Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
The New Year is a natural opportunity for us to look at the spiritual practices and habits we want to cultivate in our lives, especially when it comes to caring for those who are hurting or when we are walking through a difficult season ourselves.
I know when I am struggling, I tend to pare back and focus on only a few spiritual practices at a time. Ones that are simple, easy to do, but that also give me space to meet with God and be with Him.
So this week, I am sharing the basic content from episode 4: spiritual practices to help you learn to hear God’s voice. Each one of these is powerful in and of itself. The temptation for us will be to try to do all of them at once, but what I really want to encourage you to do is to pick just one and lean into that in the weeks and months ahead.
Which one resonates most with you?
Which one calls to you?
Which one fits most naturally into your schedule or routine?
While a couple of them sound like you only do them once and then you’re done with it, it’s good to sit with them for a bit and see if God reveals anything else.
Of course, there are more than these three. All kinds of spiritual practices can help us recognize God’s presence and movement in our lives. I’ll link to other episodes from the podcast that explore more spiritual practices. Maybe one of those will resonate more with you instead.
Alright, here we go…
Why We Need Discernment in Caring for Others
Think about the questions you have when someone you care about is hurting:
- How do I know how God is leading me to help others?
- My friend seems to be having a hard time. How do I know whether to approach them about it or not?
- What do I say to loved ones who are hurting?
- When do I say “yes” to helping someone and when do I need to let others be the ones to help instead?
I know there are books and articles out there that will tell you, “Say this, don’t say that.” “Do this, don’t do that.” But the truth is, what is helpful for one person isn’t necessarily helpful for another. And to make it even more difficult, saying one thing at one moment in time could be hurtful, but saying it a few weeks or even days later is just what they needed to hear.
I have learned that we have to develop discernment so that we can let God be the one to guide us in caring for our friends. Discernment is being able to recognize God’s presence and voice. You know, we often seek God’s guidance for the “big moments” and decisions of our lives, and we forget that He cares about the everyday, ordinary moments, too. He can meet us in those places and speak to us there.
And it’s not just hearing from Him, but learning to see His fingerprints on the situations in our lives, and the work He is doing in our hearts and in the hearts of others. So today, I want to walk you through a few simple practices that can help you learn to recognize His voice and His presence in your life. Are you ready?
First, take a look back over your life and note any times that God clearly spoke to you. You might think, “God doesn’t speak to me.” I’m going to challenge you to rethink that. I want you to write down all the ways that God has spoken to you in the past. Write down as much as you can remember: the circumstances, the date, and how He spoke to you—through the Bible, through a friend, a dream, a strong feeling, etc.
Margaret Feinberg talks about sacred echoes, when you hear a word or phrase or idea from multiple places in a short amount of time. Has that ever happened to you?
Take a few moments and write down as many things as you can think of. Be as specific as you can. If you can remember specific words and phrases, write those down, too. If you’re having trouble remembering, ask God to bring those situations to mind.
I’ve had a couple of dreams where I felt like God was really speaking to me, I’ve received some emails from friends that spoke God’s truth to me that I can still remember word-for-word. There have been times when I read something in a book, that was then repeated on a podcast, which was then repeated by a friend—those sacred echoes. What is it for you?
Continue this practice in the days and weeks ahead, as long as God leads you to do so. As an experience comes to mind, add it to your list. Consider keeping a journal where you can keep record of God’s speaking to you. You might be able to see patterns or similarities in the way God comes to you.
Second, I want you to take a few moments to consider where you sense God’s presence most in your life right now. When and where do you have the strongest sense of God being with you? Are you in a specific place? A special chair in your house? A particular building? What are you doing when you sense God being with you? Walking? Working? Singing? Enjoying time you’re your family? Write that down, as well.
Or maybe you’re having a hard time sensing His presence right now. Think back through your life and record moments when you knew He was near.
While God can be with us anywhere, I’ve found that there are some places or activities that make me more aware of His presence than others. What are those for you?
Leaning Into the Examen
Third, I want you to consider doing some form of the examen. The examen is a fancy term for examining. And when we practice the prayer of examen, we’re going to be looking for two specific things. The first is, as Richard Foster writes, looking to “discover how God has been present with us throughout the day.” The second is looking for “those areas that need cleansing, purifying, and healing.”
So, in essence, we’re going to look to see how God was present with us, and we’re going to ask Him to show us any way in which we are not following Him.
There are several different ways you could practice this. Let me share a few with you, and you can decide what might work best for you during this season of your life.
The common way has a few different steps.
- First, you take a moment just to quiet yourself and become aware of God’s presence.
- Second, you think back through your day. What comes to mind? What are you grateful for? Is there anything you need to confess?
- Third, maybe there’s a particular part of the day that stands out to you. Bring that before God and ask Him to provide insight on it. Listen for Him. See what He has to say to you.
- Finally, give thanks to God for being there with you, and for anything that He shared with you during your time with Him. Then think prayerfully ahead at your day tomorrow. Picture God being there with you and walking with you through it.
Another way to practice the examen is what I call “good, beautiful, true.” As Harry Reeder writes, “truth, beauty, and goodness are living realities because they are the attributes of the living and triune God.” And so we might pray something like “Lord, allow us to behold the One who is true, beautiful, and good.” And then we prayerfully review our day to see where we see those things. Because when we see something good, we are seeing God. When we see something beautiful, we are seeing God. When we see something true, we are seeing God.
A third way to practice the examen is to look over your day and identify where you see fruit of the Spirit—in your life and in the lives of others. Just like good, beautiful, and true are attributes of God, the fruit of the Spirit also come from God. So when we see those in action, we are seeing God at work. Where do you see love? Where do you see joy? Where do you see gentleness? Peace? Self-control? Faithfulness? Kindness? Patience? Take note of where you are seeing those, because that is where God is doing His work and bearing His fruit.
And a fourth way to practice the examen is what my family and I call “thankful, kindful, joyful, prayerful.” I know, we made up some words. But here are the four questions they represent: What are you thankful for? Where did you see kindness today? Where did you experience joy today? What would you like to pray for? Just as with the two previous examples, we see God when we are thankful, when we see kindness, and when we experience joy. And then when we pray, we can pray for others or we can ask God to forgive us for something we did that day that was not pleasing to Him. This one is great for kids. We often practice this with our daughter as we’re putting her to bed.
By practicing the examen in some form or other, we begin to notice where God is already at work in our hearts and lives, and in the hearts and lives of those around us. You don’t have to write it down, but that could be a really powerful record of God’s hand in your life. A testimony to God. Consider getting a simple notebook, or even a line-a-day journal, and write down these so-called fingerprints of God.
Jeremiah chapter 29 verse 13 says, “When you look for me with all your heart, you will find me.” So let’s take the time to look for God each day and see what He is doing. And in time, we’ll learn to recognize His voice and His presence in our lives, so that when we bring our questions before Him about how to help our friends who are hurting, we’ll be better able to sense His leading and know how to respond.
So which one of these practices do you want to try first? Will you write down moments when God clearly spoke to you in the past? Will you record those places and activities where you really sense God’s presence? Or will you try the examen in one form or another? I’d love to hear. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and remember, my name is spelled K-A-R-I.
Okay, my friends, that is all for today. Until next time, let’s encourage one another…
- Bonus Episode 6: Talking to Your Soul
- Episode 47: 10 Ways to Encounter God Through His Word, Plus 3 Invitations for You in 2022
- Episode 54: 4 Simple Ways to Start (or Keep) Journaling
- Episode 56: How to Create a Personal Spiritual Retreat (And Reflections on My Own)
- Bonus Episode 14: [Spiritual Practice] Good Morning, God
- Episode 63: Using Christian Spiritual Practices to Draw Closer to God with Blogger and Writer Celia Miller
- Bonus Episode 15: [Breath Prayer] I Will Not Be Afraid
- Episode 76: Have a Hard Time Sensing God’s Presence? Go Outside!
Learn more and register for Journal Gently, an 8-week program designed to help you use writing as a way to process hurt, grief, and trauma with God.