:
Eat with at least three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of our church.
The first L stands for Listen, the second for Learn, and the S for Sent.
Today, I want to talk about listening.
Listen: I will spend at least one period of the week listening for the Spirit’s voice.
Find at least one block of time each week to stop and create space to listen to God.
We’re all pretty good at talking AT God. [walkie-talkie analogy]
We’re not so good at listening.
For many people, listening to the Holy Spirit is like trying to hear the background music
in a busy coffee shop.
You can barely make out the melody, but you have to strain hard
to make out the lyrics over the hubbub of the other patrons.
This is the same situation that exists when you try to listen to the Holy Spirit
with too many people or things offering interference.
To listen to God, everything and everyone else must be “turned off.”
We know the Holy Spirit is our companion and the source of our strength,
and for missional Christians the Spirit is an indispensable source of wisdom.
Here’s what I mean.
We need help to know whom to bless, and in what way.
We need help to know whom to share table fellowship, and in what way.
Let me give you a real example.
Two weeks ago at Starbucks, I was drinking my coffee and minding my own business
when an African-American man came in, made his way past all the other patrons
straight to my table and tapped me on the shoulder.
He said, “Excuse me, sir, but I haven’t had anything to eat in a few days.
Could you spare a few bucks and help me out?”
Talk about being singled out.
I opened my wallet and found inside it a twenty and three ones.
Of course, I didn’t want to give him $20.
I started to pull the $3 out when clear as bell,
I heard a voice in mind say, somewhat impatiently, “Come on Vann, give him the $20.”
Because of course, $3 wouldn’t really help him, not in 2015.
I was a little startled but I’ve learned to listen to that voice.
I gave the man my $20 bill and he went on his way.
I saw him cross Wayne Memorial Drive and I wondered if he was going to
the Kangaroo to buy himself a bunch of beer.
And the voice said, “That’s not your business. Let it go.”
I’ll tell you: the voice was subtle.
It sounded like my own voice, but it wasn’t, because I don’t usually give myself orders.
And if I hadn’t been open to listening for it, I might have disregarded it.
I’m not trying to make myself seem super-spiritual or anything like that. I’m not.
I just want you to know that if I can do it, so can you.
But it takes practice and a willingness to obey.
Here’s another example, a hypothetical one.
What if I met somebody and they suggested we go to a topless bar for a few drinks?
Well, that might be a good opportunity for table fellowship,
except that I don’t drink, and honestly,
being seen in a topless bar so might damage my witness just a little.
So should I accept the invite?
The answer is, I need to be listening to the Spirit so that I’ll know what to do.
I suspect I might say, “You know, why don’t we go to Starbucks instead?”
Discernment is extremely important when we step outside our comfort zone
into a world that’s all too willing to bring us down.
How will we know how to negotiate our way through that world,
eating with and blessing unbelievers, without the Spirit’s voice to guide us?
I know we’d rather have a straightforward set of rules to follow.
We’d like to have a little guide on a card we can put in our wallet which tells us what to do.
But a relationship with God isn’t based on following rules,
but on communication and communion.
Jesus told the disciples near the end of His life,
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears,
and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
God wants us to rely on Him.
That was His original intention for us in the Garden of Eden,
where He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day.
To rely on Him not as dependent, weak, helpless children,
but as friends and co-workers, as younger brothers and sisters.
If I’m going to encourage you to bless others and eat with them,
it would be irresponsible for me not to also encourage you to listen to the Spirit.
Here’s some practical advice in fostering an openness to the Spirit’s promptings:
1. Set aside a designated time to listen to the Spirit.
Don’t try to connect to God the Holy Spirit on the run. Set aside a specific time each week. I’m only suggesting one, although, if you want to do it more than once a week, that would be even better. See it as a precious time alone, just between you and God.
2. Eliminate distractions.
For the person untrained in listening to the Holy Spirit, you should find ways to avoid any intrusion on the senses of touch, sight, smell, taste or sound. Music, noise in the distance, the tick of a clock, voices of people, the gentle breeze of the wind, even the written words of others in inspirational books—each can cause a distraction and prompt you to listen to what our ear or other senses are picking up. The quieter the surroundings, the more conducive to listening to the Holy Spirit. After all, Jesus taught us, “Whenever you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray … in private.” I think we ought to trust Him on this one. Find a comfortable posture most helpful to you for spiritual concentration. Closing your eyes in a dark or semi-dark room can help to eliminate any visual distractions. Only after eliminating all of these distractions, you will be ready to listen.
3. Let God in.
Don’t start your time of listening by asking questions or telling the Spirit what you want. He already knows. Start by simply enjoying God’s presence. Sit quietly and let the Holy Spirit come to you. The enemy most likely will remind you of your flaws and problems and try to discourage you. You must always remember God loves you because He created you. In times like this, I try to remember the words of St. Theresa of Avila: “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” If you’re an results-oriented person, you’ll be impatient to get to the point of it and ask the Spirit to grant you knowledge or wisdom or courage or righteousness, or whatever you need in your current circumstance. But before you get to that, simply abide in God’s presence. Listening to the Holy Spirit can become for you a source of comfort and great peace and a source of answers to problems. Listening to God is one of the highest forms of prayer.
4. Be willing to follow God’s promptings.
The Spirit might bring to your mind the name or the face of a person you’re to bless or eat with -- which is why you might want to begin your week with listening prayer. The Spirit might prompt you to reengage with someone you blessed last week, or bring to mind something you ought to have said to someone but didn’t. In Galatians 5:16, which reads, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh,” Paul presents the stark difference between two ways of life. You can either live by the Spirit, or you’re going to give in to your lesser angels. In other words, if we’re governed entirely by our appetites, we’re going to make some questionable choices. If however, we’ll allow the Spirit to guide us, we will be free to enjoy those appetites in a redeemed, godly fashion. To go back to what I said earlier about eating and drinking with unbelievers as a missional Christian, we need to be governed by the Spirit’s promptings to ensure we’re a godly example that arouses curiosity and interest in our faith. Behaving like everyone else isn’t all that interesting. Eating and drinking and blessing others in the way of the Spirit will be surprising to others.
The difficulty for many people seeking to live missional lives
is negotiating the extremes between being withdrawn and judgmental on the one hand
and entering fully into a social setting that might be considered ungodly on the other.
Think of those extremes.
On one end of the spectrum is the worldly Christian who carries on just like everybody else.
He drinks too much on the weekend, indulges in the occasional porn viewing,
curses like a sailor around his buddies, but is as good as gold in church.
That’s not going to provoke any questions other than “What’s the deal with the hypocrite?”
On the other end of the spectrum is the self-righteous prig who complains constantly
about everybody else’s bad behavior and refuses to interact with “those” people.
Nobody outside the church wants to be around that kind of person for very long.
Trying to figure out how to be in the middle — to be a godly, intriguing, socially adventurous, joyous presence around others—is tough.
We’re not adept enough on our own to find that balance.
That’s where the missional voice of the Spirit comes in.
The Spirit’s promptings rebuke us when we drift too far to either extreme,
gently guiding our social life in a way that promotes connection with unbelievers
while also rousing their curiosity about our faith.
That’s why listening to the Spirit is one of the five habits of highly missional people.
This coming week, as you continue to bless and eat with three people,
take time to listen to God, and see how much easier the blessing and eating becomes.
I’ll warn you: it’s an adventure. You never know for sure what’s going to happen.
This past week, I was in the drive-through line at Starbuck’s (again!) when
I was suddenly moved to pay for not only my own coffee,
but for the person behind me in line, too.
It would be my blessing for somebody outside the church.
When I got to the window,
I asked the cashier if she’d rung up the car behind me and she said yes.
I told her with a big proud smile on my face that I would pay that tab too.
She looked at the register, then at me, then at the register again.
“Are you sure?” she asked me.
I looked in my rearview mirror.
The car behind me had one person, a rather small young woman.
“Sure,” I said. “It’s my good deed for the day.”
“Okay...” the cashier said, and she took my debit card and then handed me the receipt.
As I drove off, I looked at it ... $17.
The woman behind me had ordered two expensive drinks and a sandwich.
I could almost hear the Spirit chuckling.
Life is an adventure, friends, especially if you turn it over to God.
Jesus told Nicodemus,
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Life is like jazz, improvisational jazz, where the musicians make it up as they go,
but somehow it all comes together and is beautiful.
It works out that way, of course, only because somebody is carrying the melody.
In life, that somebody is the Spirit, leading us in the “wind song” of faith.
You’re a missionary, Christian.
Every single one of us is here for a reason.
Our mission is to make God’s love in Christ personal – to bless – eat – and listen.
Just do it -- and the angels of God will serenade you.
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