Becoming Receptive (The Dirty Truth: Part One)
This month at Gateway in Austin, we are walking through a process to become who we are created to be in a series called: “The Dirty Truth.”
Join us at 10am on Wednesday for a follow up conversation on this topic at http://live.gatewaychurch.com.
Below you will find the following:
- the message I shared at the McNeil campus on video
- an overview of becoming who we were created to be
- the method to move from a hard heart and closed mind to a vulnerable heart and open mind
- the grid through which to take every decision to hear God’s voice
This past week my daughter Trevi graduated from 5th grade. Have you noticed how many graduations kids have nowadays? We celebrate graduating pre-K, Kindergarten, Elementary, Jr. High, High School, and College! At Trevi’s graduation the kids each won enough awards they could use these certificates as wallpaper and cover one of the walls in their room! One of the teachers pointed out that it is in middle school when you really start to become who you are going to be as an adult.
It’s in middle school and high school that we seem to struggle most with discovering who we are. We try so hard to fit in that we lose ourself trying to become like others. We take on the identity of our group, our clique. Growing up in the 80s, we had our popular jocks and cheerleaders, the band geeks, the choir and drama nerds, the new wavers who listened to the Cure, or the Ropers who wore Cowboy boots. All of us seemed to be so desperate to belong that we would try to become someone we weren’t.
But have we made much progress since junior high?
So often we pretend to be someone we aren’t and people still don’t like us! Think of how much time and energy we have wasted trying to please people who will never be pleased with us!
In our culture we seem to have an identity crisis. We lack clarity and purpose! Have you noticed this?
A couple of statistics for you:
The Gallup organization interviewed almost 2 million employees in over 100 companies in 63 countries. When asked this question: “At work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” Only 20% said that “yes” at least at some point during the day they used their strengths. 80% said that they were never asked to do what they do best. As a result, 4 out of every 5 of us are more likely to hate our job, to leave our job, and if we stay, we aren’t as productive nor as enjoyable to others as we could be.
Another statistic from a different set of research shows that we don’t know what the priorities are for the company where we work. Before we judge our workplace, we should notice that only 6% of those surveyed even know their own priorities.
We have an intrinsic desire that drives us towards progress. We desire to become someone who matters. We long for purpose and meaning in life.
The dictionary defines “Becoming” as “any process of change.” According to the philosopher Aristotle, “becoming” is any change from the lower level of potentiality to the higher level of actuality
Have you discovered who you were created to be? Do you know your calling in life?
Lets do a quick assessment:
- Do you ever feel unsure of what to do in life?
- Are you wandering from job to job?
- Do you ever have a sense of dissatisfaction with where you are and what you are doing?
- Do you ever find yourself on a cycle you cannot seem to stop experiencing? For example, you overcome an addiction only to fall back into it? You lose weight only to gain it back?
- In your life, do you seem to start things strong only for them to end badly?
- Do you ever wish God would just tell you what to do?
- Ever wonder what you are supposed to be when you grow up?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then this series is designed to help you to make progress. How amazing would it be if we could use this summer to make progress in becoming who we were created to be?
Is it even possible that in three short months we could change the trajectory of our entire lives?
In the spring of 2011, my wife Debbie and I hosted a small group which was going through Morph: Love God. We had some amazing people in our group, many of whom are still very involved in our network and our life today. At the beginning of the group I encouraged everyone to pray and come up with spiritual goals for the summer which we then emailed to ourselves 3 months later through www.futureme.org.
FutureMe.org allows you to email yourself at a certain date in the future. It is quite mind-trippy to receive an email from your younger self! Three months later most of us had forgotten we had even gone through this exercise, but a filmmaker in our group named Scott brought his email. He printed it out because he was so excited about all that had come to pass during our group. With genuine excitement Scott showed us how everything on his list had happened plus amazing things he hadn’t even considered!
At the peak of his excitement, a great friend of ours in the group said: “Well, nothing on my list happened.” Unsure of how to respond in that moment, we all sat in silence. Momentum had been lost until she said one of the most insightful things ever shared in our group. She then said: “the difference is that you worked hard to make so much progress.”
I want to encourage you, go to www.futureme.org sometime today or this week and send yourself an email that arrives just before school starts or on Labor Day. Include in it what goals you feel God wants you to make for your spiritual growth for the summer.
Take a quick inventory: are you making progress in your relationship with God? Does He seem closer to you now than He has in the past? Are you growing in your character? Are you stronger today than you used to be? Are you making more of a difference in the lives of others now than you have in the past?
Jesus shows us how to make progress!
A huge crowd surrounded Jesus. This teacher and healer had gained quite a reputation, so lots of people wanted to hear what He had to say. So much so, he climbed into a boat and shared a parable, a story with a spiritual message that isn’t obvious unless you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear it.
Matthew 13:1-9 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
So before we read Jesus’ explanation of this parable, consider: which soil best describes your spiritual journey or how you have been recently?
Matthew 13:18-23 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Of all the messages Jesus could share in front of one of the biggest crowds ever gathered around Him, you might be surprised He chose this particular message. He didn’t start this message from the boat talking about life after death. He didn’t talk about wealth or poverty. Instead Jesus described a journey towards becoming a different person and making a difference in the lives of others.
Jesus is sharing about the invisible Kingdom of God – a Kingdom that will one day include people from every nation, a Kingdom that advances with peace, love, faith, and hope rather than through war and destruction. Jesus is the King of a New Kingdom that does not separate people with borders but includes all who desire to let Him be their King.
Jesus tells us that in this Kingdom you have unlimited potential.
He shared about four types of soil in his parable of the sower. The fourth soil is described as the only one that bears fruit. Bearing fruit means living transformed lives and leading others to follow Christ.
God has greater ideas in mind for our lives than we do. As we connect to God we can begin to discover our unlimited potential to touch the lives of other people.
Many of us live as defined by our limitations. These limitations are imposed upon us by others or adopted by us. Our future is limited by what others tell us and what we begin to believe about ourselves. As a result, we live “normal” and mediocre lives, unable or perhaps unwilling to experience life at our full capacity. According to Jesus, we were created with unlimited potential in the area of spiritual influence. Our fears, weaknesses, past mistakes, regrets, and background cannot keep us from impacting others in dramatic ways.
In the parable of the soils, Jesus shared how we can become who He intends for us to be – people of expansive influence. We can become the good soil bearing tremendous fruit. In the Scriptures, the word “fruit” is used to describe the “fruit of the Spirit” – a change in our character. “Fruit” also refers to the lives that we have impacted. We were created to experience this type of dramatic personal transformation and to be a part of helping others transform as well.
We can experience a life beyond our wildest imagination when we maximize who we were created to be. Applying the principles Jesus shared in describing the four types of soils, we can become fruitful (a.k.a. creative, generative, and productive).
Jesus’ parable points out that we struggle to become who we were created to be when we fail in any of the following areas: hearing God’s voice, overcoming the trials we face, overcoming the temptations that distract us, or doing what we know we ought to do.
So which soil are you? What has kept you from experiencing this kind of fruitful life?
Hardened –> Vulnerable
Shallow —-> Deep
Thorny —-> Clear
Desolate —> Fruitful
To avoid these pitfalls, we can discover our God-given destiny by developing 4 skills. Becoming who we were created to be means we need to become receptive, tenacious, intentional, and proactive.
During this series, we will look at how developing these new skills can help you make progress in your spiritual journey.
- an overview of becoming who we were created to be
Hardened –> Vulnerable Receptive (Overcoming Silence)
Shallow —-> Deep Tenacious (Overcoming Trials)
Thorny —-> Clear Intentional (Overcoming Temptations)
Desolate —> Fruitful Proactive (Overcoming Rebellion)
In the story of the soils, Jesus describes the first soil and how we can learn to discern God’s voice in our lives when we develop a posture of receptivity. We can move from a hardened heart to a vulnerable one and overcome spiritual silence by distinguishing God’s voice from among the crowd and from among our own.
Do you have ears to hear? Do you want to hear from God? Have you ever felt God’s guidance?
So often, the idea of hearing from God is associated with people who are mentally ill or people claiming to know the date for the end of the world.
When I talk about hearing God’s voice, I mean the ability to discern the “still small voice,” the “whisper” from the God who created us.
Before you check out or discredit this idea: let me just say God speaks. I have heard His voice – never audibly, but I have had thoughts that aren’t my own. I can tell the difference between my thoughts and God’s thoughts because God’s thoughts challenge me to do something good for others and usually require faith and courage. When you have a thought ask yourself: “Is this selfless? Does this take courage?” If the answer is “yes” to both then it may very well be God is speaking to you because that is not normally not how we think.
God’s voice is that prompting to say an encouraging word to a co-worker, that prompting to hug someone who seems discouraged, that prompting to give to someone in need, that prompting to call or text someone who comes to mind only to discover your efforts are exactly what they needed at that moment.
God speaks when we hear that encouraging word from a co-worker, when we receive a hug in a moment we feel discouraged, when someone gives to us when we are in need, when we receive a call or text from someone exactly at the moment we needed it.
Have you had any of these miraculous moments?
If not, are you willing to consider that this could happen for you? If you have, but it has been awhile, are you willing to hear His voice again?
- the method to move from a hard heart and closed mind to a vulnerable heart and open mind
The problem according to Jesus is that our hearts are hard – like a path that is impenetrable. Does that describe your heart?
Often when a new office building is built, the designers of the office complex wait to put in the sidewalks after people have a chance to park and walk into the building. As the grass starts being trampled and eventually all signs of life have been stepped on and killed, the builders then put the sidewalk on the dirt paths.
Some of us have hearts that have been hardened because others have walked all over us. Jesus is saying, some of us have hearts that are as hard an impenetrable dirt path.
Some of us have hearts that have been hardened because we don’t believe in God. Some don’t believe in God because they are angry with God. Something tragic happened, and God has become the object of your bitterness. You blame Him for your pain. Some of us don’t want to hear from God because we don’t want to do what He might say.
What keeps you from hearing God’s voice?
The message of the Scriptures is that there is a God who is pursuing us and speaking to us. The problem is that we aren’t listening.
Matthew 13:10-17 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.‘
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
Did you hear that? You and I can know what prophets and holy people from the past longed to know! You and I can experience a closeness with God that others have wished they could have! They longed to have the kind of access to God that we take for granted in Jesus. God came to earth and walked the earth as a man named Jesus, and He offers us access to His Spirit when we choose to follow Him. We take this for granted! So many have longed for what we have!
Is your heart calloused? Want a more vulnerable heart? Want to hear God’s voice? Jesus says: “If your heart is hard then turn to Him, and He will heal you!”
From the beginning to the end and everywhere in between, God is rescuing people from their hard hearts and offering love and new life!
At the end of the Bible, in Revelation 3:19b-20
So be sincere and turn around. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Jesus is a gentleman. He isn’t kicking down the door of your heart. He stands there and knocks, wanting you to turn around and let Him in. When you do, you experience communion and genuine relationship with Him. He says your relationship could be as close as a great friend who comes over to share a meal with you!
Even if you’ve walked for God for a long time, every day you need to open your heart to Him. We can easily drift away, and when our back is turned to Him we cannot hear His voice.
There was a story at the beginning of the New Testament in Mark 9 of a father whose son was extremely troubled. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered… But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Maybe you want to believe but find it difficult. Try the father’s prayer: “Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief! Help me believe!”
Near the beginning of the Bible is a fascinating verse which can help us when we find ourselves stuck.
Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
Once again, we see that God reveals His secrets to those who want to hear them, and if we have trouble, He offers to help.
Listen to this from Deuteronomy 30:6.
God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.
God will help us trust Him! God will help us love Him so we can truly live! Let God help you do what you cannot do for yourself.
The original word for “cut away” used in the original language is the same word for “circumcise.”
Another version of Deuteronomy 30:6 says:
The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
The word circumcise literally means “to cut around.” Some of us have scar tissue and callouses built up around our hardened hearts, and that keeps us from trusting God.
We have allowed evil choices of others to affect how we trust God and trust others. We have allowed others to steal from us what God wants to give! Don’t give others so much power in your life!
Let God remove the pain around your heart that keeps you from trusting Him so you can hear His voice and discover your calling and purpose in life.
Listen to the follow up in Deuteronomy 30:11-14
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
This is possible! God’s voice is accessible! The question is: do you want to hear Him today?
Some of us have come to closure too soon on our understanding of God and what He wants to do in our lives and through our lives.
In a new book called Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath, these two very smart professors and authors argue that humans are hampered by four “enemies” of decision-making:
- Narrow framing
- Confirmation bias
- Short-term emotion
- Overconfidence about how things will work out
These can be overcome with W.R.A.P.:
- Widen your options overcomes narrow framing
- Reality-test your assumptions overcomes confirmation bias
- Attain distance before deciding overcomes short-term emotion
- Prepare to be wrong overcomes overconfidence
Confirmation bias means rather than having an open mind, we make a decision and then look for proof that the decision we already have made was the right one. We don’t really look for evidence on which decision would be best. Pros and Cons lists are written to make sure what we don’t want to do has more pros and what we don’t want to do has more cons. We come to closure way too soon in our decision-making and in life.
A friend of mine contacted me and wanted to learn how to hear God’s voice. I was ready to walk him through this same process that we are walking through during this series. As we caught up on each other’s lives, he told me about a moment when he woke up and decided to just let go of something he had been trying to make happen that seemed to be going nowhere. I asked him how he knew to just “let go.” He paused and answered. “I just knew God wanted me to ‘let go.’” Then he said something incredibly profound: ”I guess it’s not that God isn’t speaking. I guess He’s not saying what I want to hear.”
All of us, no matter where we may be in our spiritual journeys need to be willing to hear the fresh message God has for us.
What are your dreams and hopes for your future? Are these your own dreams or are these dreams God has for you? Are these selfless or selfish dreams?
To experience the life God created us to experience, to become who we were created to be, we need to entrust all of our hopes, dreams, fears, doubts, regrets along with our past, present, and future to God. Let go of your dreams so God can replace them with His dreams for your life – which are far more beautiful than what you could ever imagine!
We can learn to discern God’s voice in our lives when we develop a posture of receptivity. We can move from a hardened heart to a vulnerable one.
For those who follow Jesus, it is normal to hear His voice.
Listen to Jesus’ words from John 10:2-6
2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
You and I can know God! We can know His voice once we follow Him. God will no longer remain a stranger to you!
When it comes to making decisions, I want to walk you through a process I use which moves God to the center.
So that we will trust Him and pursue Him, God gives us clues. He doesn’t overwhelm us with all that is ahead. He gives us just enough to keep making progress and looking to Him.
He gives us supernatural, external, and internal clues. You can approach God and this process with a specific question or with a general openness.
Seek God for wisdom in every area of your life, and He will guide you.
Consider for a moment: what is God calling you to do?
- the grid through which to take every decision to hear God’s voice
Do you think He wants you to be married? Considering the possibility He wants you to start a business that serves our city and reaches out to others? Think He may be wanting you to choose a new career path? Take your question to God using this process.
To Hear God’s Voice…
- Seeking God – Scriptures, fasting, prayer
- Spirit of God – “still small voice” Is it selfless? Does it take courage?
- Signs – see “… But Don’t Stay That Way”
- Sage Counsel
Scott, the filmmaker I mentioned earlier said this about connecting to a network: ”The more I connected with other believers, the more I felt God’s profound presence in my life. And the easier it was to hear his voice and guidance. Through community, God became a living, breathing reality for me.”
What needs do you see that you can meet?
With humility consider your circumstances. Nothing should be beneath us. Sometimes God opens a door that requires kneeling to go through. We miss God’s leading because we think we are above, beyond, or too good for opportunities offered to us.
Some of us lack the courage to do something new, but some of us lack the character to stay where we are. Circumstances do not mean “what is easiest.” But “is God opening the door in such a way I need to go through it or stay here?”
- Significance - what makes you unique? can anyone else do this?
Consider the desires of your heart, passions, spiritual gifts, strengths, background, etc.
A couple of weeks ago, John mentioned in the Servolution message that we can find our uniqueness when we PEG ourselves. Allow your Passions, Experiences, and Gifts to guide us.
“Delight yourself in God, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4
What needs do you see that you are uniquely designed to meet?
What is God calling you to do that makes the world a better place?
Some of you are still skeptical. It’s not that you don’t believe there is a God. It isn’t even that you struggle to believe that God speaks. You aren’t so sure that He has something significant in mind for you. You aren’t so sure that He actually does love you. You’ve come to closure on who you think you are and who you think God wants you to be. You’ve come to believe that there are just too many regrets and too many mistakes and too many ways you have failed so that there is no way God has something special for you.
Listen close: that is a lie.
Jesus sees so much potential in you! He desires to change your life and to allow you to see the lives of those you care about change through your influence!
Are you ready for that? Are you willing to let Him guide and lead you?
- Do you want to hear God’s voice?
- What is keeping you from hearing His voice?
- If you are ready, what is He calling you to do?
Prayer - Ephesians 3
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
- Career Exploration Workshop Tuesdays in Central Austin. For details email firstname.lastname@example.org
- StrengthsFinder Workshop 6/23 at 2pm
- www.soulrevolution.net for the 60/60 experiment to help you develop a discipline of listening to God.
- “Servolution” by John Burke to help you P.E.G. yourself (Passions, Experiences, Gifts).
- www.futureme.org to set spiritual goals and email yourself in the future.