Book Review: Hearing God, by Dallas Willard

Hearing God: Developing A Conversational Relationship With God

Dallas Willard

Publisher: Intervarsity Press

Hearing God

Communication: the buzzword for healthy relationships. If faith is a personal relationship with God, why is communication with him such a mystery? This updated and expanded book seeks to clarify what it means to hear God and addressing many misunderstandings of this fundamental piece of the life of faith. This is a comprehensive, level-headed, and challenging book on divine guidance.

While believers around the world soundly establish communication towards God, Willard seeks to illuminate the missing piece: communication from God; that is, hearing and understanding what God has to say about us. With marvellous insight, Willard challenges the reader cognitively and calls forth reflection. Using plain language yet brilliant analogies in everything from quantum mechanics to human anatomy, revealing the indications and implications of God’s interaction with us.

The book’s second interest is answering whether it is more dangerous to risk trying to hear God or not trying to hear God at all. Willard is adamant about the importance as well as the reality of Christians being able to hear from God personally.

Ultimately, Willard’s point is that the Christian person needs to be able to hear God, or they will forever be paddling in the shallow end of the spiritual life. Willard restores the individual relationship with God amongst the other pillars of a healthy spiritual walk – community, Bible reading, and so on – so that people do not become dependent on imperfect human advice for every little thing.

More than ever, Christians are seeking ‘God’s will’ for their life. As a result, many groups devise seminars, strategies, and steps to do this. Willard’s thesis revolves around developing a relationship with God in all kinds of ways, the Bible being one. This updated and expanded version includes six Lectio Divina exercises to guide readers into hearing God through reflective reading of Scripture – while readers also train themselves to hear the ways in which God communicates. At the end of each chapter are reflection questions that may help the reader further unpack meaning for his or her own life.

We Need More Faith in the “F-word” [Part 2]

Some social conservatives (Christian ones, at that) argue that feminism is to blame for the breakdown of marriage and society. One well-known evangelical sadly suggests that feminism turns women into “lesbians who hate their husbands and kill their children”. But I’m sure he means that with love.

Some Christians, reading into admonitions for women not to teach or speak in church from New Testament epistles, have used scripture to legitimize their culture’s own existing sexism, settling for the status quo instead of envisioning a kingdom of Heaven culture where “there is no male nor female, slave nor freeman, Greek nor Jew” (Galatians 3:28).

These narrow-minded and ill-informed views are simply wrong. Feminism neither destroyed marriage nor created abortion. Feminism is mistakenly blamed for abortions, yet in China, third-trimester abortions and even infanticide take place regardless of the rights of women (or lack thereof). Women’s rights is not a culprit. As if it’s a bad idea to empower half of our society – or that somehow women cannot be trusted to handle power. It reeks of fear and manipulation.

Feminism isn’t responsible for breaking marriage, either. Marriages have been deeply broken for a long, long time, and children die where patriarchy reigns unchecked. In some regions of Somalia, the men take the first portion of food and whatever scraps are left over – if there are any – are given to the women and children. The family friend who witnessed this tragedy said it reminded him of child-sacrifice cultures associated with the god Moloch.

We’ve mentioned Christian faith, so let’s move on to the Bible. One cannot quote the letters to the Corinthians or letters to any other 1st century church with disdain for context. The people of Corinth wrestled with a pagan culture whose association of women’s involvement in religion was as temple prostitutes. Further, women were largely uneducated and untrained in literature, speaking and teaching — things necessary for a woman to teach effectively in church. Paul’s admonitions, offensive when read void of context in modern times, actually safeguarded the reputation of Christian Corinthian women and prevented poor teaching from being spread through the church in its fragile early years. What’s more, Paul celebrates and recognizes several female early church leaders: Julia, Junia, Mary, and Priscilla amongst them.

Nowadays, the story of women’s education is quite different. Recent studies concur that higher education is tipping heavily to the side of women, with females comprising more than 60% of enrolment in higher education. Modern women are articulate, empowered, and educated. St. Paul’s reasons for cautioning the women of ancient Corinth are absent in today’s Western context. Is it possible that God is asking us to think this one over?

Some churches address the issue by allowing women certain positions of authority but not senior teaching positions. It seems that to entrust our children’s education to female teachers at school but not at church is to hold a pretty laughable double standard.

So, what’s Christianity’s problem with feminism? The biggest kickback seems to be the link between feminism and humanism. Fine. Humanism is an ideology underpinned in naturalism, often with a bone to pick with Theology. But for the moment, let’s look at the common ground between Christianity and feminism, since it’s pretty clear that some Christians have found a way to harmonize their beliefs with feminist thinking. After all, Jesus’ followers are called to be peacemakers.

Dr. Allyson Jule at Trinity Western University‘s Gender Studies Institute helps her students and readers of her book Being Feminist, Being Christian to see how both Christianity and feminism desire for fullest human flourishing, freedom from all forms of oppression and compassion for the powerless. Both involve aims of justice and self-reflection. Both involve seeing others as equals. That’s significant common ground. From this, I would gladly argue that Christianity and feminism can inform and empower each other.

Let’s just consider one important distinction. While there are lots of intelligent, well-spoken, wonderful, prayerful Christian feminists, there is a temptation to claim Christ was a feminist. People who do this usually point to the book of Luke, seeing how Luke the physician made careful note of how Jesus interacted with women and with the disempowered. The problem is that we apply a 20th century school of thought to a 1st century man (who happens also to be the omniscient Creator of the Universe whose ways are above our ways). According to Christian belief, God is infinite, eternal, and transcends all of our notions. To apply the label “feminist” to Jesus is actually to limit his scope. It’s a bit like saying “God is a builder”, “God is an artist” or “God is a parent”. While these things are true about God, he is not limited to any one of them. There is a great children’s book about this called Old Turtle, which I recommend highly. He is, in the words of Pura, “all balances struck”. While Feminism has been helpful in critiquing injustice, promoting women’s rights, and pursuing equality, Jesus is God, and his plan to restore humanity is larger than that of Feminism. Instead of forcing Jesus into boxes, no matter how nice they look in the catalogue, let’s allow Him to deconstruct ours. He promises “behold, I make all things new”.

Reflections: The Sanctified Imagination

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2

Much effort is required to rescue someone, say, from exploitation. Yet the rescue is just the beginning of a new journey. A longer process of healing is needed to lift psychological and emotional weights.

This illustrates sanctification, the journey of transformation that follows salvation. Sanctification means “to grow in grace”. Like a sunflower turns its face towards its namesake, we must also grow to face God and walk into our future with eyes fixed on him.

Transformation begins in the mind. Actions stem from thought patterns: we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we contemplate sin, allow fantasy to take root, or dwell in the past, we entertain deception. Our thinking must be sanctified because 90% of the time, we use our minds as weapons against ourselves.

For lack of a sanctified imagination, one is susceptible to suffering. Falsehood takes root subtly in unguarded minds. Nostalgia can idolize the past instead of trusting in goodness for the days to come. Old pain can distract us from present opportunity, fostering helplessness. Refusing negative thought patterns is part of sanctification.

Without a sanctified imagination, the church has only the world to imitate. It will reproduce bland facsimiles of worldly art, education, economics, relationships, and governance. It follows suit instead of setting an example.

God desires a child-like church that believes anything is possible. Embrace godly imagination: Jesus said to pray for heaven on earth. Is the church dreaming big enough? Some decline the invitation to pray for the impossible, opting instead for safe yet stifling religious principles and platitudes. However, God’s business is doing the impossible. Religion and intellect have not saved humanity and we are not any closer today than before. Saving humanity is God’s domain, and he lives in us. The impossible is nothing.

The prophet Joel wrote that in the end times, God’s people will see visions and dream dreams, presumably ones that will change the world. If the church seeks to carry out God’s plans, it needs the barriers down. The book of Acts references Joel’s prophecy, which the early church lived out, and saw miracles become commonplace. Our imagination must grow in grace or we will resist God instead of dreaming with Him.

Reflections: Belief

“As you have believed, so let it be done for you” – Matthew 8

Jesus’ disciples barely weathered a potentially life threatening storm as Jesus slept soundly. In panic, they woke Jesus and he pacified the storm around them with a word. As the storm within them calmed, Jesus perplexedly asked where their faith (confident expectation) was. The disciples had great faith in their impending doom, but Jesus needed them to have faith in the giver of life.

Jesus healed again and again throughout this chapter. He demonstrated his power over real and threatening circumstances. Sovereign over nature, he stilled a storm; sovereign over the spirit realm, he cast out demons; and sovereign over life itself, he raised the dead. All of this he did with a word

We are tempted to put our faith in many things and at times may question our ability to stay afloat. Instead, we are to place our faith in God’s ability. Incredibly, God is more real than anything we can experience, for He is not limited by our dimensions. This revelation will revolutionize one’s mind-set. With God, all things are possible.

A pivotal story in Matthew 8 is that of the Roman centurion. Approaching Jesus, he declared his faith in Jesus’ authority to heal his sick servant. Jesus proclaimed that the centurion revered God more than many of the “sons and daughters of the kingdom.” The centurion knew his own authority, including its limits, and realized the authority of God.

Jesus’ response to this man was, “Go your way, and as you have believed, let it be done for you.” To the centurion it was an affirmation that his request is granted.

Whatever we believe can come to pass. Cease speaking negative prophecies over your life – chances are they may come to fulfilment. Instead, seek to align your mindset with God. You will see life if you confidently expect to receive it from its giver. Focus your faith not on the potency of your problems but on the greatness of your God.

Interview: Shane Claiborne and the Irresistible Revolution

I sat down with the affable Shane Claiborne at MissionsFest 2012 to talk about social justice, life, and junk food, for Converge Magazine Online.

Vancouver Missions Fest 2012 with Shane Claiborne from Converge Magazine on Vimeo.


What Is Worship?

“In the company of Jesus, there are no experts; only beginners”, Jason Upton sings on a live recording of ‘Between the Graveyard and the Garden’ from his new album On The Rim Of The Visible World. This attitude is one of a humble heart – a soft heart that admits that God is God, and that I do not have everything together. It is a posture of worship.

In contrast, the church finds itself pressured into ‘professionalism’ in ministry and in worship. Professionalism is not a bad trait, but in the church setting, it can spring from roots of what the Bible calls the ‘fear of man’. “In a nutshell, the fear of man can either be a fear of what others think of us or will do to us, or a craving for approval and a fear of rejection”, writes Carolyn McCulley in her articleWhom Do You Fear?

Worship is not quite understood in some common contemporary interpretations. When a congregation is rehearsed into standing to face a particular spot in their building, they can be tempted to devote their attention to practiced musicians onstage and a bright PowerPoint overhead. To an alien, might it look as though the congregation was worshipping their own church?

I had a dream recently that I was in a church and the pastor stood up and announced that it was time to worship. At that moment, the ushers flung the doors open and the congregation poured out into the streets to minister to the homeless in downtown Vancouver. That would be beautiful worship to the Lord.

What is worship? Is it even best represented by music? (I say this as a worshipping musician.) If I allow myself to cling too tightly to a closed definition of what worship is or what it is not, I run the risk of making myself an ‘expert’ on a matter that belongs to God. In fact, arguments and judgments over what ‘styles of worship’ are suitable or unsuitable can divide a church. Might I suggest that there is no particular style of worship at all? Instead, a worshipper exhibits an authentic lifestyle that seeks to please God.

The Lord says this of some: “These people come near to me with their mouths and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV). What of those rules can we recognize in our own life or in our own community? The judgments we make about our worship, or worse, the worship of others, are a dangerous pitfall. That judgment could stem from different roots, but God’s response is the same: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Romans 14:4, NIV).

Seemingly, God created worship with an “outside the box” approach in mind. Besides singing, dancing, or playing music to God, how else is worship expressed? Surely I worship God when I sit back and recognize his power. He longs for us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) When I humble myself before God and recognize what little I have without him, I honour his wisdom, supremacy, provision, and power!

Worship, too, is trusting God. By trusting his word, I declare that I know him and I know who I am in his kingdom. After learning that his sons, daughters, livestock, and servants have all been brutally killed, the Old Testament prophet Job tore his robe and shaved his head, then fell to the ground in worship. After this, he declared, “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:20, NIV).

Worship is closely related to our attitude, perspective, and actions. God declares that he detests hypocritical praise, saying, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me! When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you. Wash your hands and stop doing wrong. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:13-17, NIV).

Worship is in the practice of reconciliation; 2 Corinthians 5 expresses that we have been given a “ministry of reconciliation”. God loves reconciliation more than the offerings of our mouths.

Worship is a posture we assume before God. “Worship is the only possible response that we can have when we see Jesus for what he truly is,” muses Mark Watt, worship co-ordinator at Tenth Avenue Church in Kitsilano, Vancouver. “After we`ve realised the sheer vastness of everything God has done for us, and how he views us, our only response can be utter awe. After Jesus` resurrection, when he appeared in the room to visit his disciples, I`ll bet that some would have started weeping uncontrollably, and some laughing incredulously. Some were probably whimpering in utter amazement. When you are overwhelmed by Jesus, there`s just a gut response. We know they fell and clasped his feet in worship”.

Deep reflection and prayer for self-awareness may be required to overcome the “rules” we and those around us have constructed around worship. However, once we have realize that worship has little to do with form and everything to do with content (the heart), we`ll become more open to it not always looking as tidy as we once wanted and we`ll worship God the way he wants.