This month I did an unusual thing.
I stayed for two days in a monastery in Switzerland.
As you do. A friend invited me to go and I accepted. Why not?
I spent the first day in shock I think, trying to process that these twenty men really did spend their entire lives here doing the same thing day after day. After day. After day. My church-history textbooks suddenly took on live form. I didn’t think there were even monks in existence today – hadn’t they ended with the Middle Ages?
But here they were. At the Abbey D’Hauterive in a stunning valley in French-speaking Switzerland. When first built 1000 years ago, the Abbey was completely isolated from local cities and towns. Today there are villages and farmhouses scattered nearby but the small community still lives independently.
‘Ora et labora’ is the motto of the Benedictine Order. It means ‘prayer and work’ – the substance of monastic life. ‘Work’ is tending the gardens, making jams and jellies, wood-carving, tidying the grounds and making beer (who would’ve thought?!) ‘Prayer’ is meeting in the church seven times a day for services starting at 4:15. Yes. That’s 4:15am.
No possessions. No families. No contact with the outside world. Few clothes except the hooded white robes that reminded me of the Ku Klux Klan when I first saw them. And the clincher: 20 minutes of ‘free talk’ time each day!
A few years ago, a friend asked me a great question; “Being a Christian hasn’t made much difference in your life has it?” We were sitting around the campfire on a chilly night out – the glowing embers stirring thoughtful conversation in all of us.
Without hesitating I said, “Oh it’s changed me completely – I wouldn’t be the risk taker that I am now.” I laughed out loud… “No, knowing God has made me do things I would never dream of doing – not in a million years…”
I don’t think that the answer he expected. Perhaps more like; “I don’t tell lies as much…” or “I don’t sleep in Sunday mornings because I’m at church…” or “It got me a job teaching religious studies…”
But that was it. Somewhere along the line, the Holy Spirit had performed some sort of spiritual lobotomy and turned me into a wild risk-taker who seemed to make crazy, out-there decisions and throw caution to the wind.
It still baffles me how he did it. I was the girl who so tightly controlled her life that she wouldn’t do anything she knew she wouldn’t succeed at. Everything had to be fail-safe, foolproof, meticulously measured and double-checked. My fabulous never-get-it-wrong personality ensured that all the ‘t’s were crossed and all the i’s were dotted before I made any decision. Worked brilliantly in an unchanging, confined and stagnant world.
During my Bible College studies, I came across a journal article with the heading: ‘When Prophecy Failed’. It freaked me out. The author discussed a scenario in biblical history when a prophet delivered a word from God, but then apparently it didn’t happen, so the people re-interpreted the word to suit the new circumstances.
As I sat there amongst the lofty bookshelves of the theological library, scouring the article I felt increasingly sick.
It went against everything I had been taught. Wasn’t THE Word of God ‘living and active’? Powerful like a sword and purging like a fire, ‘smashing rocks to pieces’, speaking the universe into being and bringing life to the dead? Didn’t the word of the Lord never return void but always fulfill what it had been sent for? How could this be?!
Could God’s word fail? His predictions not come to pass? What did it mean for God to be sovereign? When God speaks, is that a guarantee that it will always happen?
Or are God’s words too weak such that circumstances could overcome them? Or perhaps he could forget what he said? Or worse still, could God lie? The possibilities sent me reeling.
The thing I didn’t understand at the time was God’s purpose in speaking of the future. He is not some fortune teller or crystal fairy, predicting things to come to show off his prophetic prowess. The primary reason he speaks is to call us to walk with him in seeing his kingdom come in our lives and the lives of others.
It’s a line I hear often. I heard it this time after church one day speaking with a friend. I had just shared one of those fun stories of how God had spoken – a prophetic dream that had miraculously come to pass.
“Oh but I don’t hear from God like you do..”
The look of disappointment: the shoulder shrug of resignation.
What she said bothered me then and it bothers me now. I went away disturbed and puzzling over it. Why? Why do I hear from God like that while she doesn’t? She loves God. She’s faithful. A Godly family, a strong Christian. But she doesn’t have a spectacular God-story like mine to share. Why?
Some would say; it’s a gifting right? That’s because you’re a pastor; that’s your specialty.
Some would say; Oh those kind of experiences are the exception. Normal life – even the Spirit-filled life – isn’t like that. You shouldn’t expect it to be.
Some would say; Faith is trusting God without words like that, without signs and fleeces. True faith doesn’t need that stuff.
Some would say…
I beg to differ. That kind of faith life is not the intimacy Jesus promised when he called us friends (John 15:15). A friendship defined by the kinds of things God tells us. The profound, spectacular and personal way he speaks to us. The conversations that transform, guide and forever surprise us into deep worship and awe of his sovereignty.
I was recently at a conference, praying in a small group as we listened to hear God speak for each person.
I see oil bubbling up from the ground.. I believe God is saying…
As I spoke, the woman next to me grabbed my leg and cried out in surprise: That’s exactly the vision I just saw! I saw oil bubbling up from the ground too!
We interpreted the vision together and marvelled at the revelation. God was saying something significant to this lady and he was speaking it clearly. As we continued to listen to God for each other, the experience repeated itself. Different people received the same messages independently of each other. God confirmed it through multiple sources. His voice to each person was crystal clear.
Jesus promised that we would recognise his voice (John 10:27) and that it would be clear enough for us to follow it. I often find myself in conversations with others asking, Can you ever be sure it’s God?
I am convinced you can. It makes sense doesn’t it? Why would God make it difficult for us to hear his voice? Here’s his people wanting to receive guidance, to gain wisdom and to seek truth… So a Father who loves to speak leans in to make his message clear. That makes sense.