Listen Up Calvary!
God doesn't always speak with the same voice, or use identical signs that he may have used in the past. Walking with God can sometimes be like walking with a soft talker when you are hard of hearing. I learned this year to discern beyond signs that God had used in my past.
I've not been an anxious person most of my life, but at crucial points where big decisions have to be made - the sort that determine whether you move towns or change life course - anxiety has reared its head. At one point I had set my life in a certain direction. I had chosen a particular PhD program to attend that was acclaimed and that all my advisors told me to join. But I couldn't rest when I sat down in the evening to watch a tv show. And as soon as I'd lay in bed my chest would constrict. The message I was hearing was that I had chosen the wrong program and that I'd have to retract. God - if I was hearing him correctly, and I think I was - wanted me to stay in Waterloo. He had plans for me.
This spring we made another big decision. After 20 years out of the Maritimes where I was raised we decided to buy a cottage to use when we visit every summer. This process had me filled with anxiety again. This time when Amanda and I prayed through the issue it became clear that God wasn't speaking to me through the anxiety, as he had before. This time the anxiety was just the natural sort. But it was pretty tricky to hold that line as we waited for the deal to close. The anxiety didn't go away. At All. I kept going back to God in my devotional time and he just kept telling me that he would bless my choice and that I wasn't choosing against his will. So walking through the anxiety towards the "blessed choice" became an act of faith.
In both of these cases God spoke to me, but he didn't use the same method. God likes to keep us on our toes. He doesn't want us to treat him in some formulaic way as if he were an inert equation. I've been thinking about Mary and Joseph during this time and the many voices and nudges they felt before the advent of Christ - their baby child - who would soon, I'm sure, vocalize his own needs and wants. There would have been some clear messages - scripture tells us an angel came to each of them - but there were likely some places where they weren't sure where God was directing them.
God wants us to recognize that he is a living being. He is God with us, and that immanence is not some abstract force. He took on human flesh, and before that he spoke to the Israelites in dreams and through prophecy. He has never stopped speaking to our hearts. God is with us humans. He cares about us. He wants us to know that he is close to us and that we need to be with him and listen to him.
This advent, take a few moments to sit with God and ask him what he wants to say to you. Perhaps you have a big decision to make. Perhaps you are plagued by a problem. God may have a message for you this Christmas season, and it may be that the old methods he has used to speak to you are being tossed away like used wrapping paper. Look again to the living God and know that he is close.
Written by Andrew Atkinson