Thursday, June 21, 2012

Can we know what God is up to?

I love conversations. Being in conversation means we're connected with each other enough to listen and hopefully to learn from each other in our listening and conversing together. One conversation I have with folks begins with the question, "What is God up to in (insert your favorite city, neighborhood, neighbor or church here)?"

One response goes like this, "I can't, and we can't, know what God is up to. That is presumptuous. God is the Creator and we are the created. I live my life as best I can and let God take care of the rest." Others say, "I don't know what God wants but I want...."

Another response I encounter creates tension in noting an injustice, or a yearning of what could be but is not yet. For example, "I notice our schools are consistently underfunded. Is there some way I/we can help? Is there a way I can be part of a solution bringing consistent funding for teachers, schools and students for education?" Is there some kind of technical solution I or we can initiate, bringing much needed resolution in the face of a persistent problem?

In asking, "Can we know what God is up to?", we gain useful and foundational insights by going to God's Word. Second Timothy says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training". Especially helpful for asking 'What is God up to?" is guidance from the Bible about the mind and heart of God, the commands of God, the character of Jesus and the plans God has for all creation. Matthew 28:18-20, Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6, Luke 4:14-19 and Luke 15, among many others, are instructive. Studying and meditating on these provides a framework of understanding and guidance for the journey.

Yet another response engages in spiritual habits drawing the practitioners into intentional, active discernment, seeing, exploring, sensing and confirming what God is doing. These habits often consist of Bible study, meditation and reflection, or a contemplative habit like lectio divino or centering prayer. For groups, lectio divino can be a powerful way of encountering the Spirit of God in the midst of the challenges we face.

I met with a group of pastors learning adaptive leadership skills for a rapidly changing world. The group met once a month for seven months dwelling in the Word of Luke 10, being in conversation about what insights we had been given to see for our pastoral ministries from the intentional and slow reading and listening of this passage. We powerfully encountered new insights for ourselves and our ministry.

One spiritual habit not like the others involves listening to neighbors, acquaintances or strangers. This habit takes an adaptive approach where technical solutions would not work. You intentionally begin building a conversational rapport with a neighbor you do not know well. You invite your neighbor into a safe space of conversation. Depending on the trust-level you have with your acquaintance, you then invite your neighbor out to the corner coffee shop or to your home. You invite them with no other agenda and or conditions but that you commit to being open to hearing what God might say through the other. See what they share as honoring you with a glimpse into their story.

When practicing this habit of hospitality, engaging in a listening conversation, I seek to understand the stranger or acquaintance in my midst and what God might be saying through them. I feel as though I become the guest and the acquaintance becomes the host with something to offer me: Whatever is on their heart or mind, whatever is the narrative of need, yearning and insight in their life.

What you are given to hear and see, even from a stranger and even from a non-believer, God can use in helping you see what God is up to on your journey with Him...and with your neighbor.

It takes courage, the prompting of the Spirit and faith to ask, "What is God up to in our neighborhood?" especially when you know another dangerous question would soon follow, "How might we come alongside what God is doing?"