Hearing His Voice)
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: - John 10:27
I have discussed how we need to hear God’s approval to be fulfilled in life, and that we receive His approval when we keep His commandments. For much of my life, with my addiction to lust and pornography, I was willingly violating God’s commandments of chastity, and I was certainly devoid the sense of His approval.
When I decided to make my confession and seriously begin the work of recovery, I was quickly flooded with feelings of His pleasure and approval. My heart was made sensitive to day-to-day moments that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. I saw His love and approval in a beautiful sunrise, a plan for the day that worked out, and a word of kindness from a stranger.
And this was one of the most important transformations for me: learning how to see and hear God’s approval in the day-to-day moments that I might have previously missed. Thankfully, right at the start of my recovery, God led me to people and places who would teach me to see Him more clearly.
I will spend the next posts examining three of the ways that I have learned to feel God’s pleasure in my life. Today we will take a look at the signs and wonders in the world around us.
Right at the beginning of my recovery journey, my group therapist invited me to the Warrior Heart retreat based on the writings of John Eldredge, held in the mountains of Utah. One of the things they spoke about there was the notion of looking for “love notes” from God.
This led me to make an extremely important shift in how I view things of beauty and significance in the world. I have changed from interpreting the wonders around me as random happenstance, to seeing them as the deliberate actions of a Father who is trying to say “I love you. I made this for you. I appreciate the good that you’re doing in my world.”
I remember one night, just after my family moved into a new home by a little lake, I was woken by one of my children crying. After I had comforted her and she had gone back to sleep, I stepped by a South-facing window and my vision was filled with the full moon it all its glory, with its light bursting all across the tranquil water. The thought crossed my mind that I might be the only person in the world seeing this same view at this same moment, and even I would have missed it if not for my daughter calling me out of bed in the middle of the night. I chose to interpret the moment as a gift from a loving Father, a sign of approval for how I was trying to follow Him.
Perhaps it seems vain to assume that an entire act of nature was put together just for your benefit, or that God, Himself, summoned you to be a witness to His majesty. I certainly felt skeptical about calling moments of cosmic wonder a gift from heaven to little, old me. But as I started the practice of saying “thank you,” for these events, and allowing myself to indulge in their glory as if they really were made just for me, I never felt wrong for doing it. I didn’t feel like I was taking something that didn’t belong to me, or that I was giving credit to God where it wasn’t due. I actually felt very right about it, as if I was finally giving the miracle the applause that it had always been waiting for.
If we take the deliberate intention out of these moments, then they lose so much of what makes them meaningful and beautiful. They become nothing more than random chance, systems of particles and energy devoid of any feeling, noise and fury signify nothing. To deny the possibility of God crafting a perfect moment for you is to consign yourself to a cold and heartless world, one where your delight in it is nothing more than an accidental side-effect.
It is better to assume the best in others, including in God. Assume that if something mattered to you, He did it on purpose.
When we embrace life in this manner, then that life starts to open wider. Gratitude for kindness tends to beget more kindness. Once you start taking special note of the beauty in the world and saying “thank you” for it, then you’ll start noting beauty in more and more places.
I especially started noticing the beauty in the clouds above me. I’ve always loved tall, expansive, complex cloud structures, but it wasn’t until recently I appreciated how prevalent they are in my part of the world. Our Rocky Mountains are crowned by mountains in the sky every other day it seems.
I started to feel grateful for the visual representations of mathematical patterns people have discovered, such as the Mandelbrot set and Conway’s Game of Life. I was always entertained by these, but just recently I started to say “thank you” to God for there being people that were able to find them, and for me being able to experience them. When I did, I felt a rush of overpowering love. I really think God was grateful that I was finally acknowledging the beauty He had placed around me all my life.
I’ve also started to show gratitude for when my day goes according to plan. I know all too well that the schedules of my family, work, and personal errands are not guaranteed to line up at all, but when they do I feel wonderfully fulfilled in every sector.
In short, there are countless ways to recognize God’s love and approval in my life. And I really do believe that both those qualities need to be appreciated in these moments: His love and His approval. Sometimes I have more of a sense of His love from a beautiful sunrise, and other times it’s more of a sense that He’s saying, “you’re doing a good job.” The more I try to identify these moments, the more I discover new things to be grateful for, too. The more I show gratitude, the more there is to be grateful for. Is it because I am being more blessed than I was before, or is it because I am just recognizing it better? Probably both. After all, the ability to recognize blessings, is itself a blessing.
Interestingly, I started this study by discussing how we can feel more approval coming towards us, and I’ve ended up talking about how we can show more gratitude going out to God. It turns out that the two are inseparably linked. The more we expand our capacity to recognize God’s signs of approval to us, the more we are showing gratitude for Him doing so. It is a mutually-affirming relationship, which is the best kind that there is.