Two weeks ago, I read chapter 9 of The Life You’ve Always Wanted, which is by far one of my favorite chapters. The chapter addresses Spiritual Guidance, or God’s direct guidance and voice in each of our lives through The Holy Spirit. I used to really struggle with the idea of hearing God talk to me personally. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to hear him or how I should know if it’s him, me, or something/someone else leading me in a certain direction. And clearly I wasn’t and am not alone in that. As John Ortberg says, the concept of receiving guidance from God has been abused over and over and over again by all sorts of crazy people, both “religious” and non-religious. Living in NYC, I see it on almost a daily basis – just visit any busy subway station anytime of the day. It gets a little nuts.

But, as Ortberg also writes, it’s equally as crazy to think that God would have only a receiver on his end of the line with which to hear our prayers but no mouthpiece to talk back to us. After all, he did create the world. It would be understandable if every now and then he wanted to offer us some advice on how best to live in it ;). And that’s where spiritual guidance, the gentle or not-so-gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives comes in.

In the chapter, Ortberg talks about how he learned to accept the idea of God speaking directly to him, and he admits that, even as a pastor, it’s not something that came easily to him. Like Ortberg, listening to God’s guidance in my personal life is something I’ve gotten better at with time, but it’s definitely been a lifelong process. Growing up, my family was Catholic, so I was baptized as a baby. I became a Christian at a very young age and had a super close relationship with Jesus all through a rough childhood and into my teenage years, at which point I started attending non-denominational Christian churches almost as soon as I could drive. All through this time period, I felt like I was aware of the ways God was speaking to me and what he wanted me to do. I had a super rich prayer life and basically had an open line between me and God at all times.

But somewhere in my college years, things plateaud. I got busy, I thought I had the spiritual thing on lock, and so actually getting up and going to church fell by the wayside. I still prayed daily, I still read my Bible occasionally. But overall, I was sitting in neutral and not really going much of anywhere. As you can imagine, I wasn’t doing a whole lot of listening for God’s guidance in my life. Instead, I tried to carry my burdens on my own until I needed some “insider information” (which, Ortberg points out, is not what the Holy Spirit is there to provide).

I didn’t start actively attending church on a weekly basis again until I was 24 years old, when I found my current church home here in New York City. And last summer, I decided to become a full on member of that church and take the step of adult baptism in the process. For me, being baptized as an adult wasn’t about denying my baptism as a baby or saying that it meant less. It was about renewing my vows with God and saying out of my own volition that I am living life as a follower of Jesus.

I won’t say that the doors of heaven opened up right at that moment, when I was dipped under water at Jones Beach, Long Island (by the way, being baptized in the ocean was the coolest baptism I could have had). On the surface, nothing was really different than it’d been the day before. But that day did serve as a huge turning point in my spiritual life, and since then I’ve felt a deeper connection to God than I’ve ever felt before. Which means, not only am I talking to him more than ever – but I’m also asking for his guidance more than ever before. And in response, he’s giving it.

Am I seriously saying God’s been talking to me? Yes, I am.

I’ve found that when I ask God for guidance and then shut up and listen, he speaks. Not always right that second. Not always as I’d like him to. But at the risk of sounding like that crazy person in Times Square, I’ll say there are times when I know it’s him. As John Ortberg says, I’ve learned to recognize that voice in my life as God, just as clear as I know my voice from someone else’s. TLYAW describes it as “leadings,” “promptings,” or “movements of the soul”. All of those are true. In my life, I experience it like a mental light bulb flipping on or a sudden epiphany popping into my head, and it’s the answer to my problem, my prayer, or whatever else I’ve been asking God to shed some light on. A lot of times this thought pops up so urgently that I have to stop doing what I’m doing and write it down. Usually this is when I’m spending dedicated time with God – reading the Bible, praying, and journaling my thoughts along the way. These are great times of spiritual growth for me.

But there are times when I’m not so attentive, and the Holy Spirit has to use more than gentle “movements of the heart and mind” as Ortberg calls it to get my attention. These are the times when I require a swift kick in the pants to get things done. And not only that, my hyper-organized, analytical Virgo self often needs to hear whatever guidance he’s offering from several sources before I realize just how serious he is. Because of this, when I ignore a piece of guidance from God, I tend to be bombarded with it from all directions – podcasts I’m listening to, books I’m reading, the weekly message in church, conversation with friends, or the advice of an acquaintance or stranger, or sometimes even the TV show I’m watching. Seriously, he finds a way to get through.

And how do I know that it’s not just my mental genius? Because quite frankly God’s answers to my prayers and the promptings he gives me aren’t always what I want to hear. In fact, there are a lot of times I’d prefer to pretend I didn’t hear his answer at all; like there’s some major static on the line between me and heaven and he’ll have to call back another time. That’s because as Ortberg discusses in the chapter, God always speaks to us and guides us in ways that are in line with what he’s said in Scripture. He never changes, and he never contradicts himself. A lot of times his answers require me to do something I don’t necessarily want to do. Like get off my butt and help someone. Or admit where I messed up and try to make amends. Or acknowledge a part of my life that I could still stand to work on. And that not only forces me to swallow my pride, it’s challenging because it forces me to get outside of my daily routine or turn away from what it is I’d rather be doing at that moment and DO SOMETHING.

Chapter 9 of The Life You’ve Always Wanted does a great job of breaking down exactly what spiritual guidance is and isn’t and just how we as Christians can be prepared to hear God’s guidance in our lives at all times – not just when we’re looking for the answer to our problems. One of the most impactful statements in the chapter for me was Ortberg’s suggestion that we start by seeking guidance for the growth of our soul (in other words, that we ask God how we can be the best followers of him that we can be) before we seek guidance for external matters. (Something that caused me to admit I’m guilty of asking “Hi God, please help me find a hot Christian man in New York City” instead of asking “Hi God, please mold me into the best Christian woman I can be so that I can understand love as you do” as I should. And yes, I’ve changed my prayers a bit since reading this ;).)

The other thing the chapter made me hold myself accountable for is how often I actually RESPOND to what God is telling me. In the second half of the chapter, Ortberg writes that “guidance only makes sense for people who are resolved to respond. Responding begins, of course, with obedience to God’s clear guidance from the Scripture… It only makes sense to ask God for guidance in the context of a life committed to ‘seeking first the kingdom’” [emphasis his]. I’m much better at listening to what God’s saying to me, and then following his advice, when things aren’t going so well in my life. But admittedly, I’m not always so good at it when things are going just fine. In those times, it’s easier for me to put things off until tomorrow while I focus on what I’d rather be doing right now instead.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself just how much I wake up each day determined to make the world a better place. And honestly, the answer is not enough. I know God’s put certain passions, goals, and ambitions in my heart, but so often I get caught up in getting done what “needs” to be done each day that I don’t pursue these things. Chapter 9 of The Life You’ve Always Wanted was an important reminder for me of how important it is to not only speak to God in my daily life, but to LISTEN for his response. And then to act on it every single time. As Ortberg says in his closing statements in the chapter, “we cannot be transformed if we close ourselves off to the guiding power of the Holy Spirit.”


Link of the Day: Trial: Faith in Your New Life Podcast by Pastor Mark Driscoll [Mars Hill Church]. I’ve linked to this before, and that’s because this is one of my favorite podcasts I’ve listened to in a long time. Really, it’s an hour long sermon that Mark Driscoll gave at his church, Mars Hill, in Seattle about Peter. In it, he talks about how people come to him looking for spiritual guidance but a lot of times they already know what they need to do. So his advice is just DO IT!!! You have to actually listen to him to get his delivery on this. It’s fantastic. And it goes right along with what I’ve been working on in listening to how God’s guiding me and then DOING it.

And on that note I’ll head out before I turn into a major Nike commercial (“Just Do It!”).