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Draw Near and Hear

“Mom!” One big shout from one small voice was all it took to stop Peggy in her tracks. Returning from Hawaii, the two of us had landed in San Francisco, and waiting for us somewhere in the baggage claim area would be our four-year-old son Matthew and his aunt and uncle who had cared for him during our trip. There were many women in that bustling place, but at the sound of “Mom,” only Peggy stopped and spun around, for she knew the voice that called to her. Throughout his entire young lifetime, she had poured herself into him—engaging him where he was, guiding his growth along the way, and cherishing his presence all the while—how could she not know his voice? And why, for that matter, would he not excitedly call out to her in a crowd? They shared the strong bonds of closest relationship.

Occasionally we wonder, “How do I hear the Spirit’s voice; how do I discern His leading?” It is an important question and an optimistic one, a tacit confession that the Holy Spirit does, in fact, speak to us and that it is possible for us to hear Him. He engages us in several ways, yet hearing God and knowing His voice begins with relationship. “Come near to God and he will come near to you,”1 wrote James, the Lord’s brother. This is our confident hope found also in the letter to the Hebrews: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”2 Indeed, it was God himself who initiated union with us, and at great cost, “For Christ . . . suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”3

Then as we draw near to God—and He to us—we grow in relationship with Him. Through His Word before us and His constant presence inside us, we come to recognize His voice and to distinguish it from all others. In honest and open conversation with God, we discover His marvelous character and come to relinquish our ways for His. Hearing God is a matter of faith—“the assurance about what we do not see”4—and in the coming weeks, we will explore it as part of our faith focus. It begins here: God knows our voice, and we will recognize His, too, as we draw near to Him.

The Lord hears when I call to Him. Psalm 4:3
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Father, why wouldn’t I draw near to You? You are my Father, You love me, and You know my voice. I choose to draw near to You in faith, knowing I will hear Yours, too. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 James 4:18
2 Hebrews 10:22
3 1 Peter 3:18
4 Hebrews 11:1

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The Only Thing That Counts

They once went in because they had to; they now go in because they want to. By the time we enter the gates for a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend, the 40 to 50 “outside volunteers” have become a close-knit group. Most of us have never been incarcerated under the State’s penal code, but many among us have, and I often marvel at these who, though once processed into the prison system under the force of law, now eagerly enter its confines under the law of love. How starkly different their experiences must be! I can only wonder. No one compels them to go, and no one forbids them; now born of the Spirit and following His lead, they live and love in freedom and faith.

Last week, we recalled God’s words spoken through Ezekiel: “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”1 Does this mean we are born of the Spirit through faith in Christ, only to return to a life governed by a lengthy list of “dos and don’ts,” as though we receive God’s favor by His grace only to maintain His favor by our righteousness? Is this how the Christian life works? The Galatian church was beginning to think so, which was the primary reason Paul wrote to them. “Are you so foolish?” he chided, “After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”2 Then how do we reconcile God’s desire that we “keep my laws” with the welcome truth that we are set free from the law and live now under grace?3

Simply this: We follow God’s Spirit, who is born and living in us through our faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit will never lead us in the ways that are displeasing to God; He will only ever lead us in the ways that are good and right. The ways of God are clearly seen in the fruit His Spirit bears through us: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”4 It bears repeating: God has put His Spirit in us; the Spirit of God leads us in the ways of God; and against the ways of God there is no law. We keep the law only as people freed from its confines. All the glory goes to God.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.— Galatians 5:6.

Father, through Your Spirit in us You have made us one with Yourself. Lead us from Your voice within, that in perfect freedom and grace we will journey this day in Your ways, which are always good and right. Take joy in us, Your people, today. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Ezekiel 36:26-27 emphasis added
2 Galatians 3:4
3 Romans 6:14
4 Galatians 5:21-23 emphasis added

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We Still Overcome

In last week’s post, “We Have Overcome,” we shared a man’s story of his personal battle against “always getting mad.” Struggling for years to conquer his anger, he cried out to God one day, “Why can’t I change, Lord? I’ve tried so hard!” Then God showed him two Bible verses that would transform his life. As we saw last week, one was Colossians 1:27, which points to the source of our conquering strength—“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”1 Centuries before Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us,”2 God foretold through Ezekiel the prophet, “I will give you a new heart . . .  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws,”3 and in Christ, this is exactly what God has done in us.

It is in this liberating truth that the man could apply the other verse God showed him, a practical “how-to” instruction on the moment-by-moment Christian walk. In Romans 6:13, Paul writes, “Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”4 On our own, we are powerless—even disinclined—to choose God’s ways over our own, but the Holy Spirit fills us, inspires us, and empowers us to submit ourselves not to the selfish desires of our sin nature, but to the higher, meaningful, and fulfilling ways of our “divine nature”5 in God.

As the speaker shared this verse, I formed an analogy: I pictured myself floating down a river, gently carried along in its flow. Approaching a small island in the middle of the river, I could yield to the current that flows to the left, or I could choose that which carries me to the right. Likewise, when tempted to speak ill of others, we can use our tongues to tarnish their reputations, or in the strength of the Spirit we can speak words of hope and grace or say nothing at all. When offended, we can float in the direction of grudges or move in the current of grace. In dispute, we can drift away from relationship or steer toward the way of reconciliation.

Paul instructed the early church, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”6 This we do by faith—offering every part of ourselves to God (Romans 16:13) by the power and presence of Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Remember these two verses; rely on their truth, and overcome.

Lord Jesus Christ, You have overcome the world—both the evil one and his temptations—and You live victoriously in us. Fill us with Your Spirit, that we will be overcomers today to the glory of the Father. Amen.

1 Colossians 1:27
2 John 1:14 ESV
3 Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV
4 Romans 6:13 NIV
5 2 Peter 1:4 NIV
6 Romans 12:21 NASB