The Adventure of Tuning in to God
by Rod Loy
Busy, tired, and confused. That’s an accurate description of many people in our culture — including many Christians. As we react to the external demands we face each day, it’s all we can do to keep up with our priorities — and to be honest, we often choose the wrong things to put at the top of our lists. We’re incredibly busy, and everything seems equally urgent. At the end of the day, we’re exhausted, yet we wonder if we accomplished anything meaningful at all.
As Christians, we want to stand before Jesus someday and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).
But many of us live with a secret, nagging doubt. We wonder whether our choices please Him, and we’re not sure our lives are making a difference.
There’s another way — a better way to live, a better way to connect to God, and a better way to be assured that our lives matter. It’s by making a commitment to obey God immediately, no matter what He tells us to do. When we respond in active faith as soon as we hear His voice, everything changes! We become more in tune with the heart of God and more sensitive to the people around us, and we get a front row seat to watch God do incredible things in us and through us. We experience the abundant life Christ promised to those who truly follow Him.
When we learn to capture each moment, we live with a sense of expectant wonder. Every moment (no matter how ordinary) might be a “God moment,” and every encounter with someone (no matter how annoying) might be a “divine appointment.” Our priority shifts from accomplishing our selfish agendas to fulfilling God’s kingdom agenda.
A Year, a Lifetime
People who know me say I’m a pretty disciplined and detailed guy. I think it’s the product of both nature and nurture. My father was a computer programmer and troubleshooter for IBM. I have his genes, and I saw how he handled goals and problems.
Many years ago I developed the habit of setting goals in six different areas of my life at the beginning of every year — not just one goal, but several goals for each of the six areas. Then I created a detailed plan to fit them all into my schedule. However, by the third or fourth month of each year, the mass and complexity of all those goals proved to be overwhelming — even for someone who is naturally disciplined and focused. After several years of frustration, I decided to narrow the next year’s goals to one in each of the six areas. Even that proved to be too many, so I pared down my focus to just one goal that would be my focus for the entire year.
I asked myself, What’s the one area of my life that, if I grow and change, will make me a better person and a better leader?
To narrow the range of options (and there are always many), I used three filters: prayer, self-awareness, and the input of others who know me well. I asked God to put one thing on my heart. I knew He could show me a million things in my life that needed improvement, but I asked Him to target just one for the year. I trusted Him to give me a big, clear mirror of truth so I could see what I do well and what areas needed work.
Human beings have an almost limitless capacity for self-deception, so I don’t take self-analysis lightly. As I prayed and thought, I asked my wife, Cindy, and a few good friends to give me feedback about what they saw in my life. I chose people who are perceptive, had my best interests at heart, and, most importantly, had the courage to tell me the truth.
When I went through this process a few years ago, God put “quick forgiveness” on my heart. I didn’t tell our church about it, and I didn’t lead any campaigns to teach it. I realized that if it didn’t first sink deeply into my own experience, I didn’t have any business telling others to do it. For a year, I asked myself, Do I forgive others the way God forgives me?
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “[F]orgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
That doesn’t mean God’s forgiveness is conditional, based on our willingness to forgive. It’s just the opposite. Our willingness and capacity to forgive those who hurt us is an overflow of our experience of Christ’s complete, full, and instantaneous forgiveness of our sins. Paul picks up this connection in two of his letters when he explains, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, cf. Colossians 3:13).
Every day that year, I asked God to drive the power and beauty of forgiveness deeper into my heart until it spilled out into my relationships. Of course, when trying to forgive someone who has hurt or betrayed us, we experience the natural barrier of resentment. As I prayed, God reminded me of certain people I had excused and tried to forget but hadn’t really forgiven. It was a wonderful, cleansing year that drove me deeper into the heart of God and the gospel of grace. When the year ended, I was finally ready to share my experiences with others.
Another year, God put it on my heart to focus on immediate obedience. At first, I wasn’t sure what that meant. Wasn’t I already obeying God? I thought responding to God’s whispers, nudges, impressions, and shouts was a strength in my walk with Him. As I prayed and read the Scriptures, however, the Lord showed me some gaps — big gaps — in my responsiveness to Him. I was responding, but sometimes slowly or even reluctantly. So every morning as I recited, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” my additional prayer was, “God, let me hear Your voice and sense Your leading so that I immediately obey You.”
I didn’t want to miss any “God moments” because of spiritual deafness or delayed responses. I asked God to clean out my spiritual ears, give me a receptive and sensitive heart, and provide the courage to act instantly on whatever He told me to do.
This was to be the year of immediate obedience. My first act of obedience was to accept God’s directive to make this commitment for the year. He had spoken, and it was up to me to obey instantly. I had no idea where all this was going, but I signed on for the ride. I felt a lot of uncertainty — and honestly, genuine fear. I also felt a little confused. After all, I was the pastor of a church. I shouldn’t feel threatened by God’s invitation to hear His voice and respond in faith, but I quickly realized this commitment opened new doors of spiritual experience. What would He ask me to do? Would I be embarrassed when I obeyed Him? Would I look weird? Would I be weird?
Every morning for a year, I asked God to make me sensitive to His voice so that I would take action and make His kingdom come more fully to the people I meet each day. I thought of the old song that says:
“I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord,
Over mountain or plain or sea;
I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord;
I’ll be what you want me to be.”1
The Attitude of Jesus
Throughout the year, God kept reminding me of a passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3–5).
Have the same attitude as Christ. What in the world was Paul talking about? Is that even possible? The apostle doesn’t leave us guessing. He says that Christ’s attitude was complete surrender to the will of the Father: “[H]e humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).
In the classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers encourages us to listen to God no matter what He says to us:
“Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and life will become a romance. Every time circumstances press in on you say, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and make time to listen. Chastening is more than a means of discipline — it is meant to bring me to the point of saying, ‘Speak, Lord.’ Think back to a time when God spoke to you. Do you remember what he said? As we listen, our ears become more sensitive, and like Jesus, we will hear God all the time.”2
One morning as I thought and prayed through the passage in Philippians, I realized I wasn’t yet at that point. I concluded that I was fairly obedient to God. If someone put a gun to my head and threatened to kill me if I said I was a follower of Christ, I think I would have the courage to claim to know Him. But this was different. God was asking me to be so obedient that I was willing to die to my own agenda, schedule, and desires — not just once, but all day, every day.
Plenty of people say they’re willing to die for Christ, but if you don’t live a life of obedience, there’s not much chance you’ll die a death of obedience. A life of obedience would be reflected, as Paul pointed out, in humility, kindness, truth, and generosity. My questions became: In any moment of any day, what in me needs to die so that Christ may be exalted? Am I willing to be that radically obedient to God?
I realized I needed to go back to the beginning and find a working definition of obedience. I couldn’t obey if I didn’t know what God wanted me to do, so the first necessary component of obedience is to hear His voice. God uses all kinds of ways to communicate His presence and His will to people — a burning bush, pillars of clouds and fire, a whisper after an earthquake, a donkey, a finger writing on a wall, appearances of angels, and voices from heaven, to name only a few. But the way God has chosen to speak most clearly and most often is through the Scriptures. If we soak our minds and hearts in God’s Word, we can be sure He will illumine His truth and reveal himself to us there. Our task then becomes responding with the attitude of Jesus and obeying to the point of death — immediately, fully, and courageously.
As God led me to make a commitment to focus for a year on immediate obedience, I wondered, What if God has something for me that’s far bigger than I ever imagined? I wasn’t thinking of positions or power or possessions. I was considering the adventure of walking hand in hand with the sovereign, mighty, and gentle King of all. Could any adventure be more thrilling (and threatening) than this? What if God had specific assignments for me in the ordinary course of my day? What if I was sensitive enough to hear His whispers, and what if I was bold enough to act when I heard Him speak? Was it possible that I would experience the divine in the ordinary?
Through the course of the year — and every day since then — I have encountered God more fully than ever before. The commitment to listen and immediately obey has revolutionized how I view each day. My to-do list is no longer mundane; it’s infused with the possibility that God may do something spectacular and unexpected if I sense His directive at any point. My meetings with people — scheduled or random — always carry the possibility that God may break into the ordinary and tell me to do something that changes a life.
These divine encounters may only last for a few seconds or a few minutes, so it’s essential for me to respond instantly when I hear God’s voice. Of course, I miss some of those “God moments,” either because I’m confused about what I sense from God or because I’m too slow to respond. But I’m getting in a lot of practice! With each bold response, I become a little more receptive to hearing Him, and I get a little more confident that it’s worth it to have the attitude of Christ every moment of every day.
God doesn’t have to tell me what He’s up to before I act, and I don’t have to see definitive results after I obey. God just asks me to do as He instructs and leave the results to Him. That’s what Jesus did. Everywhere He went, He did exactly what the Father told Him to do. But the results were, to say the least, mixed: Some adored Him, some feared Him, and some despised Him. When I hear God’s voice and obey to step into people’s lives, I can expect some to be grateful, some to be confused, and some to think I’ve lost my mind. I’m OK with that.
After my “year of immediate obedience” to understand and practice the principles on my own, I taught them to our church. The response has been more thrilling than I could have imagined. I couldn’t be more excited about what God has been doing in and through our people as their spiritual ears are opened and they respond instantly to God’s directives.
In my book, I issue a 90-day challenge as an experiment. For three months you read the Scriptures, pray, and expect God to lead you. Like any new habit or skill, obedience has a learning curve. As you practice immediate obedience, you’ll get some things right, and you’ll miss the mark sometimes. I’m still learning, and I expect to keep learning for the rest of my life.
Your journey, though, isn’t designed to end after 90 days. I hope you’ll make it a central priority of your life to listen and obey. There are no guarantees that God will speak at a certain time about a particular person or situation. We simply open our hearts to the fact that God longs to communicate His heart and intentions to us. If we listen and obey, a world of possibilities opens up before us.
People who practice immediate obedience are the ones we love to hang around. We listen to their stories and marvel at how God uses them. You can be one of those people. Give it a shot, and see what happens. You have nothing to lose — and everything to gain.
This article is adapted from Immediate Obedience: The Adventure of Tuning in to God (Influence Resources: Springfield, 2014).
1. “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go,” text by Mary Brown, 1856–1918, music by Carrie E. Rounsefell, 1894.
2. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Discovery House Publishers: Grand Rapids, 2006), 30.