Adults

A Teaching Degree

The box next to "Christian Studies" was marked. My college major was chosen. I felt confident and somehow more mature. Checking that small box on the blue form seemed to be one of the biggest decisions I had ever made.

Why would I choose anything else? God had shown me that I would be serving Him overseas once I graduated so what good would any other major do for me? Two months into college, God began to speak to my heart. He wanted me in the education building. A teacher? Really? I looked into seeing if it could be my minor. No such luck.

Reluctantly, I filled out the form to change my major and over the next three and a half years fell completely in love with teaching. Fast forward four years after graduation, and I'm getting on a plane to go and serve as an international missionary in Madagascar. His plan remained and He did not need my help to get me there.

That teaching degree opened up doors to an English-as-a-second-language community that I would not have had otherwise. He gave me a classroom of precious deaf children that I was welcomed into because of my education degree. He saw the future so much clearer than I ever have.

Are You Really Listening, God?

Many of the population of military veterans I serve in my job as a VA hospital chaplain suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. One such veteran is very special to me, as he is a fellow chaplain. I asked him if PTSD affected his ability to listen to God. Without hesitation, he said, “Absolutely!”

First, he told me his ability to hear at all was affected. Distractions are much worse for one suffering from PTSD than for most of us. Even trying to focus on God still takes concentrated effort.

A career military man, he had trained most of his adult life for war. Though he admits it was a naïve assumption, he thought he would be immune to PTSD since he was serving both God and country. Surely God would protect him so he could minister to those whose only purpose was to protect their country. But that’s not the way it happened. He now suffers from severe PTSD.

Now, he asks, can he still trust he is hearing God correctly? Can he trust God to answer? Listening to God is now a challenge. He finished his conversation with me by saying, “But I heard Him this morning as I preached.” Thanks be to God!

That’s What I Thought He Said

Standing in the living room of the perfect house in Georgia, I looked at my husband and knew what we had thought we heard God say wasn’t correct. The house had it all; it checked all our boxes. Located on a lake, it was just the right style and size, and it was in our budget—only it was in the wrong state!

Moving to Georgia seemed like God’s choice for us. Georgia was closer to our families, the job was great, and multiple opportunities were available for our children and me. It all made sense. Only we had heard wrong. God wanted us to step out in faith and follow Him without knowing what the next step was for us.

After getting over the shock, we confessed our disobedience and stepped out in faith. God quickly led us to another state, where both of our children met their future spouses. God blessed our journey from disobedience to obedience!

Deb Douglas listens and lives missionally in Bossier City, Louisiana.

Wherever He leads, I’ll Go

“Go to the Middle East.”

That was the clearest call I had received from God. The next eight years were spent praying about, dreaming about, and preparing for my move to the Middle East.

I have always been the ambitious sort, the type who prepares for every change and possibility and attempts to plan the next 15 years, now. If possible.

So I went. God gave me the call. And I went.

Naturally, during my eight years of planning I began to dream about what the call from God might mean. I convinced myself He must want me to live overseas forever.

So I told others I would move there for my whole life. And quite honestly, my heart was willing.

But God had different plans.

Getting me there was simply the beginning of the life-changing, faith-rocking journey He was starting me on.

I thought it was a forever kind of call. Instead, God was asking me to follow Him in the faith-based kind of pursuit where He is the Good Shepherd and I am the lamb following Him wherever He would lead me.

Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to years and slowly God began to whisper to me that it was time to move home.

Nothing Wasted

I love to sew! When I sew, I ponder, figure, and experiment until I find a way to use the least amount of fabric possible. I do not want anything wasted. It’s the same with life. I do not want to waste anything. I want to learn from every experience.

Finding out that my husband and I had misheard God’s direction and plan, the two of us puzzled over the experience in order not to waste any knowledge that could be gained from it. We realized this experience taught us to listen to God without having a preconceived idea of what He is going to say.

The misunderstanding occurred during a hectic season in our life; we learned to hear God without the noise of daily life. Taking a step away from the busy-ness of life takes away distractions from hearing clearly.

It also taught us to admit we heard wrong quickly and then follow. God blesses when we listen and obey!

Deb Douglas listens and lives missionally in Bossier City, Louisiana.

Is That What You Said, God?

I was speaking to a group of women in a Haitian church in Canada. Since I am one of the dwindling number of Americans who only speak one language, I needed a translator. A beautiful young Haitian woman home from college on summer vacation was mine. She was not a professional translator but seemed to understand what I was saying. However, there were a number of times that weekend when the women giggled when I thought I was being serious or looked concerned when I thought I was being funny.

In my work as a hospital chaplain, my most dreaded visits are those with patients on a ventilator. Somewhat sedated with a huge tube down their throats and out their mouths, they try to tell me something. How often I plead with God on those visits, “Help me understand so I can minister to their needs. Let me not offer an ice chip when they need to hear about Living Water.”

And there are times when I’m listening to God that I similarly plead, “Help me understand, God, so I can obey!”

Dianne Swaim writes from North Little Rock, Arkansas. Her ministry email address is dianne@freshspirit.com

Hear My Heart, Oh God

A friend recently texted me, “I thought about you today. I guess you will always be in my heart.” I answered her, “That was music to my ears. So I guess since I’m in your heart and you’re in my ears, we’re biologically related!” Of course, that was meant to be ludicrous, but it did make me think. How connected are my ears and my heart? When my heart is seeking God’s answer, but my ears are deceiving so that I disobey, can God still bless me? Or can He still bless others through me?

I have learned the answer to those questions is “Yes!” Thankfully God’s blessings don’t depend on my understanding. However, I have also learned through the times I mistakenly “obey” God’s will, the route is longer, the terrain is rougher, and the outcome may be less effective. Because God knows our human frailty, He offers grace when our hearts are right.

The most important lesson I’ve learned through unintentional disobedience is God will never give up on me. He will always speak to me again, maybe just a tad louder.

Dianne Swaim writes from North Little Rock, Arkansas. Her ministry email address is dianne@freshspirit.com.

Focus! Focus!

My niece grabbed my face in her chubby little hands, looked deep into my eyes, and said, “Focus! Focus!” She did not want just a casual listener; she was demanding I listen for total understanding. If we desire to understand the meaning of what is being said, focusing by blocking out distractions is essential. The same is true for hearing from God.  

Blocking out distractions means we intentionally choose to listen not only with our ears but also with our whole being. So how do you do that?

I Can’t Hear You, God

I’ll be the first to admit I often block out God to take care of distractions. Shouldn’t that read, “block out distractions to listen to God”? It should. But honesty won’t allow me to make that claim often.

When I intercede for others, I can stay on track. I can easily block out distractions when I’m the speaker. But when I’m the listener, I’m overrun with incidental thoughts. They jump up and down for attention. I can’t keep them quiet or still.

So how do I practice crowd control with my thoughts? I distinguish between prayer chats and prayer conversations. I chat with God often during the day about everything from needing that parking place to blessing that person in the ambulance whizzing by. But serious conversations demand time, silence, and solitude.

Often I take a pen and paper into prayertime with me. When an incidental thought interferes, I quickly jot it down. It’s gone, and later in the day, I can tend to those interruptions.

I practice centering prayer—repeating a short phrase that focuses my mind on God (e.g., “Jesus, hear my prayer”).

Can You Hear Me?

Congratulations! If you are reading this then you have successfully found a moment to break away for some time for you. I know how precious and fleeting this time can be so please know these blogs that I write and share will honor what time you have. So let’s not waste any time…

Have you ever felt so distracted in your own environment that you can’t hear God? The sounds of little people’s voices arguing, chairs scooting across the kitchen floor, doors opening and closing, questions being asked, the clinking and clanging of snaps and buttons hitting the side walls of the dryer, dogs barking, a baby crying? It can be very challenging to find a place of peace, of quiet, and be able to focus, to talk to the only source to replenish our weary selves, God.

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