What do you do when you sense God nudging you to action… and you know it sounds crazypants?
That’s why I struggled the first time I met Patton Dodd.
We talked about faith and writing until the cushions of the wingback chair almost swallowed him. When we got up to leave, I felt a sudden impetuous impulse, a surge of energy I could only attribute to something outside myself to give something to Patton.
Like most metropolitan cities, downtown Denver is full of homeless men and women on almost every block. Rather than hand out cash, which can be used for less-than-stellar purchases, I stock up on McDonald’s gift card—hoping the recipient will enjoy a hot coffee or meal.
I said good bye, but all my thoughts centered on the five McDonald’s dollars crammed in my pocket.
I felt a soul-penetrating urge, Give them to him.
The only thing stronger than the impulse to hand them over was the anxiety of handing them over.
I had more than a hunch that the impetus was from God, but my mind ping-ponged with self-doubt.
This was the first time meeting Patton. I wanted to make a good impression. The last thing I wanted was to come off like a fruit loop. Handing out meager faux money never ranked in the top ten ways to make friends and influence people.
What would Patton think if I gave? What would God think if I didn’t give? The tug-of-war raged as we said goodbye.
As he turned away, I said Patton’s name with of urgency, “Wait, you’re going to need these later.”
“Uh, okay,” he said and disappeared.
What was that?
Where did the impulse to give away the dollars come from? One could blame that rascally clown Ronald McDonald, or my imagination, or was that a nudge from God?
The fiery impetus to give a powerful, compelling urge that echoed deep in my mind, my soul, my spirit.
The impulse felt familiar. I recognized the sacred echo as an unexplainable desire to do something, say something or give something away from the past.
In line with God’s character, the impulse went against my selfish, prideful tendencies. The action required humility and a sturdy trust that was God was up to something good.
I suspect God was at work and I was simply invited to join the party. Maybe God wanted to do something in my life. Maybe he wanted to do something in Patton’s life. Maybe the moment was about someone on the streets who I’ve never seen or met. What happened? What was the result of my obedience?
When it comes to recognizing and responding to the sacred echo in our lives, all too often we never find out what Paul Harvey describes as “the rest of the story.
I know that in my own life I’ve been on the receiving end of other people’s impulses of generosity and kindness—each one a testimony of the beauty that emanates when we respond to God’s presence.
I wish I could tell you that you’ll never encounter the mishaps of mishearing. But. That. Is. Not. True.
If I could hear from God on my terms, His voice would be audible, robust and clear. I’d never move without a certificate of 100 percent occupancy and accuracy of God’s presence and voice.
But then faith would be an afterthought.
Even the disciples were not immune from the mishaps of mishearing. In John 21:22-23, Jesus addresses Peter, “‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’”
John explains, “Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’”
The disciples misunderstood Christ. They listened. They heard the syllables of Jesus set sail from his lips yet, as the news spread, those original followers still misunderstood. John even ends his Gospel with this story as a holy exclamation point. This reminds us:
Those who follow Christ will fumble forward in Christ.
That’s not something to run from but run towards with all our might.
If the disciples made such a blunder after three years of hands-on, face-to-face time ministry with the Son of God, how much more will you and I?
And if they still discovered God’s grace and gentle correction in the process, then how much more hope is there for you and me?
In the past, I listened for God’s voice as if I was taking a hearing test, hoping my ears were sensitive to identify the lowest and highest frequencies.
Now I take a different approach to hearing from God and learning to respond.
I imagine myself as toddler learning to speak. Like parents who celebrate their child’s first word, even when it’s a jumbled version of “mum,” “dad,” or “no,” God lauds our efforts to communicate with him.
Eyes always on His children, God must laugh at some of our more spectacular misunderstandings and mishaps. Like the evening I lit the barbecue, singed my eyebrows and laughed so hard I peed my pants, God often laughs with us. Other times he gently but firmly corrects our misguided steps.
God knows our understanding sometimes gets bent in translation.
Whenever I think I’m hearing from God, I pray for discernment, then examine the fruit:
Does what I think I heard line up with scripture? This is the first and foremost question to ask. If what you heard doesn’t line up with Scripture, chuck it far, far out back.
Does what I think I heard line up with the work God is already doing in my life? The work of the Holy Spirit sometimes looks like rabbit tracks in the snow. When you squint, you might be surprised at how God has been leading you toward this.
Does what I think I heard nurture the fruits of the Spirit in my life? Consider how you will grow in the character of God as you respond.
Does what I think I heard invite me to grow in my faith, maturity and my relationship with God? Everything God speaks will call you to love Him and other more. In obedience, you should look more Christ-like.
Does what I think I heard increase my dependence on God? Often God echoes in our life to draw us closer to Himself.
Remember that fruit reveals its source.
If you respond to something you feel is from God, what is the fruit? Will responding in obedience to the thought, result in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control sprouting or wilting in your life? How will your response make you more Christ-like?
My hope and prayer for you today is that you will be sensitive to the sacred echoes in your life and recognize that God wants to speak to you and lead you deeper in prayer and service to others.