Summer 2014

God Speaks to My Entire Family

No one lacks an ability to hear from God.
by Joe Schimmels

Back in 2012, my wife, Connie, and I discovered that our new neighbors had lost everything in one of the Colorado wild fires.

Love demanded a response. The husband told me how a sheriff had banged on their front door and ordered an immediate evacuation. Ten minutes later they left; one hour later all was lost. They moved into our apartment building soon after, with virtually nothing.

“Did you even get your wedding photos?” I asked when I heard the story.

“Nothing,” he said.

Insurance would cover all assets but could not restore hope. What could we give these two who were at least 65 years old?

To determine how God might want us to respond, Connie and I committed to listening prayer. If “petitioning prayer” involves our thoughts as an appeal to God, then listening prayer involves God’s thoughts personally understood. Prayer is conversation, a two-street friendship where we delight to share our hearts with God and He delights to share His heart with us. As David said, “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’” (Psalm 27:8, New Living Translation).

There are several ways to listen to Jesus, but we decided to individually pray for three days and then come together. The Lord’s revelation was not epic—no burning bush or a picnic spread falling from the sky—but He spoke to me during an everyday occurrence.

One day as I entered my car parked in our apartment parking lot, next to me was a woman unloading groceries. Out of one bag, peeking over the top, was a single sunflower. At first, I thought nothing of it, but soon I felt a weight upon my heart and my eyes blurred out everything else except those yellow petals reflecting a noonday sun. God’s words came later: “Give them a flower, for I want to bring beauty out of their ashes.”

I checked with Connie, who also affirmed that same message from her own time listening for God’s direction. I wrote the words on a card and, with flower in hand, hopped up three flights of stairs and knocked on their door. When the door opened, I told the man, “Um [I blanked on his name], this is a little gift. Connie and I are praying for you.”

With spectacles tilted on his face, he reached out and took the flower. Then without a word, he closed the door. His eyes told me that he was still in shock and his affect looked numb on life. But still my first thought was, Really heard that one right, didn’t you, Schimmels?

A month later, Connie met the man’s wife in the parking lot. “Oh,” she said, “aren’t you the neighbors who brought us a flower? Thank you. When my husband received your gift, he sat down in the only chair we have and wept for an hour.”

I want my kids to have more than biblical information; I want them to read the Bible to relate to the person of Jesus.

Listening together

No Christian is lacking in his or her ability to hear from God. The Holy Spirit puts His antennas on our hearts so that we can tune to the thoughts of our Father. Yet I have witnessed children and those with disabilities who have better ears than I will ever have. Still, I believe that a daily posturing with those who are also committed to listen will mature my own listening ability. After all, the early believers met daily for encouragement and exhortation (Acts 2:46; Hebrews 3:13).

I have the privilege to help lead the Five Stones Fellowship—a friendship network spun from a group of EFCA pastors known as the Missional Architects. As we met for prayer, the Lord gave us a “Way of Life” defined by five principles that answer the question, What does it mean to follow Jesus? A common practice we encourage—as we live centered in Jesus and sent by Him—is to engage in listening prayer with our families.

I must confess that, years ago, leading my family meant that I invested time in study and prayer and then delivered the spiritual goods as we sat around the living room. On the best days, the kids got good information to apply themselves. But this way of life is not reproducible, because they are dependent upon me. It also left me dissatisfied. I want my kids to have more than biblical information; I want them to read the Bible to relate to the person of Jesus.

Now, my family follows this simple approach:

  1. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Before our family gathers, my wife and I first ask Jesus, “What is on Your heart for our family?” We share a Psalm or other Scripture that we ask each person to ponder.
  2. Quiet space. We then send our kids to find a quiet spot to learn to be still (Psalm 131), and we put away all electronics. Everyone has a journal, so we can write down any anxious thoughts as we settle down.
  3. Look for repetitive thoughts. As we each sit quietly before Jesus after reading the Scripture passage, we listen for ideas that circle back to mind or that have “weight” to them. We ask Jesus about them, to see if we’ve heard correctly. Our children sometimes like to draw what they see or are sensing.
  4. Write it down, then share. After about 20 minutes, we gather together and submit to each other what we believe we heard in our time alone and recorded.
  5. Ask for Jesus’ leading. As everyone shares, I write it down. Without fail, common verses and ideas emerge. God always reveals more about Himself or how we are to respond—to love him and love others. We then submit in prayer back to Him. Every time we sense that we’ve met with Jesus*, a unity descends upon us and we feel a swelling of energy; our family has a peace that we know only comes from Him.
  6. Review. At the dinner table or before bed, Connie and I will look back at what was revealed to our family (Psalm 92:2). Just the other day, we reminded the kids that we sensed Jesus saying to our family, “Tell the world how glorious He is” (Psalm 66:2, NLT). We found it no coincidence that our Buddhist neighbor knocked on our door to invite us over for dinner on the same day.

Many may fault our family practices as too mystical or ethereal for the common believer: “Those practices will lead to crazy beliefs.” But we’ve learned to offer His words humbly (Ephesians 5:21): “I want to submit to you what I think God is saying.” And as our family reads the Bible, we cannot help but see early believers similarly following the leadership of the Holy Spirit (such as Paul in Acts 16).

The Holy Spirit does a good job leading us to truth. As a father, I can do no less than teach my kids (and they teach me) that we are to follow the Spirit in everything (Galatians 5:25).

I suppose our neighbors who lost their home to fire would have felt love if we had brought them homemade chocolate cookies after their catastrophic loss. But only God knew specifically what would melt their hearts and turn ashes into beauty.

*Every time we meet Jesus, we do experience unity and peace. But there are some days it seems that the devil wins: chaos, fighting among the kids, dog distractions, etc. On those days, I count it a win that we just came together!

Joe Schimmels is passionate for families to see the life of Jesus flow in them and then spill into the neighborhood. He came to faith as a teenager, and his first Christian book was, How to Listen to God, by Charles Stanley. Now, working with EFCA ReachNational, he teaches this way of life through the Five Stones Fellowship. He has been married to Connie for 20 years and has three children: Andrew, Brooke and Caleb.