Book Summary: The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford

The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford

Barbara and I chose to re-read this classic book on healing. I read it over 40 years ago and thought it a bit strange. But when I heard that my mentor Dallas Willard had very high respect for her and in his last days, kept this book and the Bible at his bedside table, I knew it was time to revisit.  I still think she has some odd ideas – but I haven’t been involved in praying for people like she had so I wanted to give her a second chance.

Her terminology often raises red flags but I think that her power to be an instrument of  healing in so many peoples lives stems from a Christ-centered life. Would that we all could pray and see as many people healed as she has. I would encourage you to read it with an open mind and glean what value you can from the book.


The book opens with an introduction that I quote extensively:

The scientific attitude is the attitude of perfect open-mindedness,” writes Agnes Sanford. “It consists in an unshakable faith in the laws of nature combined with perfect humility toward those laws and a patient determination to learn them at all cost. Through this humility scientists have learned how to conform to the laws of nature and by so doing have achieved results. Through the same meekness those who seek God can produce results by learning to conform to His laws of faith and love.

“The first step in seeking to produce results by any power is to contact that power…

“The second step is to turn it on…

“The third step is to believe that this power is coming into use and to accept it by faith. No matter how much we ask for something it becomes ours only as we accept it and give thanks for it.”

Glenn Clark, who wrote the introduction, says that there is something besides following these steps and that is “a climate of faith.” He goes on to say that the book isn’t just about healing. It is a guide to redemptive, creative living. (NOTE: Glenn was the founder of Camp Farthest Out – A Global Outreach of Creative Christian Living). We have taught extensively to our prayer teams about creating a climate of faith when praying for others.

Chapter I God Works Through Us

Agnes starts with an analogy about healing prayer. If you have an electric iron,Iron it does no good to speak to the iron and say “Iron this shirt.”. You first have to plug it in. She says that it is the same as connecting to the healing power of God. We cannot just speak to an illness and see it change. We need to speak to it out of our connection with God. This is reminiscent of Luke’s (the physician) words when he makes the enigmatic statements: “And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” (Luke 5:17) and “all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.” (Luke 6:19). Why these statements? Isn’t the power of the Lord with Jesus to heal at all times? Yes, because He was connected to the source. And is this power to heal something that flows like electricity? Luke seems to think so. So, even though her terms are a bit strange there is some Scriptural basis for this terminology. Her central point in these opening chapters is that this healing power is none other than God Himself.[1]

Later in this first chapter she talks about how joy “is the heavenly ‘OK’ on the inner life of power.” In other words, when we experience joy in trial, it is God’s wink to us that all is well. You cannot fake it. In her example of the healing of her baby, it was the joy of the minister who prayed that turned on the light for her.  The baby was healed because:

The life of God flowed through him [ the minister ], and could therefore be turned on by him for the healing of a child. He knew it, and therefore had the courage to speak with authority.

We have often taught others about the prayer of command. She taught me something I missed all these years. Amen – meaning “so be it” is a prayer of command. When we say amen, we are saying a prayer of command.

Going back to her electricity example, she says that for electricity to work it’s magic in a house the house needs to be prepared for it. So with us, for the power of God to work through us, we need to be prepared for it.

The Kingdom of God is within you,” said Jesus. And it is the Indwelling Light, the secret Place of the Consciousness of the Most High that is the Kingdom of Heaven in its present manifestation on the earth.  … Learning to live in the Kingdom of Heaven is learning to turn on the light of God within.

Few of us in the north would ask God to produce a full-blown rose out of doors in January. Yet He can do this very thing, if we adapt our greenhouses to His laws of heat and light, so as to provide the necessities of the rose.  And he can produce a full-blown answer to prayer if we adapt our earthly tabernacles to His laws of love and faith so as to provide the necessities of answered prayer.

I am not so sure about this next statement (the first of many!):

Some day we will understand the scientific principles that underlie the miracle working powers of God, and we will accept His intervention as simply and naturally as we do the radio.

This implies that the miracles are based on scientific principles not yet discovered. I could say that: “Some day we will understand God’s laws [the deep magic using Lewis’ terminology] that underlie the miracle working powers of God…” The next statement shows that this is what she meant.

If one thinks of a miracle not as the breaking of God’s laws but as His own using of His laws, then the world is full of miracles.

The difficulty I have then is whether we will know on this earth these laws.

God does nothing except by law. But He has provided enough power within His laws to do anything that is in accordance with His will. His will includes unlimited miracles. It is for us to learn His will, and to seek the simplicity and the beauty of the laws that set free His power.

There is a lot to unpack in this – but suffice it to say that we are to always be praying in accordance with the will of God which will be in keeping with His laws.

Chapter II – The Scientific Attitude: Choosing A Healing Prayer Objective

I have often embarked on prayer projects. I have never heard anyone else describe them as such. Agnes invites us into such prayer projects:

One decides upon a definite subject for prayer, prays about it and then decides whether or not the prayer-project succeeds. If it does not succeed, one seeks a better adjustment with God and tries again.

I have used this approach for years and have learned so much about God and prayer for which I am eternally grateful. Little did I know that I probably learned it from Agnes years before. She attempts to describe the scientific method and then applies it to prayer. She believes (and don’t we wish that all scientists applied this) that humility in the face of the data is essential for the success of the scientist. They must go where those “stubborn facts” and data point independent of preconceived ideas. And she then turns it to us:

Through the same meekness those who seek God can produce results by learning to conform to His laws of faith and love.

The first step in seeking to produce results by any power is to contact that power. The first step then in seeking help from God is to contact God. …So the first step is to relax and to remind ourselves that there is a source of life outside of ourselves.

The second step is to turn it on, by some such prayer as this “Heavenly Father, please increase in me at this time Your life-giving power.”

The third step is to believe that this power is coming into use and to accept it by faith. No matter how much we ask for something it becomes ours only as we accept it and give thanks for it.

And the fourth step is to observe the operations of that light and life. In order to do so, we must decide on some tangible thing that we wish accomplished by that power, so that we can know without questions whether our experiment succeeded or failed.

Let us understand then that if our experiment fails it is not due to a lack in God, but to a natural and understandable lack in ourselves.

We need to be careful with this last statement. We may think as a result of this, that healing thus depends on us getting the right approach and the right words and action. Sometimes Agnes comes across that way. Later, you will hear another reason that healings do not happen and having the wrong process is not one of them. That is why I don’t think that is what Agnes is saying. My approach has been at this stage in the project to ask God what went wrong – recognizing that my approach may be wrong or it may not be God’s time to heal yet. This is the first hint at where Agnes and I differ. She believed (I think) that all will be healed if but we can get “it” right. More on this later in the book

One way the experiment can fail is that: “We might be mistaken concerning our need of these things” that we are asking for. Again, my approach is then to bring the very prayer itself before the Father and see if this is really something that needs to happen.

I love her next suggestion in our project: Start simple.

Let us choose one of the very simplest of prayer-experiments, remembering always that it must be tangible; that is, it must be something that we can put the finger on and say either “This has been done.” Or “This hasn’t been done.” … Let us not be afraid, then, to choose for our first prayer-experiment an objective that is simple and personal.

This objective must of course be in accordance with God’s will, for it is as difficult to make God’s power operate contrary to His will. …a wise seeker after God had better study the laws of God and adapt his prayers to those laws.

Agnes then surprises us with her suggestion for a simple prayer project. For me, it would be something like: “Safe travel to the store.” Simple. Measurable. But for her:

The simplest and most direct of all prayer-projects is the healing of the body.

In tracing her reasons for this, she sheds some more light on her understanding of God’s will in the matter of healing. She believed that because the Father delights in giving us good gifts and therefore since the gift of health is good, the Father always delights in granting healing. She goes on:

But those parents and teachers who dimmed the shining of His eternal Glory in our infant minds taught us that God often willed us to suffer. “Well, God’s will be done,” they sighed, when prayer for health brought no relief from pain.

It is a giant leap of logic to say that because we are not healed and therefore suffer, that God wills us to suffer. It is far more complex than that – but again – hold on. More later.

We see that the lack of success in healing is not due to God’s will for us but to our failure to live near enough to God so that He can accomplish His will in us.

Deciding once for all, then, that God is a loving Father who delights to give good gifts to His children, let us learn how to accept those gifts. Let us choose as a prayer-objective the healing of the body, because it is the most simple and the most obvious prayer-objectives.

Here she plays some of her cards on the table. We don’t succeed in prayer because of “our failure to live near enough to God. I am not convinced that anyone is always close enough to God to accomplish the healing of everyone we pray for.” This is an easy out when someone isn’t healed. “At this time in my life, I am just not close enough to God for them to be healed.”

One of the questions I am often asked about prayer for healing is whether or not we need to pray multiple times for healing. Healing from a cold according Agnes, may only take a few minutes. But:

If we have sought Him for the rebuilding of bones or nerves or sinuses, the complete healing may take time and patience. In which case, while we seek daily to reconnect our spirit with the Spirit of God in prayer, we need not repeat any request for healing that we have said. … That does not mean that we should pray only once for the matter. Most of us need every day to enter into God’s presence and focus our attention first upon Him and then upon the area that needs healing, so that God may have every opportunity of continuing his creative work in us.  But after the first time, we may say, “Thank You,” instead of, “Please.” “Thank You that Your Life is entering into me rebuilding everything toward health.” We may then use our creative imaginations and make a picture in our minds of that perfection which we hope will be ours. And finally we may look steadily at that picture until it is accomplished. Thus by harnessing the imagination and training the will, we can arouse and build our faith.

Agnes tells of a little boy with a leaky heart. She has him imagine himself as a football player running down the field with a healthy heart each night. A month later his heart was perfect. Thus he had wrestled with God as his partner against the powers of destruction and had prevailed. The will of God for him was not a leaky heart, but health.

I am not going to question if the boy was really healed. I believe her. I am just not convinced that it was the power of the game he played each night.

Chapter III Turning on the Light of God’s Creative Energy

I always cringe when a preacher starts getting into physics. And I cringe a bit when Agnes does it. She states that we are made of energy. But we are made of both matter and energy and one can be converted into the other. So it is a true statement but only tells part of the story. But when she then makes a theological application:

when we establish a closer connection with God in prayer, we should receive more abundant life—an increased flow of energy.

Here is where we take what she learned and readjust it consistent with what know of God and of His universe. I don’t know what to call it (she calls it energy), but we definitely receive more from God as we get closer to Him in prayer (e.g. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”). I just don’t want to call it energy which has a clear material definition in physics.

The vibration of God’s light is so very real that even a child can feel it, and it was my experiments with children that showed me the action of an invisible but powerful light-vibration shining from the Father of Lights.

I too, along with those that we have prayed for, have experienced heat when God’s healing power is in action. I often use it as an indication that God is at work healing. And it is very physical and can be measured with physical instruments. I am just not ready to call it “the vibration of God’s light.” I see it more as the Spirit of God moving upon the body and setting in motion the body’s natural healing mechanism. Have you ever felt the heat around a wound or a sprain. This is the healing action of our body.  So, let’s just allow Agnes the right to call it electricity or God’s vibrating light. No problem. Let’s keep learning from her, because as Dallas Willard told a skeptical Richard Foster, “When Agnes prays, things happen.” Here how she describes how to initiate this healing power of the Spirit:

I just forget everything else and think about God and believe that He can do it. And He turns it [the electricity] on, and when He is through with it, He turns it off.”

She gets a “scientific” explanation from a scientist that confirms her understanding and terminology. But again, let’s keep drawing upon what is real and factual in what she is saying. She notes that children perceive the heat more often than adults. This is not my experience, but she has prayed with more children than me – so let’s go with it. She explains that this is because our hearts have become dull to God’s truth as adults. And that may very well be. She later makes another deduction that this manifestation of heat is literally God himself.

In talking with an injured G.I., Agnes tells him that God can hurry up the natural processes that go on in the body. Here is how she told him to pray:

Come into me now and help nature in my body to mend this bone, and do it quick. Thanks. I believe you’re doing it. Then make a picture in your mind of the leg well. Shut your eyes and see it that way. See the bone all built in and the flesh strong and perfect around it. Then after you see the leg well, give a pep talk to all the healing forces of your body. Say, ‘Look here, I’m boss inside of me and what I say goes. Now get busy and mend that leg.’ And then congratulate them and tell them they’re doing a good job, because they won’t work for you unless you encourage them. And after this, forget them and think of the life outside of you again, and say Thank You, God. I believe it’s going to be O.K.’ ”

Again, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. We are told to believe what we have asked for. So for Agnes, that means to visualize it as well. That has not been part of my healing prayer protocol, but I like it as a tangible way to believe that we have received what we have asked for. I believe that as Jesus spoke to inanimate objects we can speak to our bodies as part of the healing process. So let’s move on.

Here is her summary:

    1. Choose the same time and the same place every day, make yourself comfortable and relax.
    2. Remind yourself of the reality of a life outside yourself.
    3. Ask that life to come in and increase life in your body
    4. Make a picture in your mind of your body well
    5. And give thanks that this is being accomplished

I like this as something simple we can give people and see nothing out of alignment with God’s way of healing.

Another step she adds for the prayer:

In order to receive God’s life in the body, we must first be able to forget the body so that we can quiet the mind and concentrate the spiritual energies on God.

Quieting the mind is not easy she recognizes. Our nerves can become our masters.

We must teach them to be our servants, adjusting themselves to our demands for more or less tension. This can be done by a simple process of re-education.

Nerves are like children. They respond to suggestion better than to command. In fact the subconscious mind that controls the forces of the body has an almost wanton disregard for command. “Relax!” we tell ourselves sternly, and the nerves laugh at us and tighten up more than ever. “Now you’re relaxing,” we congratulate them, and with a pleased smile they relax. So, we speak gently and soothingly to the nerves all the way up the body and in the head.

Let us now open our spirits to receive the more abundant life of God. How easy this becomes when we realize that God is not a far-away sovereign, but is actually the medium in which we live

This last step—the step of giving thanks! God is standing before us with the answer in His hands. But unless we reach out our hands and take it by giving thanks for it, we are not apt to receive it

I am not sure how to respond to this bit about nerves are like children. I have practiced speaking to parts of my body. I am just not sure about some parts responding better to suggestion than to command.

Chapter IV The Re-Birth of Faith: Re-Educating the Sub-Conscious

When we quote scientists as providing foundational evidence for either our theology or our praxis, we need to be careful – or at least footnote it. Agnes starts off this chapter telling us that psychologists tell us that “nine-tenths of our thoughts lie below the level of consciousness.” I don’t know what she is talking about. What are thoughts? And what is consciousness? Without footnotes or even definitions we are left in the dark. And then it gets even more muddled. She mixes the non-conscious mind (which controls our breathing) with the sub-conscious mind – where there are true thoughts. And then says that what controls our breathing is an inner control center that is part of spiritual body that “acts on orders from God Himself.”

I have to stop. Let’s see if we can summarize what she is trying to say independent of her muddled science. She certainly is trying to prove scientifically that if I say: “I am getting a cold” that this sends a conflicting message to our white blood cells who are trying to fight the cold. Without finding out if this is scientifically provable (and it should be measurable), it still doesn’t make sense. Why does telling our immune system that trouble is coming tell it to slack off. Isn’t prevention the best medicine? Advance warning to put the immune system on high alert? Agnes says it says “Slacken off your defense.” Our adrenal system responds to advance warnings of trouble ahead. Why do our white blood cells not follow suit.

She addresses the question about how are we to deal with accusing thoughts. She says that we should not resist them. She uses Jesus’ words out of context and says: “Resist not evil.” But in the Greek, the word is an adjective. So, most translations include the implied “person.” We are not to resist the evil person. “Evil resisted gains strength.” So what does she think James is telling us: “Resist the devil and he will flee” so that he can gain more strength? She gives us two solutions: Turning our back on troubling thoughts and replacing them with a new set of thought patterns.

if we find ourselves thinking, “One of my headaches is coming on,” we correct that thought.

“Whose headaches?” we say. “God’s light shines within me and God doesn’t have headaches!”

Sorry. I just cannot support that approach from Scripture even though she is trying to prove the approach from science.

There is no record in the whole Bible of a holy man who remained an invalid.

That is except:

    • Isaac’s eyes were dim – he couldn’t differentiate between Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27:1)
    • Jacob – who was given a limp by an angel.(Genesis 32:31-32)
    • Mephibosheth – who was lame and remained faithful to David even as he was deceived by his servants. (2 Samuel 19:24-30)
    • Ahijah the prophet – eyes were dim (1 Kings 14:4)
    • Elisha was ill before his death (2 Kings 13:14)
    • Philippians 2:27 reveals that Epaphroditus had been extremely ill, indeed he had nearly died, but the Lord had mercy on him.
    • Timothy – who had frequent ailments (1 Timothy 5:23)
    • 2 Timothy 4:20 tells us that Paul left Trophimus ill at Miletus

She then says:

we find no instance of an acceptance of illness as the will of God

Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his frequent ailments. Isn’t that accepting illness? Wine wasn’t to heal but rather to dull our sense of pain. I hope you the reader don’t think I am nitpicking. I want to learn as much from her as I can about praying for healing because she had a track record that cannot be denied. One other option is to say her success was a sign meant to deceive. That I don’t accept either. Thank goodness we don’t need perfect theology to heal.

Chapter V The Law of Love

This chapter was confusing to me and did not add anything to my understanding of God’s working in the world. Also, there are a number of statements that seem just flat out wrong. So, my summary may not capture what Agnes was trying to capture. It seems she is saying that there is a current of God’s love that can be blocked by us – by “hatred and fear and misery” as well as anger.  Jesus is the one who has unblocked this flow of love.

She claims that the early followers of Jesus expected Him to come back in their lifetime (which appears to be true) but when He didn’t they became discouraged.

Sadly they postponed their glorious vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Sadly they laid aside their hopes of being “clothed upon with immortality” and accepted death.

I am not sure when she thought “accepted death” happened. Nor do I know exactly what she is saying. Do we never accept death? It seems like Stephen accepted death and he was pretty early on. Paul accepted his approaching death a few decades later.

Towards the end of the chapter, she attempts to instruct us towards a pathway to healing as follows:

And we become perfected in love by trying to do it. The method is so simple that any child can learn it. It is merely to connect in spirit with the love of God, send that love to the other person, and see him re-created in goodness and joy and peace.

It is not exactly clear how she wants us to “send that love” but it appears that we do this by projecting it with our thoughts. She gave another example of a man who stopped a bull from attacking by following her method:

“I am God’s man and you are God’s bull,” he thought in silence. “God made both of us, and in the name of Jesus Christ I say that there is nothing but loving-kindness between us.”

When asked what to do if an armed burglar was in your house:

One would project into the burglar’s mind the love of God, by seeing him as a child of God and asking God to bless him. And if one were strong enough in faith and love, the burglar’s mind would change. He would leave the family unharmed and go away.

There is the clear call to pray in this case but I am not so sure that we are to project God’s love into another’s mind. Of course she covers all situations by saying it all depends on your being strong in faith and love. So, if your family gets killed, you have an excuse – you weren’t strong in faith.  I don’t see this in Jesus’ teaching at all.  Maybe by projecting love she means – love your enemies. But I don’t see Jesus telling us that if we love our enemies, they won’t kill us. Ask Stephen.

Chapter VI Re-Education in Love: Healing Laws Liberated

If we apply her teaching to the question, “How do I love my enemies?” we can follow her train of thought:

He must re-educate his subconsciousness. He must form new thought habits of love and compassion and friendliness and joy, so that his instinctive and natural reaction to every situation, every person and every animal may be one of love.

the real reason why most people do not learn Christian love is quite simply that they do not want to do so.

Let us think of the person whom we have selected for the day’s assignment and hold up this person before the mind, surrounding him with the light of God’s love. Some of us see in our minds the picture of Jesus Christ and then see the other person, placing the picture of the one we would forgive upon the picture of Christ. Having done this, we say to the one whom we would learn to like, “I forgive you in the name of Jesus Christ, and I give thanks to God because you are now forgiven. Amen.”

We then proceed to the second step of forgiveness, which is to say, “I bless so-and-so in the name of the Lord,” and to look with expectancy for the changes that the Lord’s blessing will accomplish in her.

We learn to give forth love in learning to forgive our enemies. Then we learn to give a forgiving and healing love to all who cross our paths and need our love

Finally love flows through us spontaneously and naturally to both man and beast—and completing the circuit, flows back to us again from God.

Although this may seem like a “turn-the-crank” fool-proof method, it does in fact have some merit as steps to loving your enemies.

Chapter VII – In the Shadow of His Wings

Heads up on a science alert. Most X-Rays and Cosmic rays do pass through thexray comsic ray body (duh – that’s why we take X-Rays). But hardly any visible light passes through the body completely. If the skin is thin enough, you can see some light passing through our fingers. Our eyes can see some bright light shining through our eyelids. So, watch out for: “Sunlight penetrates the open spaces of the body”

As a sponge is in the ocean and the ocean is in a sponge, so we are in God and He is in us. Rufus Mosley

I actually love that analogy of us in God and God in us.

Many a healing is not finished simply because the one who prays does not hold his faith long enough, is unwilling to seek help in prayer or does not know where to find that help.

[Once, I] spilled boiling oil on my hands while officiating over the cookstove. If I lose my temper at such times, the hand is burned. If I do not lose my temper, the hand is not burned.

As our prayers, our mental training and our acts of forgiveness fuse into a high consciousness of God’s indwelling, we become more and more aware of an inner source of power that can be tapped at will.

This being so, let us gladly seek Him without as well as within.

Again, the principle which I accept is a good one. Our awareness of God’s indwelling can be very instrumental in our ability to tap into His power for healing. If we are going to pray for healing, we need to be as much in God’s presence as possible. But the degree to which that happens does not guarantee healing.

Chapter VIII – Doctors, Ministers, and God

I like the following comment:

If all men could eat only of the tree of Life, planted in the center of the garden, and never absorb into their beings the results of knowing both good and evil, men could live above death and above the pain and illness that lead to death.

Somehow, in all the years that I have read about and heard about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Agnes’ comment opened my eyes. “never absorb into their beings the results of knowing both good and evil” is a great insight. I always had a bit of question about what was wrong about knowing evil. Paul says that we are not unaware of the devil’s schemes. That’s knowing evil and that is a good thing. Wise as serpents to the evil around us is a good thing.

A couple weeks ago I preached a sermon on intimacy with God and one of my sub points was about the Hebrew’s understood knowing and knowledge. For them it wasn’t just an intellectual fact retrieving knowledge but an intimate and personal encounter with the object of their knowing. No wonder we don’t want to partake of the knowledge of evil. And Agnes’ comment about the pain of the results of having that kind of knowledge in us is helpful. Wonderful.

But then:

It will be possible for one who daily receives from God his spiritual sustenance to live without illness or decay for a longer and longer period of time.

Chapter IX Being the Lord’s Instrument for the Healing of the Sick

Agnes has talked of this before in our posture of praying for others, but somehow I am hearing it for the first time:

Forgetting the heart, I fixed my mind upon the presence of Our Lord and invited Him to enter and use me.

How often is that the way I pray? I often concentrate on the one being prayed for and attempting to hear God’s direction as to how to pray. But the preparation described by her seems good and right. Start by concentrating on the presence of the Lord.

But if God had wanted him to live, why wouldn’t He heal him without a healer?” some people ask. God wants us to have electric lights. But He will not put them in a house without an electrician. God has graciously endowed us with the dignity of free will.

When addressing the fact that some who are healed and then gradually lose the joy of knowing Jesus, she attributes it to giving back. Those who continue in the joy and love of Jesus are those who gave back to God and to her. Those who did not continue in joy are those who never give back. She takes “As you give, so shall you receive” and makes it “As you have received, so shall you give.” I am not to sure of this logical reversal. She calls it a law of God that must operate in this world yet she makes: “If you speed, you will go to jail” into “If you go to jail, you will speed.” This can easily lead to a doctrine of works. I have received and therefore I must give back.  It is very different from “Freely you have received; freely give.” Jesus emphasizes the word “freely” by using it twice.

It is not necessary to “be a healer.” It is only necessary to learn to pray for others as effectively as we do for ourselves. … I present first a simple human way of becoming a receiving and transmitting center for love-healing by the laying on of hands.

Chapter X – Further Hints on Healing

I love this bit of instruction and wish that all who hear from God and pray for others to be healed would practice these simple disciplines:

the ominous phrase, “I feel that it is my duty to tell you this.” Neither will we say, “God told me to come to see you.” Maybe He did, but it is most unwise to mention it.

If guided to go to a stranger, we are forced to state the purpose of our call immediately. “I heard your husband was very sick,” we can say. “And I came because I think I can help you.”

Having entered the door, let us not hasten to instruct. Rather, let us quiet ourselves and prepare to listen with the deep comprehension of the one who loves

Often as I sit and listen with keen and loving attention to a tale of woe I pray, “Oh God, please make her say the thing that will lead me into her mind.”

And I go into that door and make myself a part of that problem, no matter how trivial or sordid it may be. I do not stay on the outside and offer sage advice.

“You mustn’t think like that” may be helpful for a third or fourth visit, but it is almost sure to be wrong for the first.

“I surround myself with the protection of Almighty God and in the name of Jesus Christ I say that nothing shall get through to hurt me.

Thus we can enter into the patient’s sorrow with a deep serenity, holding the doors of the mind open always for joy. We grieve with the patient because we love him and so his sorrows are ours.

Yet we rejoice because we know that God through us is mighty to lead him out of sorrow into joy.

How many lives and minds would be saved if only Christians knew that in dealing with the mentally ill, one does not appeal to their reason!

I laid my hands upon her head and communed in my mind with the Father of this child and with His greatest representative among men, my friend Jesus. When I felt His presence without and His authority within, I said loudly and firmly, “In the name of Jesus Christ I direct and order that from this time forth, this child shall never again be afraid at night.”

She doesn’t talk a lot about healing mental illness. But it appears as if she has some experience attempting it.

This is not as easy as it sounds. For in order to make the sick mind well the healer must believe unfalteringly that it will be well.

it is much easier to heal the body than to heal the mind.

How many times have I done this!

A natural impulse when God first sends His “electricity” through our hands is to attach too much importance to this outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

I found myself at one time watching eagerly for this new current of life that flowed through me, feeling disappointed if it did not come and pleased if it did. This distracted my attention from God and focused it on myself.

The essence of all healing is to become so immersed in the Being of God that one forgets oneself entirely

Sometimes the sudden increase of life in the afflicted part causes temporarily an increase of pain, either at that moment or a few hours later

Chapter XI – The Healing of Emotions

This warning is useful but is outside my experience base:

[there is ] a danger in spiritual healing—the danger of becoming either emotionally sterile or emotionally unstable.

This simple practice is useful both for us and for those we pray for with damaged emotions:

rooting and grounding of the emotions in the ordinary, human love of Jesus Christ, expressed through the normal channels of everyday life.

This is a profound truth that again, I either forgot, or it is truly a new insight:

Acts and words can be directly commanded and controlled. We can decide what we are going to say and what we are going to do, but we cannot always decide how we are going to feel.

emotions are not under the direct control of our wills.

I love this idea that we can control our actions and our words but we cannot always control our emotions.

We have practiced and taught this next truth for years. She presents a reason to pray in teams:

[Practicing healing alone can close] our eyes to those lingering faults of our human nature that lie deep in the subconscious.

She believes that the regular practice of confession is a path towards healing emotions. Here are her simple steps towards that end.

Choose the same time and the same place every day for an act of preparation for confession

Relax and lift the mind into the presence of God, and do so with a pencil and paper in the hand. Then divide one’s life into seven periods.

Ask the Holy Spirit of God to bring into the remembrance any unforgiven sins (or any uncomfortable memories as we would probably call them) from these years that still linger in the subconscious.

Write down these sins as they come to mind. Write them down simply, briefly, without using names or mentioning circumstances or any kind of alibis. Having done this, set aside the paper and forget the whole matter until the next day.

On the next day at the same time and the same place take the second period of one’s life and do the same thing. And so on through the seven days.

I am not sure about the same time and place – but I have begun this process but have not finished it yet. I think it is worthwhile.

She describes how she did this and then brought this before a priest who forgave her in the name of the church and offered absolution. She felt nothing until she started home. Then she experienced the Holy Spirit’s washing and cleansing. She knew that Jesus loved her and forgave her.

Through the confessional my heart caught on fire. Its dullness and boredom was burned away, its coldness was turned to warmth, its pride was melted into humility

I had to believe that God had the power and the will to heal that specific disease of that specific person through me, at that time.

Chapter XII The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Agnes returns to this central theme of her belief in healings that don’t happen:

Why did not every Christian who repented on his own knees show forth the results in a life of power? For the same reason that every Christian who believes in God does not receive healing—lack of faith.

In this chapter she continues her treatise on the power of forgiveness – some through the confessional some metaphysically. We are to discern what to use with each.

When looking to pray for healing and forgiveness she offers these two ways:

the way of affirmation and of power and the way of repentance and humility… For the law of rhythm, of balance, holds throughout the universe

We are to balance these two ways of dealing with healing and forgiveness. Throughout this she is demonstrating the need to be attuned horizontally and vertically when praying for people for forgiveness or for healing. Again, something that we practice and have taught.

Chapter XIII Intercession: Healing from a Distance

Agnes brings up something that I believe but rarely practice. We pray at a distance for healing but rarely to invoke the forgiving power that Jesus gave us at a distance. Some of us are okay with hearing a confession and offering absolution when in the presence of the person. But at a distance?

This law [of forgiveness of sins] will work at a distance as well as in the presence of the sick person. But the method of intercession is much more difficult than healing at the bedside of the sick.

In this chapter she reiterates something we teach:

The first step in intercessory prayer is to find out the will of God

Let us begin our intercessory prayer then by quieting ourselves, holding each suggested person up before the Lord and seeking for His guidance concerning our duty toward that person.

[She once was praying for a child and] asked His instructions concerning this matter. The answer was almost as clear as a voice within my mind: “Pray for him now, from this place, and he will recover.”

I prayed, and felt after the prayer that sense of peace and of release that means that the prayer-work is finished. So I knew that the child had recovered.

As we become skilled in prayer, we dare go one step further, to ask “Lord, will he recover?” and then face the answer.

Here again is her explanation of why all are not healed when it is God’s perfect will. We depart ways on this but she at least addresses the possibility.

God’s perfect will for this His child is life, as it is always life. But His infinite wisdom knows that the sum of the skill of the doctors, the faith of the patient and my own spiritual development is such that in this life His will is not to be completed.

Here again she reiterates some simple steps towards intercessory prayer which I find helpful:

the first step in intercessory prayer is to quiet ourselves before God and with His guidance to choose our path, fearing not to follow it wherever it may lead.

The second step is to contact the power that heals and fill ourselves full of it. Love is the healer. In order to fill ourselves with His whole Being, let us think of Him, imagining His presence, seeing Him with the eyes of the mind, trying to love Him with the heart

Let us ask Him to enter into our spirits and fill us with His own consciousness of the Fatherhood of God; to enter into our minds and think within us His own thoughts; to enter into our hearts and feel through us His own love.

Let us beseech Him to come and dwell within us. Let us ask Him to enter into our spirits and fill us with His own consciousness of the Fatherhood of God; to enter into our minds and think within us His own thoughts; to enter into our hearts and feel through us His own love.

This insight is again powerful sounding and new to me. I cannot speak to how valid it is:

And the success of our prayer depends as much on the depth of our love to man as on the height of our love to God

Those in convents and monasteries … have learned to rise into God, but they have not learned to sink again into man. They reach a high state of religious contemplation and there they stay.

Then if we would help man through intercession, we must hold God by one hand and man by the other hand, never separating ourselves either from the love of God or from the love of man.

I like this quote she offers:

Thomas Kelly says, “First He takes the world out of our hearts, so that we can give our hearts to Him. Then He puts the world back into our hearts, so that we can give Him to the world

Chapter XIV Two or Three Gathered Together

This chapter is devoted to praying together for others:

These are different from the fact finding step that John Wimber taught and that I have believed:

For the one who would send forth health must think health and nothing else. If he would inquire of the patient’s symptoms let him do so at some other time, and not turn the hour of prayer into a gossip circle.

If we can see Christ, and Him self-given for the patient, and then see the patient well, healed by the love of Christ, we will be sending forth a pure stream of that love

I saw my wife shrink back from praying for others during a season when our own daughter was chronically ill for 3 years. But I am not sure that this is a valid prohibition. If this was true, I would never intercede. I love the scene from Season 3 of The Chosen where little James is a cripple and yet one of Jesus disciples. The issue that Jesus healed others and not him has obviously not escaped his notice. But when Jesus sends him out with the 12 to heal, little James has to address the issue with Jesus. Basically, Jesus told him that it would be even more powerful for the people to see one cripple heal another.

One should not attempt any work of intercession while in the grip of his own pain. Let him first rise above his own illness and then he can see clearly the wholeness of another.

This is a curious statement for me since the miraculous healings that I saw with Barbara my wife were cancer and arthritis. Even now, my arthritis in my knee has improved through prayer.

Organic diseases, such as cancer and arthritis, are naturally much more difficult than functional diseases. Nevertheless they are sometimes healed.

I like her reasoned answer about concentrating our prayers on our family when there is so much need outside our family.

No mother would refuse to feed her child because she could not at the moment feed every hungry child on earth

This chapter contains a number of stories of healing and protection.

She then lays out some simple steps for praying for protection:

How can one set in motion this protective force and so respond to the prayer-requests of those in danger?

First, let us be still and know that He is God. He is from everlasting to everlasting,

Let us know also that He is love, and that He has made us of Himself and for Himself.

Here is a broad claim that I cannot support:

We must keep this clearly within our minds, for if we once accept death through man’s hate as God’s will for anyone, we lose the power to protect a single one in prayer.

This stems from her belief that death is never God’s will for anyone.

Chapter XV For the Healing of the World

I haven’t said much about the terminology that Agnes uses that I amEarth uncomfortable with but here is one:

Our thought-vibrations are not limited by time or space. The sorrow of a nation is the sorrow of the world, for it creates in the air a thought-vibration of sorrow.

I am not convinced there are actually thought-vibrations that spread sorrow throughout the world. She uses this phrase nine times in the book and doesn’t really explain it. She approaches it as if it is not just a metaphorical description of world views and attitudes of people. But as if it really is some physical thing that happens.  If she means that our thoughts can be transmitted mediated through the Holy Spirit I believe that. But I think she really believes that they are physical. She thinks that we can transmit love and healing in the same way. Lord teach me if there is some reality You wish to teach me concerning this.

This chapter is all about the Biblically sound idea that our prayers are not to just be offered for those we know but the whole world. Certainly Paul and Jesus modeled this. Jesus, use this chapter to make this more of a reality in my life.

How can we pray for the immense needs that are scattered across the globe. Agnes offers some good suggestions for approaching the overwhelming needs of the whole world through prayer:

My own answer to this is to simplify my prayer-objectives; to choose only a few objects for prayer at a time and to make them plain, concise and concrete

In other words, if we are going to pray effectively for the world or a sick friend or one in danger or anything else, we must believe that the thing for which we pray is at that moment being accomplished.

So our first step in world prayer is the seeking of guidance. “Lord, for what or for whom shall I pray at this time so as to further the coming of Thy kingdom?”

Pray for people not just vague nations . Once God has revealed some leaders or people in these nations,

One by one we bless these leaders of nations, hold them up into the light of God’s love and send the love of Christ into their minds.

She encourages us to do this in groups – not individually

The ones we pray for healing are normally open to the healing – but the leaders of the world are usually closed minded. …But how can we direct this great flow of life into a closed mind? By repenting not only of our own sins but of the sins of the world. … And by taking that one to the cross of Christ and there receiving for him forgiveness, healing and life.

This suggested method of prayer for the world, then consists of two parts: first, simplifying our prayer-objectives, and second, praying for the world in the sacramental as well as in the metaphysical way…confessing, that is, the sins of our nation and our world, repenting for them and doing penance for them in our own name and in the name of the nation . . .and having done so, seeing by faith the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth.

My Conclusions

Agnes has done a valuable service to the Kingdom of God. In her quirky way, she led the way for generations of healing ministries to apply her simple techniques and heal many. You can see her teachings being modified and worked out in the ministries of John Wimber, Francis MacNutt and Dallas Willard.

Here are the my take-aways from the book.

Scientific approachEven though she gets a lot of the science wrong, I love her attempt at using the scientific method to learn how to successfully pray for people and see them healed. It is also my experience that there is much benefit in praying for the body to do what it was made to do – heal thyself.

Prayer of CommandI am going to think of Amen from now on as a prayer of commend. So be it. Dallas Willard’s amen is sometimes: “And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

Start Simple– This is an important principle that runs throughout the book. We may disagree with what is a simple project in prayer, but we agree on the KISS principle. 

The Process of PrayingI love her simple steps that she offers. But I especially like the waiting on God at the beginning of a prayer time.

Visualization of the HealingI was not taught this nor have I practiced it. We are told to expect to receive what we have asked for so I think visualizing it is a good thing and will alter my process to include this.

Focusing on God’s Presence – The strong emphasis on the pray-er being focused on the presence of God is powerful. I am changing the way I practice healing prayer based on this principle.

Prayer ProjectsI love the idea of prayer projects and have been doing it for years with pretty amazing success. This is a much undertaught methodology for prayer.

Team approach to Intercessory Prayer – This too is a much under utilized method of praying. I love the idea of starting small and focused.

Prayer for Protection This is something we learned a while ago and have taught our prayer teams how to do this. Agnes adds some additional insight to the process that I find helpful.

The Healing Power of Forgiveness – Although there was nothing new in this for me, her teaching in this area is very much needed. I am encouraged to pray at a distance the prayers of forgiveness that I have prayed in person. Though not new, I don’t practice it currently and will!

Practical Guidelines on Approaching Healing Prayer – These are very practical and well worth teaching.

[1] She says that when we try to heal just by asking, we are missing the importance of being filled with God Himself.

Book Summary: Becoming Dallas Willard by Gary Moon

Becoming Dallas Willard by Gary Moon

This is a fascinating biography of a man who had a tremendous impact on me. A professor of philosophy for many years, family man and Christian author and mentor, this book traces Dallas’ life back to its roots. It is immensely helpful in seeing the path he took to “become” Dallas Willard. I am not going to summarize Dallas’ life story here. Get the book. You won’t regret it. Instead, I am going to provide quotes and occasional commentary.

Dallas and Salvation

In typical Dallas fashion, Dallas blows the sides off what we had presupposed about salvation.

What does it mean to be saved? It means eternal living here and now; a life of interaction with Jesus here and now, and that is the only description of Eternal Life in the New Testament.  See John 17;3

This quote led John Ortberg (a good friend and disciple of Dallas) to write Eternity is in Session.

The author commented on Dallas’ view of salvation:

Salvation for Dallas meant far more than merely a decision.  It meant a new way of living, healing of the soul, living with God in the present moment.

The book describes an account when Richard Foster helped a man in the church to accept Jesus as his Savior. Dallas’s response: “Well, I hope that was good for him and Ieads him into accepting Jesus as his life. ”

Dallas was not all that convinced that just praying a prayer converted a man. A man must become an apprentice of Jesus to become one of His followers. For Dallas, salvation was “a new way of living, healing of the soul, living with God in the present moment.”

Some of Dallas’ Books

The following quote might provide the motivation for reading: Renovation of the Heart.

A carefully cultivated heart will, assisted by the grace of God, foresee, forestall, or transform most of the painful situations before which others stand like helpless children saying “Why?”

Wouldn’t we all love a carefully cultivated heart? Quoting Dallas’s wife Jane concerning Renovation of the Heart, Moon wrote:

Because of my decades as a therapist, my favorite chapters were six and seven, “Transforming the Mind,” about thoughts and feelings. I even have a favorite sentence: “The single most important thing in a person’s mind is . . .” Now, isn’t that an attention getter?

By the way, Dallas finished the sentence with: “What you think about God.”

When asked what his book, The Divine Conspiracy is all about, Willard said that it

presents discipleship to Jesus as the very heart of the gospel. The really good news for humanity is that Jesus is now taking on students in the master class of life. …Whereas the gospel of atonement or sin management is that your sins can be forgiven, the gospel of the kingdom is that you can live in the kingdom of God here and now. …. a person can have the gospel of sin management and continue to run life on their own. But if we are alive in the kingdom now, we know that our sins are forgiven, precisely because the life of heaven is now in us, and we are learning to live the moments of our life with God. … To glorify God means to think and act in such a way that the goodness, greatness, and beauty of God are constantly obvious to you and all those around you.

One recorded incident that I found interesting was a time when Dallas was asked “If you could only bring one book [besides the Bible] with you, what would it be?” Much to everyone’s surprise, he said The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. This was certainly one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.

There is an extended story about how the book Hearing God came about. Don’t miss my summary of this book.

Big Ideas of Willard

Another landmark idea of Willard’s is that we are not called to “sin management.”

Simply managing sins does not lead to the abundant life that Jesus promised

Dallas’ interjection of “availability” is brilliant and precise. When Jesus said: “The Kingdom of God is at hand” He was saying: “It’s available.”

The good news is more than the kingdom of God per se. The gospel is, more precisely, the availability of the kingdom of God. … Availability is what constitutes the news of his good news

One of the battles he faced academically was a rising school of philosophy that denied the reality of real things. Dallas pushed the envelope and declared that even intangible things like the kingdom of God are real:

You can go to the “thing” itself and experience and grasp its reality, even if that “thing” is the kingdom of God on earth.

One doesn’t think of Dallas as playful. Certainly not from his writings. But various stories in the book give us another picture of the man. He saw great value in play.

Work is the creation of value. Play is the creation of value that is not necessary.

One of Dallas’ most profound truths that was brand new to me was:

For those who have put their life in God’s hand, the Universe is a safe place.

This is truly a truth that must be lived to be understood. Who cannot catch this truth that the universe is  a safe place for those in God’s hand in all of the teachings of Jesus and Paul? Me! I missed it.  Jesus told us not to worry and be like the birds depending on their heavenly Father to feed them. (See the end of Matthew 6)  Paul told us that all things work together for good for those who love God. (See Romans 8:28).  Examples of understanding truth by living came from people like Lacy Borgo: “It was his idea that the universe is perfectly safe that completely disrupted my life,” she recalls.

I remember reading it for the first time and thinking the idea that God is completely for us and that all he created is therefore slanted in our favor was wrong, or at best it was crazy. Since my childhood everything I had learned said otherwise. This fearful line of thinking was at the root of my sense of self and my sin. To give it up, to trust that God was good and that there was goodness to be found would mean the undoing of me and my sinful habits—it would mean a dangerous freedom.

“The obviously well-kept secret of the ordinary,” Dallas once wrote, “is that it is made to be a receptacle of the divine, a place where the life of God flows. . . . That is why everyone, from the smallest child to the oldest adult, naturally wants in some way to be extraordinary, outstanding, making a unique contribution or, if all else fails, wants to be thought so—if only for a brief time.”

I have loved this quote of Dallas for a long time and have often compared it to an atheist’s view of our destiny.

Bertrand Russell View:

You are the product of causes that have no purpose or meaning. Your origin, your growth, your hopes, fears, loves, beliefs are the outcome of accidental collections of atoms. No fire, heroism, or intensity of thought or feeling can preserve your life from beyond the grave. All the devotion, all the inspiration, all the labor of all the ages are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system. The whole temple of human achievement must inevitably be buried in the debris of a universe in ruins. That’s what we’re all headed for.

Dallas’ View:

Our destiny is to be part of a tremendously creative team effort, under unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast plane of activity, with ever more comprehensive cycles of productivity and enjoyment. God’s aim in human history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons with Himself included as its primary sustainer and most glorious inhabitant. He is even now at work to bring this about. You have been invited, at great cost to God Himself, to be part of this radiant community. You, right there in your life. You will not only survive death, you yourself were made to bear an eternal weight of glory you cannot now even fathom, and you will one day know.

Dallas and People

There is a lengthy description of Dallas and Richard Foster’s time at a little Friends church. Richard was the young pastor. Dallas a lay leader. It was a living laboratory where Dallas’ ideas about the kingdom of God and discipleship were worked out. Moon writes:

What were the explosive ideas explored in the living laboratory? The three most prominent were the kingdom of God as a present reality, salvation as an ongoing life with God, and the participation in spiritual disciplines as a means of transformation.

Dallas greatly respected Agnes Sanford. He had two books with him as he was dying: The Bible and Agnes’ The Healing Light. Moon provides this story from early on in Dallas and Richard Foster’s relationship.

At this time Agnes Sanford was about to begin a three-day conference on prayer at Bill’s church. Dallas suggested to Richard that if he wanted to learn to pray for people, he should attend this conference. Richard, who had read her book The Healing Light, was skeptical. “Why should I?” he replied. “Because,” Dallas said simply, “When Agnes prays things happen.” “You see,” Richard said, “Dallas saw in Agnes someone who actually did it—who went to the ‘thing’ itself, who had a real and interactive relationship with the Trinity. She was fearless.”

Moon recounts many encounters Dallas had with his grad students:

Dallas believed in pushing against boulders. “Why don’t you go home and push on a large rock for a while!” was the advice a graduate student once got from his mentor when he was faced with a mental block—a common occupational hazard encountered by those who make a living from sustained intellectual work.

For more details about Dallas and People check out:

Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard’s Teaching on Faith and Formation: Edited by Gary Moon. This contains 30 testimonies from people closest to Dallas. Read it and you will be encouraged to become an apprentice of Jesus.


Dallas was known for creating pithy phrases that capture big ideas –  called “Dallas-isms.”

    • The fires of heaven burn hotter than the fires of hell.
    • Know does not mean “to know about him.”
    • Don’t be asking for an opportunity to speak, ask for something meaningful to say
    • Knowledge, biblically speaking, always refers to interactive relationship.
    • Reality is what you can count on, and what you run into when you are wrong.
    • Dramatic communications from God are not signs of Christian maturity.
    • Simply managing sins does not lead to the abundant life that Jesus promised.
    • If you want to do what Jesus did on the spot, you have to practice what he did off the spot.
    • Not planning to go to London does not help me get to New York.
    • Consider carefully the type of persons who were first called Christians.
    • An obsession with doing Jesus’ commands may prevent one from being the kind of person he is.
    • Holiness is not different action but different being.
    • What does it mean to be saved? It means eternal living here and now, a life of interaction with Jesus here and now, and that’s the only description of eternal life in the New Testament, John 17:3.
    • The question of the evangelist should be, “If you don’t die tonight, what are you going to do tomorrow?” And the answer should be, “I’m going to trust Jesus with all of my life, with everything, and that will allow me to live in the kingdom of God.

Another great Dallasism that Mary Poplin turned into a book is the question: “Is reality secular?” I “stole” that idea for a talk I did at an AI Conference which I entitled: “Is Technology Secular?” What is real was a major part of his professional work as a philosopher. But he lightens it up a little for us lay folk:

Reality is what you run into when you’re wrong.

In his relentless pursuit of truth, Dallas was following His master:

Jesus is the kind of person who would be the first to say you must ruthlessly follow the truth wherever it leads.

Coming to the end of oneself is a major theme in advancing the kingdom within our own life for Dallas. Thus he quipped:

Where do you find God? At

When asked to describe the church, Willard said:

This isn’t a delivery room; it is the nursery. . . .

When asked about our purpose here on earth:

Why did God not take us on up to heaven? . . . We are left here to be witnesses. . . . We are put here to know God. . . . We are put here to arrive at the chief end of man [which is to glorify God]. … How can we glorify God? We glorify God by bearing much fruit. . . . You bear fruit by abiding. And to abide is to rest in. We are left here [to learn how to hear God’s voice and] to learn how to rest in God, to abide in him and bear fruit. . . . How can I abide? We find the answer in John 15:10. If you “obey” you will abide.

Later, he would call obedience the engine that pulls the train for spiritual transformation,

Dallas and Renovaré

 Key ideas taught in the Renovaré Institute (which was intellectually founded on Dallas’ ideas).

    1. It is actually possible to become like Jesus.
    2. Living in the kingdom of God: What is the gospel of Christ?
    3. The total human system—all of which is to love God.
    4. Learning how to hear God.
    5. Spiritual disciplines: concept and history.
    6. Salvation as a life lived with God.
    7. Celebrating each of the streams of living water.
    8. Importance of classical devotional literature.
    9. Scripture as fifteen ways of being “with God.”
    10. Being with God in prayer.
    11. Living as an apprentice to Jesus.
    12. Spiritual Formation in the roles of our life.

An Overview of Dallas Willard’s key ideas

    1. An adequate understanding of spiritual formation is needed to effectively care for one’s spiritual life.
    2. The nature of spiritual formation in Christ determines the method by which it is to be known.
    3. Relationship with God is an experiential reality.
    4. The Word of God carries with it God’s experiential presence.
    5. God’s experiential presence (or Word) is inherently transformational.
    6. As embodied persons in relationship with a loving God, informed human participation is essential for spiritual growth.
    7. The good news is that God’s reign is available to anyone who relies on Jesus.
    8. Jesus is the master of living life under God’s reign and he wants to teach his students how to live under that reign in their actual lives.
    9. Students of Jesus will rule the universe with him for eternity.
    10. Sin is primarily a disconnection from the life-giving resources of God.
    11. Bodily disciplines place the regenerate person into contact with the life-giving resources of God.
    12. Understanding formation in Christ involves understanding how to bring the various dimensions of the human self under God’s reign.
    13. Knowledge of the reality of Christ and his kind of life is available.

Dallas and the Bible

To observe someone living in a way that matches the wild descriptions of Jesus makes us want to read the Bible again to find out what we have missed.

To know how much Dallas revered the Scriptures, when asked what spiritual discipline was most helpful to him he said: “Memorizing Scripture.

Our Relationship with God

Dallas once used this metaphor to describe our relationship with God:

The mid-size dog had a solid white coat. His eyes seemed blue, but it was hard to tell as they were clouded by the blindness. As we watched, the woman ran backwards, making large figure-eight patterns. She was dragging her feet across the pebbles and old asphalt as she ran, creating scraping sounds for her dog to hear. The dog had a tennis ball in its mouth and seemed to be laughing with joy as he tried to stay close to her. The woman was smiling back at her companion and saying, “I’m right here.” “I see you.” “I’ve got you.”

We are like this blind dog and God leads us in ways we cannot really see but we hear Him continually telling us: “I’m right here.” “I see you.” “I’ve got you.”


I cannot summarize this book. You need to read it and be inspired to have the character of Christ formed in you (a definition of Spiritual Formation).

Book Summary – War on the Saints by Jessie Penn-Lewis and Evan Roberts


I picked up this book because I realized, yet again, how ill practiced I was about spiritual warfare. A close friend told me last summer that Barbara’s illness was a demonic attack. I couldn’t say that. Lord, am I so insensitive to the working of demons that I am missing this? Many have said that the way we were treated at our former church, where we labored for more than 40 years, was the result of demonic activity. I had not treated it that way.

So it was with the hope of getting some [more] insight into spiritual warfare I went to this book (which I had try to read many many years ago).

From 10,000 feet, my primary takeaways were this:

    1. Christians can be demon possessed
    2. The Baptism of the Spirit opens us up to the spiritual world and thus can open us up to the demonic.
    3. Lies are the primary weapon of Satan and his minions
    4. Passivity in all areas of our lives leads to both demonic oppression and demonic possession (See chapter 4 notes)
    5. Truth from the word of God is the primary offensive weapon we have.
    6. Deliverance from possession should not be attempted until the ground given to the enemy was taken back. In other words, Satan only can make in-roads into the life of a believer, if we give him ground (open sin, believing falsehoods, passivity of will, etc).

Overall, I felt there were nuggets of truth in this book. Yet I came away not feeling like I knew any more about how to conduct spiritual warfare in prayer. And I am not sure I am any better at discerning whether something is of God or of the flesh or of the devil. They give the example of Paul from the book of Acts where he was restrained from going some place once by the Spirit and once by Satan. But how? More example prayers would have been helpful. At one point they say that one who has the armor of God on does not rely on reason – but throughout the book they encourage us to rely on reason – not on impressions of the Spirit.

I did not agree with their distinctions about the presence of the person of the Father and the Son. (see my notes from Chapter 6). I did not agree with their simplistic way of dealing with discerning whether something was from God or not (see my notes on Chapter 5).

Can a Christian be possessed by a demon?

I did not buy a lot of what was taught in this book. But the one thing taught that I have changed my opinion on was this question: Can a Christian be demon possessed? For most of my walk with Jesus, I have believed that a Christian cannot be demon possessed. Much ink has been spilled on this subject. But simply put, the main argument is that once the Spirit of God dwells in a person, a demon cannot dwell in the same person. Darkness and light cannot dwell together. An additional argument is that the Scripture does not directly address the question. All the people who are delivered from demons are non-Christians. But some New Testament individuals who self-identify as Christ followers are possessed. “Satan entered into Judas.” (John 13:27). Satan filled the heart of Ananias (Acts 5:3). Under church discipline, Christians are “handed over to Satan” (1 Timothy 1:20) and “delivered to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5).

Here is what changed for me.

I have increasingly come to the understanding of how compartmentalized we are in our faith. Much like the famous booklet, My Heart –  Christ’s Home by Robert Munger, when we first receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, certain rooms are not opened to Him. And as we walk with the Spirit, over time, we may shut Him out of rooms He previously inhabited. Accepting this understanding, it is easy for me to see that a demon can take up residence in one of these uninhabited (by the Spirit) rooms.

Experience over the past 25 years has affected this change of opinion as well. With the fall from grace of so many icons of the faith whom I deeply respected (Ravi Zacharius and Jean Vanier as the most recent) and others I didn’t know as well, I have questioned: How can this be? How can the Spirit of God dwell in such men? I have come to see their lives in this compartmentalized framework – where the Spirit of God inhabited them and enabled them to do the amazing things they did. But, there were rooms in their lives that were opened to demonic possession. I cannot describe their actions as just the work of the flesh nor even demonic oppression (which Jesus experienced in the wilderness).

Over the years, I have seen that all of the works of the flesh Paul lists in Galatians 5:17-19 are within the scope of possibility (and in many cases actuality) in my life. But the despicable and disgusting acts of some of these fallen leaders have never been even remote temptations to me. Am I better than them? No! Am I deceiving myself that I could not fall into such sins? Perhaps – but I don’t think so. My conclusion has been that they have given ground (see chapter 4) to Satan in certain areas (rooms) of their lives and demons have entered and possessed.

Many Christians disagree on this subject and I held a different opinion for over 50 years so it is not a completely settled question. At this point in my journey it is the best explanation for the truth revealed in scriptures and my experience in life.

Passivity as Ground for the Enemy to Enter

This was a new idea for me and I think I can buy into it. For them, it is the chief means by which Satan enters a Christian. We can be passive in many areas of our life (see the notes on Chapter 4). We can be active and attentive and alert in most areas but be passive in another area. This provides additional support for the compartmentalization of possession.

The following represents the major points I took away from each chapter (Direct quotes are indented or in quotation marks):

Chapter 1 A Biblical survey of Satanic deception

Knowledge of truth is the primary safeguard against deception. The “elect” must know, and they must learn to “prove” the “spirits” until they do know what is of God, and what is of Satan. The “knowledge of truth is the first essential for warfare with the lying spirits.” “Nothing can remove a lie but truth.” [from chapter 3 where this statement is given as the central premise of the book].

Chapter 2 The Satanic Confederacy of Wicked Spirits

Evil spirits do not know the future but they know what they are going to do and thus can predict “accidents” and deaths. I found this as a helpful approach to several amazing stories I have heard from people who visited fortune tellers. How did the demons know that? Because they were going to cause it.

Chapter 3 Deception by Spirits in Modern Times

The thought that God will protect a believer from being deceived if he is true and faithful, is in itself a “deception,” … Christ would not have warned His disciples “Take heed . . be not deceived” if there had been no danger of deception.

The Baptism of the Spirit opens one to the spirit world. Previously we were led by principles from God’s word – now as we attempt to keep in step with the Spirit – we are more open to being deceived.

Those who have their eyes opened to the opposing forces of the spiritual realm, understand that very few believers can guarantee that they are obeying God, and God only, in direct supernatural guidance, because there are so many factors liable to intervene, such as the believer’s own mind, own spirit, own will, and the deceptive intrusion of the powers of darkness.

A saint can know they are not being deceived if the message bears the fruit of the Spirit and / or is consistent with the character of God.

We cannot therefore, at this time, over-estimate the importance of believers having open minds to “examine all things” they have thought, and taught, in connection with the things of God, and the spiritual realm. … What, then, is the condition of safety from the deception of evil spirits?”

        1. Knowledge that they exist;
        2. That they can deceive the most honest believers (Gal. 2: 11-16);
        3. An understanding of the conditions and ground necessary for their working, so as to give them no place, and no opportunity of working; and, lastly,
        4. Intelligent knowledge of God, and how to co-operate with Him in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 4 Passivity – the chief basis of possession

They believe that possession is “much more wide-spread than is supposed” based on their definition. They take possession to mean: “a hold of evil spirits on a man in any shade of degree.”

What gives ground to the enemy?

    • known sin
    • every thought suggested to the mind by wicked spirits, and accepted
    • every faculty unused invites their attempted use of it.

“Truth of every kind makes free, while lies bind up in bonds. Ignorance also binds. Man’s ignorance is a primary and essential condition for deception by evil spirits. The devil’s great purpose … is to keep the world in ignorance of himself, his ways, and his colleagues… This builds off Paul’s statement that there is a great on-slaught on  the church in the latter times. They say it would be ‘an army of teaching spirits.’”

Speaking about Eve, they say that she was good – but “goodness is no guarantee of protection from deception.”

Interesting tidbit: “it is not recorded that he [Satan] appeared on earth since the time of the Fall.” I am not sure where Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness fits into that. This is something I don’t agree with.

Passivity can be manifest in:

    1. The mind
    2. The will
    3. The body
    4. The spirit
    5. The conscious
    6. Reason and Judgment

Chapter 5 Deception and possession

They claim that our individual faculties can be possessed while the rest of us remains faithful to God. For example, the person who gives himself to slander and “it lends itself to sin; and becomes liable to possession.” This makes sense of something I experienced a few years ago. God told me that a person was possessed – but theologically I struggled with that. But this person had given himself  over to a significant amount of slander (which I didn’t know about at the time). In one particular meeting with him, when God said the demon was going to manifest itself, his speech became almost unintelligible. Sitting with two others, we all agreed that we had no idea what he was talking about. Normally he was the most lucid and articulate of individuals. But I didn’t see how that was manifesting possession until now.

Though one cannot establish a point where possession happens, they agree that there is:

    1. Sin without possession
    2. Sin that opens the door to possession
    3. Sin that is the result of possession

In this section, they also claim that possession can pass away without deliverance but merely by the person confessing and renouncing the sin that caused it.

In the subsection: DUAL STREAMS OF POWER

This is what I have experienced with the person mentioned above:

“How sane and reasonable he is! What a passion he has for souls!” may be said with truth of a worker, until some moments later some peculiar change is seen in him, and in the meeting. A strange element comes in, possibly only recognizable to some with keen spiritual vision, or else plainly obvious to all.

Here is an interesting thought they put forth:

Christ as a Person is in no man. He dwells in believers by His Spirit–the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8: 9), as they receive the “supply of the Spirit of Jesus” (Phil. 1: 19; Acts 16: 7 R.V.).

Here is how they describe the Trinity:

God the Father, as a Person, is in the highest heaven. His presence is manifested in men as the “Spirit of the Father.” Christ the Son is in heaven as a Person, His presence in men is by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of the Father, and of the Son, is on earth in the Church, which is the Body of Christ; and manifests the Father or the Son, in, and to believers, as they are taught by Him to apprehend the Triune God. … According to them, only the Spirit is present in person.

The counterfeit “Presence,” as an influence, precedes the counterfeit of the “Person” of God, through which much ground is gained.

From the subsection: OBSESSION AND ITS CAUSE

What it is: “Obsession” means an evil spirit, or spirits, hovering around, and influencing a man with the object of obtaining a footing in him, and gaining possession, in however small a degree

The deliverance of persons under obsession of any kind, or degree, is by truth, such as:

        • Giving them knowledge how to detect what is of God or the devil
        • Showing them that they should accept nothing from without either in suggestions to the mind, or influence of any kind coming upon the body (The Holy Spirit works from within)
        • Teaching them how to stand in Christ, and resist all besieging attacks of the powers of darkness

“casting out” may avail in some cases, it is not the only means of deliverance.

Here is an interesting statement:

“it is never safe in any case to feel God’s presence with the physical senses, for it is almost beyond doubt a counterfeit ‘presence.'” I do not buy into this from a scriptural point of view. More later.

I agree with the following statements:

    • The presence of God always results in: The retention of the use of the will, and faculties.
    • The counterfeits always result in; The loss of personal control through passivity.

In addressing “automatic writing, what they say is from the evil one

        • The person writes what he hears dictated audibly in a supernatural way.
        • He writes what he sees presented to his mind supernaturally, sometimes with rapidity as if compelled.
        • He writes automatically, as his hand is moved, without any mental, or volitional action.

This is interesting in terms of journaling. When God speaks to me (and others) through prayer journaling, it is not something dictated. It is not written without volitional effort. We are not compelled but we do write what is presented to our minds supernaturally. So I agree with one and three are of the evil one. But with item two I only agree with the fact that we are not compelled.

Conversely, addressing what is true spiritual journaling:

In writing under Divine guidance, three factors are required:

        • A spirit indwelt by, and moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1: 21).
        • An alert and renewed mind, acute in active power of apprehension and intelligent thinking (See 1 Cor. 14: 20).
        • A body under the complete control of the spirit and volition of the man (See 1 Cor. 9: 27).

Chapter 6 Counterfeits of the Divine

This was a challenging chapter. I didn’t agree with much of it. They claim that one of the tactics of the enemy is to provide a counterfeit of the divine presence. “the basis of this counterfeit, is the mistaken location of God; either (1) in them (consciously); (2) or around them (consciously).” They make a distinction that the Father is not present as a person in the believer. Jesus is not present as a person in the believer. The Spirit is present as a person in the believer. The Father and Jesus as person’s are in heaven. This seems to violate Jesus own words in the Gospel of John.

I think the Spirit mediates the presence of Jesus and the Spirit mediates the presence of the Father. “Anyone who does not have Christ does not belong to Him” Romans 8

Some believers so live inwardly in communion, worship and vision, as to become spiritually introverted, and cramped and narrowed in their outlook; with the result that their spiritual capacity and mental powers become dwarfed and powerless. Others become victims to the “inner voice,” and the introverted attitude of listening to it, which is the ultimate result of the location of God as a Person within, so that eventually the mind becomes fixed in the introverted condition with no out-going action at all.

Again – they feel that the location of God as a Person is not within except the Holy Spirit. I agree that contemplatives can become so fixated with introverted naval gazing that there is no out-going action at all. But I fundamentally disagree that the person of the Father and the person of Jesus does not reside in us.

They claim that

Sensuous feelings, or “conscious” physical enjoyment of some supposed spiritual presence is not true communion of spirit with spirit, such as the Father seeks from those who worship Him (John 4: 24).

Here I take another exception. If words can cross the bridge between spirit and mind (or heart) (which they accept), why cannot sensuous feelings – like a feeling of warmth or nearness communicated by the presence of God.

This also seems to miss the fact that since God is Spirit – location as we know is not something we can pin down. How many dimensions exist in our physical reality? Which dimension(s) does God locate in our of universe. The key is that as Spirit he is not located in our space time reality at all. But he can intersect with our reality. In a simplistic view (viz a viz – Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott), a being can be in the 4th dimension or 4 dimensional  (Abbott doesn’t take time as the 4th dimension) – fully located there but still manifest itself in the 3 dimensions of space. And do it in some weird ways. That is just a mathematical fact.

The Lord’s words recorded in the gospel of John, chapters 14, 15 and 16, give the truth very clearly concerning His indwelling in the believer. The “in Me” of being with Him, and in Him, in His heavenly position (John 14:20) both speak of Jesus’ presence as a person with us.

This seems to my little brain – just muddled thinking. Not really understanding the scriptures nor the power of God – not really understanding how Jesus can be in heaven – how we can be in heaven and on earth at the same time. The central question here is Does the Spirit of God dwell “in us” here on earth? What about when Jesus appeared to Paul? Was that Jesus’ presence here on earth?

I like their identification of wrong speaking – useful in my Discernment blog:

Some of the suggestions made to the believer by deceiving spirits at this time, may be:

        1. “You are a special instrument for God,” working to feed self-love;
        2. “You are more advanced than others” working to blind the soul to sober knowledge of itself;
        3. “You are different from others,” working to make him think he needs special dealing by God;
        4. “You must take a separate path,” a suggestion made to feed the independent spirit;
        5. “You must give up your occupation, and live by faith,” aiming at causing the believer to launch out on false guidance, which may result in the ruin of his home, and sometimes the work for God in which he is engaged.

For them all physical or sensory experiences of God’s presence are counterfeit. Were tongues of fire sensory? Did Stephen see Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father? Here I have a very different view of the intersection of the body and soul with the Spirit. Those who are by nature emotional – their emotions are much more affected by the seam between spirit and soul. Those who are by nature very influenced by the body (athletes, dancers, etc) the body gets affected when the Spirit of God touches their spirit.

They claim that Jesus did not hear the voice of the Father and when He did it was for the sake of others. But this misses two major points: What was going on during those long times of solitude? AND Jesus’ statements that He only speaks what He hears the Father tell him.

At the heart, they are somewhat cessationists:

A careful study of the epistles of Paul–which contain an exhaustive epitome of God’s will for the Church, the Body of Christ, as the books of Moses contained God’s will and laws for Israel–seems to make it clear that God, having “spoken to us in His Son,” no longer speaks by His own direct voice to His people.

Again – for the book on discernment, I find these helpful:


      • Does the believer rely upon these “texts” apart from the use of his mind or reason? This indicates passivity.
      • Are these texts a prop to him?
        1. undermining his reliance on God Himself;
        2. weakening his power of decision, and (right) self- reliance.
      • Do these texts influence him? and
        1. make him elated and puffed up as “specially guided by God,”
        2. crush and condemn him, and throw him into despair and condemnation, instead of leading him to sober dealing with God Himself

Here is another helpful discernment:

“Fear of the devil may always be regarded as from the devil”

Chapter 7 – Ground and Symptoms of Possession

One of their central premises is that Satan can speak to believers. But the form and the way he speaks depends on the degree to which they have given ground or even be possessed.

They tell us to watch how things come into the mind. Basically if they come out of the blue be very skeptical. “It is best to be suspicious of the abnormal in every shape and form. … A sudden inability to listen, described as “absent-mindedness” or “preoccupation,” when the person is compelled to follow some “thought” suggested, or picture presented to the mind, or to follow the words of another, are all indications of the interference of evil spirits…”

The Lord’s words in Matthew 13: 23, that the good ground hearer is “he that heareth the word and understandeth it,” show that the mind is the vehicle through which the truth of God reaches men to win their affections, and bring back the will into intelligent and loyal co-operation with God. In like manner the mind is the hindrance to Satan’s carrying out his schemes to win back control of the believer. For the success of his plans, the enemy knows that the mind must be lulled into inaction and disuse by some means or other, either by stratagem or attack.

Passive yielding to circumstances is a sign of evil interactions:

The believer slowly loses power of decision, he becomes more and more tossed about by letting everything in his environment decide for him, and sometimes thinking and believing it is God choosing and deciding for him by “Providences”; he therefore does not choose or decide for himself, but passively drifts, and accepts the choice or decision made for him by “circumstances”; or else he is full of impulses, with no central poise of any kind.

Chapter 8 The Path to Freedom

They strongly encourage us not to cast out a demon until the cause of the possession is dealt with – otherwise the demon will come back.

True deliverance comes when we accept all the truth about ourselves and all the ground given to the enemy.

The man himself must

    • ACT to get rid of passivity;
    • he must revoke his CONSENT given to evil spirits to enter, and
    • by his own volition insist that they retire from the place (Ephes. 4: 27) they have obtained by deceit.

The key point in this chapter concerning discerning the Spirit: “one single contradiction is sufficient to reveal a lying spirit at work.” Here again, me, with limited knowledge and experience compared to these writers, I protest. We can often attempt to discern the Spirit and only get part of the message. Another part might be heard in such a ways as to appear as a contradiction. But the whole message is not wrong. Look at the lying spirit speaking in and through Balaam. Not all he said was not of the Spirit.

Also his example stretches me. If in praying for the sick, you sense that God is going to heal the person and they die, they say a lying spirit is present. No – we so want the person to be healed and restored – it is easy to speak our wishes and conflate them as from God.

In another brief form a summary of the steps to deliverance may be given as follows:–

    • Recognize persistently the true cause of bondage; i.e., the work of an evil spirit or spirits.
    • Choose to have absolutely nothing to do with the powers of darkness. Frequently declare this.
    • Do not talk or trouble about their manifestations. Recognize, refuse and then ignore them.
    • Refuse and reject all their lies and excuses, as they are recognized.
    • Notice the thoughts, and the way in which they come, and when, and immediately declare the attitude of Rom.6: 11 against all the interference of the enemy.

Hindrances to deliverance from deception and possession may again be given here briefly, as:–

    • Not knowing it is possible to be deceived;
    • Thinking God will not allow a believer to be deceived;
    • Saying “I am safe under the Blood,” without intelligent knowledge of conditions;
    • Saying “I have no sin,” to open the door to an “evil spirit”;
    • Saying “I am doing all that God wants, so all must be right”; without seeking to understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph. 5: 10- 17).

Some hints on overcoming passivity of mind, are as follows:–

    • Act as far as you can, doing what you can.
    • Take the initiative, instead of passively depending on others.
    • Decide for yourself in everything you can. Do not lean on others.
    • Live in the moment, watch and pray step by step.
    • Use your mind, and THINK–think over all you do, and say, and are.

Chapter 9 The Volition and Spirit of Man

Here they address the question: How does the Spirit work in individuals:

They make a point that part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Not Spirit-control. This is a helpful distinction.

Something we have seen on retreat, where people who are Baptized in the Spirit take every little movement as a movement from God:

believers sometimes think that then He alone acts in them, and they are infallibly, or specially guided by Him, with the result that everything which takes place in their inner life is necessarily His working.

They use Paul’s example from 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul says some things come from the Spirit and some from his mind. This is helpful.

Chapter 10 Victory in Conflict

Here is a bold statement:

If the man is right with God, standing on Romans 6, with no deliberate yielding to known sin, then any manifestation of sin coming back again unaccountably, may be dealt with as from evil spirits.

So bold that I don’t buy it. But of course it can never  be proven because if a brother or sister manifests sin not from an evil spirit, one can always say that they are not in right with God.


This above statement is a major point and to my mind a helpful point.

We gain victory over Satan by using the weapon of truth.

To have victory over this persistent stream of lies from the father of lies, the believer must fight (1) with the weapon of God’s truth in the written Word, and (2) truth about facts in himself, others and circumstances.

“We would fain have come unto you . . . but Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2: 18), wrote Paul, who was able to discern between the hindering of Satan, and the restraining of the Holy Spirit of God (Acts 16: 6).

The whole of his schemes against God’s children may be summed up under three heads:

        1. To cause them to sin, as he tempted Christ in the wilderness;
        2. To slander them, as Christ was slandered by family and foes;
        3. To slay them, as Christ was slain at Calvary, when, by the direct permission of God, the hour and power of darkness gathered around Him, and He by the hands of wicked men was crucified and slain (Acts 2: 23).

The armored and non- armored believer may be briefly contrasted as follows:

The armored Christian The non-armored Christian
Armored with truth Open to lies, through ignorance.
Righteousness of life Unrighteousness through ignorance.
Making and keeping peace Divisions and quarrels.
Self-preservation and control Reckless unwatchfulness.
Faith as a shield Doubt and unbelief.
Scriptures in the hand Relying on reason instead God’s Word.
Prayer without ceasing Relying on work without prayer.

Chapter 11 War upon the Powers of Darkness

In war, whether natural or supernatural, there are two principles governing the warfare, viz.: aggressive and defensive, i.e., the attacking force must be able to defend itself as well as to take the aggressive against the enemy.

A central point of the book is that casting out a demon by commanding only is not always effective because sometimes the ground given is not taken back. This essentially is Jesus teaching about the demon coming back to an empty house.

Then they say this:

the degree of knowledge he has about the workings of the spirits of evil determines the degree of his:

        • discernment,
        • resistance,
        • authority over them in wielding the Name of Christ,

Example of warfare prayers:

“Lord, destroy that work of the devil!” or “May God open the eyes of that man to the deceptions of Satan around him!”

Learning to do warfare prayer is important: “such a warfare by prayer needs to be learnt as much as any other subject of knowledge in the world of men.” Lord I am not sure how to do this.

Another warfare prayer they taught: “pray that any evil spirit present may be exposed”

They give a warning against praying universal prayers:

The order of prayer is therefore, first exhaustive prayer for all personal and local spheres, praying through these out to the wider range of the universal. Prayer not only exhaustive, but persistent. The believer needs for all this

        1. strength to pray,
        2. vision to pray,
        3. knowledge of what to pray

Also, concerning motivation:

He knows that to see a need for prayer is sufficient call for prayer, and if he waits for “feeling” that he can pray when he has vision to pray it is sin.

Chapter 12 Revival Dawn and the Baptism of the Spirit

“We have seen that the period in the believer’s life wherein he receives the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the special time of danger from the evil supernatural world, and the Baptism of the Spirit is THE ESSENCE OF REVIVAL”

“Few go through the crisis [the hour of Revival] without deception by the enemy in more or less degree, and only those who cling to the use of their reasoning faculties at this time, can hope to be saved from the catastrophe of becoming a victim to the subtle workings of evil supernatural powers.”

We close the book summary with some interesting statements based on their experience with the Welsh revival:

The scheme of the powers of darkness in Revival dawn, is to drive, or push to extreme, what is true.

The mistake at the time of the Revival in Wales in 1904 was to become occupied with the effects of Revival, and not to watch and pray in protecting and guarding the cause of Revival.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the essence of Revival, for Revival comes from a knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and the way of co-working with Him which enables Him to work in Revival power. The primary condition for Revival is, therefore, that believers should individually know the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Spirit fills the human spirit of the believer, and communicates to him the very Spirit of Jesus, joining him in one spirit to the Spirit of the glorified Lord, imparting to him the life and nature of Christ for the building up of a new creation in His likeness (Rom. 8: 29; Heb. 2: 2-13).

Book Summary – Reflection on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis

Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Lewis starts us off by saying that we must read the Psalms as poetry: “with all the licenses and all the formalities, the hyperbole, the emotional rather than logical connections which are proper to lyric poetry.” He warns us about the parallelism used in the Psalms and to really dig into the two renderings of the one thought – and not try to make two thoughts out of them.

Chapter 2 – “Judgement” in the Psalms

He then takes the Psalmists to task: Commenting on Psalm 7:8

The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me

he says that: “this represents the fatal confusion between being in the right and being righteous.” We are not to fall into that trap.

Chapter 3 – Cursings

Lewis starts by looking at Psalm 109. This is the prototype of an imprecatory Psalm. Lewis, as do most of us, finds these disquieting at best. We find these “cursings” in the midst of Psalms we love (like Psalm 143 and 139) as well as buried in the most beloved Psalms (preparing a table in the presence of my enemies means to feed me while they have to just look on – according to Lewis).

Lewis calls these “terrible” and “contemptible.” He says we cannot just leave them alone and dismiss them but must find a use for them. We must not explain them away or yield to the thought that because they are in the Bible, “all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious.” We have to admit that “the hatred is there – festering, gloating, undisguised – and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passion in ourselves.”

Here are Lewis’ observations:

    1. These are feelings that we all know all too well. And we can use these parts of the Psalms to examine if these feelings are in our own hearts. “We are all blood-brothers to these ferocious self-pitying, barbaric men.”
    2. We can use these rants to see “the natural results of injuring a human being.” We arouse these kind of feelings when we lie about another or put them down or keep them down. “Such hatreds are the kind of thing that cruelty and injustice, by a sort of natural law, produce.”
    3. “The reaction of the Psalmist to injury, though profoundly natural, is profoundly wrong.” We cannot say they knew better. The law is clear that the Psalmist is profoundly wrong in wanting the destruction of the babies of our enemies. (Lev 19:17-18; Ex 23:4-5; Prov 24:17; Prov 25:21).
    4. Lewis does not find this kind of hatred expressed in Pagan authors (Greek, Roman, or Norse). The Psalms are “more vindictive and more vitriolic than the Pagan” writings. Why is that? He explains it by saying that “the Jews sinned in this matter worse than the Pagans not because there were further from God but because they were nearer to Him. They were aware of how bad sin was and thus their emotions were more deeply felt. He recalls a time traveling with a group of soldiers during World War II and hearing them talk about the “supposed” Nazi atrocities. They dismissed them as Allied propaganda to motivate the troops. What surprised Lewis was that they were not in the slightest upset with their authorities for doing this to them. He said that the raw emotion expressed by the Psalmist is better than the indifference of these soldiers to supposedly being manipulated by their superiors. “If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously.”
    5. Thus “we can still see, in the worst of their maledictions, how these old poets were, in a sense, near to God.”
    6. “the ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it (if not its perpetrators) is hateful to God.”
    7. Thus in these imprecatory Psalms, “His words sounds through.”

Chapter 4 Death in the Psalms

Lewis feels that our Christian ancestors “seem to have read the Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament under the impression that the authors wrote with a pretty full understanding of Christian Theology.” He believes this to be a false assumption. One area in the Psalms is the area of death. One is hard pressed to find the promise of the afterlife in the Psalms. Clearly we are not to read them as a counter to the resurrection.

Chapter 5 The Fair Beauty of the Lord

“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance.” This is most remarkable in that “These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God.” We are to allow the love that these poets express towards God to seep into the very fabric of our being. Angels longed to see what we see and what they did not. Yet few extol the fair beauty of the Lord as do these poets.

Chapter 6 Sweeter than Honey

Lewis asks – why is the law seen as so sweet? One approach would be to see that the laws given by God were so much more beautiful and sweeter than their Pagan neighbor’s laws. He says that we can connect with that today. “None of the new ways is yet so filthy or cruel as some Semitic Paganism. But many of them ignore all individual rights and are already cruel enough. Some give morality a wholly new meaning which we cannot accept, some deny its possibility.  Perhaps we shall all learn, sharply enough, to value the clean air and ‘sweet reasonableness’ of the Christian ethics which in a more Christian age we might have taken for granted.” Can we see the wonderful beauty and sweet honey of God’s law? Steep ourselves into the rich love of the law by these poets.

Chapter 7 Connivance

Lewis here address the problem where the Psalms view other people as not made in the image of God but really bad people. We are not to learn the ways of the Psalmist in this area.

Chapter 8 Nature

Lewis address how Nature is stripped of its divinity as extolled in the pagan poets but then is made a manifestation of the Divine. Lewis claims that no poetry in any pagan culture praises Nature in this way. “Paganism in general fails to get out of nature something the Jews got.” He only found one instance that is contrary: A poem from the 14th century BC entitled Hymn to the Sun. What is unique is that it is written by a Pharaoh who broke away from polytheism and tried to establish the worship of a single creator God. Is there something about monotheism that enables us to see Nature as a manifestation of the Divine?

Chapter 9 A Word about Praising

In this chapter Lewis addresses the conflict he (and many others) have had with the notion that God demands our praise. It is everywhere in the Psalms. He first addresses the question by speaking about how we deal with inanimate objects like a painting. A beautiful painting should be admired. If one doesn’t admire it, there is something deficient in you. The painting “demands” praise. That is the first sense in which God demands praise.

But Lewis takes us to a second argument. In some mysterious way, “it is in the process of being worshiped that God communicates His presence to men.” He admits that it is a “miserable idea that God should in any sense need, or crave for, our worship…” He says, that “even if such an absurd Deity could be conceived, He would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures, to gratify His appetite. I don’t want my dog to bark approval of my books.”

Then he takes it another level. He says that “all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…” We praise so many things when we enjoy them: the weather; a good meal; a good friend and so on. And “praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.” People with inner health are expressive when in the presence of beauty or greatness. In areas where or times when we are broken, we miss the marvelous and praise does not flow out audibly

And when we praise something, we inevitably invite others into it. “Wasn’t it glorious?” “The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.” “Praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.”

Chapter 10 Second Meanings

Lewis now goes to a much more complicated question and which therefore requires a much more nuanced argument. There are many things in the New Testament theology that can be read into the Psalms (a classic error for a modern evangelical). Lewis talks about how many fanciful and intelligent and creative things have been read into his writings. Some so “ingenious and interesting that I often wish I had thought of them myself.” Lewis wants us to be quick not to throw out all second meanings “as rubbish.” I will try to do Lewis justice – but it would be best if you read his argument yourself.

Lewis starts with an illustration recounted by a Roman historian. Apparently there was a fire in a town that originated in one of the public baths. There was a patron of the baths who complained to an attendant that the water was not hot enough. The attendant said “it will soon be hot enough.” If the fire was an accident, then clearly the attendant said something with more truth in it than he intended. But “there need be nothing here but chance coincidence” unless the attendant was involved in an arson.

But a stickier wicket is a poem by Virgil written just before the birth of Christ:

The great procession of the ages begins anew

Now the Virgin returns, the reign of Saturn [lost age of innocence and peace] returns,

And the new child is sent down from the high heaven.

“The poem goes on to describe the paradisial age which this nativity will usher in.” This could be poetically a prophetic description of the birth of Jesus. And throughout the Middle Ages was so interpreted. What are we to make of that? Is it the same as the bath attendant and just a lucky guess?

Lewis offers three thought experiments of the imagination adding up to a total of five examples.

    1. A Spirit-filled man with a track record of accurate prophesy, claims that somewhere in the universe there exists some hideous creature (with specifics). Years later, as space is explored, we find such a creature.
    2. A sci-fi writer with no religious or scientific background describes a different creature. Years later we find just such a creature.
    3. A biologist posits through scientific reasoning, that given a particular environment, such and such a creature would exist in that environment. [Something like Dr. Monica Grady has proposed for Jupiter’s moon Europa]. Again, years from now, we find just such a creature in that specific environment.

These five cases all portray a predictive power – ranging from random chance (the bath attendant) to a scientific possibility come true.

Lewis explores something more like the biologists prediction in his final example: Plato. In his Republic, Plato philosophically explores the true meaning of righteousness. And to do so, he strips it of all the positive things a righteous person might receive: honor, popularity, etc. To see true righteousness, we must see a truly righteous man treated as a man as “a monster of wickedness.” How would society treat such a truly righteous man:

They will say that the just person in such circumstances will be whipped, stretched on a rack, chained, blinded with a red-hot iron, and, at the end, when he has suffered every sort of bad thing, he will be impaled [placed on a stick to die or the Persian equivalent to crucifixion], and will realize then that one should not want to be just, but to be believed to be just.

This comparison to what happened to Jesus was not missed by the early church Fathers. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian noted it. But for Lewis, he sees this as a pagan finding truth through common grace. “Virgil …and the slave in the bath almost certainly were, “talking about something else… Plato is talking, and knows he is talking, about the fate of goodness in a wicked and misunderstanding world… If Plato … was led on to see the possibility of the perfect example [of a righteous person], and thus to depict something extremely like the Passion,” it was not by chance or by prophetic gifting but by a knowledge of truth.

All of this plays into how we read the Psalms and how there appears to be so much New Testament theology in them. But that is the topic for the next chapter.

Chapter 11 Scripture

In this chapter, Lewis expresses his view on the authority of Scripture. Frankly, his view was a little higher than I expected it to be. Lewis says the Scriptures are:

    1. Holy
    2. Inspired by God
    3. “The Oracles of God” (Romans 3:2)

He also doesn’t have a problem with the stories of creation from the book of Genesis to be “derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.” He believes that the stories were molded and shaped by “the Father of Lights.” “When a series of such re-tellings turn a creation story which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the re-tellers, or some one of them, has not been guided by God.” He believes that all of the forms of the Old Testament are “taken into the service of God’s word.” He describes God’s influence as a “Divine pressure” on the writers. He uses the way Jesus taught as instructive for how the Old Testament was formed. Jesus did not use didactic rational reasons but stories and allegories and comparisons. “He preaches but He does not lecture.”

He then goes on to explain how this relates to the Psalms:

Certainly it seems to me that from having had to reach what is really the Voice of God in the cursing Psalms through all the horrible distortions of the human medium, I have gained something I might not have gained from a flawless, ethical exposition. The shadows have indicated (at least to my heart) something more about the light. Nor would I (now) willingly spare from my Bible something in itself so anti-religious as the nihilism of Ecclesiastes. We get there a clear, cold picture of man’s life without God. That statement is itself part of God’s word. We need to have heard it. Even to have assimilated Ecclesiastes and no other book in the Bible would be to have advanced further towards truth than some men do.

In the same way, we need to hear the “cursings” of the Psalmist because they show our own heart like no other ethical exposition can.

Lewis also makes an important point about how Jesus used the Psalms. Jesus said that the Psalms spoke clearly about Him and that was most important to Lewis.

Chapter 12 Second Meaning in the Psalms

He tells us that the Psalms present us with two figures: “that of the sufferer and that of the conquering and liberating king.” He relates that the Jews took the sufferer to be Israel and the king the Messiah. From these images, Lewis addresses the fact that much of the second meanings in the Psalms are allegorical. But he warns us that “this does not mean that all the countless applications of [the allegorical] are fruitful, legitimate, or even rational.”

Be Still and Know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

Several months ago our pastor was commenting on Psalm 46:10 (“Be still, and know that I am God.”). He said that we misinterpret this verse when we picture ourselves at a serene brook with our Bible and prayer journal open to be still and know that God is God. I didn’t really get where he was headed with this until just this week. Listening to Mark Buchanan speak about sabbath on the Discerning Leader podcast ( ) I finally understood what our pastor meant. The psalm is all about God acting in human affairs:

  • God helping his people (vs 5)
  • God speaking, and the whole earth softening (vs 6)
  • God bringing desolation (vs 8)
  • God bringing wars to an end (vs 9)
  • God destroying our implements of war (vs 9)

And then God inviting our response: “Be still and know that I am God” (vs 10)

Mark said: “Psalm 46:10 is not about stillness but attentiveness.”

Lord, help us to respond to your invitation to be still enough to be attentive to what you are doing around us.

What We can Learn about Listening to God as We Learn to Listen to Others


I am currently reading a series of mediations by David Roper in a book entitled: Teach Us to Number Our Days. I would highly recommend it to those of you who, like me, are aging faster than you would like.  In the book, in a chapter entitled, “Learning to Listen, ” David provides ten ways you can know that you are not listening to others.

How to Know You are Not Listening to Others

    1. When I am thinking about an answer while others are talking – I’m not listening.
    2. When I give unsolicited advice – I’m not listening.
    3. When I suggest they shouldn’t feel the way they do – I’m not listening.
    4. When I apply a quick fix to their problem – I’m not listening.
    5. When I fail to acknowledge their feelings – I’m not listening.
    6. When I fidget, glance at my watch, and appear to be rushed – I’m not listening.
    7. When I fail to maintain eye contact – I’m not listening.
    8. When I don’t ask follow-up questions – I’m not listening.
    9. When I top their story with a bigger, better story of my own – I’m not listening.
    10. When they share a difficult experience and I counter with one of my own – I’m not listening.

How to Know You are Not Listening to God

Although all of these are not directly applicable to learning to listen to God, I thought I would put my spin on how to know that you are not listening to God based on the above ten principles from David Roper:

    1. When I am thinking about how to come up with the right words to say to God – I’m not listening to Him. God does not need well worded responses. Pour out your heart to him. Don’t wordsmith your response.
    2. When I try to tell God how to run the universe – I’m not listening to Him. He is not looking for advice.
    3. When I am challenging God’s ways – I’m not listening to Him. That said, He invites us to be honest with Him about what we are feeling – but a posture of listening invites us to learn His ways. God only revealed His deeds to the children of Israel – but His ways He revealed to Moses. (Psalm 103:7)
    4. When I am looking for a quick answer from God to a complex problem – I’m not listening to Him.
    5. When I am struggling to know I am loved by Him and His strong feelings toward me,  – I’m not listening to God. God has spared nothing to share His reckless love with you. And He has spoken extensively on this topic.
    6. When I fidget, glance at my watch, and appear to be rushed – I’m not listening to God.
    7. When I fail to maintain eye contact – I’m not listening to God.  God has said: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will advise you with My eye upon you. ” (Psalm 32:8). When we take our eyes off Him, we are not listening.
    8. When I don’t ask follow-up questions – I’m not listening to God. This is one of the key principles we teach about listening prayer. Keep the dialogue going when God has spoken to you. Ask follow-up questions like: “What does that mean? and “Can that really be true?”
    9. When God’s simple response is not enough for us – I’m not listening to Him.
    10. When God shares a difficult word with me and I counter with one of my own difficult words to God – I’m not listening. Again, I am not saying that we not say those difficult words to God. But when we do, it is important to know that we are not in a listening posture.

There is much that can be said about how to know when you are not listening to God – but I thought that Mark Roper’s framework for listening to others would provide a helpful window through which to look at this topic from a different angle. Most of the principles about listening to other persons apply to listening to God – because God is a person – actually three persons in one. For more about discerning God’s voice in prayer – check out my blog by the same title.

Discerning God’s Word – Principles and Practices

Principles and Practices for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a pastor / friend who was asking if I would help his congregation learn how to listen to and discern God’s voice. Previously I had done a sermon at a mutual friend’s church on the importance of learning to listen to God. In that sermon, I made the following statements:

[After we begin to sense that God is speaking to us…] Finally we attempt to discern – Is this God speaking or is it just my own thoughts – how we do that is a topic for another day.


My friend said – “That is the sermon I want you to preach and teach at our church.”


I thought that it would be good to list the basic principles, insights, and general guidelines that I have learned over the years. So I would like to post these one at a time and see where this goes. Let me know if this is helpful by liking the ones that work. Remember as we look at this, that, as Dallas Willard says: “discerning God’s voice is essentially just one dimension of a certain kind of life, the eternal kind of life, a life lived in conversational relationship with God.” I think it is important to start with what we can glean from scripture about this whole process of discerning whether what we are sensing is from God or not. So fasten your seat belt – here we go.

Part 1: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Oftentimes while teaching on Listening Prayer, I ask the following question:
How do you know that the Bible is the word of God?


I find it surprising that many do not know the way the Jews determined the Hebrew canon and the ways the early church determined what should go into the New Testament canon. Although no single criteria was used, what we do know is that each text was carefully looked at and tested to see if it was actually the word of God. The tests varied – but testing for authorship; testing to see if it has passed the test of time; testing for alignment with the rest of Scripture were all part of the vetting process.
In the same way – one way to know that what you are receiving from God is to test it over time. Does it bear positive fruit in your life? (more on that later) Does it align with scripture? Is there a quiet persistence to it as compared to an urgent demand? Does it convict while not condemning and does the conviction bring real transformation? But of all the criteria that we will discuss, the most important is time. Does what you hear stand the test of time?
For more on this, see chapter 11 “Is that You Lord?” in my book: Listening to God Together (check it out on Amazon…/dp/1973148633/ref=sr_1_2…
Let me know some of the ways you test what your receive from God in prayer.
Supporting Scripture:
1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
1 Thessalonians 4:20-21 Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

Part 2: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Confirming Circumstances

Another way that we can discern that God is speaking to us is when there are circumstances that confirm what we have heard after we have heard it. We see this in the life of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was told by God to buy a particular piece of land from his cousin while all of Israel was under siege and in imminent danger of having the land seized by the invaders. Certainly not a wise investment. So Jeremiah had ample reason to doubt what he thought he heard from God. When his cousin came to him and offered to sell to him the exact piece of land, Jeremiah said:

Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. Jeremiah 32:8

Too many followers of Jesus turn it around and interpret circumstances as the word of the Lord before they have received the word of the Lord. I know of no place in scripture where God’s people use circumstances alone as the word of the Lord. For example: “I wasn’t thinking about changing jobs but this head hunter called and offered me this incredible position in California. It is so good and we need the money, it is truly a God-thing. All the circumstances worked out for us to leave here and move to California.” Certainly God uses circumstances to get our attention – but it must be either preceded or followed by the coming confirmation of the inner witness of the word of God. Not just a perfect alignment of circumstances. Confirming signs are to follow us – not the other way around with us following the signs. God is the one “who confirms the word of his servant and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,” (Isaiah 44:26).

Supporting Scripture

Deuteronomy 9 5Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Jeremiah 11 4bListen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God,that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “So be it, Lord.”

Jeremiah 32 And Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.”’ Then my uncle’s son Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard in accordance with the word of the Lord and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

Mark 16 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

2 Peter 1 19And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,

Part 3: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Inner Witness

The inner witness is the most difficult one to describe and to apply. Unlike testing and circumstances that we talked about in Part 1 and Part 2 which are external, this comes from within and is the most subjective. But it can be the most powerful. Even the Westminster Confession recognizes this when it states:

our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

Although speaking about how we become persuaded and assured by the written word of God, this principle directly applies to listening to God’s voice. Here are a few things that have helped me discern when the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with my spirit that a word I have heard in prayer is from God:

    1. When there is a recognition that it is not my thought – Very often, there is something about the inner witness that sounds different from my own thoughts. Tricia Rhodes says it like this: “we are aware that a voice other than our own has joined our thoughts.” And Philip Yancey “As I persist at prayer, I recognize an answering partner who takes up the other side of the dialogue, a kind of internal alter ego representing God’s point of view.”
    2. When it brings a new insight – Oftentimes God brings a new insight into a dilemma, a relationship, or a decision that was previously not known.
    3. When it brings a sense of peace The peace of God is truly remarkable. It goes beyond our ability to comprehend it. When a word comes in prayer, a good way to discern if it is from God, is whether with it comes that wonderful peace. We may still be anxious about the future – but over and above that anxiety is the deep and unmistakable peace of God. Remember the peace belongs to Him. It is His peace. The apostle Paul tells us to let the peace of God “rule in our hearts.” Not rule as a dictator, but the Greek literally means to “act as arbiter in the games” or to be the umpire.
    4. When it has a ring of truth and quiet authority – There is something about a true word from God that carries with it an authority unlike any worldly authority. The crowds recognized this with the words of Jesus. We can discern that what we have received from God is truly from Him because it has that ring of true truth and solid authority.
    5. When it confirms something that God has said before – One of the reasons we encourage people to write things down that they receive from God is because God is quite persistent when He is communicating with His children. He may have spoken the same word before to you – perhaps in a different way but still the same idea. We can discern that a word is true because He has been speaking about this for a while.

Supporting Scripture

Matthew 7 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Colossians 315And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Romans 8 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God

1 John 2 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

Part 4: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Recognize His Voice

One of the key principles in discerning God’s voice in prayer, is that, over time, we learn to recognize God’s voice. Just as a mother can recognize the voice of her child over a cacophony of voices on a playground, we can learn to recognize the voice of God in the midst of a myriad of other distractions. We are not talking about an audible voice. We are talking about discerning the still small voice of the Spirit speaking in our spirit. Even Jesus had to have his ear woken up and unstopped so that He could recognize the Father’s voice and know what He was saying (Isaiah 50:4-8 – see my sermon from February 2020 for more details about this).

When our spirits are made alive through new birth, we are like a little baby. The little baby recognizes the voice of her parents with growing understanding. It starts out slow, but over time she recognizes the voice of the mother and the father. Initially the child takes comfort just in the voice but with no recognition as to what is being said. And as time passes, the child eventually begins to understand what the parent is saying. In a similar way, initially our recognition of God’s voice is minimal – but with experience, we grow in both recognition and understanding. As Jesus said in John 10:

3bThe sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voiceA stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Dallas Willard said in his book, Hearing God:

when God speaks and we recognize the voice as his voice, we do so because our familiarity with that voice enables us to recognize it. We do not recognize it because we are good at playing a guessing game.

[the still small voice] bears the stamp of his personality quite clearly and in a way we will learn to recognize … [and] the medium through which the message comes is diminished almost to the vanishing point, taking the form of thoughts that are our thoughts, though these thoughts are not from us.

All of this talk about the required experience and “learn to recognize” should make us humble and recognize with Thomas Merton that we will “never be anything but beginners all our life” at discerning God’s voice.

Do you remember the time God spoke to Jesus and others thought that it thundered and still others the voice of an angel? It is one thing to hear His voice, it is another to know His voice.

Supporting Scripture

Isaiah 50 4The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.

John 10 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me

John 12 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Part 5: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Deepening our Relationship with Jesus

1 Samuel 3And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

When my friend asked me to teach his congregation to listen to God and to be able to discern whether what we “hear” is from God, I said that the most important way to help a congregation discern what is of God and what is not, is by deepening their relationship with Jesus. The more we get to know the living Word of God in a deep and personal way, the more easily we can discern truth and error. The boy Samuel could not tell that it was God speaking because he didn’t “know the Lord.” The implication is that once Samuel knew the Lord, he could recognize when He was speaking. The apostle John, who spent much time resting his head on Jesus, recorded these words of Jesus in John 8:31-32:


“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


Get to know the words of Jesus recorded in the scriptures. Get to know the heart of Jesus from His words and His deeds. Get to know the person of Jesus by meditating on every aspect of His life, His death, His resurrection and His ascension. Spend time picturing yourself resting your head on Jesus. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our ability to discern what we “hear” in prayer will grow.

This is not unlike our relationship with any other person. Much misunderstanding in communications with others can be avoided the more we know the other person. For example, our communications with each other are often incomplete and confusing. A husband might say: “We need to make sure we keep all the food off the counter because it is the season for ants.” The wife might hear that as a criticism of the way she keeps the counters clean. But if she knows that the husband not only loves her but honors the way she keeps house, no confusion will arise.

For example, as you get to know Jesus in the scriptures, one of the things you learn about Him is that He doesn’t argue with people. Listen to the words of E. Stanley Jones:

The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks, and it is self-authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within it.

Another example from our own relationships is how two people who are very close know what the other is thinking without even a word being spoken. That should be our goal in our relationship with Jesus. We should know what is of Him because we deeply know Him.

The apostle Paul prays for the Ephesians and us that:

 we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:13)

May our relationship with Jesus and our knowledge of Him become fully mature – filled with Christ.

Additional Supporting Scripture

John 14 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. [Note how Jesus ties knowing Him with understanding His words.]

Ephesians 1 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, [ Note: as we grow in our knowledge of Him, we gain wisdom and revelation to discern] 

1 Peter 3 take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [Note that knowledge of Jesus prevents us from being “carried away” with error.]

Part 6: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

The Written Word of God

It goes without saying that the written word of God takes precedent in all of the times we are discerning God’s voice in prayer. Without question, if you hear something that you think is from God in prayer and it doesn’t line up with the truth revealed in the Bible, you know that you are not hearing from God.

But it is not always quite that easy. In my life, I don’t think I have ever heard anything from God in prayer that didn’t line up with the written word of God. Our retreat team has sat with thousands of people on retreat over the past 30 years. In very few cases did the folks on retreat hear something that didn’t align with God’s written word. And that is not because all of the individuals on retreat were well schooled in the Scriptures. So, this section is not positioned towards the end of this document because it is less important, it is because it rarely comes into play.

For purposes of discerning God’s voice in prayer, I would divide the Scriptures up into four parts: the law of God; the God ordained principles that we can glean from Scripture; the ecclesiastical instructions given in Scripture; and the theological understanding revealed in Scripture (who is God and who is man).

The Law of God

Years ago, there was an ad on TV that promoted the wearing of seat belts. The ad ended with a man clicking his seat belt in place with the words: “It’s the law.” At that time, I was talking with a friend at church about tithing. He motioned like he was buckling his seat belt and said: “It’s the law.”

Some people would say that God will not speak to us in prayer about anything that violates the law of God. That would give the apostle Peter trouble discerning when he heard in prayer: “Rise Peter, kill and eat [these unclean animals].”[1] This clearly violated the dietary law of God as Peter knew it. So the question is: Which laws? Traditionally, dating back to Irenaeus (c. 170 AD), Christians have seen three types of Old Testament law: the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial. We find this characterization in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and the reformers. According to this perspective, the only part that we as Christians are required to keep is the moral law. The moral law was given not just for the people of Israel, but for all people because it is rooted in the character of God and His design for creation. And, in fact pre-dates the Law. The other two types of law were just for Israel.  For our purposes, let’s go on the assumption that this is true: We can discern that something is not from God if it calls us to violate the moral law revealed in Scripture. For now, we won’t worry if you sense God calling you to make a pork roast for your family dinner.

But what exactly is the moral law? Has any denomination or church codified it? Certainly, it is not Immanuel Kant’s definition of the moral law.[2]  I think some of us are like Supreme Court Justice Black who when talking about pornography said: “I know it when I see it.”[3] We know what the moral law is instinctively.  But is that true? In the age of the Spirit, post-Pentecost, God has promised to write His law upon our heart.[4] I would say: Yes, the moral law is written upon the heart of every believer. The apostle Paul also said that non-believers actually know God’s righteous decrees.[5] Paul even  says that the moral law is written on the hearts of non-believers.[6] That is another matter. But for this article, let’s keep the argument concerning only followers of Jesus who are listening to God in prayer. Even as believers, we don’t always have a pure heart and a pure channel to that law written upon our heart. Using the moral law of God written upon our heart as a means of discerning truth and error brings us back to a more subjective approach to discerning the voice of God in prayer. It works but is not black and white given our own propensity to follow our own ways (which are not God’s).

I would say that a vast majority of the moral law is clearly understood. Nine of the ten commandments could be considered the foundation of the moral law of God (Sabbath keeping is considered by some to be rescinded under the New Covenant). But take a pretty clear cut-command like: “You shall not murder.” You are a believer who has been drafted into your country’s army. You will be trained to kill your enemy. Is that murder? Or take Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s role in the assassination of Adolf Hitler. Or the command: “You shall not steal.” Is there ever a time that God would tell you to steal something? Was stealing a slave from his cruel master ever permissible. Might God have led you to work for the underground railroad in the mid-nineteenth century? Even stealing has some areas of nuance.

We could go on and on with examples. But, although there are nuances, we can generally use the moral law as revealed in Scripture as a means for discerning God’s voice in prayer. See Appendix A for my attempt to codify the moral law of God.

Biblical Principles

The Bible is chock full of wonderful principles that help order our lives. The book of Proverbs certainly has its share of principles. For example, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”[7] I have found this a wonderfully practical principle that has helped me many times. But can we use it to help us discern what we think God might be saying to us in prayer. Might God ever call us to a hard answer? I am fully convinced that there are times we are to deliver the hard answer and it may incur wrath. Certainly, Jesus gave a few hard answers in His day and wrath certainly followed.

Turning to one example from the New Testament, Paul writes to the Galatians a principle that seems to be at the top of Paul’s list of Godly principles: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”[8] This is such a priority to Paul, he says that when we do this, we fulfill the law of Christ. But can we use this to help us discern God’s voice in prayer? Might God direct us not to carry another brother or sister’s burden that has come to our attention? Of course. Right now, age and a health issue in my family are preventing me to invest in my brothers and sisters as I once did. In this season, I cannot carry my brother and sister’s burdens. This past week, an elderly neighbor shared his newly discovered health issues. I wanted to tell him – “Any time you need a ride or some help with something – let me know.” But in prayer, I realized I could not share his burden.

So what can we say about using Biblical principles in discerning God’s voice in prayer? Two things: First, we need to recognize things that are essentials in the Scriptures. Many denominations and independent churches do a good job identifying those. (Many do not). We need to make sure that we understand those essentials and use those to weigh what we are hearing from God. Is believer baptism one of those essentials? Is an elder led church an essential? (More on this in the next section.) Many things in Scripture are principles that not essential. A principle, can, at times be fungible. I believe that God may direct us to do something that goes against a principle in Scripture. For example, it is a principle that we are to give our monetary offerings to God first – not give Him what is left over. This makes a lot of sense too. As humans, our wallets (and bank accounts) tend to leak. So, giving up front is not just a Biblical principle, it works well given our nature. But it is possible that God may direct you for a time, to not practice that good principle.

That brings up the second thing: What principles in Scripture are fungible? The apostle Paul makes an interesting statement in his letter to the Romans. In talking about eating food that was sacrificed to idols:

Romans 14: 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Remember that the council of Jerusalem specifically said to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols.”[9] The council puts it in the category with abstaining from sexual morality. Clearly, we don’t consider abstaining from sexual morality a fungible principle. Who would say: “If you commit adultery – but are doing it believing by faith that God has given you the go-ahead, then it is not sinning!” Of course, Paul was not defining what is not sin, but what is sin in this letter. Herein is the difficulty and some guidance.

First some guidance.  We need to take Paul’s statement about doing everything in faith very seriously. If we receive something that we believe is from God (given the principles and practices outlined here), we need to act on it in faith. If we act on it without believing it is from God and thinking that it is wrong, that is sin. Or if we don’t act on it even though we believe it is from God, that is also sin.

The difficulty is that I believe that most of the Biblical principles are fungible. They are the way we are to order our lives. But they are not hard and fast rules. We need to read the entire Bible and be looking for the Biblical principles upon which we are to live our lives. That is because I believe they reflect God’s heart for mankind. But they are not laws. Knowing the breadth of these principles will bode us well as we live our lives. But we cannot use them to discern God’s voice in prayer.

That said, when we sense God saying something that goes against one of these Biblical principles, we need to go into it with our eyes open. Know that God is calling you to an exception. We need to be a little more diligent is using our other principles and practices to discern: “Is that really You, God?

Ecclesiastical Instructions

There are many things written in the Scripture about the operation of God’s ecclesia: the Church. The ordering of worship, the appointing of elders, baptism, church discipline and so on are all described in Scripture. These are not exactly laws nor can they exactly be considered general principles. How are we to use what the Scripture teaches on these issues to discern God’s voice in prayer?

Let me give you two examples. Imagine that you are part of a Reformed denomination that believes in infant baptism. You believe God has shown you through the scriptures that believer baptism is the proper approach to baptism. As a result, when your child is born, you and your spouse decide to dedicate them to the Lord. In prayer, you hear God saying that you should submit to your elder’s interpretation of the Scripture – which would mean that you would baptize your infant child. You sense Him telling you that by dedicating your child you would bring disunity within this particular church. How does one use the written word of God to discern whether what you are hearing is from God in that case? Could God be speaking to you about something that goes against what you think the Scripture says? Is the solution more study of the Scripture? Perhaps – but I have some very studious pastor friends who fall on opposite sides on this issue. I am not sure more study is the solution. What is the right path in using the Scriptures in this case?

Here is another example. Imagine that you believe that God has ordered and structured the church in such a way that it should be run by a plurality elders. You have moved to a new town and like the local Anglican church. It is alive. It preaches the gospel. The people love one another. There are new believers regularly being added to the flock. But it is not governed by elders. You join the church and after a few years join a church plant team to form another Anglican church in a nearby town. You and your spouse discern in prayer that God is calling you to join this team. But you will be starting a church that is not elder led. How does one use the Scripture to discern in this case? Could God be speaking to you to go against the Ecclesiastical instruction to “appoint elders.”[10]

I believe that Ecclesiastical instructions cannot help us discern what we hear in prayer for the same reasons I gave for fungible principles. They are given to help us order the church such that it will flourish but they are not hard and fast laws.

The Theological Understanding

One of the most important disciplines in listening prayer, is spending time in God’s presence – letting Him reveal who He is and who we are. In fact, I believe that it is the primary thing God wants to reveal to us in prayer. God uses the written word of God as His primary vehicle to reveal who He is and who we are. But it is through words that He speaks to us that makes these words come alive. Thus, the written word of God must be used to help us discern what we are hearing in these areas. Although there is not complete agreement across all of Christendom, there is a lot of consensus about the basics of who God is and who we are.

    • God is one.[11] He is the sovereign creator[12] and sustainer of all things.[13] He is perfect in holiness.[14] He has existed for all of eternity in three unique persons:[15] Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At His very essence, He is love.[16]
    • God the Father is Spirit[17] and is the life-giver[18], the Almighty[19] one and supreme authority over all creation.[20] He is the one who fulfills the father role to us His children. He is the initiator of the redemption of mankind.[21]
    • Jesus Christ is the living Word made flesh.[22] He is the image of the invisible God.[23] Through Him and for Him all things were made[24] and are held together by the word of His power.[25] He is the King of Kings who will one day give all authority back to the Father.[26]
    • The Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of all those who are born again.[27] He is a distinct person of the Godhead. He mediates the presence of Jesus wherever He goes.[28] He is actively convicting the world of sin and of righteousness.[29] He bestows gifts on His people.
    • Man is made in the image of God but has been irrevocably broken by sin which no man repair. Only through regeneration by the Spirit of God can things be set right. At our core, we are loved by God even in our broken state.

These Biblical truths about God and man (and the many other truths in Scripture) should be used to help us discern what we hear in prayer. Anything that we hear in prayer that goes against who God is and who we are as revealed in Scripture can be dismissed. For example, if we were to hear God say that we are unlovable, we would know that this violates both who God is and who we are as revealed in Scripture. The apostle John uses the litmus test of the historical fact of Jesus coming in the flesh for discerning truth and error.[30] Anything that we hear that denies that Jesus, the second member of the Trinity did not come in the flesh is clearly not from God.

Even here, there can be some challenges. I believe that the Scriptures reveal a Triune God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not just one God wearing three masks. That is called modalism and is rejected by most of Christendom. But I have brothers and sisters in Christ that are not Trinitarian. And even though the Scriptures appear to reveal a God in three distinct persons, this understanding has come through man’s interpretation of a number of Scriptures. What would you do if you heard from God: “Hear child! The Lord is One. Although I have revealed myself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet I remain as one and the same.” We could immediately reject it based on what we have been taught. But I believe that if I were to hear that, I would take it as an invitation to dig more deeply into the Scriptures and how others have come to see God as Three persons in one.


How does one use the written word of God to discern if what we hear in prayer is from God? I believe that God wants us to so soak in the written word of God that we truly know the heart of God. And that as much as possible, we are to strive to have the heart of God as revealed in Scripture etched on our heart. Where we know the moral law inside and out – not just the letter of the moral law but the spirit of the moral law. We are to grow in our knowledge of all of the principles God has revealed in Scripture. And, as we soak in the word, we come to a full understanding of who God is and who we are. With this heart, we are then able to take the whole counsel of God into the discernment process. We can discern when a higher law may be involved. If we hear something from God that violates either one of the fungible principles or goes against the moral law of God while fulfilling what you sense is a higher part of the moral law, we need to take extraordinary care. More time in prayer, more time with other believers discerning together and more careful self-examination of your motives and your own heart on the matter are required. Finally, we must strive to maintain a posture of humility in our listening. Even after all of this, we may be wrong.

Appendix A

A brief summary of the moral law of God

    • Love God and Love Neighbor  (Luke 10:27 Paul calls this “the Royal law” Jesus said: “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” Matthew 22:40)
    • The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12 Jesus said: “For this is the Law and the Prophets”)
    • Love one another (John 15:12 – a special command to the community of faith)
    • Have only one God (Exodus 20:3)
    • No Idolatry (Exodus 20:4-6)
    • No Blasphemy (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 24:14,16, 23)
    • Honor parents (Exodus 20:12)
    • No Murder (Exodus 20:13)
    • No Adultery (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22)
    • No Stealing (Exodus 20:15)
    • No Lying (Exodus 20:16)
    • No Coveting (Exodus 20:17)
    • No Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
    • No Sorcery and Witchcraft (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 13:5, 1 Samuel 28:9)
    • No Bestiality (Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 20:16)
    • No Incest (Leviticus 18:6-18, 20:11-12,14,17,19-21)
    • No Homosexual acts (Leviticus 20:13)
    • No Sexual immorality (Acts 15:29)



[1] Acts 10:13

[2] “human action is only morally good if it is done from a sense of duty, and that a duty is a formal principle based not on self-interest or from a consideration of what results might follow.”

[3],for%20obscenity%20in%20Jacobellis%20v.&text=Though%20%22I%20know%20it%20when,himself%20in%20his%20short%20concurrence. Seen on May 24th, 2021

[4] Jeremiah 31:31-34

[5] Romans 1:32

[6] Romans 2:14-15 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

[7] Proverbs 15:1

[8] Galatians 6:2

[9] Acts 15:29

[10] Titus 1:5

[11] Deuteronomy 6:4

[12] Genesis 1:1

[13] Psalm 55:22

[14] Leviticus 11:44-45

[15] The trinity is whispered in the Scriptures not proof texted

[16] 1 John 4:8

[17] John 4:24

[18] John 5:21

[19] Genesis 17:1

[20] 1 Corinthians 15:28

[21] John 3:16; Isaiah 63:16-17

[22] John 1:1

[23] Colossians 1:15

[24] Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16

[25] Hebrews 1:3

[26] 1 Corinthians 15:28

[27] Romans 8:11

[28] John 15:26

[29] John 16:8

[30] 1 John 4:2

Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer or How to Recognize When God Speaks

Book Summary

I picked up this book from our church library. It was not filed in the Women’s section but Priscilla is definitely targeting it for women. That said – I think it is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to start out learning to listen to God. The whole focus is not on how to discern or recognize God when He speaks – but rather a high level summary of: the what; the how and our response to God’s voice. Note: These notes are from the 2007 edition. She basically re-wrote the book in 2012.  There is almost no correlation between that edition and the one I am reviewing.

First off, I want to say I love the way she organized the book. There are five parts:

    • Part 1: Hearing God’s Voice – This part has the two basics that we teach: Expect to Hear Him and Just do it – practice the spiritual discipline of listening
    • Part 2: Communicating with God Today – This part could be subtitled: An Invitation to Intimacy with God
    • Part 3: Revealing God’s Character – This part could be subtitled: What to Primarily Expect while Listening to God
    • Part 4: Discovering God’s Plan – This part focuses on the guidance component of listening to God.
    • Part 5: Responding to God’s Plan – The Hebrew word for listen is integrally linked to obedience to God’s voice.

In addition, each chapter contains the following sidebars:

    • A Saint Speaks – where she quotes other Christian’s response to the topic she is addressing
    • He Speaks – quotes from the Bible about the topic
    • How do you Know it’s God’s Voice? – Descriptions from others about how they discern God’s voice.

I love the chapter titles that describe God’s voice as:

    • Marvelous
    • Guiding
    • Verifiable
    • Persistent
    • Revealing
    • Peaceful
    • Powerful
    • Invitational
    • Timely
    • Fatherly
    • Challenging

I would agree with all of these as descriptors of God’s voice and will probably include it the next time we introduce listening to a group.

Notable Quotes

“Those who do not believe God speaks specifically will simply ignore or explain away all the times when God does communicate with them. However, those who spend each day in a profound awareness that God does speak are in a wonderful position to receive His word.” A. W. Tozer

“If we come to Him doubting His ability to speak, we will have a difficult time listening. So we must come expectantly.” Charles Stanley

“If you want to hear God’s voice clearly and you are uncertain, then remain in His presence until He changes this uncertainty. Often much can happen during this waiting on the Lord. Sometimes He changes pride into humility; doubt into faith and peace; sometimes lust into purity. The Lord can and will do it.” Corrie Ten Boom

“Conversing with the Father is colored by the needs of the day. Let your prayer be something definite, arising either out of the Word which you have read, or out of the real soul needs which you long to be satisfied. Let your prayer be so definite that you can say as you go out, ‘I know what I have asked from my Father, and I expect an answer.” Andrew Murray

“Note well, that we must hear Jesus speak if we expect Him to hear us speak. If we have no ear for Christ, He will have no ear for us.” Charles Spurgeon

“We can make our heart a chapel where we can go anytime to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them.” Brother Lawrence

“I close my eyes to shut out visual stimuli … I close my ears by dealing authoritatively with distractions that threaten my ability to tune in to God. I close a series of shutters on the surface level of my life, thus holding at bay hindrances to hearing the still small voice of God …” Joyce Huggett

“Listening to God today is not about newness but about nowness.” Joyce Huggett

“I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” Isaiah 45:3

“Have you ever heard the Master say something very difficult to you? If you haven’t, I question whether you have ever heard Him say anything at all.” Oswald Chambers

Minor Points of Disagreement

A couple of minor quibbles with the book. In most cases, I don’t think she really means what these statements say.

Priscilla says that the “Father’s greatest goal is for us to grow into our full spiritual potential…” I think the Father’s goal is much greater than this:  that we would fully grow to conform to the image of Christ; that we would achieve a oneness with the Trinity and with God’s people are two goals of the Father that are greater.

She also says: “Hearing God’s voice is impossible for someone who hasn’t yet been born of the Spirit.” Saint Peter heard the Father’s voice concerning Jesus’ being the Messiah.  None of us would become followers of Jesus if we did not hear His voice before we were born of the Spirit.

Finally, quoting a friend, she says that “God’s supernatural activity is so evident in my life because I have decided the only appropriate response to Him is complete obedience.” I am so thankful that God’s supernatural activity is so evident in my life not because of my complete obedience but because of His grace towards me and that I look for God’s supernatural activity.




Book Summary: Hearing God by Dallas Willard

Book Summary

Without a doubt, this was the most helpful book in developing my theology and my language for learning how to listen to God. Much of what I learned about Listening Prayer started here. I hope that this summary does the book justice and can encourage others to buy the book and gain what I gained from Dallas.


Right off the bat, Dallas sets the tone of the book:

Hearing God? A daring idea, some would say—presumptuous and even dangerous. But what if we are made for it? What if the human system simply will not function properly without it? There are good reasons to think it will not. The fine texture as well as the grand movements of life show our need to hear God. Isn’t it more presumptuous and dangerous, in fact, to undertake human existence without hearing from God. … Hearing God is but one dimension of a richly interactive relationship, and obtaining guidance is but one facet of hearing God.

Chapter 1 The Paradox of Hearing God

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive. It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us do it.” Brother Lawrence

Willard starts with a story from his early days as an assistant pastor. It was Sunday dinner and his family (including his wife’s grandmother – Mema) gathered and was discussing the sermon. During the sermon, the pastor spoke about how God had provided specific guidance as to the ministry of the church. And in the process, “he testified that God had spoken to him about things that should be done.” Mema responded: “I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.”

This speaks as well as anything to the paradox of hearing God. Mema was one of the most devout woman Willard knew. He tells us that how we talk about “hearing God” puts “many sincere Christians on the outside, looking in.” Here is his key take away: “They are not necessarily lacking the experience of hearing God, but they do not understand the language or how their experience works.”

This relates very closely to our experience in over thirty years when we were  leading individuals and groups to learn how to listen to God. Very often the problem wasn’t that they were not hearing from God but that they either didn’t recognize His voice as such or they didn’t have the language to describe what they had heard. Our job, very often, was to provide a safe environment for people to explore the exciting possibility that God may have spoken to them personally.

I have even found that those who do not believe that God speaks in “the still, small voice” anymore but only speaks through the Scriptures, are really hearing His voice speak to them about extra-biblical topics and themes. With some safe questions, a little encouragement and a lot of love, they can see that God still speaks as He did in the Old and New Testaments.

The Moving of God

Willard tells how he grew in his own understanding of hearing God and thought it was part of the normal Christian life – not knowing that large segments of the church were not experiencing hearing from God.

The Ongoing Conversation

Today I continue to believe that people are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to. Rightly understood I believe that this can be abundantly verified in experience.

He cites:

    • Adam and Eve
    • Enoch
    • Moses

Given who we are by basic nature, we live—really live—only through God’s regular speaking in our souls and thus “by every word that comes from of the mouth of God.”

But those who experience a directing word from God rarely speak about it. Often they have never spoken of it at all, even to their closest friends

The UFO Syndrome

Hearing from God puts you in the UFO sighting category “because of the lack

UFO’s over Liverpool

of specific teaching and pastoral guidance on such matters.”

He even cites that famous theologian, Lily Tomlin who said:

“Why is it that when we speak to God we are said to be praying but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic?”

Our Leaders Hear from God

Willard cites some of the examples of followers of God who hear from Him:

As Christians we stand in a millennia-long tradition of humans who have been addressed by God. The ancient Israelites heard the voice of their God speaking to them out of the midst of fire (Deuteronomy 4:33). A regular place of communion and conversational interchange between the high priest and God was established in the mercy seat over the ark of God (Exodus 25:22; see also Luke 1:11-21).

And this was not just for leaders:

But the individual person with faith among the Israelites also cried out expectantly to be taught by God:

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path. Psalm 143:10

Abiding Includes Conversing

Willard makes the case that it would make no sense for Jesus and the Father to make their home in us without conversing.

How could there be a personal relationship with God, a personal walk with God –  or with anyone else – without individualized conversation.

One – to – One with God

We hold a man to be really a Christian when we believe we have ample evidence that God has revealed himself to him in Jesus Christ, and that now the man’s inner life is taking on a new character through his communion with God who is thus manifest. Wilhelm Hermann

Our knowledge of God rests on the revelation of his personal presence. Of such a presence it must be true that to those who have never been confronted with it argument is useless, while to those who have, it is superfluous.  John Baille

The Paradox

Dallas further defines the paradox:

A Paradox of Concern

On the one hand, we have massive testimony to and widespread faith in God’s personal, guiding communication with us—far more than mere providential and blindly controlling guidance.

Willard says we see this especially among God’s leaders:

Authority in spiritual leadership derives from a life in the Spirit, from the leader’s personal encounter and on-going relationship with God.

On the other hand, we also find a pervasive and often painful uncertainty about how hearing God’s voice actually works today and what its place is in the church and in the Christian’s life.

This paradox can prevent us hearing from God:

Even if we were to beg for a word from God, we may have so little clarity of what it should be like and so little competence in dealing with it that when it comes it will only add to our confusion. I believe that this is one reason such a word will be withheld from us by God.

Basically Willard says that practically we depend on leaders to have this personal relationship with God – but don’t know how to deal with it ourselves.

The stakes are high according to Dallas:

We are all too familiar with the painful confusion of individuals who make huge efforts to determine God’s will for themselves—people who are frequently very sincere and devout. We see them make dreadful errors by following a whim or chance event that, because of their desperation, they force to serve as a sign from God. We see them sink into despair, skepticism, even cynicism.  … They “know,” on the basis of what has happened to them, that for all practical purposes they are simply “on their own.”

First Steps towards a Solution

Willard now lays out the purpose of the book:

As disciples of Jesus Christ, I believe we cannot abandon faith in our ability to hear from God. To abandon this is to abandon the reality of a personal relationship with God, and that we must not do. Our hearts and minds, as well as the realities of the Christian tradition, stand against it. The paradox about hearing God’s voice must, then, be resolved and removed by providing believers with a clear understanding and a confident, practical orientation toward God’s way of guiding us and communicating with us, which is the aim of the chapters that follow.

He then lays out three problems that must be addressed:

    1. We need to understand that God’s communications come to us in many forms.
    2. We may have the wrong motives for seeking to hear from God.
    3. Misconceiving the nature of our heavenly Father and of his intent for us creates a truly overwhelming problem to block our understanding of God’s communication with us as his redeemed children and friends.

A Conversational Relationship

Finally, Dallas closes this chapter with the ideal relationship between God and His children:

The ideal for hearing from God is finally determined by who God is, what kind of beings we are and what a personal relationship between ourselves and God should be like. Our failure to hear God has its deepest roots in a failure to understand, accept and grow into a conversational relationship with God, the sort of relationship suited to friends who are mature personalities in a shared enterprise, no matter how different they may be in other respects.

Chapter 2 – Guidelines for Hearing from God

Dallas opens this chapter talking about the movie, The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives

where the women in a particular town are made into “perfect” wives through alien intervention. He tells us that the obvious message of the movie is:

In close personal relationships, conformity to another’s wishes is not desirable, be it ever so perfect, if it is mindless or purchased at the expense of freedom and the destruction of personality.

In the same way, he says, our relationship with God and our conformity to His wishes is never made in a mindless way or made at the expense of our freedom. This profoundly affects the way we approach hearing from God.

Specifically, in our attempts to understand how God speaks to us and guides us we must, above all, hold on to the fact that learning how to hear God is to be sought only as a part of a certain kind of life, a life of loving fellowship with the King and his other subjects within the kingdom of heaven.

He goes on to define what true prayer is:

prayer is an honest exchange between people who are doing things together. God and I are working together, and I need to invoke his power in that activity. Joint activity is a key to understanding how conversation flows. … In such conversations we also talk about other things besides what God wants done today. We talk about what is happening, what is interesting or what is sad. Most conversation between God and humans is to help us understand things.

Further, Dallas defines our primary goal in all of this:

We must make it our primary goal not just to hear the voice of God, but to be mature people in a loving relationship with Him.

Guideline One: Love God with All Our Being

Some, Willard explains, see God as a tyrant and that prohibits them from entering into a true conversational relationship with Him.

Hearing God cannot be a reliable and intelligible fact of life except when we see his speaking as one aspect of his presence with us, of his life in us. Only our communion with God provides the appropriate context for communications between us and him.

Guideline Two: Mere Humans Can Talk with God

Dallas describes the passage from Acts 14 where the crowds encounter Paul and Barnabas and exclaim:

They just aren’t human! By this we mean that their experience—including their experience of God—is not like ours and perhaps that they are even some special kind of people, so our experience of God could never be like theirs.

But Willard presses the point – their experience with God is provided in the Scriptures not as museum pieces to admire, but as mentors to follow. Elijah is certainly highlighted because James, the brother of Jesus, points to Elijah as a mentor since he was a man like us. No, says Dallas:

Our humanity will not by itself prevent us from knowing and interacting with God just as they did.

He goes on to say:

if we are really to understand the Bible record, we must enter into our study of it on the assumption that the experiences recorded there are basically of the same type as ours would have been if we had been there.

If we don’t read the Bible in this way, Willard says two problems happen:

    1. [The Bible] becomes simply a book of doctrine, of abstract truth about God, which one can search endlessly without encountering God himself or hearing his voice.
    2. [W]e simply stop reading the Bible altogether when we do not understand the experience of biblical characters in terms of how we experience life’s events.

Then Dallas points his guns straight at a real problem today:

The open secret of many “Bible-believing” churches is that only a very small percentage of their members study the Bible with even the degree of interest, intelligence or joy that they bring to bear upon their favorite newspaper or magazine.

If we are to hear God’s voice ourselves and on an individual basis, we must, above all else, observe how his word came to those people described in the Scriptures.

I love this story and have used it in one or two sermons:

Richard Attenborough’s movie Gandhi has a scene set in South Africa where the young Indian lawyer and a white clergyman are walking together on a boardwalk, contrary to South African law at the time. They are accosted by some brutish-looking young white men who seem about to harm them. But the mother of the ringleader calls from an upstairs window and commands him to go about his business. As they walk on, the clergyman exclaims over their good luck. Gandhi comments, “I thought you were a man of God.” The clergyman replies, “I am, but I don’t believe he plans his day around me!”

This attitude:

contradicts what God has taught about himself in the Bible and in the person of Christ. His greatness is precisely what allows him to “plan his day” around me or anyone and everyone else, as he chooses.

These beliefs:

contain tragic misconceptions that have the power to shut us off from the individualized word of God.

He highlights two alternate truths:

    1. In the first place, we are that important.
    2. His speaking to us does not in itself make us important.

The Strength of True Meekness (and humility)

Next, Dallas address the ever important attitude of the heart in hearing God.

In Numbers 12:1-3 God explained his policy about humility and hearing him. Humility is a quality that opens the way for God to work because God resists the proud (1 Peter 5:5).

Guideline Three: Hearing God Doesn’t Make Us Righteous or even Right

The last thing Dallas addresses in this chapter is the fallibility of our hearing in the face of the infallibility of the message and messenger. He assures us that he will:

offer a fully satisfactory response to this question. We shall then have to examine the issue of authority and of being “right” in relation to hearing God’s voice.

Chapter 3 – Never Alone

Dallas opens the chapter addressing one of the plagues that this world faces:

loneliness is loose upon the landscape. It haunts the penthouse and the rectory, the executive suite and the millionaire’s mansion, as well as the barren apartment, the assembly line, the cocktail bar and the city streets. It is, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, the leprosy of the modern world.

And God’s remedy to that is His presence. But what exactly is His presence and how do we experience it? Dallas lists the following ways:

    1. Blind Faith – certainly, one of the ways, though Dallas calls it a minimalist way, we experience God’s presence is through shear blind faith. God has said it. I believe it. And it must be true. And so we believe that God is present even with no external evidence – no “awareness of his being here with us at all and no evidence of his action in or around us.” Although admirable, those who hold this must be encouraged that there is more.
    2. Sensing God’s Presence – Willard calls this “an imprecise but often very powerful sense, feeling or impression of God’s presence.” Dallas claims that this is experienced both individually and corporately.
    3. The God who acts – “The sense of God’s presence in Christian experience is sometimes accompanied by extraordinary events or powerful effects not easily attributable, if attributable at all, to merely natural causes.”
    4. Conversational Relationship – Willard calls this the most important form of God’s presence in the relationship between God and human beings. He argues: “How can we be friends of God if this is all there is to it? How is the rich conceptual content and knowledge found in the Bible to be understood as something communicated to us in revelation if the three forms of presence …[listed above]  are the totality of human interaction with God? Why, if God is personal, would he not also talk with us?”

Two Types of Guidance

Dallas next addresses two types of guidance:

    • Mechanical – as when we guide a car or a remote controlled plane
    • Personal – “Ideally, personal guidance brings things to the desired outcome but, at the same time, allows the other person’s mind to be guided to its fullest capacity without coercing that person’s will.”

God, Willard argues, does not guide mechanically – but personally:

For this purpose God must communicate with you, the one who is to be guided. This is the only means by which God can have an impact on you and yet still leave you with the mental and spiritual space to retain integrity as a free personality. You can live as God’s friend yet also govern your own life.

He calls Psalm 32:9 to mind:

Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle.

How does this happen you ask? Dallas says there are two ways that God guides personally:

    1. Communicating through words – He points to many examples in the Scriptures where God speaks directly to his people
    2. Communicating through shared activity – “we come to understand what God wants us to understand through immersion with him in his work. We understand what he is doing so well that we often know exactly what he is thinking and intending to do. I believe that this is a great part of the condition described by the apostle Paul as having the mind of Christ.

He then develops the idea put forth in Psalm 32:

I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (v. 8 KJV).

Newer versions generally say something like, “I will guide you with my eye upon you.” What does it mean to guide us with His eye upon us? He gives us two ways we guide people with our eyes:

    1. The first is illustrated when someone “has got their eye on you” so as to affect your actions. Or the parent’s watchful eye on a child.
    2. The second is more important and happens “when we work or play closely with another and know the intentions and thoughts of the other’s mind by our awareness of what they are focused on. Someone else can work with me effectively only if they can see what I am doing without having to be told what I am thinking and what they should do to help.”

Next, Dallas develops the idea that Jesus calls us friends and what that means in terms of guidance and hearing God.

As God’s friends we always want to be asking God what he is doing and how he wants us to work with him. God’s desires are important to us.

Finally, Willard sums up the positive points of this chapter:

In this life with God, his presence banishes our alone-ness and makes real the meaning and full purpose of human existence. This union with God consists chiefly in a conversational relationship with God while we are consistently and deeply engaged as his friend and co-laborer in the affairs of the kingdom of the heavens.

Before ending the chapter, Dallas examines three mistaken views as to how God speaks to us:

    1. A message a minute “God is either telling you what to do at every turn of the road or he is at least willing and available to tell you if you would only ask him.Not only is this not supported in the life of the Spirit filled apostles, “extensive observations of individuals who try to live with this model, or at least profess to, show that they simply cannot do it and that any sustained effort to do so leads quickly to disaster.”
    2. It’s all in the Bible For Willard, this view “is seriously misguided and very harmful.” He asserts that the Bible does provide a lot of direct instructions about how to live our lives but there is no guidance in terms of what song to use on Sunday worship or what the theme and text should be for the sermon. Nor will it provide the details about many important areas as to how to live your life. “The principles are all there, however. I happily insist that the Bible says all that needs to be said or can be said, so far as principles are concerned. But the principles have to be applied before they can be lived out , and it is largely at the point of application that almost everything imaginable has been ‘proven’ from the Bible.”
    3. Whatever comes is God’s will This can be described as “accept everything that happens as the guidance of God.” “When we accept whatever comes we are not receiving guidance. The fact that something happens does not indicate that it is God’s will.”

Chapter 4 – Our Communicating Cosmos

Every bush aflame

Earth’s crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Dallas starts this chapter by discussing the limits of hearing stories of how others have heard God or even the limits of miraculous signs. They don’t have as much of an effect as one would think. And that doesn’t surprise him because “it illustrates a fact about how our minds work.” All the encouraging stories of hearing God and miracles do not “automatically clear up our confusions or straighten out the entanglements of our heart. … They may stimulate us to seek understanding, but they do not of themselves give us faith and understanding.”

He continues this section by listing four ways we deny the idea that God wants a conversational relationship with us:

    1. God would not communicate with run-of-the-mill human beings by surrounding them with his presence and speaking to them
    2. God does not communicate with them that way
    3. God cannot communicate with them that way
    4. God should not communicate with them that way

God Would Not

Dallas addresses the “would not” with two arguments:

    1. We must understand that God’s greatness is not like a great dignitary. They are limited and would not communicate with just anybody. God’s greatness is manifest in his wanting to communicate with us
    2. We don’t have an adequate understanding of the lowliness of God. His greatness is precisely the thing that enables him to enter into our world.

God Does Not

Next he addresses the “does not”

    1. Just because we don’t hear God speak does not mean that he doesn’t speak. Willard claims that “we are showered with messages that simply go right through or past us. We are not attuned to God’s voice.” Jesus, Dallas tells us, gave some of his deepest teachings about hearing and not hearing. And Jesus urges us to expend great effort to hear “assuring them that what they heard would be proportional to their desire and effort.” Mark 4:24-25 “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
    2. We might not be hearing because what we hear may not be of any use to us because of the way we are living. “Hearing God is a reliable, day-to-day reality for people with good sense.”
    3. Am I in business for myself or am I in business with God with my life?

I am not satisfied with this list or these answers. There are many other things that block our hearing. But that is for another day.

God Cannot

    1. Some say it is unscientific that God should speak to us. He notes that to communicate there must be some sort of medium through which we communicate. What is that medium? Hebrews 1 tells us that it is Jesus and His Spirit.
    2. Conversational life with God – or prayer – is not hindered by space and distance. So He certainly “Can.”
    3. Willard claims that: “The current state of the physical sciences, in opposition to the crudely mechanical view that was dominant in some previous centuries, is very congenial to the view of God’s presence in his world that we find in the New Testament.” … “Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the side of Physics approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of nature.” – Sir James Jean
    4. Eugene Wigner has pointed to a general recognition among physicists that thought or the mind is primary to physical reality: “It is not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Princeton physicist John A. Wheeler even goes so far as to hold that subjective and objective realities, consciousness, and matter mutually create each other. Another leading physicist, Jack Sarfatti, remarks that “an idea of the utmost significance for the development of psycho-energetic systems . . . is that the structure of matter may not be independent of consciousness.”
    5. Willard makes sure that we know that these statements don’t prove God but help us see that current science doesn’t tell us that God cannot speak to us.

God Should Not

Here Willard addresses both Moses (would that all God’s people would be prophets) and Joel quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost – (“Your sons and your daughters shall prophecy”).  This can cause great concern for pastors. But Willard tries to talk us off the ledge and say that this tells us that our understanding of leadership in the local church is skewed. Should leaders be Sheep-dogs or Shepherds? Cultic or Christlike?  “To manipulate, drive or manage people is not the same thing as to lead them.”

Chapter 5 – Small Voice and It’s Rivals

Dallas opens this chapter with the following:

God could, certainly, determine the course of our lives by manipulating our thoughts and feelings or by arranging external circumstances—what is often called the “closing” and “opening” of doors in the “sovereign will” of God. But he can and does also guide us by addressing us.

Notice that he says: “could.” But he later also says: “What would you say is His preferred method? Which method does He use more frequently?” This is a question I address in my forthcoming book Circumstantial Evidence. Let me know if you would like to read an advanced copy.

Willard says that God “addresses us in various ways:

    • Dreams
    • Visions
    • Voices
    • The Bible
    • Extraordinary events

But, he says, we can “be easily confused about the significance of the various ways God speaks with us.” All of the ways are “not equally significant.”

In terms of overall importance, the written Word and Jesus, the living Word, aren’t to be compared to a voice or vision used by God to speak to an individual. And from among the individual’s experiences of hearing God, the “still, small voice” has a vastly greater role than anything else.

Vastly? This is where Dallas differs from many of our fellow followers of Jesus. But at this point he doesn’t develop this thought but goes on to define what he means by the “still, small voice” obviously drawing from 1 Kings 19:11-13.

The translation might just as well read “a gentle whisper of a voice” or “a gentle whispering.” Each expression places the emphasis on the unobtrusiveness of the medium through which the message came.  They are all seemingly unremarkable, inconspicuous, unassuming and perhaps not immediately noticed.

But how much store can we place in one text taken from the Old Testament? And what about scholars that think the Hebrew translated “still, small voice” means roaring?[i] Willard doesn’t address that now but instead says:

[the still small voice] bears the stamp of his personality quite clearly and in a way we will learn to recognize … [and] the medium through which the message comes is diminished almost to the vanishing point, taking the form of thoughts that are our thoughts, though these thoughts are not from us.

Basically, he is saying two things:

    • The still, small voice as a medium is consistent with what we know of God’s personality.
    • The means by which God’s word is communicated to us takes a back seat to the actual message and is often indistinguishable from our own thoughts.

Dallas says that this combining of our thoughts with His thoughts is born out in the following Proverb from chapter 20:

27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
searching all his innermost parts.

Willard does not provide a lot of Scriptural evidence of this. Let me provide some other indications that God intends the still, small voice to be the primary way God speaks to us today.

The indwelling Spirit leads us / guides us into all  the truth

John 16 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

How does the indwelling Spirit lead and guide if not by an internal movement of communication? If all His speaking was through the Bible, through others, and through external circumstances, why would the Holy Spirit need to dwell in us 24/7? John repeats this teaching in his first epistle chapter 2:

27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

Of course, the anointing is obviously the same Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth.

We are taught by the Spirit – In the following passage we find the close connection between our spirit and the indwelling Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

This entire passage speaks of an inner movement of conversation.

We have the mind of Christ – 1 Corinthians 2:16

This tells us that our thoughts become co-joined with His thoughts.

Father and son taking up residence

John 14 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

What are they doing in there 24/7 if not communicating?

Jesus promises to come and dine with us – Rev 3 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Same as the John 14 passage.

Jesus way of teaching when He was physically present – not thunderous didactic treatises but gentle whispers of truth that need to be carefully listened to and thought about after hearing.

The Shema – Hear O’ Israel –  The central command of God upon the Israelites to hear.

Whispering is done when you are in close proximity – this is a constant theme throughout the Old and the New with countless passages that God is very close to us – even to the point of indwelling

Whispering requires us to listen closely and pay attention. Mark Batterson says that, as a father, when he wants his kids to draw near, he starts whispering. The Scriptures tell the same story for us to pay attention and listen closely. All of the following Scriptures imply that God generally speaks in ways that are not thunderous but easily missed.

    • Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1
    • And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear… Mark 4:24
    • So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:19
    • Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear. Psalm 45:10
    • God created Adam with a whisper (He breathed on him)

Although these texts are far from exhaustive, they should give us enough confidence to move on. Dallas reiterates his point:

… a major point of this book is that the still, small voice—or the interior or inner voice, as it is also called—is the preferred and most valuable form of individual communication for God’s purposes.

The Scripture teaches that the less dramatic the message, the fuller the content and the more advanced the person who is receiving the message. If you study the lives of Moses and Abraham, you will see that this is true.

But what is God’s still, small voice like?

I say in all seriousness that we may mistake the voice of God for the sound of someone’s radio turned up too loudly, for some accidental noise or—more likely still—for just another one of our own thoughts.

He says to hear His voice we must seek Him:

When I seek for something, I look for it everywhere. It’s when we seek God earnestly, prepared to go out of our way to examine anything that might be his overture toward us including obvious things like Bible verses or our own thoughts—that he promises to be found (Jeremiah 29:13).

… we turn now to six ways God addresses people within the biblical record:

      • a phenomenon plus a voice
      • a supernatural messenger or an angel
      • dreams and visions
      • an audible voice
      • the human voice
      • the human spirit or the “still, small voice”

I won’t highlight his Biblical examples of the first 5 because:

Of all the possible subjective routes, [the still small voice] is best suited to the redemptive purposes of God because, once again, it most engages the faculties of free, intelligent beings involved in the work of God as co-laborers and friends.

Willard hits head on the idea that these means of God speaking to us should be normative. Not as the Westminster Confession says:

it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.

This, in one broad brush, tells believers not to expect God to speak in any of the ways Dallas is commending but that God only speaks through what has been written down in the Scriptures. Dallas says unequivocally:

nothing in Scripture, in reason or in the very nature of things asserts why any or all of these types of experience might not be used by God today. … But there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that the biblical modes of God’s communication with humans have been superseded or abolished by either the presence of the church or the close of the scriptural canon.

Nothing means nothing (Stephen Hawking notwithstanding). Dallas doesn’t refute the arguments used to justify this theology but it is hard to refute a non-argument. But there are some which we should touch on even if Dallas doesn’t give them the time-of-day:

The following are the “proof texts” given by the Westminster confession of faith for the above statement (Note: These are from the King James Version because that is what the Westminster Confession uses). I will leave it to the reader to see if they agree with Dallas or the Westminster divines:

    1. John 20:31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
    2. 1 Cor. 14:37. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
    3. 1 John 5:13. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
    4. 1 Cor. 10:11. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
    5. Hebrews 1:1–2. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.
    6. Hebrews 2:2–4. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

Dallas continues making the point that God responds to our prayers. He asks us: Why do we call requests that are not granted: “Unanswered Prayer?” Hasn’t the request been denied and that is the answer? But he goes further:

Often God does not give us what we ask for, but I believe that he will always answer, always respond to us in some way. … If we know how to listen, God will normally tell us something when he does not give us our requests. … Some people say that God’s silence is an answer in these cases. But I think that if we know how to listen, God will normally tell us something when he does not give us our requests.

Willard goes on to address Bible Deism:

Classical deism, associated with the extreme rationalism of the sixteenth to eight­eenth centuries, held that God created his world complete and perfect and then went away, leaving humanity to its own devices. God no longer offered individualized intervention in the lives of human beings, no miracles. Bible deism similarly holds that God gave us the Bible and then went away, leaving us to make what we could of it, with no individual communication either through the Bible or otherwise.

Speaking to pastors, he says that they should help their congregations to hear God’s still, small voice:

Most importantly, and right at the outset, they must be helped to see that recognizing God’s voice is something they must learn to do through their own personal experience and experimentation. They must especially be encouraged to do so if they do not already expect God to speak to them. And we may even have to help identify the voice of God for them and instruct them in how to respond.

When addressing the clarity of God’s voice he says:

It is therefore natural and right that God’s word comes to us in forms that we must struggle to understand. This is even true of the Bible, which is very explicit in many respects but still require persistent and energetic work to understand.

Chapter 6 – The Word of God and the Rule of God

Dallas opens this chapter with a bold statement about hearing God’s still, small voice:

Hearing this divine but small voice is what lies at the heart of a relationship with God. One who hears God’s voice is operating from the foundation and framework of all reality, not from the fringe.

The heart of a relationship with God? That sounds extreme but it is central to Willard’s life and beliefs. Willard believes that to fully embrace the concept of our ability to hear from God requires us to understand the role that word and God’s word play in reality.

He begins this chapter by looking at the story of the centurion who had a sick servant (Luke 7:2-8). This story forms the backdrop for the role that words and God’s word play in reality. Jesus is astonished at the quality and magnitude of his faith. Although he expressed faith in Jesus, he also showed an uncommon knowledge about the power of words: “Just give the word and my servant shall be healed.”

The following statement summarizes the essence of this chapter and the next:

God created, God rules and God redeems through his word. God’s creating, God’s ruling and God’s redeeming is his word.

But what does it mean? Today I reviewed what I had written for my wife, Barbara, on our ten day 40th wedding anniversary trip. Each day as we celebrated, I wrote up one of her 10 core essentials and gave them to her in an anniversary card. One of them is that she is a woman of the word – both written and living. Yesterday, as I reminded her of this essential, I wondered if I could explain and justify this distinction.  What is the distinction between the written word and the living word of God. Then, tonight I noticed that this was the question Dallas was addressing in this chapter:

If we wish to understand God’s personal relationship to us, including how he speaks to us individually today, we must understand what the word of God is in general and how both the Son of God and the Bible are the Word of God.

To understand this distinction, Dallas starts by telling us what words are:

Through our words we literally give to others a piece of our mind. By hearing or reading others’ words, we may know their thoughts and feelings and share in their lives. … The power of the word lies finally in the personality that it conveys.

Then Dallas gives us a bullet list of scriptures that tell us the true power of words:

    • “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21);
    • “a soft tongue can break bones” (Proverbs 25:15);
    • “a gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
    • [the tongue is] “a small member, yet it boasts great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” (James 3:5).
    • Jesus himself regarded words as a direct revelation of our inner being: “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:37)

But words don’t just have power, they have spiritual power. Willard claims that the scriptures and pagan philosophers expressed this truth.  First, he defines spirit:

Spirit is unbodied, personal force. It is personal reality that can and often does work independently of physical or bodily forces. It can also work in conjunction with them. We can most clearly see spirit in our own selves as the force that belongs to thought, emotion and intention. …  [But] spirit reaches far beyond these—and beyond our limited understanding—and ultimately serves as the foundation of all reality. “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24).

Once, when his followers were struggling to understand him and were overemphasizing the material realm, Jesus said to them, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63).

Note that the “words” Jesus spoke are spirit. What does this mean? Here is my shot at it: Since spirit is unbodied force, words are spiritual because they are able to move people and things without material substance. For example, with my words I can encourage my employees to work harder or with my words I can discourage them and cause less work to be done. But, let’s listen to Dallas:

This meant that through his words Jesus imparted himself and in some measure conferred on those who received his words the powers of God’s sovereign rule. Through him they “have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). This imparted power is referred to in Jesus’ later explanation that “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).

The word as a person’s speaking is therefore to be understood as a spiritual power—whether of ourselves, of God or of some other personal agency and whether for evil or for good. It is the power of the one who is speaking.

The word of God, when no further qualification is added, is his speaking, his communicating. When God speaks, he expresses his mind, his character and his purposes. Thus, God is always present with his word.

This simple truth hit me today for the first time. God is always present with his word. If the word of God is God speaking – then of course, He is always present whenever the word of God is present. Somehow this seems both obvious and profound!

All expressions of God’s mind are “words” of God. This is true whether the specific means are external to the human mind (as in natural phenomena [Psalm 19:1-4], other human beings, the incarnate Christ [the Logos] or the Bible) or internal to the human mind (in our own thoughts, intentions and feelings). God’s rule over all things, including the affairs of humankind, is carried out through his word, understood in this way.

How Kingdoms Work

Dallas says that we often see the universe as a place where the only relationship between things are physical and mechanical. With this view, we can never understand the power of words since they exert power without the physical or without mechanics. Jesus gave a different view of the universe. It is a kingdom. And a kingdom is not governed or ruled merely by physical or mechanical pushing and pulling:

Essentially [a kingdom] works by the communication of thoughts and intentions through words or other symbols, for a kingdom is a network of personal relationships.

Some of our greatest problems in understanding and entering into life in the kingdom of God come from an inadequate appreciation of how that kingdom—like all kingdoms —works: that is, by communication, the speaking or use of words for the expression of minds and intentions.

I love this idea – but I wonder how true it is that: all kingdoms work by the communication of thoughts and intentions. I think that power is the way a lot of kingdoms works. Think of a bad king you know. It seems that he rules by power and intimidation. Perhaps, Dallas is telling us how a good or ideal kingdom works. If that is what he means, then I can buy into the argument.

Creating by words

Most of us know that God spoke the universe into being with words. He creates by speaking. How can words “create?” Can we create by speaking? We cannot say: “Let there be a jet engine” and create a jet engine. Dallas says that:

There is, however, one arena where the human mind simply “speaks” and what it wishes is done. This is in the voluntary motions of the body—such as the hands, the feet and the face—and the voluntary wide-ranging journeys of our inward thoughts.

Thus we can create a face just by “speaking” as when our mind says to our face, “Look angry.” We can create a walk when our mind says to our legs – “Start moving.” We can create an idea in our mind by just speaking a thought (most of the time silently).

God is always able to speak and to create without going through channels, without working under restrictions. … Within a certain range we too have been given a similarly unrestricted ability in our own natural powers, though it is very narrow, in contrast to God’s. In the realm of our finiteness we must learn how to do things.

He summarizes his point here:

God has given us a power that, so far as our conscious control is concerned, is as immediately creative as his own. A realization of how our own thoughts (inner words) translate themselves into an act of creation is absolutely vital if we are to gain any concrete sense of God’s rule through his word.

Now how does this tie back to Jesus as the Word of God?

At a certain point in history this word—this visible language, the upholding order of the universe—came to us through the womb of Mary: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his people did not accept him” (John 1:10-11).

What we see [in the story of the Centurion – “Just speak the word and my servant will be healed.”] is trust –  based on experiential knowledge of the power in the words spoken by authorized individuals in a kingdom. In a personal universe run like a good kingdom (whether our own small arena or God’s cosmos) the word directs actions and events.

Willard says that our practical atheism and skepticism may rise up and say: “Wait a minute. The universe isn’t like that. It doesn’t respond to thoughts and words.” But Dallas pushes back: “Surely we live in precisely such a universe. But our faith does not normally rise to believing it”

… our skepticism comes from the fact that we often speak words unaccompanied by faith and authority. Such words do not have the effect on reality that words laden with faith, spoken in the fulfillment of an authoritative role, do have.

Dallas mentions that Moses was not allowed into the promise land because he did not trust the power of words to bring forth water from the rock but struck it. [Numbers 20:10-11]. Previously God directed him to strike a rock and it brought forth water. (Exodus 17:6)

Was Moses’ action truly such a serious offense? Did it deserve such a strong reaction from God? And if so, why? Without understanding the matters we have already discussed, one might see little wrong with what Moses did.

What indeed? Dallas brings us to the reference to this event in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10:4) where Paul tells us that the Rock was Jesus! Dallas then tells us:

If what we have come to understand about the Logos, or Word, within creation and nature is true, rocks are things that might well respond to words spoken with the appropriate kingdom authority and vision of faith.

Dallas never really answers why the punishment was so severe. Did Moses know that inanimate objects respond to words when they are authoritative? He saw the Red Sea part – but he spoke no words to the sea. Again, we don’t find that Dallas answers this. But Dallas’ main point is that people have been given the authority of God’s word. The sending out of the 12 and then the 70 illustrates this.

Willard addresses a New Testament story that has puzzled me a bit. Jesus’ disciples could not cast out a demon and heal a little child. Jesus said that this kind comes out only with prayer and fasting – but then proceeds to cast it out and heal the child without prayer or fasting. He addresses the question more broadly when he observes that Jesus rarely prayed for a need brought to him. What does Dallas think is happening?

I believe this is an illustration of the principle that (as experience readily shows) there are degrees of power in speaking the word of God and that prayer is necessary to heighten that power.

Prayer is more basic in the spiritual life than is speaking a word and, indeed, is the indispensable foundation for doing so. The role of speaking the word of God has become limited today because of a widespread lack of understanding of such “speaking,” coupled with the generally low quality of the life of prayer.

But he also observes that, “perhaps in most cases, a direct word or action from God himself rather than from ourselves is what is required.”

Sometime we should be in a position to speak, to say on behalf of God and in the name of Christ how things are to be.

Dallas believes that the movement of the Spirit in the present day is the result of us learning that reality is a kingdom:

This [more evidence of the power of the Spirit] is to be expected as we grow in our confidence that reality, including the material world, is ultimately a kingdom in which authority, personal relationship and communication (words) are basic to the way things run. We have, of course, much still to learn.

Dallas admits that we don’t have all of the answers but he says:

In a life of participation in God’s kingdom rule, we are not to make things happen, but only to be honestly willing and eager to be made able.

Willard next addresses the nature of superstition as opposed to the true working of God’s supernatural power. Some believe that if we say the right words and perform the right rituals, people can be healed. Not so says Dallas:

we do not believe that the power concerned resides in the words used or in the rituals taken by themselves. If we did, we would indeed be engaged in superstitious practices. Instead, we regard the words and actions simply as ways ordained in the nature of things, as established by God, for accomplishing the matter in question.

Healing Prayer

I love what he says when he describes what we do during healing prayer:

We are under authority, not in control.

Then, Dallas tells us how he thinks divine healing works:

The combined condition of faith, love, hope and understanding that is present in those who work with the word of God is in its very nature connected with the effect to be brought about. As part of the kingdom this condition forms the appropriate channel from the supply to the need—relating the nature of the human body or mind (in the case of healing) to the creative and redemptive Spirit who is God.  This forms a natural (though really supernatural) order of influence and causation.

This is so thick – let me try to re-phrase it: The faith, love, hope and understanding of those who pray for and receive divine healing, is in some mysterious fashion connected to the desired healing. It is because the kingdom is central to the way God intends to run things, these four elements cause God’s divine healing power to flow to the one in need for healing. This flow of divine healing power connects the human body and mind being prayed for to the power of the Spirit. All healing then is both natural and supernatural.

Dallas concludes this section with a summary:

the very nature of the material universe is to be subject generally to the word of an all-present, all-powerful, all-knowing divine mind. This mind is what mediates between the word spoken by God’s servant on his behalf and the physical structure of the waves or the rocks, or of the body or mind to be healed.

Again, let me try to re-phrase it. All aspects of our universe are subject to the word of God. God is the mediator between the words God’s servant speaks and the physical structures of the waves that are calmed, the rocks that bring forth water and the mind or body that is healed.

Sometimes I fear that we Christians do engage in truly superstitious uses of words and rituals. This occurs when our activities are not an expression of an understanding of the connection between the desired result and our faith and union with God. In other words, this arises because we do not really understand how the kingdom of God functions among us.

Dallas says that the “name it and claim it” approach to God is pure superstition.  He also says that legalism  is also superstition. He defines legalism as:

Legalism claims that overt action in conforming to rules for explicit behavior is what makes us right and pleasing to God and worthy of blessing.

This legalism tries to control people and events through superstitious behavior but

they depart from the natural connections of life. They bypass the realities of the heart and soul from which life really flows.

Dallas closes this chapter answering this question he began with:

how are we to understand the relationship of the Bible to this word of God that we have just seen growing mightily and prevailing around Ephesus and to the Word that is God and that upholds the world?

What is the Bible: “The Bible is one of the results of God’s speaking. It is the unique written Word of God. It is inerrant in its original form and infallible in all of its forms for the purpose of guiding us into a life-saving relationship with God in his kingdom. The Bible is the Word of God in its unique written form. But the Bible is not Jesus Christ, who is the living Word. Neither is the Bible the word of God that is settled eternally in the heavens. The Bible is not the word of God that, in the book of Acts, expanded and grew and multiplied (Acts 12:24). It is not the word that Jesus spoke of as being sown by the active speaking of the ministry (Matthew 13).

“The Bible is a finite, written rec­ord of the saving truth spoken by the infinite, living God, and it reliably fixes the boundaries of everything he will ever say to humankind. It fixes those boundaries in principle, though it does not provide the detailed communications that God may have with individual believers today.”

What is the word of God: while the Bible is the written Word of God, the word of God is not simply the Bible. God reigns in his kingdom through his speaking. That speaking is reserved to himself, but it may in some small measure be communicated through those who work in union with him. The word of God in the larger sense portrayed in the Bible is therefore available to every person through the Bible, the written Word of God.

What is the living Word – Jesus is the living Word. He is the one who speaks the world into existence (Remember how Lewis portrays this in The Chronicles of Narnia) “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” Colossians 1:16.

So, has Dallas answered my original question? Can I articulate why Jesus is the living Word of God? I am afraid that with all that Dallas wrote in this chapter I cannot. But if I combine my own understanding with what he wrote here – here is what I would say:

Jesus is called the Word because God has spoken to us in these last days in/by His Son. The very person of Jesus is God speaking. Every minute detail of Jesus life here on earth and now in heaven embodies God speaking. Remember when Dallas said that our words demonstrate who we are – Jesus, as the Word of God,  demonstrates who God is.  One other point, The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ. So here again, the Holy Spirit is so closely aligned to the Word, that He is Christ’s Spirit. And since the Spirit is the means by which God speaks – when He does, it is Jesus, the living Word speaking. But as Dallas says: I have much to learn.

Chapter 7 Redemption through the Word of God

Dallas opens this chapter with this statement:

To understand how God speaks we must understand to some extent what the word of God is.

discerning God’s voice is essentially just one dimension of a certain kind of life, the eternal kind of life, a life lived in conversational relationship with God (John 17:3).

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Studying the word of God helps us understand what this eternal life is, how we are to take part in it by the graciousness of God, and especially how hearing God is part of it.

We will truly be at ease hearing God only if we are at home with the word of God, with his speaking throughout creation and redemption. Hearing God is not a freakish event.

The light that they [the followers of Jesus] radiate is not what they do but who they are.

Dallas then asks: How are we to have the mind of Christ and to walk in His steps? And answers:

It is through the action of the word of God upon us, throughout us and with us that we come to have the mind of Christ and thus to live fully in the kingdom of God.

What again is Willard’s definition of the word of God? Remember for Dallas, the word of God is God speaking. That can be through all of the ways God speaks (dreams, visions, other people, etc.)  in addition to everything that comes from Jesus and the written word of God. So this last statement means, when God speaks to us in all His different ways, we gain the mind of Christ. But it is more:

the word of God is a creative and sustaining substance, an active power, not limited by space and time or physical constraints. It organizes and guides that which it is directed to by God and by persons in union with God.

Commenting on Matthew 8:26 where Jesus calms the storm he highlights the fact that the disciples had great faith in Jesus – they fully believed that He could have calmed the storm – yet Jesus upbraids them for lack of faith. What is going on?

Now the disciples obviously had great faith in Jesus. They called upon him, counting on him to save them. They had great faith in him, but they did not have his great faith in God.

This, he says, is the life we are called to. A life where we allow God to speak to us and giving us the mind of Jesus; the faith of Jesus; the love of Jesus; and the life of Jesus. But, in the process, we don’t lose our life. Talking about the new birth – our new life, Dallas says:

Our additional life, though it is still our life, is also God’s life in us: his thoughts, his faith, his love, all literally imparted to us, shared with us, by his word and Spirit.

Here is my summary of these three sections:

“Christ’s Faith as My Faith”: His thoughts, his faith, his love, all literally imparted to us, shared with us, by his word and Spirit.

“Paul on Salvation”: The new life is a new supernatural quality of life. It is a different kind of life.

“Focusing on Our Aliveness to God”: As we take a stand as to who we are in this new life, identifying with the Christ-life in us and against the sin, the “boat” of our life begins to turn around.

Next Dallas, looks at the written word of God:

The written Word of God is an expression of God’s mind just as surely, though in a different manner, as are creation and Jesus, the living Word. As we read and study it intelligently, humbly and openly, we come increasingly to share God’s mind. … Scripture is a communication that establishes communion and opens the way to union,

He cites Madam Guyon’s method of reading the scripture which is a form of Lectio Divina. I would recommend her book A Short and Easy Method of Prayer on this.

He adds William Law comments, “Therefore the Scriptures should only be read in an attitude of prayer, trusting to the inward working of the Holy Spirit to make their truths a living reality within us.”

When asked if one should read the Bible through every year, he says:

It is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every word of the Bible flash before our eyes.

I hope he meant – not “every year.” I have found that reading through the Bible when we first start following Jesus and periodically after that, I would agree. How does Dallas recommend that we read the Scriptures?

Come to your chosen passage as to a place where you will have a holy meeting with God.

Read a small part of the passage and dwell on it, praying for the assistance of God’s Spirit in bringing fully before your mind and into your life the realities expressed.

Chapter Summary about how to approach the written word of God

    1. take in the information written
    2. allow your heart to have a longing for it to be so
    3. affirm that it must be so
    4. make an invocation to God to make it so
    5. appropriate by God’s grace that it is so

If my summary of this chapter and the last doesn’t hold together, it is in part, that I am not able to adequately see how chapters 6 and 7 fulfill Dallas’ statement in the preface:

Chapters six and seven discuss the centrality of God’s speaking—God’s Word—to his creation and to the process of redemption. The Word of God is not foreign to routine reality; it is at the very heart of it.

At the beginning of chapter 6, Dallas says:

God created, God rules and God redeems through his word. God’s creating, God’s ruling and God’s redeeming is his word.

Chapter 5 is partly about how God’s speaking (God’s word) is what creates. In chapter 6, Dallas writes about Him ruling  the universe (the universe should be thought of as a kingdom ruled by words). This chapter is mostly about how the written word accomplishes His redemption.

Chapter 8 Recognizing the Voice of God

How do we know whether what we hear is from God? Dallas’ simple answer is: “By experience.” He then re-iterates one of his central themes:

the teachings of the Bible, no matter how thoroughly studied and firmly believed, can never by themselves constitute our personal walk with God. They have to be applied to us as individuals and to our individualized circumstances, or they remain no part of our lives.

He then launches into the main subject of the chapter. He writes about how animals learn to recognize the voice of their trainers and how we learn to distinguish colors by experience. In the same way …

those who have been given the additional birth—the new birth through the redemptive message of Christ that has entered their lives—can learn by experience to hear God as he speaks, to recognize his word and confidently interact with it

We may mistakenly think that if God spoke to us we would automatically know who is speaking, without having to learn, but that is simply a mistake—and one of the most harmful mistakes for those trying to hear God’s word.

Dallas proposes three possibilities as to why we need to learn to hear God speak:

    1. It could be our fallen nature. But, Jesus, who did not have a fallen nature, also needed to learn to recognize God’s voice. (Isaiah 50:1-4)
    2. It could be the natural result of a personal relationship. We need to learn to recognize the voice of those we are getting to know.
    3. It could be in the nature of the way God speaks (He whispers)

Next, he addresses the three lights often used in helping us discern God’s will:

    1. Circumstances
    2. Impressions / Promptings of the Spirit
    3. The Bible

When these three things point in the same direction, it is suggested, we may be sure the direction in which they point is the one God intends for us. When these three things point in the same direction, it is suggested, we may be sure the direction in which they point is the one God intends for us.

Quoting F. B. Meyer “The circumstances of our daily life are to us an infallible indication of God’s will, when they concur with the inward promptings of the spirit and with the Word of God. So long as they are stationary, wait.”

Dallas doesn’t buy into the three lights completely. Here are the problems:

The problem of their Inter-dependence – “Basically stated, since we need the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible, lights two and three are inter-dependent. And since circumstances like an open door could come from God, from Satan or from a person involved in the decision, they require the Spirit and the word to discern where the circumstances are coming from.”

The Three Lights method is limited to decision making and does not help us understand a conversational relationship with God – “For example, I have found that I can find affirmation in the Scriptures and in the prompting of the Spirit -but my circumstances may be in the tank. Does that mean that God’s simple prompting of addressing me: ‘My son’ cannot be validated?”

Willard doesn’t completely dismiss the three lights, but says:

The three lights are simply the factors that we must consider in the process of making a responsible judgment and decision about what we are to do.

The voice of God is not itself any one of the three lights nor is it all of them together. But the inner teaching of which John speaks in his first epistle—the voice or word of God coming to individuals, as repeatedly displayed in biblical events—usually comes to us in conjunction with:

      • responsible study and meditation on the Bible
      • experience of the various kinds of movements of the Spirit in our heart
      • intelligent alertness to the circumstances that befall us

He concludes this line of reasoning with the following:

when God speaks and we recognize the voice as his voice, we do so because our familiarity with that voice enables us to recognize it. We do not recognize it because we are good at playing a guessing game…

Dallas believes that we can learn from how we distinguish distinct human voices in learning to recognize God’s voice. There are three factors that we use to distinguish human voices:

Quality:  “is mainly a matter of which tones are produced and the manner in which they are modulated. Quality, at the human level, also includes the style of speech. For example, is it slow or fast, smooth or halting in its flow, indirect or to the point?”

Spirit: “A voice may be passionate or cold, whining or demanding, timid or confident, coaxing or commanding. This is, of course, not merely a matter of sounds but also a matter of attitudes or personal characteristics that become tangibly present in the voice.”

Content: Very often I can recognize the author of written text by the content.

In addition to these factors, God’s word to us carries a weight of authority.  Willard puts it this way:

A certain steady and calm force with which communications from God impact our soul incline us toward assent and even toward active compliance.

Quoting E Stanley Jones:

Perhaps the rough distinction is this: The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks, and it is self-authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within it.

Another distinguishing characteristic of God’s voice is

a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and of goodwill. His voice is not the voice of a bully. It will not run over you and your will.

Next, Dallas says the following:

In order to qualify as the voice of God, a thought, perception or other experience must conform to the principles—the fundamental truths—of Scripture. It is the principles, not the incidentals, of Scripture that count here.

How do we know what in the Bible is a principle or fundamental truth?  Examples of incidentals are things like head covering. Then there are commands that are incidental to people generally like the command to go and sell everything. He makes a strong case from the rest of Scripture that this was just a command for the rich young ruler. Examples of enduring principles are things like:

    • God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5)
    • “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and that the second is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31)
    • “strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:31)

He explains further:

No specific word that is from God will ever contradict such principles. … Principles of Scripture are to be identified most of all from the actions, spirit and explicit statements of Jesus himself.

Willard then devotes an entire section rejecting any words that would promise us that faithful followers of Jesus would be free from pain, suffering and hardship. He emphatically rejects any teaching as such and we should be wary of any words from God that echo that line of thinking.

Concerning how infallible our hearing is, Dallas says:

When I am sure that God is speaking to me and sure about what he says, couldn’t I still be mistaken, even though I’ve had apparently successful experiences of hearing and understanding his voice? Yes of course you could still be wrong. … Infallibility, and especially infallibility in discerning the mind of God, simply does not fit the human condition. It should not be desired, much less expected, from our relationship with God.

I was disappointed that he doesn’t address the fact that Old Testament prophets were expected to be infallible. That is an unanswered question for me. Perhaps some you, my readers, could help me understand why this is true and is not true for New Testament prophets.

Concerning the role of scripture in recognizing God’s voice:

It cannot be stressed too much that the permanent address at which the word of God may be found is the Bible. More of God’s speaking to me has come in conjunction with study and teaching of the Bible than with anything else.

Knowing the voice of God and having a practical understanding of that voice in our minds and hearts is not a luxury for the people of God.

Dallas digresses and lists the benefits of developing a conversational relationship:

    • Direct, daily access to God and his kingdom
    • Confidence, Comfort and Peace – Without real communication from God, our view of the world is very impersonal, however glorious we may find God’s creation.
    • Protection from mad religionists and legalism. – It is also important for us to know on a practiced, experiential basis how God speaks, so that we might protect ourselves and others about whom we are concerned.
    • A quality of life like those in Scripture.

Dallas sums up the chapter by stating that he believes that God’s “voice” to us is not mysterious and goes on to tell us what we should expect:

It is possible to talk about hearing God in terms of mysterious feelings, curious circumstances and special scriptural nuances of meaning to the point where God’s character is called into question.

we can expect (given the revelation of God in Christ) that if God wants us to know something, he will be both able and willing to communicate it to us plainly, as long as we are open and prepared by our experiences to hear and obey.

We may be sure that “no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). With very little exception, the form such inspiration took was nothing more than thoughts and perceptions of the distinctive character that these people had learned by experience to recognize as the voice of God in their own souls. The thoughts and perceptions were still their thoughts and perceptions. It could not be otherwise. But the thoughts and perceptions bore within themselves the unmistakable stamp of divine quality, spirit, intent and origination.

Chapter 9 A Life More than Guidance

Dallas begins the chapter by emphasizing that the life of faith is a life of hard work. And part of that includes the hard work of learning to hear God. But the questions he addresses in this chapter are:

    • How may we come to live confidently and sensibly with God as a conversational presence in our lives?
    • How much can we count on hearing God?
    • What does it mean when we don’t hear his voice?
    • What are we to do then?

Dallas begins this section with a summary of his teaching on hearing God.

While God’s communications come through experiences of many kinds, their detailed content or meaning always takes the form of the inner voice, a characteristic type of thought or perception.

Wow! I never thought of it like that. Dreams, visions, the written word of God – their detailed content or meaning comes in the form of the still, small voice. So obvious – but such a new thought for me.

Let’s summarize his summary with bullet points:

    • God’s primary means of communicating is the still, small voice
    • God may choose to guide us mechanically without words
    • The primary way God speaks to us is through the written word of God
    • We need to learn to recognize God’s voice by experience and experimentation
    • Through practice and experience, we can learn to recognize God’s voice by the quality, the spirit, and the content of His voice.
    • Infallibility in hearing is “completely out of the question.”
    • In human relationships, some of us recognize a voice and then turn it off and stop listening. This happens to those who are in rebellion against God.
    • Using God to get out of trouble or to make a decision is not a good way to learn to hear God. “it is much more important to cultivate the quiet, inward space of a constant listening than to always be approaching God for specific direction.”

Speaking to pastors and church leaders:

In every congregation we need a group of people who, in front of everyone, are explicitly learning and teaching about life in dialogue with God.

Next Dallas addresses the question – What if we don’t get an answer from God to a question we have posed? Let’s bullet point his response:

    • We have done something wrong. This he claims is possible but that the wrong can be readily discerned by asking Him, friends and more mature followers of Jesus if we really want to know. “We must resolutely resist the tendency to blame the absence of a word from God automatically on our own wrongness.”
    • God wants us to decide. “in general, it is God’s will that we ourselves should have a great part in determining our path through life. This does not mean that he is not with us. Far from it. God both develops and, for our good, tests our character by leaving us to decide.”
    • We may live in fear of being wrong / choosing wrong. And God may then withhold His direction.
    • We may want God to decide difficult decisions so that we can avoid responsibility for our actions. I have seen this so often where people (not me of course!) make terrible decisions and then say that they were only following God’s direction.

Another situation that Dallas addresses is when we act upon a word from God and have assurance that it is from Him but it does not work out. Dallas assures us to not fret.

The will of God made plain to us is sometimes not fulfilled because of the choices of other people. We must not, because of that, lose confidence in God’s guiding words.

Dallas addresses those who believe that if we are perfectly hearing from God and obeying Him, we will not be taking any real risk.

In truth, we don’t need to seek risk but we will never be without it, at least in this world. Nor should we try to be.

Epilogue – The Way of the Burning Heart

Dallas tackles one more obstacle that we might face in developing a conversational relationship with God.

“the seeming unreality of the spiritual life.” We could equally speak of it as “the overwhelming presence of the visible world.” The visible world daily bludgeons us with its things and events. They pinch and pull and hammer away at our bodies. Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs. But instead of shouting and shoving, the spiritual world whispers at us ever so gently.

God’s spiritual invasions into human life seem, by their very gentleness, to invite us to explain them away. … We are hindered in our progress toward becoming spiritually competent people by how easily we can explain away the movements of God toward us. They go meekly, without much protest.

How do we combat this one?

[these hinderances] all require of us a choice to be a spiritual person, to live a spiritual life. We are required to “bet our life” that the visible world, while real, is not reality itself.

What does this life look like? Dallas says:

Christian spirituality as practiced through the ages takes the form of this companionship with Jesus. Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God. They do not live their lives merely in terms of the human order in the visible world; they have “a life beyond.”

Today, as God’s trusting apprentices in the kingdom of the heavens, we live on the Emmaus road, so to speak, with an intermittently burning heart. His word pours into our heart, energizing and directing our life in a way that cannot be accounted for in natural terms. The presence of the physical world no longer has to be a barrier between me and God. My visible surroundings become, instead, God’s gift to me, where I am privileged to see the rule of heaven realized through my friendship with Jesus.

He makes it so in response to my expectation. There, in some joyous measure, creation is seen moving toward “the glorious liberty of the children of God”—all because my life counts for eternity as I live and walk with God.

He then closes with this poem:

Now is the shining fabric of our day
Torn open, flung apart, rent wide by love.
Never again the tight, enclosing sky,
The blue bowl or the star-illumined tent. We are laid open to infinity,
For Easter love has burst our tomb and His.
Now nothing shelters us from God’s desire—
Not flesh, not sky, not stars, not even sin.
Now glory waits so He can enter in.
Now does the dance begin

End Notes

[i] In an article entitled “A Gentle Breeze or a Roaring Thunderous Sound?” the author posits that there was no whispering going on in Elijah’s encounter with God. He suggests that the Hebrew phrase kol d’mama daka is unique in the Bible and is based on damamu, an Acadian rather than a Hebrew root. It refers to roaring and moaning. Based on his linguistic research and the pattern of theophany in the Tanakh (OT), the author believes a better translation might be “a roaring and thundering voice.” Lust, Johan. “A Gentle Breeze or a Roaring Thunderous Sound? Elijah at Horeb: 1 Kings XIX 12.” Vetus Testamentum 25 (January 1975): 110- 15

When God Winks on New Beginnings by SQuire Rushnell

Book Summary

This book is full of stories of amazing coincidences and divine intervention. The book is not very long and is a quick read. It is not one of my favorites (and I have lots of favorites), but if you need encouragement in terms of starting something new or continuing on in something, this book is for you. I picked this up as part of research I am doing for my book Circumstantial Evidence where I reflect on the role that circumstances play in hearing and discerning God’s voice. [not the audible kind but the still small voice in our spirit].


SQuire emphasizes in the introduction that even though there are many amazing stories in this book, the stories are not about the people in the stories. The book is about you. [Very 1980ish!] In spite of the hype, he really wants to help you do things you have never done before.  I am not sure the book will help me to do wingsuiting, but I still felt very encouraged by the book to step out  into some new areas and to continue on in some difficult areas.

Let’s start with a definition of a godwink from my perspective. A godwink is a signpost of encouragement and reassurance. They are like those winks you got from a Dad or Grandparent that says: “Hey kid! I’m thinking of you right now. Hang in there.” You will fully understand it when I recount some of the stories. Later in the chapter 3 he defines a godwink as: “A personal signal or message directly from God, sometimes as an answer to prayer, and often labeled as a coincidence.”

Finally, he closes the Introduction by telling us that we “must determine where [we] want to go.” I would go further and quote Andy Stanley who taught me: “Direction determines destination.” [see The Principle of the Path]. See this short clip by Andy.  or the book by the same name. So after you determine where you want to go, you need to evaluate the direction of your life. Is the direction you are headed going to take you where you want to go?

Chapter 1 Which Road to Take

“Look inside yourself, at the goals and dreams God has planted inside you, and identify what you need to be happy, then put things in motion to secure that happiness.” Robin McGraw From My Heart to Yours.

Okay – don’t shut this down yet. We have all heard “It’s all about me.” And the pursuit of happiness. But let’s face it. We all need encouragement. Keep going. The book gets better.

Story #1 – Cheryl always wanted to be a writer. She moved to LA from her home town of Charlotte and worked and worked trying to break into script writing. In the midst of a career of starts and stops she got called home to care for her dad. She knew it was pulling her away from her dream. She sent out a prayer request via email concerning her Dad to everyone in her address book. She got a call and a job from someone right in Charlotte who got the email. She got her first script writing job. The first godwink.

One night while writing the script, she had a dream that her best friend was going to star in the film. At the filming, she found out that her best friend got the part. This was a major godwink. Both of these encouraged her to continue to pursue her “impossible” dream.

Story #2 – Tom Harken contracted polio at age 8. He was placed in isolation and an iron lung for months. He prayed the prayer of a lonely kid. One day, while in the lung, he threw up on himself but couldn’t clean himself off. No one came until finally a doctor came, cleaned him up, took him out of the iron lung and just held him. He whispered into his ear: “Tommy, I want you to know that God loves you. Even when you wonder about God, He’s there. He’s watching over you. He’s protecting you. Keep your faith, Tommy. Keep your faith.” He immediately got better and was soon released from the hospital. This doctor provided a godwink that dramatically affected Tom’s life.

But two days later he was diagnosed with TB and was again placed in isolation. He stayed isolated in his bedroom for a very long time. One day his father stomped a message in the snow outside his window. “I love you Tommy.” This was a godwink. Years passed and eventually the doctors reported him cured. He was released and went back to school. But a teacher ridiculed him for being dumb when he really was uneducated due to the long years of illness. He left school and never went back. He worked hard in his father’s grocery store. Eventually he started many successful businesses. He never learned to read and in fact hid his illiteracy from everyone – including his boys. When he received the Horatio Alger award, his speech was so memorable that Henry Kissinger said that he would never forget it.  It was these two godwinks that kept him going.

Chapter 2: The Empowerment of Belief

Story #3 – While a young man, Franklin Graham was piloting a small plane home. His parents, Billy and Ruth, were praying up a storm that their son would arrive safely. Part way home, the plane lost electrical power and was in complete darkness. They flew back to the last radio beacon they had seen. But when they got there, the airport had shut down and was completely black. But, it “just so happened” that the director of the tower decided to show some friends around. He even pointed a light into the sky used to indicate that it was safe to land  in order to show them how the landing system worked. Unbeknownst to him, there was a plane up there. Franklin took it as a signal to land even though the runway lights were dark. As he approached, the tower controller demonstrated to his guests the full emergency runway lights. He kept them on until just after the plane landed and then abruptly turned them off. Franklin assumed that they were being rude and saving money – but later learned it was a godwink.

Story #4 – A wife and husband had a terrible marriage that ended in divorce. The husband, Bob, soon after the divorce, contracted ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease. While praying about what she should do, she saw a license plate that said: ALS 03. She thought it meant that she was to care for Bob. It was hard caring for him and was very costly in many ways. One day, as she was driving home, she cried out to God “Why am I doing this?” She immediately saw a license plate that said “4 God.” Then and there she knew her calling. As Bob deteriorated, both of them were healed of their relational wounds and in their relationships to God. All because of two godwinks. As she was explaining this to a friend one day, the friend lamented that she never experienced God like that. Just then a car pulled in front of them with the license plate: “KP PRAYN.”

Chapter 3: Where Hope Springs From

Story #5 – A woman and her husband had a child named Vicki born with severe disabilities. Vicki responded to virtually nothing. One doctor believed that he could find something she would respond to.  In test after test, he failed to get Vicki to respond. At last there was a breakthrough and after much hard work, Vicki became able to respond to more and more things. She eventually was able to productively work in a horticulture program. Her mom realized that God planted a desire in her heart to start a facility where others like Vicki could be helped.  After a year, she got nowhere raising the money for such a facility. Finally, she cried out to God “Did I hear you wrong, God?” The next day she received 4 checks for over $72,000 in 2 hours. Today, three decades later, the facility is the model for many facilities around the world helping people like Vicki develop self-reliance and self-respect. Because Vicki’s mom persevered after a godwink.

This reminds me of two godwinks we received at MicroTools. We were not bringing in any business. It was 11:59 and we cried in desperation. Things happened within hours that brought in business. There is more to the story – but let’s move on with SQuire.

Chapter 4: Stepping out in faith

Story #6 – SQuire was going to a job interview at a small radio station 10 miles up the road via hitchhiking. He dreamed of being a DJ at a radio station. His hero was Dean Harris – a DJ from a faraway radio station. No one picked him up until a green Volkswagon pulled up and the man introduced himself as Dean Harris. A definite godwink.

Story #7 – A woman from LA was doing a TV production for Biography. Her assignment was to find a relative of the Faberge’s. This was pre-Internet days and her search proved futile. She decided to take a break and go with her husband and daughter to London. While there, they happened to go into a shop where the shop clerk introduce himself as Theo Faberge. He provided everything she needed for the story. The link was made and the godwink delivered.

Chapter 5: How to Re-purpose Rejection

This chapter opens with SQuire talking about rejection. He tells about how silly it is to start making up a dejected story when someone doesn’t return your call. I was doing that just this morning. I had invited two friends to collaborate on a project two weeks ago and hadn’t heard from them. Then two days ago I sent them another invite. And now today I am making up all kinds of terrible things they must be thinking about me.

Story #8 – This one is about Steve Jobs and frankly – it doesn’t even qualify for repeating.

Story #9 – This one is even less remarkable. It just shows that tenacity is required to succeed but, in my opinion, no obvious godwinks. There is a good quote from Winston Churchill:

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

Another good quote:

If you do what you fear you won’t fear what you do. Gordon Morton

West Compass Directions South North Travel

Chapter 6: Finding Your Compass

Story #10 – This story documents the godwinks of the author of What Color is Your Parachute. In this section he documents the 5 worst ways to get a job and the 5 best ways to get a job.

Story #11 – This documents the story of the founder of Yankee Candle and the godwink in his life.

Story #12 – This story documents Carol and her Espresso Love coffee shop on Martha’s Vineyard.

I don’t recount these stories, not because they are not interesting, but they are not extraordinary in my limited perception.

Chapter 7 – Personal Requests

Story #13 – This recounts the story of first time home buyers who carefully selected the Buxton model in their new development. As they went to sign the papers, they were extremely anxious. But all fears went away when the lawyer pulled out a briefcase that had the brand name Buxton. This was a godwink. All fears left.

Story #14 – Next came another real estate story of a man buying his first house. He doesn’t respond to the first prompting to go see a house – but one year later the house came back on the market. As he approached the street to look at the house, he saw the name of the street “Mayberry Lane.” The Andy Griffith show was his favorite. He produced live shows for a living which included shows that were “Andy Griffith” tribute shows.

Story #15 – On a missions trip helping to clean up after hurricane Katrina, Cristina worked hard day after day. But the total task was overwhelming. They finished one clean up effort only to have the work rejected by the team foreman. They had a lot more work to do. In the midst of the work and in the midst of the debris, she found a rose. Roses had a special meaning of hope to her. That was her godwink.


I will conclude with his quote from the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.