Hearing the Voice of God

After a number of years of spending daily time alone with God, I have realized that perhaps the most significant thing we can do in our time with Him is listen to His voice. You may be thinking, What? Come on now, Shawn. How do you do that? What does that even mean? I hear you. Developing the discipline of listening for God’s voice did not come easily for me. In fact, in the early days I would get distracted by a thousand different things in one sitting. I was annoyed, impatient, and constantly looked at my watch to see when the pain was going to end. Yet slowly, over time, as I continued to return to this place of listening, I began to hear the voice of God.

Now, it wasn’t an audible, booming voice that shot down from Heaven. Sometimes it was simply through Scripture, a passage in a book I was reading, or journaling. Other times it was through the still calmness that overcame me in the moment. But surely and incrementally, over the past 17 years of consistently showing up to listen each morning, God has given me the ability to hear Him. He gives direction for my day, wisdom in decisions, discernment in the moment, and assurance that I am His son. And more than anything, His quiet whisper assures me that I am loved.

Give it a try. Do you best sometime in the next few days to sit with God. Maybe just repeat a verse in your head to get the time started like, “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” (Ps 23) Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe in calmness and peace, breathe out worry and fear. Allow yourself to just be.

Embracing Solitude

Solitude is so counterintuitive to our culture. It takes a lot effort to learn to cultivate this spiritual discipline, but we can see in the Gospel accounts that time alone with God was very important to Jesus:

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. (Mark 1:35, NASB)

 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:1,5 NASB)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12, NASB)

We don’t know what happened between Jesus and the Father in these times of solitude, but we do know that quiet, reflective time with the Father was a priority to Jesus.

By the world’s standards, some might have said Jesus was “wasting” time. Not being “productive.” Not “accomplishing” anything. The truth is that Jesus was operating on a completely different value system, one that we are wise to consider if we, too, want to draw close to the Father.

The Psalmist David also experienced this, saying, “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’” (Psalm 27:8, NLT). In that place, he could open himself up to the Lord and commune deeply with Him. David wrote of this practice: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23, NLT). When we sit quietly in the presence of the Lord and invite Him to search us, we join David and a long line of spiritual giants who have experienced this before us.

(from Chapter 8 Am I Loved?)

Do You Believe that You too are God’s Beloved?

In his talk “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” Henry Nouwen said,

“God has become so vulnerable, so little, so dependent in a manger and on a cross and is begging us, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

Let this sink in: as we consider the offer of intimacy— true, meaningful intimacy with Jesus— it changes the way we carry ourselves. All of the subconscious questions most of us ask when we enter a room are already answered: Will I be accepted? Noticed? Does my presence here make any difference? Does anyone care that I am here? Will I be true to my conviction? Am I loved? Am I known? Am I understood? All of these questions are already answered by the only One who has authority to truly answer them.

If we don’t get these question(s) answered from God, nor come to believe in a deep place that we too are God’s beloved, we will keep asking others to answer these questions for us. The only question worth asking is, “Am I loved?”—and the answer is unequivocally YES!

How do you answer this question?

Belief On Ramp #4: Identity Statement

In this exercise, revisit the lies you realize you have believed about yourself. For some, this may mean you are recognizing for the first time that those voices in your head telling you that you are less than, not enough, imperfect, unworthy, etc., are not true, and are in fact, flat-out lies! Whatever those lies are, identify them and jot them down.

In addition, write down specific negative words or phrases that come to mind about yourself (such as for me, things like “I am a boy, not a man”). Then write down the opposite of those words. That is often where the truth is revealed about who we really are!

This is my personal identity statement that I have been reading each morning for the past 12 years:

My name is Shawn Raymond Petree, Beloved, I am loved.

I am Your chosen son. I am family.

Your Spirit is in me. Jesus is formed (and is forming) in me.

I am an heir of Your Kingdom, a prince, a saint. I chose joy today!

I am a strong, confident, warm, truthful, assertive,

creative, courageous man; a warrior.

Husband to a beautiful, godly wife.

Father to three provided children.

Friend to many.

I am loved.

Lent: Belief On Ramp #3

Belief On-Ramp # 3

For this one, set aside a minimum of four hours, again, unplugged if possible.

Begin by going through your life in 10-year increments. (Allow 15 to 20 minutes per increment.) Identify any core memories or consistent messages from others you remember hearing during that increment of time that might have developed into a lie you still tell yourself subconsciously (e.g., I’m too small, too big, can’t do anything right, always in trouble, won’t amount to anything, not worth my parents’ time, bossy, difficult to get along with, etc.). Write down anything that comes to mind.

Be as honest with yourself as you can about the possible lies you may believe today. Go through a typical day/week in your cur- rent life and try to identify when you consistently get down, frustrated, or are particularly hard on yourself (20 to 30 minutes). List anything that comes to mind.

Now look over your various lists and notes and write out the top three lies you might be believing. As you read these words or statements about yourself, do they resonate?

Take these lies to God. Admit that you have believed these things about yourself. Ask Him to free you of them. Finally, turn each of these lies into an “I no longer . . .” statement (e.g., I no longer believe that everyone will eventually leave me).

Thank the Lord for the freedom that is yours through Christ Jesus, and ask Him to fill you with His Spirit, to live out the opposite of these lies—and the truth that you are loved.

Lent: Lies Exposed

“…I realized there were three core lies I’d believed most of my life.

First, I realized that, for a long time, I had been believing the lie that at some point everyone was going to leave and I would be left alone. Because of my past, I was living my adult life as if the story of my upbringing was going to be replayed over and over. Put simply: it was the fear of abandonment that came into the light.

The second lie that surfaced surprised me a bit. I was living a strange lie that I was a boy, not a man. That may sound a bit odd so let me unpack it. A boy looks for safety and security, expecting others to create it. A man creates safety and security and invites others into it. I didn’t feel like I could handle many of the situations I encountered on a day-to-day basis. When I met these situations I felt like a boy, ill equipped to handle what was in front of me.

The final lie was exposed as I sat on the bluff overlooking Guemes Channel. Enjoying the serenity of that beautiful vista, I realized there was a deep conviction that I wouldn’t ever be fully free or at peace. The line of thinking I’d been caught up in was that my life could only be “okay.” There was something in me that believed I could only manage the fear, anxiety, and depression that shook me at times. In my mind, a life at peace with God and others, even with myself, was not attainable.” (Chapter 3 Am I Loved?)

Lent 2018: Chapter 1 Am I Loved?

I’d finally “arrived.”

I was in the position I wanted at work, tasked with leading a large group of people toward a common vision. I was receiving a lot of praise for my efforts. My wife, Anna, and I were seven years into marriage, and it was going pretty well.Through some sort of miracle, we had just moved into our dream house. And after three years of trying to conceive a child we were staring at our own three-month- old daughter, Moriah. Life was playing out just as I had hoped.

Until it wasn’t.

Asking the Bigger Questions

It was an opportunity at work that brought me face-to-face with my reality. I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a multi-day event that included many of my peers as well as the teams they led. I was really excited for the opportunity, and I was ready! I would be at the platform a few times each day during the event, and looked forward to the chance to influence others.

Two days into the conference, I realized I was craving feed- back from people as soon as I walked off the stage. As each session ended, my desire for affirmation increased. I was desperate to hear. People did say nice things and affirmed my contribution, but it wasn’t enough—not even close! By the time the event concluded, I was reeling. I felt alone, iso- lated, confused, and downright angry that not more people had commented on my “performance.”

Yeah, that’s it. That’s what it was. It was a performance. I had stood in front of people on that stage, performing. Hoping. Sub- consciously begging my peers to tell me I was great. But what I soon came to realize was that I was not only performing on the stage for a few days during that event, but I was performing every single day. My entire life had become a stage.

I wish I could tell you I realized my propensity to perform in that moment of clarity, quickly remedied the problem, and moved on. But that isn’t how the story played out. In fact, things got worse as I returned home. Anger, depression, fear, loss of sleep, and unexplained medical issues set in. So, I started asking questions—big questions about faith, God, the impact of past experiences, and the importance of relationships.

At the end of this rather painful season of my life, two recurring themes emerged from my reflection: the terrifying presence of Fear and Control, and the notable absence of Peace.