This United Methodist Church hosted a seminar on How to Hear God's Voice, and a few weeks later, the Lead Pastor, Rev. David Parker, put on the welcome center counter the following examples of his personal journaling from the first 4 months of 2012, with a goal to inspire his congregation to hear God's voice through journaling. I pray it inspires you as well.
David's Devotional Journal - 2012
“Journaling was one of the first ways I learned to engage my mind and heart in a deeper way with what I was reading devotionally when I began 32 years ago. Journaling is actually a path for theological reflection for me. It helps me to muse and synthesize in my heart and mind what I have just encountered and what it really means. Journaling has helped me with integration and personal application as I seek to hear, head and obey God’s word in my life. What is new to me is this practice of “two-way journaling” where a conversation (on paper) occurs between me and my Lord. I find that this practice personalizes my devotional times and deepens the spiritual substance of my take-aways.”
Matt. 1 & 2: The tri-part chronology of the genealogy of Jesus divided into three segments of 14 generations each. A patriarchal listing with four insertions of female names who represented divine deviations from normal protocol. Establishing the Jewish heritage and connection to Abraham as the promised people of God. The Holy Spirit comes to impart life into Mary - the life of a coming savior to be named Jesus (Greek for Joshua, his Hebrew name which means - God Saves!). Joseph receives spiritual guidance and direction from God through his dreams. He accepts his dreams as Heaven directed and acts upon them immediately. The Magi come to visit the new-born King and create quite a stir in Jerusalem - everyone is "troubled" (alarmed, worried). The birthplace of the Messiah is confirmed by biblical scholars as Bethlehem ("House of Bread") and after worshipping this new-born child, the Magi leave secretly away from Herod, being warned again by God in a DREAM! Four times, God uses a dream to communicate His will to Mary, Joseph and the Magi. This form of revelation was Heaven's authentic communication to direct people's lives and actions.
Where to live, when to move, what to name a child, the route you should take - all very ordinary kinds of decisions with huge spiritual implications for "after-the-fact" 20/20 sight understanding - but surely very curious and unconnected dots as played out in real time living!
Lord Jesus, place me and keep me in your "Line-up!" Mark my identity as a part of your heritage and family. May I be a proud and public representative of the people of God and may my name (and life) become another "authenticating link" for the great tribe of faith - the communion of saints who have traveled with you and for you on their journey. Just as you spoke through visions and dreams so long ago, speak again today into my heart and life. Guide, lead and direct me, even through dreams and impressions. Help me to know when it is you and to act in trust when they come, just as Joseph did IMMEDIATELY ("while it was still night")!
My Beloved Son, you too are in my genealogy; a precious adopted son, chosen and beloved. Receive today the spirit of Joseph, a humble and godly soul not wanting the hurt or disgrace of any, ready to quietly absorb pain and disappointment as a prayer of healing and a surrender to a larger hope. Be alert as he was - even in the watches of night. Know that I come to you and call to you. I will guide and direct you just as I always have. Never doubt my watchful eyes and guiding hands. Your life Just as I used Joseph to fulfill my will, so I will use you. I will move you, prompt you, guide you and prepare you for all that I have planned - a future that includes hope!
Matt. 3 & 4: A wilderness preacher emerges and stirs up the entire region. John "The Baptist" they call him - speaking with familiar strains in the voice of Isaiah (40:3), calling people to repentance (to turn and change their way of thinking and living). Throngs go out to watch, participate and get baptized in the river Jordan. Confession of sins marks the validity of this moment in the people's lives. Even the religious leaders come out, but their reception is cold. It seems some came to embrace life change (fruit from repentance) while others came out for cultural, religious association - merely a part of the crowd. John calls them to religious life that has integrity and consistency with kingdom fruit. Jesus shows up on scene - almost stealth - and requests to be baptized. Shocked by his request, John declares the opposite is what is actually needed - but Jesus insists that this moment if "fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (vs. 15). Turns out, Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He dies for us (on a cross) and he is baptized for us (true repentance) so that we can have the hope of repenting in a way that actually leads to kingdom fruit. This action was confirmed by the witness of the decent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the Father's voice of pleasure over his son!
Jesus is then immediately swept out into the desert for a season of spiritual preparation and fasting. As he fasts, he grows weak and hungry. In his vulnerable state, the enemy shows up...right on time! He comes to tempt - to lure away from faithfulness and loyal focus and draw him into short-cuts and compromise. Stones to bread, throwing himself down to be rescued, worshipping Satan to gain the whole world - what better way to start a campaign for your rule and ministry. Cut a deal with me! I'll work with you. Of course Satan will work with us! He calls upon the word and promise, the command and authority of God's will to alter this conversation. Satan flees and Angels come to minister to Jesus. He then goes and calls his disciples to himself; he bids them to FOLLOW ME! But here is the deal - FOLLOWING entails LEAVING! Something must be dropped, let go of and released. What will that something be for each of us? Nets? Family? Culture?
Lord Jesus, Turning from the old and following the new is your invitation to me. Leaving behind what has been familiar (even if harmful) can be a daunting and difficult journey. You remind me that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (4:17). This imperative reminder is a call to action, not passive contemplation. It's time to get up and move, to align my life with your heart, mission and values. I see many areas of comfort and convenience in my life that resist this clarion call for ALL of me! Come to my rescue, Jesus, by showing me what the crowds saw in that call, and helping me to hear what they heard, to feel what they felt and to then act as they acted in response to kingdom truth. Teach me to let go of my nets and to follow you more completely in faith!
My Beloved Son, Resist what is evil and cling to what is good. My heart is ever before you. Go slow to know me better. Do not be a barren tree with no fruit. Live in communion with me, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15). I am yours and you are mine. Let us live in that union to deepen our love. Take heart this day as you walk and live. Know my strength is with you to defeat every foe and to empower every act of righteousness. It is in me that you will live and move and have your being. And so, David, follow me this day and let me shine brightly through you to all people.
Matt. 5:1-16: A hilltop sermon turns into a preaching classic. To be "Blessed," (Happy, fortunate, favored from heaven) is given new understanding by Jesus, the renegade Galilean preacher. Lifting up life-status qualities, many of which were normally known and perceived as "UNFAVORABLE" - (spiritual poverty, mourners, gentle, spiritual hunger, merciful, pure, peacemakers, persecuted, insulted) - Jesus gives a new perspective and outlook - BLESSED! There is a "kingdom-side" to every experience we have in life. In the life-travels under the Lordship of Jesus, all roads (traveled with faith and kingdom honor) lead to blessing. There is light even in dark places. Ownership, Comfort, Inheritance, Satisfaction, Mercy, God Sightings, Sonship/Daughtership, Kingdom, Great Reward! In this way, God makes us Salt and Light as our lives and life-responses are put "ON DISPLAY" for the world to see. Glorifying the Father in Heaven becomes our life quest and mission.
Lord Jesus, I confess that many of these roads, I do not wish to travel. I do not want to be looked down upon, rejected, seen as weak and needy, nor spend my life wading through the muck of opposition. But I do not want to place myself outside of your blessing. I yearn for a life that is favored, happy and heaven-blessed. May my heart learn to crave the fortunes of heaven more than the passing pleasures and comforts of this world. Help me to see in deeper dimensions, my life in relief to your kingdom, and to adjust my visions, aspirations and expectations to align with your heart and will for me. I want to be an owner and an inheritor of all that you have and are. Chase me down, O Lord, and captivate my soul. Refuse to let go and help me to cling to you. Move my heart this day towards kingdom life.
My Beloved Son, My sermon to them is my invitation to you. I spoke these words with you in mind. Hear them that way, from my heart to yours - "David, you are blessed when you are poor in spirit, when you are humble and broken, when you are aware of your poverty without my riches - when you come to me because you know I delight to be for you all that you cannot be for yourself - and I give to you in exchange, my very best - My very Kingdom!" Can you hear my voice now? Do you understand that it was not only for them that I spoke, but also for you, David? In all of these places where you may feel inadequate, incomplete, rough around the edges or defeated - I have come to give you life, hope and everlasting joy! So, my son, what will you take hold of today? Your bankruptcy or my bountiful Blessing? In the end, you will become all that you see!
Matt. 5:17- 48: The sermon ends with life's most daunting challenge: "be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect" (vs. 48). The Pharisees and Scribes were in hot pursuit of "perfection" (faithful orthodoxy, right thinking, right believing, right convections). They were the most zealous and religious of all the people. They were leaders with a vested interest - lead the people back into faithful Judaism. But this "You-have-heard-it-said-but-I-say-unto-you" Galilean preaching formula was actually a way of exposing the shallow and superficial essence of TECHNICAL compliance with God's law. Turns out, being "righteous" is more than just "staying out of technical trouble." Ok, so you haven't murdered anybody or committed adultery - does that mean you get a pass? not if anger or lust has ever found expression in your heart and life.
So what does it mean to have a faith and spirituality that "surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees" (since that become a kingdom-entering or disqualification question)? How do I deal with the real life issues of anger (vv. 21-22), estrangement (vv. 23-26), sexuality (vv. 27-30), marriage (vv. 31-32), oaths/vows (vv. 33-37), opposition (vv. 38-42), and enemies (vv. 43-48)? We must move beyond technical compliance and into the realm of Spirit-intended outcomes. What is the greater heart-beat behind the command? How can my life become a reflection of God's intent more than my compliance?
Lord Jesus, So frequently we are tempted to define right living as not being caught! A clear record does not mean a clean slate! Just because I haven't, doesn't mean I wont! Avoiding sin can be a full-time job. It can also cause me to run away from the wrong instead of chasing after the right! Lord, I know you call me to "flee from sin," but help me also to "cling to righteousness!" Enlarge and change my vision of "FAITHFULNESS" to you so that legalism will suffocate and grace will abound. Take this Pharisee-styled modern day pastor and shake out of my life definitions, perspectives and rationalizations that have nothing to do with authentic kingdom living. Free me from my fears, failures or permissive license to fudge and trade on your grace. Jesus, this sermon you gave is only possible by a life that is led in the Spirit. Bring me into that deep place - a space called grace and perfection - your manifest holiness in my broken life.
My Beloved son, My message to you today is my plea for you to be freed from all of your STUCK places in religiosity. I yearn for you to find life and freedom in the Spirit of my Father's heart - the unquenchable desire to bring perfection (wellness, wholeness, completion = nothing lacking) into every part and dimension of your life. It was and is my earnest declaration for all people to be well and whole with God and with one another. It is what I enjoyed in Eden before the Deceiver came to usurp life from God and His creation. I long for the restoration of Eden - the perfection of Heaven - where life again is centered around the Father, and our days are spent in endless joy and peace in the magnificent creation. All this, my child, is why I have come for you. I not only speak TO you---I speak FOR you! Behold this "HEART-PATH" that I have laid out for you. Travel it well. Do not be drawn into the temptation of living by easy definitions and validating excuses - look to the heart of my hopes for you - and there, you will receive kingdom eyes and kingdom life!
Matt. 6: Jesus brings perspective and commentary to the devotional, pietistic practices of the Pharisees. Seen as the self-promoting "standards of spirituality," Jesus reminds the people of the day how we should view and practice our spiritual devotions before the Lord. Three times, Jesus reminds us that we will be "rewarded" if our practices and motivations behind them are in alignment with Gold's intentions! The Pharisees lifted up three "gold-standard" practices and "paraded" them publically for all to see. Alms-giving to the poor, prayer and fasting! Jesus assumes that we will be practicing all of these disciplines, but with a different twist and focus: the IN-SECRET approach. Don't try to be "noticed" as you connect with God and cultivate spiritual faithfulness. It is not the approval of men, but the praise of God that we are to chase. Jesus says "hypocrites" are the ones who want to "be seen" and gain man's approval. Rather than being ruled by these disciplines and their public display, Jesus calls us to rule over them, and to serve God instead of the discipline. We are to serve God and not "mammon.' We are to pray in hope and peace and not be drawn into anxiety and uncertainty. Creation teaches us that we will be taken care of. So, in our devotional lives and pietistic practices - what is it that we are seeking after? Compliance? Approval? Fear abatement? One principle, one goal stands above all others: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" (vs. 33).
Lord Jesus, As I reflect on my spiritual practices, I often find myself gravitating into the self-congratulatory mode of thinking - "I've done my job" or "I've been faithful to my appointment" - a cheap version of "check-list Christianity!" I long to have more of the actual DISCIPLINE of the Pharisees while removing any semblance or presence of the self-promoting, achievement-reputation among the people as a "spiritually mature leader." I don't want to live a life of pretense, self-promotion and categorical compliance. This is my easy default-mode. Take me to the higher ground of the hidden life; a place of intimate encounter where my motives can be pure, my practices rightly placed and my focus on encountering you.
My Beloved Son, My call to the "IN-SECRET" life is nothing more than a call to myself. I am calling you to intimacy, to private communion, to the delight of my approval for your hidden life with me. Do not allow your spirit to gravitate towards the illusion of spiritual satisfaction through quotas, reputation or your public role as spiritual leader. Come away with me - as you give, pray and fast - meet me in contented secrecy - the place where only you and I know what has transpired. Trust me with your days and with your future. Do not seek your religion, seek my kingdom. Do not seek your righteousness, seek my righteousness. Only then, will everything fall into place as I have ordained. Watch my hand at work. Know the power of my sufficiency - stand firmly in my grace and delight yourself in --- ME!
Matt. 7: How do we do live with others? In kingdom dynamics, withholding judging (spec verses log), demonstrating prudence (no pearls before swine), proactive in our prayers (ask, seek, knock), traveling the narrow road (sticking with fruit and truth vs. dormancy and deceit), building on the right foundation (rock verse sand). In all of these lessons, Jesus calls his followers to the higher ground of application and integration of "these words of mine." Following Jesus means more than favoring Jesus (being a fan). It means taking him at his word and acting upon his word.
Lord Jesus, Traveling the high road is your invitation to do what is best for my life. Living in a spirit that "withholds judgment" and treats others the way I want to be treated is your path to kingdom obedience. Loyalty, humility, prayerfulness, discernment, fruitfulness and foundations are what you call me to. It is all above my head. I do not want to master the form ("Lord, Lord") but live the substance ("he who does the will"). Father, search my life and expose any religion and move me into relationship that honors you.
My Beloved Son, I am inviting you and warning you, reminding you and challenging you. I have given you the keys to my kingdom; I have declared my path to you, described the outcomes to you and asked you to obey my words. My heart is for you to know me and be mine. Let me make you a wise man who will build and found his life on the rock...on me!
Matt. 8: Jesus demonstrates his power; his willingness to cleanse a leper, a centurion's servant, Peter's mother-in-law, a raging storm at sea, and two demoniacs released of their evil spirits. Jesus has clarion warnings that following him means having no guarantee of where you might lay your head each night and that the priority of following him trumps burying the dead. Jesus warns that INSIDERS and OUTSIDERS may surprise us at the last day. Reversals will happen (some OUT welcomed in and some IN cast out) which defy an Israel-only perspective and opens the door to Gentile participation. Some are healed, the disciples are amazed, but not everyone responds positively to Jesus' power. the townspeople from the local Gadarenes city "implored him to leave their region." Jesus brings swift, strong, radical, decisive change. Sometimes that is not easy to process.
Lord Jesus, in what manner will I come to you? Will I come as a faithful and faith-filled Centurion or as a distraught and unsettled crowd wanting only stability and status quo? The cost of your power and presence is high - but so are the rewards. I want to live with the assumptions that filled the Centurions life. How he viewed you was a remarkable posture of faith and trust. Teach me to have such confidence in who you are and what you are able to do. Use something in my life (like his) that is a kingdom reminder of how you work and build upon and off of that a kingdom confidence that empowers me to see, think, walk and live in faith.
My Beloved Son, My heart is ever for you, but you must cross this bridge of belief. You must embrace who I really am and what I am capable of. Think larger and bigger than you have in the past. Dare to know me in the storms, in the trials, in the risks and sacrifices. Watch my hand meet you in places of need and be amazed again at what you have known and forgotten. I am coming to stir your life into mine. My presence will bring tumult and joy, change and relief. I am not asking you to be sure of yourself - I am asking you to be sure of me and my power. Let me show you myself today!
Matt. 9: Jesus forgives and heals a paralytic man (an act of blasphemy to some observing scribes - clearly usurping God's authority for himself - from their perspective). Jesus calls and pardons Matthew (and by extension his friends as the "sinners banquet"). Association with the known guilty seems uncouth and inappropriate. Jesus responds with the analogy of the sick needing doctors. The unjust and extortioners need to be rectified and won over to a new way of living - not merely condemned and avoided. "Calling on sinners" is Jesus' specialty! It is disturbing to the religious elite. All other Rabbis are training their disciples to fast - why not Jesus? It is not time yet - not while the bridegroom (Jesus) is still in their midst. Old garments and new patches; old wines skins and new wine - they do not mix but tear. They are not compatible. Jesus is approached by a synagogue official to heal his dead daughter. Along the way, he heals a woman from years of hemorrhage whose "faith" has made her well. Jesus also heals two blind men asking for mercy - "according to their faith" - who had been following him. A demon was cast out of a deaf man so that he could hear and Jesus traveled around to all of the cities and villages doing three things: TEACHING, PROCLAIMING and HEALING the people. Seeing that the people were like sheep without a shepherd, he called them to prayer! Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers into his harvest.
Lord Jesus, The friends of the paralytic; the synagogue official; the woman of hemorrhage; the two blind men - they all have one thing in common - they all approached you in faith. They believed of you a power and ability to do the unthinkable. I stand back in history and I am envious of their bold and confident faith. You asked them, Jesus, - "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" (vs. 28b). I wonder how my faith is in you? How do you see it? When you say to them and to me, "It shall be done to you according to your faith" (vs. 29), what measure or level to you see operative and working in my life? I am concerned that I see scant and little. O my Lord, increase my faith by increasing my intimacy, connection, trust and relationship with you. May my life be drawn into the deeper place of confidence not in MY FAITH but in YOUR POWER!
My Beloved Son, Faith is the delight of my heart! It is what I long to see in my own. It is the measure of trust and the threshold of truth that draws people into the realm of risk. Many have not because they ask not. It is my great delight to show my strength and power in places of profound weakness and neediness. People awestruck, glorifying God, spreading news - this is Kingdom influence that I long to bring into people's lives. Just as I have brought it into theirs, I long to bring it into yours. Are you willing to trust me? Will you leave what is comfortable and secure, known and defined, and seek me for the unthinkable too or will you resign yourself to another apparent reality of defeat? "It shall be done to you according to your faith" (vs. 29). Ask me for the faith to believe!
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