Today I start with a bold statement: The God of the universe wants to speak…to you. In fact, God is constantly speaking in multiple ways. So then, if God is speaking, do you know how to hear him?
The past few weeks, I’ve shared with you the art of hearing God through contemplation. There are lots of of definitions for contemplation, so I’ll give you my own definition. This has helped me really synthesize what means to hear God in this way.
Contemplation is seeing God in the world around us in order for us to be God to the world around us.
Here are three ways we can contemplate God in the world around us:
- We see God in culture (music, art, media).
- We see God in creation.
- We see God in the place he puts us.
I encourage you to go back to read more on what it means to see God in culture and creation by using the links above. This post will focus on what it means to see God in the place he puts you.
Contemplation in Scripture
In Acts 17, is one of the core scriptures about contemplation through culture. In that chapter, the Apostle Paul was alone in Athens where he experienced God in a godless culture. Through shrines built to false gods, Paul contemplated how they actually pointed to the God he served.
I want to rewind the story to the beginning of the chapter where Paul and his ministry partner, Silas, had just arrived in the city of Thessalonica (who the letter of Thessalonians was written for). This is what Acts records about their arrival:
“Paul and Silas then traveled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.Acts17:1-2 NLT
As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people.”
Paul found God in his world
Paul was first and foremost a follower of Jesus, but he was also Jewish. It was the world he lived in. Though he traveled through the Roman world, he was living among mostly Jewish people. So Paul entered Jewish places of worship to present the Good News of Jesus in a respectful but direct way to the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman world.
It didn’t always work out well, as was the case in Thessalonica, but Paul always started in the place he knew best. There Paul would contemplate what it meant to love Jesus through the context of Jewish scripture (the Old Testament). When he was forced out of the synagogue, as he usually was, Paul would then enter into the Roman world and do the same thing. This was the case in Athens. Paul was in the Roman world contemplating what it mean to see God in that place.
So what does this mean for you? Let me give you a few examples of what it means to see God in the place God has put you.
Contemplation in your world.
My friend Darty owns and runs a conference for portrait photographers – SYNC. I honestly don’t know the whole story (I need to hear it at some point), but let me tell you what I know. After running the conference for several years, Darty and his wife, Michelle, felt they needed to add a Christian element to the show. They saw an opportunity for God to be in the world where God placed them.
To be clear, this was not a Christian conference. It wasn’t a photography convention for Christian photographers. All different beliefs were represented at the show. At the same time, Darty and Michele knew they needed to incorporate their beliefs into the annual conference. So they took a big step.
Several years ago, Darty and Michele, included an interdenominational, Sunday morning worship service. It didn’t interfere with any other programming, but they allowed their faith to shine through in the place God had put them. Darty and Michele contemplated how God could be active in the place he had put them.
Contemplation in unexpected opportunities
This year, Darty invited me to speak at the SYNC worship service. When he offered this opportunity to me, I jumped. After I accepted his invitation, I spent some time to reflect on the opportunity. It dawned on me that as a pastor I might have more to add that just speaking for 30 minutes. So I chatted with Darty and Michele about being the chaplain for the conference.
To be honest, I don’t know if Darty and Michele were really able to wrap their heads around what that would mean. I only had a partial picture myself. They were open, but no true agreement was struck. So I arrived in Florida with an open and willing heart to serve as needed. I had no idea what this meant, but I soon found out.
I saw God in a hotel ballroom
During the opening session, there were multiple different speakers giving short 20-30 minute presentations. At one point, a woman stood and walked out to take a phone call, which I thought nothing of. A few minutes later, between speakers, Michele walked to the front of the conference room asking for anyone who knew the lady who had just walked out. Again, this was strange, but I wasn’t bothered by it. Then it got strange.
In the middle of the next speaker, Michele interrupted him to ask for another person, again someone who knew the first lady. This was not normal to say the least.
This was followed by a text from Darty asking me to meet in the back of the room. There he discreetly shared with me the woman who got up to take the phone call had just received terrible news. Her young teenage son had just taken his own life. My heart was crushed at the news. I didn’t know her at all, but I know what this news means to a parent.
This may sound strange, but I saw God in this hotel ballroom he had put me. Another way of saying this is I heard God. God opened my eyes/ears to why I was there. God had put me in that place, and I was to do something. It was why I was in Orlando at the conference, and it was why I offered to be the chaplain.
Contemplation = See + Be God
But this is only half of hearing God through contemplation. It’s not enough to see God in the place we are, but we also need to be God in that place. In my case, I needed to care for this woman.
Now, let me be completely honest with you. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to find the woman and enter into this pain with her. So let this serve as a warning, though God wants to speak to you, it won’t always be easy to deal with what he wants you to do with that wisdom and knowledge.
I didn’t want to but I found this mother, and I walked into her room.
Peace into chaos
There is a lot to this story, but I’ll share the two most important pieces of information with you. First, peace was in my heart and mind as I entered into her hotel room. This year I am practicing meditation (another way to hear God). I also chose PEACE as my Word of the Year, so I had been daily mediating on peace leading up to this event. Specifically, as I meditated, I saw myself stepping into peace and carrying this peace with me wherever I went.
This is important because the second piece of information was when I stepped into the mother’s hotel room, it was understandably chaotic. Her two friends were alternately attempting to find her a flight home (from Orlando to Denver at 8pm) while also consoling her. Bags were halfway packed. She alternately paced the room asking, “why!?” and fell on the bed crying. She was in shock.
I don’t have any formal training in dealing with family dealing with suicide. I’ve had just one other experience pastoring a family immediately following a suicide. I didn’t really know what to do.
So my contemplation (seeing God in the place he puts me) led me to what I knew most in that moment – peace. I hugged her, sat with her, listened to her questions, did my best to feel her pain, prayed and read scripture with her. I offered this mother the tiniest bit of wisdom I had for the moment. In total, I spent about 45 minutes in the room before they frantically left for the airport.
I did all of this because contemplation isn’t just seeing God in the place he puts me, but it is also being God to the people he puts me with. It was a very intense hour or so, and I didn’t really know what I offered until a couple of days later.
The Fruit of Contemplation
I spoke as I was scheduled Sunday morning, and afterwards her friends who were in the room with her approached me. This is what they told me: “When you walked into the room, it was like Jesus was walked in.” Other than being obedient to what God had showed me, I take no credit in this compliment. But it is a testimony to hearing God and being God to the world around me through contemplation.
At the same time, the reason they were so singularly able to reflect on this event was the service that Darty and Michele made room for in their conference. They saw a space for God in their world, and they filled it with him.
Contemplation like this isn’t just for people like Darty who own and operate conferences, or myself who minister professionally. This is for you too. God wants to speak to you through the place you are and through you to the people around you. Let me share with you three tips on how to hear God in the place you are.
1. Ask God to open your eyes.
I’ve made it a practice as I meditate in the morning to ask the Holy Spirit to fill me fresh for the day. As part of this process, I ask him to open my eyes and ears to see and hear him throughout the day. A great first step to seeing God where he has placed you is asking him to reveal himself to you.
2. Move past fear.
When God open your eyes to how he is moving around you, and how he wants you to to engage with where you are, it won’t be easy. Creating a worship service in a secular environment is nerve wracking. Walking into a room of a mother who has just lost her son to one of the more tragic ways possible is fear inducing.
When God shows you himself in your world, it will be simultaneously exciting and sickening. You’ll be forced to do something about it. Move past the fear. Simply take a step in the direction God is leading you and see who opens before you.
3. Share what you see with others.
Maybe this in implied with the above point, but at it’s core contemplation isn’t about ourselves. What we see in the world that is God we need to be to the world.
In other words, what God shows you isn’t just for you. God blesses you, so you can bless others. The opportunities God is opening before you is for you, but it’s really for your world.