Prince of the Air

This past weekend, my wife and I were driving back from a baby shower of a friend. It was a nice peaceful drive. We were talking about our pastor’s message this weekend. He was preaching about how God has chosen to limit himself to our faith, to what we believe. It was an excellent message and right on.

As we were driving, I made this blanket statement, directed mostly towards my own attitude and unbelief. I said, “I wonder sometimes if we don’t see answers to our prayers because we don’t really believe God.” My wife got quiet all of sudden—something was stirring. I realized later that it wasn’t a good stirring.

When we got home, she was very upset with me. I asked her why. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. (That’s pretty normal for me.) When I made that statement about our prayers not being answered because we don’t believe, here’s what she heard me say, “Angela, it’s all your fault. You don’t really believe when you pray. You’re the reason God doesn’t answer our prayers.”

Whoa! Where did that come from? That’s not what I said. Nor was that what I intended. I was speaking totally about myself. Yet, what she heard was a condemning accusation about her faith.

Immediately, I knew exactly where that came from. Ephesians 2:2 calls Satan “the mighty prince of the power of the air.” He has this “gift” to mix up the words we say so that the hearer receives them completely different than what we speak. He can manipulate thoughts and ideas so that when the words come into our minds, we misinterpret them and immediately become offended. It’s an incredibly effective strategy, especially when people are completely unaware of it.

Thankfully, my wife is the kind of person who likes to talk things out (sometimes in gory detail). So, we talked about my comment and my intentions, and she quickly realized that I was not accusing her nor pointing my finger at her faith. It was more about me and my walk with God. Not hers.

Think about your own life. How many times have you said something only for it to be completely interpreted wrong? Or, how about those times when you sense something is wrong with your spouse, and she comes in crying, “You said this and you said that.” And you can’t recall every saying that. The prince of the air is at work.

The other side of distraction

In my own experience with hearing God, I have found that it is very easy to become distracted. There are so many things in this world fighting for our attention. We are bombarded with hundreds of marketing ads each day. Companies spend millions of dollars simply to get your attention. “Buy our products!” Commercials, billboards, logos, advertisements, telemarketers, solicitations–they are everywhere.

Then, add to that what we feed our mind with on a daily basis. The average American spends almost 9 hours a day consuming media–television, movies, internet, iPod, music, computer games. Nine hours a day! Considering we spend 8 of our 24 hours a day sleeping, that leaves only 7 hours a day that we’re not consuming media. That’s amazing.

I think one of the key tactics of the enemy is to fill our minds with so much stuff that we don’t have time to listen. Think about how hard it is to just slow down, clear your mind and be at peace. I know for me, Mr. Adrenaline Junkie, it’s near impossible. Yet, God commands us, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Be still.

Try it. Try being still after a hard day of work and stress. Try being still after watching some action flick or romance movie. Try being still when there’s bills to pay and work to do. It’s hard!

Just yesterday, I was playing this computer game called Combat Arms. (I’m usually not a gamer, but my son likes this game, so I try to spend time with him playing Combat Arms.) When playing this game, you’re in this virtual world, and images are constantly in front of you–soldiers, snipers, guns, explosions. And, it’s a real-time game, so we’re playing with other players all around the world. So, you’re adrenaline gets pumping.

Here’s what happened last night. I was playing the game at about 8 pm, a couple of hours before bed. After I finished playing, I shut off the computer and then sat down in my recliner to pray before I climbed into bed. But, each time I closed my eyes to pray, I would see those scenes–the soldiers, snipers from the game. So, I had to open my eyes to pray. But, I would forget and close them. Again, soldiers and snipers everywhere. It was very frustrating and distracting. How could I pray and be still when my mind was still in the game? I think the enemy has done a pretty good job of creating so much distraction around us.

Just to clarify, I’m not some anti-media person. Actually, it’s my profession. I’m a producer. I produce media. I believe there are some redemptive forms of media, but I think it all comes down to balance.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. How much media is enough? When do I cross over from media enjoyment into media gluttony?

2. What is my refuge, my safe place, the place I go when I’m stressed? Do I flip on the television to “veg out” for awhile. Soap operas, reality shows, news? What’s your escape?

3. Are you finding it harder and harder to dedicate time with God? Would you rather get up first and check your email? Turn on the television? Listen to some music? Fill your mind with something?

I encourage you to spend some time this week “being still”. God is waiting for you on the other side of the distraction.

Intimacy with God

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with a close friend of mine and listen to him share his own experience on hearing God.

Early on his walk of faith, his desire to hear God was strong. In almost every situation, he would ask, God, is this what you want me to do? Or, Was that you, God? Are you trying to tell me something? His mind was constantly on the lookout for a “word from God” regarding every area of his life.

I’ve wrestled quite a bit with this notion of knowing God’s will in every area of our lives. It seems almost impossible; yet there are numerous scriptures supporting this idea:

    “Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).

    “If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life” (Matthew 16:25).

    Even Jesus only did what he knew the Father wanted him to do: “I assure you, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does” (John 5:19).

I also think about Brother Lawrence’s writings from 300 years ago, where he learned to “practice the presence of God” in his everyday life. He was able to achieve a profound intimacy with God.

I believe this is the life God has called us to, a life of intimacy with him. And not just, “Lord, bless this food” prayers, but deep, profound, soul-searching, mind-engaging conversations with our Father. I believe this is God’s greatest desire for us. It’s not about giving, serving, working, helping, and doing. It’s about being. Being a child of God. Being with our Father. Spending time with him.

After all, what’s the greatest commandment? To love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength and with all of our mind. That’s loving God with everything.

My friend and I talked some more about this intimacy with God, and I could sense some cynicism in his voice. He had been wounded years ago. I could hear it in his voice. So, I asked him about it.

He went on to explain that what started out as a desire to hear God soon became a bondage, a stress. He would wrestle over every decision, every “word”, every situation. His peaceful prayer time soon became filled with pressure. He had moved from listening to straining and striving.

When he told me this, my first thought was, That’s the enemy. Think about it for moment. If the devil could do one thing and one thing only to cripple your walk with God, it would be to disrupt communication between you and your Father. It’s a common military tactic—the first strike of a successful engagement is to take out communications. With that gone, surely confusion and disorganization will follow. My friend agreed.

Just as God has a plan for your life, so the devil also has an evil plan for your life. He does not want you to hear God, so he will take you to one of two extremes:

1. The devil wants to take you to a place of frustration, like my friend, where hearing God becomes full of pressure and stress. And who wants pressure and stress? It’s just a lot easier not to listen.

2. Or, the devil will convince you that God doesn’t speak at all. Cut the communication cord early, before it even has a chance to work. Sadly, this is where most believers are today.

God has great plans for you, and for you to live out those plans, we must hear what they are. I encourage you, today, to listen. God is speaking.

Was that you, God?

I think about the number of times I’ve journaled and switched the font to red to capture what I thought God was saying to me. And I’ll be honest with you, I’ve missed him a few times. There’s even parts of my journal where I’ve taken the red letter words and turned them into strikethru red letters words.

Even then, I’m sure there are times that I didn’t realize that I missed him. But with God, I enjoy taking that risk. I’d rather hear God a few times and miss him a few times than not hear him at all.

One of the hardest things about hearing God is removing all of your emotions and just listening, no matter what God wants to say. I have found that it becomes very easy to miss God when your emotions are involved. Remember, his thoughts sound exactly like your thoughts, and so learning to discern is essential.

So, how do you do that? How do you remove all of your emotions before asking God to show you something? It is hard. And, it takes practice.

For example, you want to take a quick vacation, and you ask, “Lord, should we go to the beach this weekend?” Everything in you is screaming “TAKE A VACATION TO THE BEACH!” because it’s something you really want to do. Your emotions are in high gear. Can you get to a place where you can pray this way, “Lord, I want to go, but I will do whatever you say. I will stay if you say stay, and I will go if you say go.” And, when you pray that way, can you come to a place where you are happy with God’s answer because you know it’s the best thing to do? That’s removing your emotions.

Beware. Your emotions will speak much louder than God’s thoughts.

Swing chair prophecy

Swing Chair

Outdoor barbeques and Texas summers go hand in hand. This one Texas summer was no different. I was a young boy, probably in my early teens, when we had the “swing chair incident.” I remember it so clearly. We were over at a friend’s house, and we were having lunch outside—barbeque, cole slaw, corn on the cob and some cold iced tea.

My buddy, Chris, and I had just got our lunch plates, and we were looking for a place to sit down. Glancing around, we noticed that the swing chair was empty. The wooden chair was suspended by two chains that held it to a branch about 25 feet in the air. It could easily seat three people.

As we sat down and started to eat, I looked up at the branch and then back down at Chris, and said, “Wouldn’t it be weird if this thing broke right now?” He laughed. I laughed.

WAM! It broke, and we tumbled to the ground with food all over our laps.

Neither of us moved. We just stared at each other, our minds were trying to sort through what just happened. Had I not said anything, we would have just laughed it off, but the swing chair prophecy had come true within seconds.

I can’t say I was walking with God when this happened. I had been to church a few times. I had probably even prayed a few times. But, as for a devote believer, no, I wasn’t there yet.

So, where did that thought come from? Was it God? Was it the devil? Or, just a very odd coincidence?

I believe that it was God speaking to me at an early age. At that time, I didn’t have any clue what I was doing, or that God would even speak to me. It was just a thought. But today, I understand that this is how God speaks to us most of the time–through our thoughts. The challenge is learning to discern which thoughts come from him.

When I have a God thought, it doesn’t sound any different than my own thoughts. It’s my voice, my language, my improper grammar, my tone and even my emotion—which makes it really hard to discern at times. Had I known how to discern his voice back then, I might not have had to bathe myself in potato salad.

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