Finding God In


"Our lives are meant to be listened to,
because it is God who is speaking
into and out of and through the symphony of the years,
and the masterpiece of a lifetime."

    ~ Michael Card



Professor and author, Dallas Willard, University of Southern CaliforniaBy Dallas Willard, Ph.D., author, professor of philosophy, The University of Southern California.

In the book Hearing God, I have tried to clarify what hearing God amounts to and to make a life in which one hears God's voice, in the Way of Jesus, accessible to anyone who would enter it. But I am painfully aware of a great barrier to the spiritual life, what has been called, 'the seeming overwhelming presence of the visible world.'

The visible world daily bludgeons us with its things and events. They pinch and pull and hammer away at our bodies. Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs. But instead of shouting and shoving, the spiritual world whispers at us ever so gently.

We are hindered in our progress toward becoming spiritually competent people by how easily we can explain away the movements of God toward us. Of course his day will come, but for now he cooperates with the desires and inclinations that make up our character, as we are gradually becoming the kind of people we will forever be. That should send a chill down our spine.

God wants to be wanted, to be wanted enough that we are ready, predisposed, to find him present with us. And if, by contrast, we are ready and set to find ways of explaining away his gentle overtures, he will rarely respond with fire from heaven. More likely he will simply leave us alone; and we shall have the satisfaction of thinking ourselves not to be gullible.

The test of character posed by the gentleness of God's approach to us is especially dangerous for those formed by the ideas that dominate our modern world. We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. Only a very hardy individualist or social rebel - or one desperate for another life - therefore stands any chance of discovering the substantiality of the spiritual life today.

Nearly all areas of life in which we could become spiritually competent (hearing God, praying, receiving guidance, leadership) confront us with the same type of challenge. They all require of us a choice to be a spiritual person, to live a spiritual life. We are required to “bet our life” that the visible world, while real, is not reality itself.

God is not insensitive to our problem of overcoming the power of the visible world. He invades the visible. Think of his many manifestations to Moses and the Israelites. He has spoken at times in an audible voice. But the tendency of life in Christ is progressively toward the inward word to the receptive heart. Jesus presses us toward a life with our “Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6).

After his resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples in visible form over a period of forty days. He made himself visible to them just enough to give them confidence that it was he who was speaking in their hearts. Two of Jesus’ heartbroken students were walking to the village of Emmaus. Jesus, unrecognized, heard their sad story about what had happened to Jesus of Nazareth and about how, it seemed, all hope was now lost. He responded by taking them through the Scriptures and showing them that what had happened was exactly what was to befall the Messiah that Israel hoped for. Then as they sat at supper with him, suddenly “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:31). But their recognition was more than a visual one, and that was the whole point. They asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

He would meet with them one final time as a visible presence. There in the beauty and silence of the Galilean mountains, he would explain to them that he had been given authority over everything in heaven and on the earth. Because of that they were now to go to every kind of people on earth and make them his students, to surround them with the reality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to teach them how to do all the things he had commanded. His final words to them were simply, “Look, I am with you every minute, until the job is done” (Matt. 28:20 paraphrase). He is with us now, and he speaks with us and we with him. He speaks with us in our heart, which burns from the impact of his word and his presence. This companionship with Jesus is the form that Christian spirituality, as practiced through the ages, takes.

Today, as God’s trusting apprentices in the kingdom of the heavens, we live on the Emmaus road, so to speak. His word pours into our heart, energizing and directing our life in a way that cannot be accounted for in natural terms. The presence of the physical world is, then, if I will have it so, no longer a barrier between me and God. My visible surroundings become, instead, God’s gift to me, where I am privileged to see the rule of heaven realized through my friendship with Jesus.

For reflection and discussion:

    Where do you notice the quiet initiatives of God in your own life?
    What are the barriers that keep you from fully trusting them?
    What activities and practices help you move toward God?
    Where have you seen the invisible life with God making changes in your visible life?
    How might your friendship with Jesus infuse your world with possibility?

(With permission from A Faith and Culture Devotional (Zondervan), adapted from Hearing God, by Dallas Willard. Copyright (c) 1984, 1993, 1999 by Dallas Willard. (InterVarsity Press)  See