How to Get the Praise You Deserve: Part Six

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.

Love Notes)

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.

False Attribution?)

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.

Expanding Wonder)

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.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:7-9

7 And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.

8 And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.

9 And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.

The fulfillment of his visions is not lost on Joseph, and he reflects on them, according to verse 9. He has been greatly blessed during this last decade by God, and now here is the culmination of his reward for having trusted in the Lord. Joseph remained faithful, even when things went against him for so very, very long, and God has not forgotten His long ago promises.

One thing of note is that Joseph recognizes his brethren, but they do not recognize him. Obviously, it would be easier to recognize a group of ten men, than a single one in isolation, and presumably Joseph has been made to look very different, likely adopting Egyptian standards of dress and grooming. But I also think the lack of recognition in Joseph’s brothers goes to show what a very different man he has become. He has grown, matured, and become powerful. Joseph has gone through a metamorphosis, such that he is a new creature in God.

But Joseph’s brothers? It’s been at least twenty years since he saw them, and they are still recognizable as the same beings that they were before. As we will see, they have matured to some degree from what they were before, but generally they are much the same.

The hope of each of us should be that we are transformed, turned into a more wonderful person, even to the point of being unrecognizable from our past self. Honestly, it would be tragic to instead remain as the same person that we always were, never growing and never evolving. To be purified is divine and to remain stagnant is base.

Spiritual Analysis- Genesis 19:1-3

1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;

2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

I never noticed this before, but the first verses of Chapter 19 are just like the first verses in Chapter 18. In Chapter 18 Abraham looked up, saw the Lord and His two companions at a distance, ran to meet them, bowed down, and invited them to his home. Here in Chapter 19 Lot looks up, sees two angels at a distance, runs to meet them, bows down, and invites them to his home.

I think what stands out to me most from these stories is that Abraham and Lot were able to recognize the holy messengers at sight. As soon as they reached them they made obeisance and asked to serve. In the next verses we will hear how the general populace of Sodom and Gomorrah reacted to the visitors, and they clearly did not recognize who these people really were. Evidently not all people can recognize angels for what they really are.

Abraham and Lot knew who their master was. We aren’t told how they could recognize the Lord and His angels, but somehow they did. I find myself wondering how good of a servant I can be if I don’t recognize my Lord, too? I cannot follow His counsel unless I recognize Him when He speaks. Are there ways that am I seeing Him right this moment, yet do not realize that it is Him?

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Isaiah 19:21 (ESV), John 10:4, 27

And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them.

And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

COMMENTARY

And the Lord will make himself known
Ancient Egypt was not a place known for its strong connection to Yahweh. Yet Isaiah prophesied that its people would come to know their true Creator, and that they would do so because of God’s efforts to make Himself known to them.
As a child, one of my great fears was that God might already be speaking to me, and I just didn’t know it. What if He was trying to tell me very important things, but I wasn’t cluing in? What if I missed out on something forever because I didn’t know his voice?
But now when I read this verse about ‘the Lord making himself known,’ I find a reassuring message that He takes the responsibility for speaking to us in a way that we can understand. We still have our responsibility: to seek, but it is up to God to ensure that we actually find. So I don’t need worry whether I am listening correctly, all I have to do is accomplish my part, and then trust that He will do His.

The sheep follow him: for they know his voice
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them
And I have found that God absolutely does know how to speak to me in ways that I understand. My heart is an instrument, and He is a master at playing its strings. He does answer me, and there is no mistaking His voice when it comes.
As Jesus attests, God knows His sheep. He knows them individually. We do not need to worry about whether we will recognize Him when he speaks, we just will.