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Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

Family Systems Change

SOURCE:  Prepare/Enrich

I’ve always been interested in how my family operated.

I can remember specific times in my life where I could see how I thought my family system was about to change. As a 14 year-old, I wrote a paper about my perspective on my sister’s upcoming wedding. I clearly remember stating my point of view that I was not losing a sister, but gaining a brother. Eight years later, while in college, I lost my grandmother unexpectedly, and I watched my entire family figure out how to handle the new void in the system. And now, I write this newsletter as I await the birth of a new niece or nephew. I know this new baby will again change our family system.

The thing is, change isn’t bad. It’s inevitable though.

Family systems theory, the basis of many counseling programs, sees the family as an emotional unit. When one part of the system changes, the system needs to re-calibrate. Changes in the system also happen when the functioning of a family member changes. The connectedness and reactivity within the family unit make the functioning of family members interdependent. The same happens when a family member is added or removed from the system. Sometimes this transition happens over time such as adding family members through marriage, adoption, or birth. There are other times where it is not planned, like a death in the family.

While change is hard, it can also be beautiful.

Adding family members allows the opportunity to create new bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. But, it’s important to acknowledge that the transition can be bumpy. Some family members won’t be welcoming, some won’t like the change, and others may wish it was like the “old days.”

Don’t feel like you need to combat these feelings.

We have some tips for how to manage when your family system changes:

  • Hear them out.  Listen, listen, and listen some more to your family members who are having a hard time adapting to the “new” dynamics. Their feelings are valid and its crucial to not outcast them in the transition process.
  • Give it time.  Don’t expect your family or yourself to be completely comfortable right away. It’s natural for some time to pass before a new “normal” sets in.
  • Encourage openness.  Embrace change yourself and model for others how to be open to changes that happen in the family system.
  • Establish new bonds.  Identify new family traditions or “special” moments with that new family member. This can be as simple as an inside joke with your new brother-in-law or a special tradition you create each time you have the birth of a new baby.

 




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11 Qualities Every Truly Happy Relationship Has In Common

SOURCE:  Brittany Wong/Huffington Post

Marriage therapists share their top relationship must-haves.

Chemistry and physical attraction may have brought you and your partner together, but you need more than a spark to maintain a happy, lasting relationship.

With that in mind, we asked marriage therapists to share the one quality they believe couples need to develop in order to stay together for the long haul. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Compassion

“You have to be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Compassion toward your partner allows him or her to feel respected, appreciated and cared for and it fuels the connection, intimacy and partnership. Think of it as the essential food that every healthy relationship needs.” ― Carin Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist in Sherman Oaks, California 

2. Compromise

“So many couples believe that a lack of problems, or the ability to anticipate and avoid them, is a key to a happy relationship. But in my experience, it’s not so much about avoiding problems so much as it is about being able to solve them together. Problems are always going to happen, just as life does. Knowing you can face them together keeps a relationship strong and healthy.” ― Alicia HClark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.   

3. A sense of humor

 “The strongest couples I’ve met have the capacity to laugh at themselves. When a partner can laugh about their own messiness or their wish to have the table set in a certain way, they can communicate what they want without turning their partner into the enemy. Laughing at ourselves instead of judging makes the journey entertaining instead of a constant battle.” ― Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California

4. Trust

“As a specialist in infidelity, I can tell you that trust is the most important thing in a marriage. It takes years to build and a second to break. But it’s more than just sexual fidelity. A spouse is trusted with so much: fears, vulnerabilities, painful wounds from childhood. In a good marriage, a spouse discloses these innermost thoughts and trusts that it won’t be used against them in future arguments.” ― Caroline Madden, a marriage therapist and the author of After A Good Man Cheats: How to Rebuild Trust & Intimacy with Your Wife  

5. Positivity

“We all need to be praised and appreciated but we so often get the opposite ― criticism ― even from our partner. Positivity is needed in relationships, especially ones that have grown past the honeymoon stage. Whether it’s a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’ or a specific compliment for something done, we all need to hear it. When we praise our partner we strengthen our connection, bond and love.” ― KurtSmith, a therapist who specializes in counseling for men 

6. Intimacy

 “Sexual and emotional intimacy is the bright shiny star of relationships. Intimacy is the difference between your relationship with your barista and your relationship with your spouse. You build intimacy over time. Intimacy is the feeling of belonging and being loved. It’s the feeling of being known and understood. It’s the feeling of being accepted and appreciated. If you have ever experienced or heard someone describe their relationship as hollow or empty, it’s probably because it’s lacking intimacy.” ― Laura Heck, a marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah

7. Mutual respect

“Life tends to throw some unexpected curveballs along the course of a relationship. The one quality that consistently helps couples through adversity or tragedy is mutual respect. Self-esteem is essential to feel secure and satisfied with yourself so it makes sense that a high esteem and respect for your partner is an essential ingredient in a lasting relationship, both in joyous and challenging times.” ―  Elisabeth J. LaMotte, a psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center

8.  Presence

“Being present is more than just putting down your devices and paying attention ― it’s showing that you’re deeply interested in the inner life of your partner and want to make their world better in any way you can. Being present means freely giving your partner the gift of your full focus and being there for them in a way that’s deeper than just being physically present. It means seeing things from their point of view and not just your own.” ― Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia

9. Love

 “You need to love, honor and cherish one another. These vows are what keep people together happily over the long term. Here’s a brief rundown on what each mean: ‘To love’ means you demonstrate your love. Love is a verb ― an action word. There is no other way to show your spouse you love them except through action. We love through physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and gifts. ‘To honor’ is to respect the one you love. You approach them in conversation in a way that shows you want the best for them and don’t want to harm them. ‘To cherish’ means to show your S.O. how much you value them. You treat them as the special person they are – your one and only.” Becky Whetstone, a marriage family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas  

10. Understanding

“There’s no problem you can’t resolve when you’re listening to each other and acting like a team. Create regular times during the week when you can talk uninterrupted and don’t let a week go by without a date night. Keep listening and understanding each other. Every ounce of listening effort will pay off tenfold.” ― M. Gary Neuman, a psychotherapist based in Miami Beach, Florida

11.  Friendship

“Couples who are good friends know each other well, give each other the benefit of the doubt and are fond of one another. When you take the time to strengthen your friendship, you’re more successful long-term. Making friendship a priority will help you weather any storm that comes your way.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois

8 Signs You Have Not Done Everything You Can to Save Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Every marriage struggles. And in most troubled marriages that are on the brink, one or both spouses often say something like “I’ve done everything I can, and it just isn’t working out.”

While a spouse may feel like they’ve done everything they can, in reality, they may not have. And the stakes are too high to claim you’ve done all you can when you maybe haven’t. Before you call it quits, there are some important questions to ask yourself, as I’ve blogged about before.

But it’s time now to test your heart and your actions to see if you really have done all you can. Here are some signs that you haven’t yet:

1. You’re not willing to see a counselor.

Counseling can be expensive and feel intrusive. But believe it or not, even healthy marriages sometimes need counseling help. Susan and I have seen a marriage counselor to help us through various issues in our marriage and it has really helped us. It’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength to admit that another perspective could be helpful. If you have resisted this step, you’ve not done everything you can.

2. You’re not willing to work on or give up your bad habits.

Whether it’s porn, constant criticism, crushing comparisons, toxic words, or other bad habits, these type of patterns are hard to break, and are hurting marriages every day. For the sake of your health, your kids and your long-term prospects as a family, you need to be willing to let go of these things. If you find yourself saying “I can’t” or “I won’t” then you’ve not done everything you can.

3. You’re not willing to give up your hobbies.

Fishing, Facebook, horseback riding, football games, golf, poker, book clubs, etc., all these things can be fine in and of themselves. But if you put these things above your marriage, you are being shortsighted. Don’t make your wife a football widow by being unwilling to turn the game off. One young man used to call golf his mistress in the early years of his marriage and decided to quit for the sake of his marriage. His hobby became an idol, and he knew his marriage was more valuable than his handicap. If you haven’t been willing to sell off your collection, stop your activities, or even pause them for the sake of your marriage, you’ve not done everything you can.

4. You’re not willing to let anyone challenge your assumptions of what your marriage is.

You may think that marriage is just a 50-50 partnership, a contract and if your spouse is not holding up their end of the deal, then you have a right to get out of the marriage. But marriage is actually a 100%-100% give-it-all-you’ve-got relationship.  And as I shared through my blog, 3 Things to Remember Before You Call it Quits in Marriage, is a life-long covenant between God, a husband, and wife.

5. You’re not willing to change the priorities of your life.

Reprioritizing is crucial to navigating choppy waters in marriage. Sometimes you need to step back and reassess where you are, where you’re headed, and what you need to do to get back on the same page. Perhaps you’ve put your job ahead of your spouse. If so, you’ve got some changes to make.

6. You’re not willing to move or change jobs.

Big changes are sometimes necessary for the sake of marriage. Jobs come and go. Houses can be bought, sold or burned to the ground. But ending your marriage will make any of those seemingly drastic changes seem like child’s play. If you aren’t willing to accept drastic changes like moving or changing jobs for the sake of your marriage, you’ve not done everything you can.

7. You’re not willing to admit that you’re part of the problem.

The famous British author G.K. Chesterton was once asked by a journalist of the day what was wrong with the world. His reply letter was brief but poignant: “Dear Sir, I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.” Very rarely is a marriage truly a one-sided problem. If you refuse to acknowledge your own shortcomings and issues, you’ve not done all you can.

8. You’re not willing to listen.

Usually, in a troubled marriage, one or both spouses are exasperated because they don’t feel heard. A bad listener makes for a bad friend, co-worker, or spouse. In every area of your life, being a good listener is critical to healthy relationships. Listening takes effort, but it can do wonders for your marriage. If you haven’t tried to listen better, to learn how to listen better, you’ve not done everything possible to save your marriage.

The bottom line: Don’t give up. There are lots of strategies you can choose to help your ailing marriage. Start by being honest. Have you really done everything you can to save your marriage? 

Phrases That Make Arguments and Fights Worse

SOURCE:  Brandon Specktor/Readers Digest

When you argue, you are at your most animal. Your brain literally enters fight-or-flight mode, your heart-rate escalates, and logic and reasoning physically shut down. It’s little wonder you usually say a lot of bonehead things you end up regretting in the morning. Don’t worry: We are all guilty of the same stupidity, and sometimes the key to a painless argument is what you don’t say.

For starters, here are six research-backed phrases proven to make any bad argument worse.

Don’t mention getting calm — “Calm Down”

According to parenting experts and hostage negotiators alike, the biggest mistake most people make in an argument is denying the other person’s feelings. Think for a moment if the words “calm down” have ever actually made you calmer. More than likely, they’ve only ever made you feel more annoyed—Why does this person think I’m overreacting? He doesn’t understand me at all! Telling a person to calm down assigns them a negative emotion (be it anger, anxiety, stubbornness, etc.) while denying their actual feelings. This seeming lack of empathy can be detrimental to reaching a mutual understanding, which is a far more important outcome than “winning” an argument. So instead of telling your companion how to feel, seek first to understand how they feel. Step one: listen.

Don’t try to quiet their emotions — “Shut Up”

Always let the other person vent, no matter how long or loud that venting may be. “If the emotional level is high, your first task is to take some of the emotion out,” says Linda Hill, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “Hold back and let them say their piece. You don’t have to agree with it, but listen.” Often times, just talking honestly about a problem is enough to make a person feel better about it (hence, therapy). And as an argument participant, know that every word your companion says is a step toward mutual understanding. Just be careful how you approach it.

Don’t fake-empathize — “I Know How You Feel”

This stock phrase almost always comes across wrong; you may be trying to say, “your emotions are valid,” but the other person will more likely hear, “I get it—so stop talking.” Instead of merely saying you understand someone’s feelings, show them by doing what FBI negotiators do: paraphrase. “The idea is to really listen to what the other side is saying and feed it back to them,” says FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss. “It’s kind of a discovery process for both sides. First of all, you’re trying to discover what’s important to them, and secondly, you’re trying to help them hear what they’re saying to find out if what they are saying makes sense.” If everyone’s on the same page, you can start moving toward reconciliation.

Don’t tell someone how to feel — “You Shouldn’t Feel That Way”

It may sound to you like you’re acknowledging the other person’s feelings, but by adding a “should” or “shouldn’t” you are condemning and judging them just as much. Psychologists call this subtractive empathy—a response that diminishes and distorts what the other person has just said, often making them feel worse. Instead of judging a feeling, try giving it a concrete name by saying something like, “You sound pretty hurt about [problem]. It doesn’t seem fair.” That’s what psychologists call additive empathy—it identifies a feeling, then adds a new layer of understanding that can lead to a potential solution. Think you have a solution? Be careful how you phrase it.

Don’t tell someone what to do — “Here’s What You Need To Do”

When the fight-or-flight response is triggered, power becomes deceptively crucial to us. Telling someone what to do takes away their power; if they listen to your advice, they may feel less smart or less autonomous, and they will resent you for that. What’s more, insisting that an answer depends solely on the other person changing their behavior removes personal responsibility from the equation, and that’s no way to make friends or learn from your mistakes. The superior phrase: “What would you like me to do?” This handy question leaves the other person with their autonomy, and proves you’re willing to meet them halfway. It also moves your brains away from fight mode, and closer to the land of logical compromise.

Don’t force a resolution — “We Need To Settle This Now”

Never fret if you can’t settle an argument in one shot. According to relationship psychologist John Gottman, PhD, 69 percent of a couple’s problems are perpetualthey will never be resolved. “By fighting over [inherent] differences, all [couples] succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage,” Gottman says. While this may sound depressing to anyone new to a serious relationship, it’s meant to be liberating. Once you realize some arguments can never be won, it makes them that much easier to drop. You fight. You make up. You move on with life. Despite what your fight-or-flight brain chemistry is telling you, “winning” doesn’t matter; most of the time, it isn’t even possible. However, pay attention to these red-flag warning signs of a toxic relationship or signs of a toxic friendship.

Doing “Honest Business” With God

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

The First Step to a Clear Conscience

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT, second edition).

The first step on the path to a clear conscience is to take a personal moral inventory or a personal spiritual assessment.

You need to sit down with God in a quiet space by yourself when you’re unhurried and say, “God, I’m going to do business with you. I’m going to make a list of anything that’s between you and me that’s wrong in my life. Help me to see the things that I know are wrong and the things that I don’t know are wrong.” Ask God to clear your mind and reveal your sins.

You can pray Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (NLT, second edition). You’re saying, “God, turn your spotlight on my inner self. Find the stuff in me that’s entangled me and that’s holding me back.”

It’s important to take your time. Don’t rush it! Don’t say, “God, I’ve got five minutes for you to reveal every sin I’ve ever done.” Take your time. Write it all down.

Why is it important to write it down? Writing makes it specific. Thoughts disentangle themselves through the lips and the fingertips. You speak it, and you write it. If you haven’t written it down, you haven’t really thought about it.

Let me ask you a very important question. How serious are you about wanting God’s blessing on your life? Enough that you’re willing to be gut-level honest? Are you willing to be honest with God? Are you willing to be honest with yourself? Are you willing to be honest with other people? Or are you just going to live in denial? Denial and God’s blessing do not go hand-in-hand.

If you’re serious, then you’re just a step away from liberation! You are one step away from a feeling of joy and purity that you’ve never experienced. You are so close to freedom from the habits and hurts and hang-ups that are messing up your life.

Don’t procrastinate. There is nothing more important in your life than to have the blessing of God. Take time today, get alone by yourself, and do a personal spiritual assessment. It will change your life!

5 Communication Tools That Saved My Marriage

SOURCE:  Rob Flood/Family Life

We were blissfully in love and thrilled to be on our honeymoon. Then came day five—we had our first argument. That put us on a slippery slope moving swiftly toward desperation. Within the first nine months of our marriage, Gina and I were both convinced that we not only married the wrong person, but also were condemned to a loveless marriage.

One very tangible side effect of our difficulties was poor communication. I would ask, “What’s for dinner?” She would hear, “I can’t believe you haven’t prepared dinner again tonight!”

She would say, “What time are you coming home?” I would hear, “You better get here and help me because you’re never here.”

We could not express anything we wanted to. We resorted to hurting each other with our words. We did not build each other up … we tore each other down and caused deep, emotional pain. Quite honestly, we had endured so much hurt that we could not see any hope for ever communicating well. Our despair was overwhelming.

In counseling we began learning about intentional communication. I remember thinking, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. This stuff is so simple … I can’t believe I’m paying this guy for this.”

But, once I got off of my high horse, I realized something very simple yet profound: If communication was really that simple, everyone would be doing it and all of our communication would glorify God and reflect His image (1 Peter 4:11; Ephesians 4:29). Glorifying God did not describe my communication, and it may not describe yours either. In fact, many of us struggle to communicate well even with those we love the most: our siblings, our parents, our children, our spouse.

The road I took to learn about communication was a tough one. Here are some of the tools that helped transform my marriage and change my heart.

1. The Principle of First Response: The course of a conflict is not determined by the person who initiates, but by the person who responds.

You may feel it’s okay to strike at someone verbally because, “He is picking a fight with me.” You may be correct, but that person does not have the power to decide whether a fight actually occurs. That power rests with the responder. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Jesus has a well-worn track record with the Principle of First Response. Recall the times that the Scribes and the Pharisees came to question Him. They were the initiators in nearly all of their communication. Their intention was to defraud Jesus and corner Him. In how many cases were they successful? None. They failed because the power to decide the direction of each conflict rested with Jesus, the responder (Luke 20:19-26).

The implications of following Jesus’ example were huge. My wife’s sin did not give me free license to sin in return. And conversely, my sin did not give Gina free license either. By following the principle of first response, we were being called to take a poorly spoken comment and redirect it.

2. The Principle of Physical Touch: It is difficult to sin against someone while you are tenderly touching him or her.

A difficult time to apply this principle is after an argument has begun. However, a perfect time is when you know you are about to sit down and have a discussion about something that might lead to tension.

You know what those topics are in your marriage. Maybe it’s a conversation about a specific child. Maybe it’s your in-laws or your finances. For us, as you might imagine, it was when we sat down to talk about our communication. Those were tough conversations.

During these times, we would sit down and pray together … and touch. Usually we were at opposite ends of the couch with Gina’s legs stretched out across mine while I held them. (You may prefer holding hands or sitting close enough that you naturally touch.)

As we talked, we would inevitably notice something. When our conversation began to drift toward conflict, we stopped touching. We found what I’m certain you’ll find: It is very difficult to fight with someone you are tenderly touching. So, we had a choice at that point: to stop fighting so we could keep touching or to stop touching so we could keep fighting.

This type of tender touching has served us in two ways. First, it is a deterrent from arguing. Second, when we do drift into an argument, our physical separation is a visual and physical cue that our conversation is no longer glorifying God. We notice it, correct it, and get back on the right track.

3. The Principle of Proper Timing: The success of a conversation can be maximized if the timing of the conversation is carefully chosen.

The book of Proverbs tells us, “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!” (15:23).

Typically, the first opportunity Gina and I have to talk about the day is at dinner. We often take time then to catch up. With four young children, our dinner table is an active and busy one. Consequently, we cannot practically have an extended and meaningful conversation.

So, if something has occurred that I must discuss with Gina, I will wait until the children are asleep. To bring it up during dinner is to invite frustration and ineffectiveness.

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios where we’re more likely to fail.

Gina is a very intentional homemaker and often has wonderful ideas on how to better serve our family. Let’s say she is contemplating a new approach to family dining. She’s been thinking through this for weeks and she’s now ready to get my input. This is a very good thing—but probably not at 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon when I’m watching a football game.

I’m also prone to fall into the poor timing trap. For example, Gina and I could be downstairs enjoying normal conversation. We head upstairs at 11:30 p.m. and Gina is ready for bed. As the lights go out, I ask, “What do you think God is doing with the children?” This is a question Gina would love for me to ask … about three hours earlier. When 11:30 comes, she’s ready for bed—not an extensive discussion.

There are times when a conversation is critical to have at that very moment. In those cases, of course, the football game goes off and we talk. Or, the lights go back on and we’re up until 2 a.m. However, those should be the exceptions rather than the rule. The majority of the time, we should be more strategic in the timing of our conversations.

4. The Principle of Mirroring: Understanding can be enhanced if we measure it often throughout a conversation.

The Scriptures inform us that, if we are to understand and become wise, we must be sure to incline our ears. Proverbs 22:17 states, “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your mind to my knowledge.”

Have you ever meant one thing by what you said but the person you were talking to heard something else? It can make for very frustrating communication. If you’re not sure if your spouse is getting what you’re talking about, check to see if you hear this phrase a lot: “What do you mean by that?”

Mirroring can help you test whether you are hearing your spouse properly. Once your spouse makes a point … repeat it to him or her. Say something like this: “So, what I hear you saying is …” or, “Are you saying … ?” Then, in your own words, tell your spouse what you understand to have been said. Then, the most important part of mirroring comes. You must allow your spouse to either affirm or correct what you’ve said.

As we learned this principle, I often didn’t like Gina’s negative or inaccurate summaries of my statements. So, I defended them and failed to allow her the freedom to speak honestly. In time, I learned that her summaries actually were quite accurate; my reactions were negative because I didn’t like how they exposed me.

The point of mirroring is not to be right, not to defend yourself, but to know that you are hearing accurately. If you seek to understand rather than to make yourself understood, then you are primed for success with the principle of mirroring.

5. The Principle of Prayer: Success in communication is more likely when we invite God to be an active participant and guide.

This principle is not complicated, but it requires our close attention. We’ve become so accustomed to hearing about prayer that its importance often passes us by.

No matter what principle you might be using at the time or what subject you might be talking about, no scenario is beyond prayer. I have tended to overestimate my own ability to communicate well and righteously. That was evidenced in our first year of marriage.

We will eventually and inevitably sin in our communication with each other. When it begins to drift away from God’s intended purpose for it, we have a choice: Will we be puffed up with pride or will we have the humility to stop right where we are and ask God to help redeem our conversation?

I wish someone would have shared with me what late 19th and early 20th century evangelist R.A. Torrey said on prayer:

The reason why many fail in battle is because they wait until the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because they have gained their victory on their knees long before the battle came … Anticipate your battles; fight them on your knees before temptation comes, and you will always have victory.

One of the greatest difficulties that couples face with this principle is awkwardness. They are not used to praying together. So, as they begin to like each other less in the midst of unconstructive communication, the thought of praying together is not very appealing.

We learned an easy fix to this … start praying together. Begin with 30 seconds of prayer as you go to bed each night. Pray regularly as a family prior to eating. Pick one night a week to pray for your children, your pastor, and your marriage. Among the enormous benefits that you’ll see in your family, the regularity of prayer will make praying in the midst of communication breakdown more probable.

The transformation never ends

As a result of God’s grace intersecting with these principles, communication is now among the greatest strengths of our marriage. It’s not that we don’t still mess up—we do. Thankfully, God continues to work on me. He’ll continue to work on you, too.

At one time, I was convinced that I married the wrong woman. She was convinced she married the wrong man. Now, we cannot imagine knowing, loving, or enjoying anyone more than we do each other.

Your relationship with your spouse may differ from ours, but this much is true: Your spouse should be the single most important person you have in your life. Like it or not, communication is the tool that God has given us to knit our hearts and our minds together. Success is possible if we’re willing to apply some intentional principles. We’ve all been called to God-honoring communication. Step forward in humility and faith and watch Him transform you.

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© 2005 by FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.

What Does It Mean to ‘Hear From God’?

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.comJade Mazarin

Hearing God speak to us is like an art. Much to our frequent frustrations, it’s not as easy as hearing the audible words of a friend or mentor.

We don’t always get clear direction from God. Often, we’re called to just move forward trusting Him, even if we don’t know exactly what He’s pointing us toward. After all, God is more concerned about who we are becoming than exactly what we’re doing, so we often hear His voice in moments of conviction or assurance rather than instruction. Sometimes, we just need to hear what’s true—about ourselves or about a given situation—to obtain the comfort and freedom we desperately need.

In Jeremiah 33, God tells us “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Jesus also says that we live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. This is why we long for it so much, and why it’s so worthy of our pursuit.

But how do we maneuver this task of hearing from God, especially when we’re already asking and not getting anything back? Here are some strategies that, depending on the situation, may be useful to you.

Take Time to Really Focus

We all have those moments when we pray a sentence or two while we’re going through the day. Those are great, because they reflect our belief that God is with us at all times. But, especially when we really feel we need guidance, it’s important to also take some time out of our day to really focus solely on that prayer.

Sometimes, we need to take a break from constant petitioning, just start praising and see what happens.

That may go without saying, but I find that we don’t always put forth the effort. It’s easier to speak a few pleading sentences than to really sit or kneel, and devote your time—and total mental energy—to only that petition.

Often, this means laying aside the things that are worrying us and giving our minds a break so we can be open to whatever God might have to say.

David gives us an example of this in Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.”

Ask Him to Help You Hear

I don’t only ask God to speak to me. I also ask Him to enable me to hear. God’s messages are often quieter than the audible noise we are accustomed to. They require sensitivity to pick up on. They also require openness.

Sometimes, part of us doesn’t want to hear the message. Likewise, we may not expect Him to speak in a certain way or even through a certain person, so we might not recognize it when He does. The Holy Spirit, however, can help you notice and be receptive to His words—which are always those we need, even if we don’t know it—if we invite Him to do so.

Unite with God Through Praise

Praise is a special route we can take into the presence of God. It connects us with His spirit, allowing us to see beyond our circumstances. In this place, things become quieter, and we are opened to His peace. Even if we don’t yet hear something specific, we will at least leave that time with more comfort, and more readiness to receive.

Sometimes, we need to take a break from constant petitioning, just start praising and see what happens.

Recognize the Purpose of Silence

It can be so frustrating to us when we don’t hear from God. But if we’re encountering silence, there may be a reason for it. It’s not that we’re unworthy, or that God doesn’t care or isn’t able. The purpose for silence, rather, may be the infinitely more precious thing of our development. There are times when God is simply more concerned about our inner growth than what we do with one decision (even if that decision feels huge at the time).

Ask God to Influence It All

When I continue to be unsure how to proceed, I often ask God to influence every circumstance. I like to ask God to carry me as a current carries a boat—I know He already is, but it is to remind myself. I love the image of Him directing me, without me having to figure things out or rely on myself. It allows me to rest and know everything will work out. These prayers come with the faith that God is greater than anyone or anything, and He knows how to accomplish His will in our lives.

As Philippians 2 tells us, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Discern if It’s His Voice

A common concern when people think they heard from God, is whether the message is just from their own thoughts. If you’re wrestling with this question, consider these things:

Are you likely to think this type of thought? If it’s more freeing and kind, or more insightful than something you usually come up with, it could be God. Ask yourself if it reflects the nature of God. Be aware of how it makes you feel—peaceful and loved, or confused and condemned? If it’s an instruction, see if the thought continues—does it stick with you through the next several days and months?

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63).

Putting It All Into Practice

Many of us seek a formula for how to hear from God. Do this and get that result. But that’s not the way God works. There is a healthy place of seeking God from our hearts, while being open to His leading.

Ideally, our seeking should flow from a living relationship with God. It is purposed not to reach certain outcomes, but as a reflection and development of a close communion; a relationship of love.

Scripture says the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray. Our main task, I believe, is to rest in the present moment, seek Him with genuineness, and know that He is working for and through us, each step of the way.

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