Everybody wants a word from God until they hear what He has to say.
Most of us have a visceral longing to be understood and an idea of what kind of person it is that we want to be. But getting to know ourselves is an uncomfortable process, because every new piece of information expands our perception of reality, and we rarely let go of our presuppositions without a fight.
The scriptures speak often of God as a Potter who moulds us like clay. We relish the idea of being formed into a more beautiful shape. But any clay with a mind of its own knows the incredible pain caused by the powerful hands drowning and pounding it then carving and burning it to realize an emotional and creative vision. Transformation is painful, and we are so quick to avoid it.
We like the idea of being made better, but we discover that it is difficult to endure the manufacturing process.
When Christ first encounters a fisherman named Simon, He says to him, “You are Simon (which means “shaky”) but I call you Peter (which means “stone”). There was nothing necessarily in Simon that would lead to this conclusion, but Christ saw him for who he would become. And He knew what travail and duress would have to be endured for Simon to realize this identity in Christ.
There is a powerful scene in which Christ tells Peter the manner of His earthly mission- that He will suffer and die and then eventually leave the earth. Peter, mindful of his enjoyable earthly experience of Christ, challenges Him. Christ rebukes him saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”
Peter had not yet understood the nature of Christ’s ministry. To fully realize His role as the savior of mankind, He would have to suffer and die, resurrect from the dead, ascend into Heaven (leaving them), and then send His Spirit to embody those who would receive of His salvation. Christ told His disciples that it was better for Him to leave, for when He left He could send His “Comforter” (the Holy Spirit) who would guide His people into “all truth.”
In other words, the ministry of Christ would only take it’s intended form once those who knew Him deepest would endure the pain of temporarily losing Him. But God the Father delights in delegation, and when He sent His Son to save the world from our sins, He always intended that the ministry of Christ would be perpetuated by Christ’s disciples who, being empowered by the Holy Spirit, would become the literal body of Christ. Thus expanding the ministry of Christ exponentially.
Christ’s death was like the death of a seed that would resurrect into a fruit-bearing tree, with every piece of fruit dying a similar death (as it were) that would lead to further fruitfulness.
But Peter, in his earthly estimations, was not yet able to see this dynamic. And so the Lord of Glory kindly rebuked him. And after Christ ascended into Heaven, He sent His Spirit unto His disciples. And on that day, Peter became the rock on which Christ’s church (His body) was established when he preached on the day of Pentacost (which was un-coincidentally Shavuoth, the Jewish celebration of harvest).
Had Peter continued to savor the immediate pleasures of His earthly time with Christ, He never would have tasted of explosive and perpetuating nature of Christ’s ministry.
That is the process for every work of God. It is always bigger and more dynamic than any man could imagine. And it is always perpetuated through a process of transformation that brings with it a profound degree of discomfort and pain.
There is hardly a greater pain than death. In the face of death, people often encourage themselves by ensuring that their loved ones are “in a better place.” Now, it is between the deceased and God as to where the soul of their beloved has sojourned.
We have all been to funerals. When a sincere man or woman of God passes on, the believer has no doubts as to where they have gone. They so clearly lived for Christ, and we deem it fitting that they would be spiritually united with Him in death. But we have also been to funerals of another variety. When people eulogize their now-dead loved ones, who lived in total contrast to God, and assure the grieving family that they are indeed in a better place.
Well, as I said, that is between the the deceased and God. We comfort ourselves with this wishful thinking. But why would a person, who has no desire for the things of God, be magically ushered into His presence in death? Perhaps this is where the Roman Catholics derived their idea of Purgatory. For they felt that a sinner would require a process of preparation to fit them for their celestial communion.
My point here is not to cause a grieving loved one to fear the state of their beloved’s soul, but to unpack that notion of preparedness.
The lump of clay or block of wood cannot embrace a process of fierce reshaping or piercing carving so long as it savors its amorphous identity.
Identity is a lofty concept, that I won’t attempt to unpack here. But it’s important to consider our own perceptions of identity. I tend to think that our identity, as it stands in this moment, is informed by things that are both engrained and inscribed.
I mean that our identity is engrained in the sense that there are things about ourselves that we must never compromise. Our relationships with other people eventually reveal to us which things we are willing to part with for the sake of that fellowship. But we all have certain qualities that are never to be parted with.
What makes you tick? What gives you energy? What puts you in your element? God has engrained in you a unique set of desires and characteristics that you must never disregard. It is not easy to decipher which of our attributes are fundamental to our unique identity. But we all possess them.
But our identity (yet to be fully realized) is also rooted in the affects of our upbringing, our past experiences, and our imperfect nature. Our relationships with other people serve us by highlighting both our strengths and our weaknesses. In one sense, we must defend ourselves from those who dismiss our engrained qualities (and allow more supportive persons to encourage us), and in another sense we must let others shine a light on our lesser qualities.
We can consider these lesser qualities by measuring them to a certain moral standard. We may find that we are hardwired to paint, write, engineer, teach, or pursue some other creative endeavor or to connect with others in a particular social dynamic. But we may also find that we are hardwired to be selfish, antisocial, squeamish, or arrogant. The former qualities pertain to an engrained nature. The latter pertain to a nature inscribed by our experiences and our imperfect natures.
In consideration of our identity, we often savor the wrong things. Every strength has a corresponding weakness, and it is easy to rationalize our inscribed weaknesses as being in part and parcel with our engrained qualities.
So what does this have to do with wanting to “hear a word from God” or to become a better version of ourselves?
There are fundamental qualities to wood or clay that make them fit to be transformed into works of art. Michelangelo saw King David within the block of marble and realized his duty to set that form free. Christ saw Peter, the zealous servant of and mouthpiece of God, in the wavering and overzealous Simon.
Simon had engrained qualities (as God had made him) that needed to be set free, forming him into Peter, a foundational stone fashioned and hardened from a miry clay.
We all want to be that raw stone fashioned into a work of art and utility, and we are all engrained with unique qualities fit for that purpose. But there is a painful transformation process that must take place.
This process prepares us. When we ask God to give us a word, He will tell us things that we don’t want to hear. When we ask Him to make us into something better, He will challenge all of those inscribed qualities with which we identify.
Consider your utmost desires. Are they integral, or are they shaped by the psychological impressions and hurts of your youth? We often don’t know what we actually desire. We pursue relationships, professional endeavors, hobbies, or other lifestyle choices that feed our assumed needs.
But when we submit our own wills to the God who knows us and Who sees us for what He envisions, we are (in our natural state) unable to receive what He has planned for us.
So when we ask God to guide us in a relationship, or a job, or hobby and the like, we must consider that he has intended for us a higher calling- a better relationship, job, or hobby that is unobstructed by our former pains, insecurities, and temporal desires.
Death is not a prerequisite for Divine fellowship. That fellowship is nurtured in a gradual devotion on earth (or Purgatory, if the Catholics have it right). There is a preparation process that must occur to ready one (however imperfectly) to realize true fellowship with God.
In like manner, if we are asking the all-knowing and wise God to order the steps of our life, we must be prepared for Him to carry out the grueling process of preparing our desires (in spite of past experiences) to be ready to receive the wonderful gifts that He has for us.
God desires to mould you into the very best version of yourself. You, like Peter, possess those qualities. He has engrained them in you. But you have many other of desires and impulses that contradict His design for you.
So when you ask God to give you a word or to make you into something greater (who He wants you to be), remember to ask that He also prepares you to receive those gifts He has for you, be it a personal transformation, a relationship, or a lifestyle. That He gives you the discernment to know the uncompromisable, engrained parts of your nature and the strength to part with those inscribed things (with which we so strongly identify) that He might help you to realize His vision as opposed to our own.
And when we ask God for a word, let us not forget to consider the words He has given us already. Christ tells us that if we love Him, we will obey Him. Furthermore, He tells us that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness that all of these things (or temporal needs) will be added unto us.
Sometimes we ask God for a new word because we’ve found that the words already given are difficult to follow. The psalmist tells declares that the in God’s presence is the fullness of joy and elsewhere, that the joy of the Lord is His strength.
How do we receive the presence of the Lord which gives us joy and strength?