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Hearing the Voice of God - Matt Penner

This is not a blog to provide great and practical insight into how to hear or discern the voice of God. Rather, these are some thoughts that I have been pondering this past month as I desire to draw closer to the Lord and hear His voice.

One of the most powerful longings of human beings is to be known by God and to hear His voice – to hear the voice of our Creator speak to us. Yet, it seems that this can be a great struggle for so many of us. At least it can be for me.

Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God…" If we want to speak with our Father, Jesus gives us clear instructions that we must "pray to your Father who is in secret" (Matthew 6:6).

So how does that work in a world as noisy as ours? Can we just turn off our distractions – our smartphones, tablets, or computers –  for 30 minutes a day, spend time with the Lord and hope to hear His voice and then go back to our daily living with a constant bombardment of messages via texting, Facebook, Twitter, and TV? To be honest, that has been my approach the past few years. There have been times when I have certainly cut back on my media. I hardly watch any TV now; I used to be consumed with watching sporting events. But my phone is constantly with me. At any break in my day, the urge to pull it out and check my feed on Facebook and Twitter often wins out instead of focusing inward and directing my attention to the presence of God.  

I tried to take intentional breaks in the day to pray and spend concentrated time with the Lord, but it seemed like my focus kept being drawn back to distractions.

For someone like me who has ADHD tendencies, I found that my smartphone is like a drug for my mind. It's an easy fix and something to give attention to my many thoughts. What's more, being an extremely social person, I love the networking on Facebook. I love seeing what my friends are doing and staying in touch that way. But I can't deny the inner distractions I feel.

I always start the year with some extended fasting from food, but I also decided to do a month-long fast from media. For me, this meant no reading about sports and no checking my social media. I wondered how it would pan out and if I would miss it. After the first few days, I realized I didn't miss it at all. In fact, I enjoyed the break. Did I hear the voice of God more? I don't think so. Or at least, not in ways I hope to in the future. However, I did find that my mind was less distracted and consumed by countless trivial things. I found my desires for the Lord increasing.

As this month came to a close, I decided I wanted to continue this fast in some ways. It would be too easy for me to go back to how I was. So I am going to put some boundaries on myself. For now I am going to check sports once a week on Saturday nights. I haven't decided how I will engage social media yet – perhaps just checking it once a week or once daily. I don't feel like this is something I am to do forever, but something I desire to do in this season as I listen to the Lord and learn how to hear His voice in a deeper way.

I am starting to read The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus. This book was written for monks in in AD 600 and is a classic in Eastern Christianity on the ascetic life. St. Basil is quoted in the intro: "When the intellect is no longer dissipated among eternal things or dispersed across the world through the senses, it returns to itself, and by means of itself it ascents to the thought of God."

I believe this thought applies to my life. My mind so easily wanders to the external things around me, but I need to be disciplined in those things so I can think more deeply of the Lord.

The intro also says, "It is a great thing says John, to achieve stillness in the isolation of a hermit's cell; but ‘it is incomparably great to have no fear of turmoil, and to remain steadfast under its assault with a fearless heart, living outwardly with men but inwardly with God.'"

So that's my desire – to be clear in my inner man, to have my thoughts and affections constantly on the Lord Jesus, to live in a busy, loud, and distracted world, but live inwardly with God. Perhaps as I grow in this, I will be able in engage more in media, but for now I know that it limits my inward silence.

Matt Penner is World Impact's National Prayer Director. He serves in Wichita, KS, along with his wife Angie and their two children. 


Let's Change the Headlines - Steve Hoernig

If you read our local newspaper, Star Ledger, in December you would have seen some depressing headlines about our city. One entitled "Homicide Hotspot" listed that Newark has the third highest homicide rate in the country, preceded only by Detroit and New Orleans. Another article "Surviving the Streets" provided statistics like Newark had 112 murders in 2013, the highest in 24 years. It also reported that 35 teens were murdered in the last five years including twelve since October 2013. Three of the 35 were kids that we knew and who came to our youth programs.

The really sad part is that many of these children, teens, and adults were not believers in Jesus and they are lost for eternity. This should and does inspire us to work harder on our mission to reach the lost for Christ. Every week we reach out to our community through Bible clubs, schools, church, and special outreaches. We have staff members who are training leaders through TUMI (The Urban Ministry Institute), some are teaching evangelism training, others are teaching biblical ethics at our Newark Christian School. Still others are managing our thrift store or serving as church plant and SIAFU small group leaders.

These efforts and many more like them are happening all over our country. World Impact has missionary staff in three major hubs across our nation: Los Angeles, Wichita, and here in Newark. We work in partnership with ministries like Prison Fellowship and Joni & Friends to bring the light of Jesus to a dark and hurting world.

You can help by praying for us as we are on the front lines of the battle; a battle that can and will be won for the cause of Christ. If you live in or near one of our cities, there is much you can do! Offer yourself as a volunteer in one of our youth programs or collect donated clothes or household items for our one of thrift stores. We want to see urban communities across America transformed by the power and love of Christ!

Steve and Ruth Hoernig are missionaries at World Impact Newark.


Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Romney Ruder

What is wrong with professional sports? Time and time again we hear about the actions or downfall of athletes, coaches, and others associated with professional athletics. Stories headline the news in our society:  domestic abuse, fluffing up tennis balls to slow them down, corking bats to hit longer balls, taking human growth hormone to increase performance, point shaving, betting on sports, and the list goes on and on.

This past week the NFL fined Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks football team $20,000 for an obscene gesture. In fact, the league had fined him previously for rudeness in not addressing reporters following a game, which is an expectation of professional players. Now, I recognize that professional athletes make huge sums of cash, but $20k is a lot of money, none the less. Lynch is just one of thousands of professional athletes that get fined for making bad decisions. Throughout the year, both athletes and coaches have to pay penalties for things like arguing with officials, unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting, illegal actions, taunting, etc. As I write this, the NFL is still investigating the AFC Champion New England Patriots for letting air out of footballs. I cannot begin to imagine what the fines will be for this.

As I read about these latest infractions, I can't help but wonder what difference it might make in society if every professional athlete committed to going an entire season without incurring any financial penalty. I understand that it is human nature to make mistakes, especially in the throes of a sports match. What I am referring to is the conscious decision by coaches and their players to conduct themselves in a way that they know is right. What would it look like if the same people donated the money that they would have paid in fines to help out the disadvantaged? For Marshawn Lynch, who is estimated to make $8.5 million dollars this year, a $20,000 fine might not seem like such a bad deal (it breaks down to roughly a day's wages for him). But $20k can make all the difference for thousands of people living on the streets or in shelters. Imagine the effect it would have, taking into account all of the fines incurred annually in all professional sports. This would not be asking a lot. It would just mean teams work and live according to the rules. The game as a whole would be better for it!

But a second thought came to my mind. What if instead of going this route, we began to fine all professionals for their inappropriate actions or other misconduct. I do not mean athletes; rather, I am referring to the plumbers, doctors, electricians, engineers, salespeople, and lawyers in society. This would include any occupation that would be considered a career: landscapers, grocers, chemists, teachers and more. Imagine industries policing their own employees for misconduct like throwing a coworker under the bus or taking advantage of a client. Think of the fines that would follow such infractions. Unfortunately, a trip down a major highway during rush hour would show how ubiquitous poor behavior is.

When taking an average ballpark salary like $50,000 a year, this only amounts to a fine of $137 (using a similar percentage as charged to Lynch). Obviously $137 is not going to make a lot of difference in changing somebody's life. Yet, the population to monitor is so much greater. If each profession monitored its own, the balance of funds provided by fines would be overflowing (or people would begin to act with better character, which is a topic for another post). Millions upon millions of dollars could be redirected into transforming impoverished communities.

I realize that none of this could ever happen. The point of this post is not to inspire actions that would allow financial penalties for societal infractions. Instead, this is a call for each of us to quit using professional athletics as a scapegoat of what is wrong in our world. I do not want to give a pass to these individuals and their infractions; rather, I want to point out that they are merely a drop in the bucket of what happens in the rest of the world on a daily basis. Christ makes clear in Matthew 7:3 that it is more important for us to look at the log in our own eye, rather than the speck of dust in others.

While frustrated by the constant antics that take place in professional sports, it gives me pause to reflect on the actions I take in my daily life. Each day I rack up a list of my own misconduct that should be fined. It could be my attitude, actions, words, or how I live my life. If I want to be honest with myself, I am guilty of living a life in which my conduct is not always becoming. The truth is, each and every day we add to our debt, fines that we can never repay. It is only through the blood of Christ that this debt can be washed away.

I hope that we can use stories like the current one involving Marshawn Lynch as a reminder to be introspective. These fined actions should prompt us to remember the daily failings in our own lives and the cost that Christ has paid to forgive them.

Romney Ruder is World Impact's Senior Vice President and COO.