Even when I was at enmity with Christianity, contemptuous of all that Jesus is to me now, I knew His voice. I didn’t know it was my Redeemer speaking in me, but His voice filtered through my soul. “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” No matter how wretchedly distant from the truth we may be–we have an ear to hear.
So why do so many believers have such a hard time discerning His voice in their life?
I’ve spent decades observing believers and non-believers in relationship to the divine dialogue unfolding in their lives, and I have seen that nothing is more deadly to the message God is bringing to us in any given moment than– presumption.
I’ve led small group Bible Studies, where my frustration with presumption has erupted into a passionate outburst of, “NO! THAT IS NOT WHAT THIS VERSE IS SAYING! READ IT AGAIN! WHAT IS IT SAYING!!!!!”
In trying to elicit personal discovery of deeper truth I’ve asked a specific question, giving the class a specific verse of scripture that holds the key, if they would just listen to what the verse is saying. But, more times than not, I get a pat answer, a generic “Christian” response, having no direct relevance to the verse or question I’ve placed before them. These are bright women, women I love, devoted women who think they don’t hear God–but the only reason they are missing the message right in front of them is because they are substituting presumption for a listening ear. When we superficially answer too quickly from what we presently think, we miss what has come to take us deeper than we presently know.
1. Bold or insolent behavior or attitude that is arrogant or offensive; effrontery.
2. The act of presuming or accepting as true.
3. Acceptance or belief based on reasonable evidence; assumption or supposition.
The act of presuming
1. To undertake without leave or clear justification
2.To suppose to be true without proof
3. To take for granted
Every prejudiced, preconditioned attitudinal stand we make without pausing to see what God is showing us is presumption. . . keeping us from growing and being taught.
Presuming about God, Truth, Reality and ourself is not innocent.
It is sleeping with a mortal enemy.
Listening instead of Presuming
Julie had attended church all her life. She was a “good girl” doing “all the right things,” believing “all the right things”—but she had doubts about her relationship with God. Her prayers went unanswered. And she couldn’t think of a time when He had made Himself real to her.
Strong, lean, beautiful, confident, opinionated and direct, Julie was a freelance writer who traveled the world on her own. She edited a business magazine and ran a marketing/communications business of her own. But in a life where so much was “working,” her relationship with God was not.
A real relationship is built on communication and mutual understanding; a good relationship satisfies because it accomplishes what it is meant-to-do. Julie’s relationship with God was not satisfying, because it was not accomplishing what it was meant-to-do; it was not conveying who God is and what He wanted to be to her. God was not real to her. From very early in life, Julie had made some presumptions, which had significantly decreased her ability to recognize the divine dialogue in her life.
Julie’s presumption was that God did not love her as much as He seemed to love and favor others. She wanted to be glad for them, but it was painful to hear Christian friends describing how real God made Himself to them, when He failed to do the same for her.
We met for the first time, at a dinner where she described herself spiritually as “dry as a desert.” Laughing good-naturedly, she informed me that her new-age friends were having a lot more fun than she was—and if this didn’t work, it was going to be her last try! She was nowhere close to giving up, but I heard the hurt and deep frustration. What Julie didn’t know was that she was on the brink of finding what she had always wanted.
But she had to get out of bed with the enemy, and begin listening rather than presuming.
* * *
When we met a few weeks later, Julie slid her journal pages across the table to me with mixed feelings. She would stand naked before me as I read her most private thoughts. It was hard for her, as a professional writer, to hand over a mash of unedited raw work that fell abysmally short of “good writing.” But I had warned her that if our “experiment” was going to work, she had to resist the temptation to go back and clean it up—tightening her thoughts—because it would undermine the purpose of our experiment. Her journal needed to be the closest record she could make of the stream of thoughts that flowed through her in her reflective moments from that week. Cleaning it up would be like tampering with evidence, before the detectives could get there. Deletions and additions could very easily destroy the clues we were looking for.
That first lunch at the coffee shop, I didn’t open her journal, because I wanted to read it alone later…away from the distractions …so that I could listen on several levels. That first week Julie was very unsure about fulfilling her assignment. She questioned if she was “doing it right.” It felt a little weird to her to be reading her Bible this way, because it was so different from her normal learning mode.
“Whenever I’ve read the Bible before, I’ve been reading to learn something, making lists…taking it in intellectually… studying. But this was different. I felt like I was moving over the words listening, waiting for something to jump off the page and speak to me. My mind kept wandering, and I had to keep bringing myself back. You said that something would get my attention, and so I kept reading, waiting for that to happen.”
“And so, did it?” I asked. “Did you notice something that stood out to you, causing you to stop and pay attention, to see if it was saying something to you?”
There was a moment of silence as Julie weighed the last week of her quiet times. She nodded a slow “No.” Nothing stood out to her.
In all honesty, I was disappointed. I had hoped she would identify some theme threading her thoughts that found a match between her circumstances and the scriptures she was led to read. I had hoped that by slowing down, reflectively reading, she would stumble on something significant. But it hadn’t happened. Or shall I say, we thought it hadn’t happened.
The next morning, I retreated to a quiet place home alone. As I opened the first of her journal pages, I began to read the Braille of Julie’s soul.
Julie had decided to read the book of John, a random choice she would tell me later, having always heard that it was a good place to begin. She had moved quickly through the opening chapters, until she got to the story of the woman at the well, and then she had slowed down. She had begun to relate to something in this fourth chapter…she saw Jesus engaging this woman in conversation, bringing her to the subject of water, tantalizing her with “living water.” Julie’s journal began to quote the text extensively. And in an aside, she wrote, “it is almost as if He is offering me this living water.”
…but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
John 4:14 NASU
It had been almost a month since that dinner when we had first met, but my memory was very clear. Julie had described her spiritual condition as being so dry that she felt like she was going to die if something didn’t change. Dry as a desert—living water. No other chapter in all of scripture speaks so pointedly about “living water” as this one chapter she had “randomly” chosen.
But Julie had no idea—she was totally oblivious of the crucial revelation being articulated in those verses. The message had passed straight through her, under her radar. She had written the message with her own hand into her journal, but she had not realized that she was receiving and recording the word that the Lord was speaking to her. I could hardly wait for our lunch the following week.
We had barely pulled our chairs up to the table, when I opened her journal and began thumping my finger on the evidence. “Julie, do you think this is just a coincidence… that the very first place you landed in two thousand pages of scripture, was here in these verses about “living water”? You tell me how arid your spiritual life is, and then you open your Bible and start reading about “living water.” You have got to start making the connections here. You have got to learn how to observe what is crucial, what to pay attention to, if you want to see God in your life. What is “living water”? You said that you thought He was offering you this water.”
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
“Julie, there is a permission thing going on here: recognition, engagement, participation on your part…He wants you to ask Him for this ‘living water’. You say you’re dry. He tells you what you need—and that if you knew the gift, and who it is that is speaking to you, you would ask, and He would have given it to you. There is this collaboration waiting to happen, which He’s initiating—telling you what is needed from you, showing you how to respond.”
Julie sat there stunned. It was uncanny. Leaning forward, furrowing her brows she pulled the journal toward herself to take a closer look. She was reacting like someone who smacks their first golf ball and makes a hole in one. She had no idea how she had done it. And she didn’t understand what it meant. “Living Water?” She drew a blank. It was like many phrases that she often passed right over, without asking herself what the passage was saying. Her subliminal presumption had always been “it doesn’t matter.”
“Julie, water is what we need to maintain our life. Jesus referred to streams of living water that would flow from within us, talking about the Spirit.
“But it doesn’t stop there. In Scripture “living water” always referred to flowing water, as compared to still water. The idea is that of flow, movement, a constantly changing stream bearing new water fresh from its source in Him to us. The Spirit flows through the words that He speaks to us. And the flow of those words is constantly changing, bringing us a fresh message that is perfectly suited to the present moment and our present need.
“This flow of God’s words to us, by His Spirit, is our life. By the words He brings, He speaks life into us…refreshment, strength, clarity, wisdom, wholeness, peace, right-being. By the words that He speaks we come to know Him.
“Julie, I always begin to feel dead and dry inside, if too much time passes since I have last drunk from the flow of His thoughts toward me. I go to my quiet time every day wanting one thing more than anything else: to hear Him speak in my heart—anything—something that will give me a fresh dose of Him. And all through the day, I am throwing up prayers, asking for guidance—listening for what He will say or show me. This is the source of my spiritual life, and what makes my relationship with Him so real. And He gives us an ear to hear, to make this possible, so that we can understand what He is saying to us.
“Spirit, water, life, the spoken word…it is a blend that can’t be separated. This is what He is telling you that you need, desert woman. But you need to listen with the ear of your spirit in order to recognize what The Spirit is saying to you.
It is the Spirit who gives life… The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. John 6:63 NKJV
I gave her a few moments to process. And as I watched, a miracle unfolded—Julie’s eyes were opened for the first time to the stream of “living water” flowing to her. As she listened, taking it in, she drank from the flow of timely words drenched with personal meaning, and the dry place in her began to change.
He changes a wilderness into a pool of water, And a dry land into springs of water;
Psalm 107:35 NAS
God had not been withholding Himself from Julie.
- Her presumptions (God doesn’t speak personally to me) and
- Her lack of a listening ear (free and open to make new connections)
had kept her from recognizing
- Who it was who offered her living water,
- what had kept her from drinking Him in,
- and what had kept her so desperately dry.
But that day, in a suburban Atlanta coffee shop, the spring was released–living water rushing up and out across the desert floor. And in the weeks that followed, I was given the inestimable privilege of watching a desert bloom, as Julie realized how God was speaking to her from all sides everywhere. It was thrilling.
Listening from her spirit
The distinction that made the difference was that Julie began listening from her spirit. She had been drawn to the story of the woman by the well, because it was a picture of her to herself—a woman in dialogue with the Redeemer—a woman unable to recognize Who is speaking to her. Why didn’t Julie recognize that it was Jesus speaking to her?
She was listening from the part of her that analyzed,
rather than the part of her that could realize Who was speaking.
- Our soul is that part of us that enables us to relate to the world around us: our mind, our will, our intellect, our emotions, our analytical reasoning that makes sense of things.
- Our spirit is that part of us that enables us to relate to God. Our spirit recognizes Him. When we listen with our spirit, we realize His Presence.
Bright analytical reasoning people, who lean too heavily to their soul, have a hard time listening with their spirit, for the same reason that someone too dependent on their right hand bungles when they try to use their left. Julie’s journaling assignment helped her locate the listening ear of her spirit–just like therapeutic exercise helps us locate a deep unused muscle.
- She was to come to Scripture deliberately placing herself before Jesus
- Understanding that real relationship has to be built on communication and mutual understanding
- Reading what The Word said, allowing the message to rise from the text–refusing to obscure what might be jarringly fresh or new under the dead weight of familiar automatic assumptions and standard pat explanations.
- Pausing to reflect and journal when she noticed something that stood out to her–recognizing this as the heart of the message streaming to her.
- Recording the flow of her own thoughts in collusion with the text, as she submitted to what she had never thought about before–refusing the presumptions that would try to bury what God was saying.
Julie’s initial awkwardness quickly gave away as she experienced the difference between “hearing” in her spirit and “figuring things out” in her soul. It was life changing. God became real to her, deeply tender and surgically probing in the ongoing dialogue that began to unfold between them.
Julie did not abandon the analytical strengths of her soul, in order to listen with her spirit. It was more like the colors and shapes in her soul were brought into full force, like a stained glass window when light blazes through. She needed to bring those analytical strengths of her soul under the dominion of the light God gave her through her spirit.
Rise up, O sleeper, from the bed in which you have lain too long with those presumptions that doom your intimacy with God. Listen with the ear of your spirit, for that message–by which He lays hold of you, so that you can lay hold of Him.