How do we ask God questions in a way that allows us to connect with Him more fully? With deliberate listening. I frequently begin conversations with a question. That’s okay sometimes, but that almost always means I am dictating the trajectory of the conversation. With this model, the order is ASK, LISTEN, RESPOND. While this is far better than the TALK, TALK, TALK model, it does not necessarily open the doorway to closeness.
I suggest a slight change in the first model when it comes to prayer. Instead of ASK, LISTEN, RESPOND, I think we should focus on LISTEN, ASK, RESPOND. You might think, then, that we may wait a long time before hearing from God. Not so fast.
We tend to expect God to speak in an audible voice, through some sort of sign, or through an arrangement of circumstances. While I do believe that God can and does communicate through these means, I believe He was very careful and deliberate in putting together and preserving the text of the Bible throughout history in order to give us at least a basic understanding of His will. A friend of mine once speculated that 90% of God’s will (His desires and wishes) can be determined by understanding the Bible.
Houston, we have a problem. This takes work! In our society, most people aren’t willing to take the time to prepare a good, nutritious meal. We look for the fastest, most convenient foods we can toss in the microwave, or, worse yet, that we can grab through the drive through on the way home from work. If we aren’t willing to carve out extra time to prepare healthier food (a basic need for human life), how can we expect ourselves to carve out time to work at understanding Scripture better?
Are we at an impasse, then? Perhaps. Some of us may feel that the effort needed to become a good student of the Bible isn’t worth it. Let me offer a word of caution: our world, our culture, and our media are filled with counterfeit spirituality, offering convenient pick-me-ups that feel good but actually miss the mark of what pleases God. If your spiritual diet consists primarily of stuff you passively pick up through t.v., movies, music, or video games, you will suffer from spiritual indigestion sooner or later. Paul the Apostle warned the young church in Ephesus to not be “tossed by the waves and blown by every wind of teaching.” This buffet of convenient yet counterfeit spirituality can drive a wedge between us and a truly intimate connection with God. Not only that, this unhealthy diet can lead us to act in ways contrary to what is pleasing to God.
Belief naturally leads to action. If my spiritual beliefs are based on what I hear on the radio or what I see on the screen, I can unwittingly start to act on some new yet inaccurate beliefs. You may be thinking, “Surely you would mean well. How can God fault you for that?” In God’s understanding of the universe (which is pretty good, considering He created it), and His carefully crafted system of living within that universe, we do not get A’s for effort. Think about it in terms of food.
Let’s say you secretly hate green beans because they make you sick for days. You have been invited to have dinner with some friends at their house, but they neglected to ask you if you have any food preferences. Somehow, through a mutual friend with wrong information, your hosts learn that green beans are your absolute favorite. When you sit down to eat, did this false set of beliefs lead to you being pleased at the dinner table? Probably not. A green bean is a green bean, regardless of your hosts’ good intentions.
The Bible, in its original manuscripts, is the inspired Word of God, penned by men who were obedient to God’s direction. Many Bible translations that are on the market today have attempted to be faithful to the original manuscripts. The best ones are the word-for-word translations, like the ESV or NASB, or a hybrid word-for-word/idea-for-idea translation like the Holman Christian Standard. Paraphrase versions, while easy to read, have a greater potential to be inaccurate as compared to the original manuscripts.
Instead of relying on the world around you to tell you what God wishes and desires, trust that the Bible is His message to whomever will listen. The Bible is trustworthy. Gaining understanding of the Bible is not quick or convenient, but will allow you to grow in the knowledge of God’s will. You will not be disappointed in your endeavor.
Now to the matter of the word “filled.” Are you “filled with knowledge” about anything? At times, after lots of exposure to ESPN and Denver Broncos football, I could possibly say that I have been filled with knowledge about football. I am a fan of the sport and have been since I was in junior high. I have a knack from remembering the most inconsequential trivia about teams and players, even from 20 years ago. I developed a passion for the game. I didn’t want to miss one detail of a game or an offseason transaction. I was hooked. I made the time to be hooked.
Filled with the knowledge of God’s will requires that we are fillable. Do we have room? Have we been emptied of everything else so as to have room for thoughts of God and His desires?
Most natural lakes have at least one inlet, where fresh water flows in from a stream or river. Ponds or lakes without an inlet tend to become stagnant, gross, and smelly.
To be an effective minister of Christ and an obedient child of the King of the universe, we must have a regular inflow of fresh water, fresh insight from the Word of God so that we can be filled with the knowledge of what He wants.
What a wonderful thing to pray about for yourself and others! Paul found it to be such a priority that he frequently prayed for this filling of knowledge for the believers in Colossae.