Gordon Smith: The Voice of Jesus

Well, good afternoon everybody, this is Dick Staub thanking you for making me part of your day. You know, anyone who is serious about following Jesus Christ knows that hearing his voice and discerning his will are essential. But how does it work? And how do I know the direction I am sensing is actually from God? Well, Gordon Smith is President of the Overseas Council in Canada. He has formerly pastored. He taught at Regent College. His newest book is The Voice of Jesus, published by InterVarsity Press. The subtitle is Discernment, Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit.

Q. And Gordon, thank you for joining us this afternoon.
A. I’m delighted to be with you.

Q. So how did this issue of hearing the voice of Jesus become so important to you personally?
A. Well, I think one of the deep longings of our hearts – and I have come up against it again and again, both in our own experience and in our conversation with others – we long to know what God is saying to us. So I think, particularly at times of choice, when we’ve got a critical decision we’re trying to make and we’re trying to understand how does God guide us, but throughout life we long to know that God is present to us and present to us in an intimate enough way that we’re able to say, I can hear the voice of my shepherd. And the good sheep hear his voice.

Q. Yeah.
A. It’s a deep and a profound need.

Q. Now, you were raised in the Christian Missionary Alliance, you mention that in the book. And I was raised in the CMA as well
A. Were you really.

Q. And there is a theology there that-that makes one believe in your upbringing that this is part of the package although you certainly in this book will bring some broader perspective than maybe most of us got in the churches in which we were raised. But talk about that theology and how it, in fact, did deal with the issue of the role of the Holy Spirit and in the-in the process of hearing the voice of Jesus, and-and the idea that you could in fact find direction in your life in your relationship with God.
A. Well, I think the most significant feature of my upbringing or of my spiritual heritage is the close and intimate connection between the intimacy we have with the Lord Jesus Christ – and I use the language here, the voice of Jesus – and the witness of the Spirit to our hearts; namely, the ministry of the Spirit. So that if I’m going to know Jesus and know him intimately, it will be because of the abiding presence of the Spirit in my heart. So my heritage celebrates the line, “Christ in you the hope of glory.”

Q. Yeah.
A. But also celebrates, and rightly so, the intimate connection between that and the filling of the Spirit. And so this book really, in some respects, is trying to probe that relationship.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I want to say, if you hear the voice of Jesus it’s because you respond intentionally to the prompting of the Spirit.

Q. Now, one of the things that you do within this book, and I think rightly, is that there is a certain fear of this idea in-in western Christianity. And yet, what’s interesting is I was just in-in Cambodia this last month and a year ago this month I was in Indonesia out with Dyaks and, you know, wilds of Kalimantan. And when you talk to Christians in those settings they absolutely believe in the importance of being able to hear the voice of Jesus on a daily basis, and they absolutely see themselves in a spiritually alive and charged atmosphere in which there is one who seeks to do them harm. And there is Jesus, through the Spirit, that wants to guide and direct them.
A. Wonderful. I think North American Christians are pretty much split. I think there are many who are very apprehensive and think, if you want to hear Jesus, read your Bible.

Q. Yeah.
A. And in one sense rightly so. And other Christians who say, Oh no, there is a direct unmediated witness. For the second group, though, I want to challenge them and say, How do you know? How do you know that it’s God that’s speaking to you and not just indigestion, what you had for breakfast, or your own self rationalizations?

Q. Now, you say there’s two questions that every Christian should be able to answer. What is Jesus saying at this point in your life? And how do you know it is Jesus? And early on in the introduction you talk about some of the various ways we need to look at this word “discernment.” I mean, what does it mean to be able to “discern” the voice of Jesus?
A. Well, the-the primary theme of the book is to say that the soil, or the context in which we are attentive to the voice of Jesus, is what’s happening to us personally. And when I say that I mean emotionally. That is, the effective or emotional contours of our lives become the soil in which we discern, sift, determine what is truly from God and what is not. And so that really is what discernment is all about, is attending to what’s happening to us emotionally and in a way that’s informed by the mind, by the breadth and witness of the scriptures, and by the counsel of other Christians. But it’s really testing our own hearts to see if this comes from God.

Q. Now, you-you get into a really interesting conversation with Ignatius, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards in which you describe this as “three voices and one tradition.” And I have to say in reading it, this issue of the emotions – I had read Ignatius, Wesley and Edwards, all of them – but the idea that-that spiritual maturity requires emotional maturity and that there is an emotional dimension to this, that is very-that is very foreign to a lot of people in-in North American Christianity.
A. Precisely. Many of us raised in North America – and remember I was raised by Alliance missionaries overseas – it was part of our culture there that emotions are secondary or incidental and a threat to the spiritual life. And the more I read the scriptures the more I realized how central the emotional life of Jesus was to him for the joy that was set before him, but especially when I read the Psalms. And then when I came to Paul’s writings, “the deep longing for a peace that transcends all understanding.” Your joy would be complete. And I kept coming up against these texts in scripture and realizing that, Oh my, the emotional life is far more central to the spiritual life than I’d realized. And then reading Ignatius, reading Wesley, reading Jonathan Edwards, I had great spiritual masses in the church highlighting the central place of affect and emotion in our Christian experience.

Q. Now, I want to come back and go a little deeper on Ignatius, Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards.
A. Sure.

Q. But I want to step back for a minute and-and put this is in the context of a great fear the North American Evangelicals often have about the psycho-babble of today’s Christian experience. Within certain parts of the church there is almost a-an inordinate devotedness to the emotional well-being, and not the emotional well-being, but emotion as the center and solution of all of our problems. How is what you’re going to talk about, and how is what you’re talking about, different from that?
A. Well, good question. I think there is, in some respects, a reaction. And I think in fairness to the – I like the phrase psycho-babble, or the overt of seemingly excessive emphasis on affect and emotion – it’s coming out of a great longing for a reaffirmation of the whole person and the integration of heart and mind that has been neglected both in our culture as well as in our-in our experience of Christian faith, something that is quite contrary, like you’ve already indicated, to the experience of Christians in other countries. But there’s been a big gap there. And so I’m not surprised to hear what you might call an over-reaction. What might be different in my writings is that, one, I try to really address not so much the absence of affect as how do affect and intellect, what is-what is the interplay between them, and how does that enable us to walk with integrity and grace and in honesty with God? So the relationship between heart and mind.

Q. Now, how did-how did you stumble into that yourself? I mean, was there some kind of paradigm shift? Some defining moment where all of a sudden there was an “aha” and you said, This is what has been missing in the way I’ve been looking at this?
A. I think it’s when I discovered the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola. There’s no doubt that stumbling upon this tiny little document and those few pages called “The Rules of Discernment,” I was just taken aback and, at first, resisted it strongly. But the more I realized how congruent it was with my own experience and how consistent it seemed to be with the Biblical witness, the more I realized I had to take it seriously.

Now, we’re going to pick up there when we come back. Our guest is Gordon Smith. His book is The Voice of Jesus. Ignatius is making a comeback of sorts. That’s a great term for it. And along with Wesley, who I actually just quoted last week in reference to A Country Parson’s Advice for his Parishioners, and then Jonathan Edwards, we’re looking back to go forward. And it’s not a bad thing to do. Gordon Smith is our guest. We’ll be right back to talk about his book, The Voice of Jesus.


Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. You must know, a few years ago a friend of mine, Tom Beaudoin, who is a Catholic theologian, wrote a book called Virtual Faith, in which he kind of outlined how a conversation about spiritual things was happening in popular culture. And I remember when Tom and I started talking about these ideas. He talked about the influence of Ignatius on his life when it came to spiritual discipline. And he talked about how one of the things that he was tracking among Generation X was their desire to bring some spiritual disciplines into their lives. And just this weekend I was talking to a publisher who was mentioning an author who wanted to-to put together a collection of thoughts around Ignatius for the next generation. And it is very interesting to see in-in this day and age this interest in-in some of the earlier church fathers like Ignatius on the issue of discernment and practices in our life. And as a matter of fact, in London last summer I went into Foyles Bookstore, one of the largest bookstores in London, and asked for a copy of Ignatius’s Rules of Discernment, and I remember the smile that came across the face of the clerk. And we went way up in a corner place and found this book.

Q. But how did you come upon Ignatius yourself, Gordon?
A. Well, I was… At the time I was the member of a faculty, a theological faculty, at a seminary in the Philippines in Manilla, and was pursuing doctoral studies at a Jesuit university there in Manilla. And in the process the dean and a member of the faculty got in a conversation with me, and something I had said led them to say, with a smile in hand, Well, you need to read Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits. And I said, Well, I thought, What for? You know, and so they teased me a bit. And well, I started to read. And in due time I approached somebody to lead me in a retreat from the Ignatian model, and one thing led to another in a realization of the ritualism that there is in the exercises and in the Rules of Discernment in particular.

Q. Now, as you say in your book, you can’t go into detail with his Rules of Discernment, but you talk about how he brings together heart and mind, he understands the importance of finding God in all things.
A. Yes.

Q. And he takes very seriously emotions. He talks about desolation and consolation. Kind of flush out for us some of why you think Ignatius is so important when we want to understand the discernment and-and the ability to hear the voice of Jesus in our daily life.
A. Well, I think it’s important to stress the radical crystal centricity of Ignatius, that he’s really focused on the Lord Jesus Christ at the heart and soul of the Christian experience. And while he’s very Trinitarian, there’s a strong focus on Christ. And the whole of the spiritual life is to be with Christ and to have Christ with me. There’s a deep… To go back to my Alliance heritage of Christ abiding in me even as I abide in him. And from the experience of being with Christ we live in freedom. And he wants to then ask, Well, what are the indicators that we are living with this kind of freedom, the freedom of being linked with Christ and not attached to, to use his phrase, “the inordinate attachments to, whether it’s the longing for wealth or the longing for power or the longing for fame and recognition”?

Q. Uh-huh.
A. And that freedom, the evidence of that freedom, is that we have what he calls consolation. It’s a rich word, but it brings together – what in English we use the language of joy or peace – but for the moment using the language of peace that that peace is the indication both that I’m united with Christ and that I’m walking with the Spirit. And that if I’m not experiencing that peace, then I can be fairly confident that however legitimate my desolation may be, my anger, my discouragement, whatever it might be, however legitimate it is, I can’t trust it as the soil in which I can hear the voice of Jesus. Having said that, just because I have consolation doesn’t mean I’ve got it right necessarily because, again, using the language of Ignatius, “the evil one masquerades as an angel of light.”

Q. Yeah.
A. And consequently, I have to test whether the peace I’m experiencing is genuinely from God.

Q. And how did Ignatius think that you would test that?
A. Well, you test it… I… And he uses this interesting phrase, “by examining the beginning, the middle, and the end.” And all kinds of commentators are trying to reflect on what he means by that. But I think there we can even go more broadly than just Ignatius. But Ignatius is part of a tradition where the examination of motive is really very central to Christian experience. And that’s why I think all Christians need to learn to cultivate the capacity to examine themselves and examine their motives in particular.

Q. So now when I’m sensing consolation, peace, and joy, I can have a greater degree of confidence that what I am discerning is, in fact, from God. It is not incontrovertible, it has to be tested because the-the dark side can mask and imitate consolation. But operating out of desolation, out of anger and bitterness and frustration, I should be very conscious and confident of the fact that I’m not yet finding that place where I can discern God’s voice. Is that summary accurate or not?
A. Yeah. It’s very well done. I do, though, think it’s important to distinguish between a response of anger, a legitimate response of anger, something wrong that has happened –

Q. Yeah.
A. – and when our hearts become, as a fundamental disposition, angry hearts.

Q. So be angry, but sin not.
A. That’s right.

Q. Now, and he also took very seriously humility.
A. Absolutely. But what is-what is so engaging is that it’s a humility that is always defined with reference to Christ, that humility is to be with Christ. And so it’s a wonderful depiction of… He says, I can be wealthy and I can be poor –

Q. Yeah.
A. – but as long as I’m with Christ.

Q. So unlike kind of eastern tradition it’s not I’m looking for abandonment of self into nothingness, but it’s rather I’m looking for abandonment of self into a-a humility that is born of a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
A. Precisely. Well-stated.

Q. Okay. Now, when we move on to John Wesley it’s interesting because we find Wesley, of course, a very famous phrase of his, “a heart strangely warm.”
A. Indeed.

Q. He talked about the inner witness. He started his spiritual discipleship groups to be devoted to Jesus Christ, and they were very concerned about finding the inner witness of the Spirit in their life and then testing it in certain ways. Talk about what you see in Wesley.
A. Well, Wesley uses the language of joy in a way that is very compelling. And probably for me it’s no other author like Wesley has helped me to see that unless the fundamental disposition of my heart is one of joy –

Q. Yeah.
A. – that I’m not walking in the Spirit. That this is really an indication of my union with Christ and my identity in the Spirit is joy. But it’s always a joy that is complimented by a more reforming character. So joy without character is just mere sentimentality. To try to strive for character development without joy is empty legalism. It’s that union of joy with character reform in Wesley that I find so compelling.

Q. You know, when you combine Ignatius and Wesley, which you do in your book, but you’re already getting this sense of peace and joy in the fruit of the Spirit is in fact the witness that the Spirit is at the center and core of your life.
A. Yeah.

Q. But Wesley, when it came to discerning God’s will, he did want to see a checking of-of the inner witness against scripture, church, and reason. Talk about those three in Wesley’s thought.
A. Well, for Wesley the scriptures, of course, represent the word of God. And he is more explicitly Biblical than Ignatius. And Ignatius is part of the 16th century renewal as well of, you know, kind of the Catholic reformation, but you’re going to find it much more explicit than Wesley. And part of his line that people presume to do the works of God when they’re actually doing the works of the devil is because they think it’s from God, but they’re doing something that is explicitly contrary to the Holy Scriptures. So Wesley is the voice, perhaps, that most strongly would affirm the following that the inner witness will always be concurrent with or congruent with the written witness. The inner witness of the Spirit to our hearts will never contradict the written witness. That would be faithful to Wesley.

Okay, we’re going to pick up there when we come back and talk briefly about how the church and reason played a role, too. We’re laying out Ignatius and Wesley, and then we’ll talk about Jonathan Edwards because these are three church fathers of differing traditions each of whom come to these very similar conclusions about what it means to discern and hear the voice of Jesus. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a serious, devoted follower of Jesus Christ, there’s nothing more important than this. “My sheep will hear my voice.” That’s what Jesus said. We want to know how to do that. We want to know what it means. We’ll be back with Gordon Smith, the author of The Voice of Jesus, published by InterVarsity, right after this.


Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. And you know, just last week I was talking to George Koch, who got permission to and then revised and updated The Country Parson’s… I think it’s The Country Parson’s Advice to his Parishioners, which was one of the resources that Wesley drew upon and the very, very closely knit spiritual groups of young devoted followers of Christ used in the movement in England. And it’s very interesting because in the rules of those groups one of the rules was that you would seek to find as your spiritual guide a member of the Anglican church, a pastor, a clergy from the Anglican church. There was a very strong commitment to relationship with the official church in John Wesley that was, in part, bound in time because of his own circumstances in the country at that time, but also grew out of his understanding of scripture.

Q. Talk about the role of the church in-in confirming the inner witness in John Wesley.
A. Well, Wesley would affirm, for example, that the same witness that abides in our hearts is the same witness that has brought the church into existence and that we cannot know the inner witness – there’s a deep continuity between our individual experience of God and our corporate experience of God.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so I cannot know God intimately if I’m not in fellowship with the people of God.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so probably, I’m trying to think who’s been more strong in the place of small groups and on intimate communion and spiritual experience than John Wesley?

Q. Absolutely. But interestingly, you point out earlier in your book that there is this dynamic tension of individual and community. And Wesley did understand that.
A. Oh yeah.

Q. He saw that the… As a matter of fact, one of the-one of the rules in this country parson’s guide was that it would be good if you had a spiritual guide who was of your local parish. But if that is not possible… And so there’s a recognition that the church is both the opportunity for community and validation of the spiritual work in our life, and it also can represent the threat.
A. And while we want to affirm up front that I cannot live in intimacy with God if I’m not in community with God’s people –

Q. Yeah.
A. – the actual fact of the matter is that the flip side of that is that the community of faith can also be a threat to my capacity to hear God because of kind of a tribal mentality. And many people feel that the church is almost oppressive in its capacity to cultivate the spiritual life. So we need to be discerning when we’re in community, that that community supports and encourages rather than undermines our capacity to hear God.

Q. When Wesley added the dynamic of reason it was very important to Wesley that that be taken in the context of scripture and church and inner witness. And I mention that simply because if you look at what’s happening in liberalism within the North American context, liberal theology has been driven by the appeal to reason that they believe in many ways supercedes the authority of scripture. So they kind of view the scripture as a starting point, and then reason is where you go from there. So in-in Wesley’s thought, reason, church, and scripture were all ways of validating what you were sensing was the voice of Jesus in your own life.
A. Yeah. That does not mean that-that what God calls me to do may strike me as unreasonable.

Q. Yeah.
A. I mean, the cross in one sense, was a flaunt to reason. And the gospel is foolishness to Greeks. We affirm all of that. But Wesley, again, going… I mean, and Jonathan Edwards is going to be the same when we get to him – these were people of great intellects, that the mind that was given to us by God is a gift from God –

Q. Yeah.
A. – and we need to consider both what we are experiencing emotionally – that’s a use of the mind – we need to judge and discern what’s happening to us emotionally, that’s a use of the mind. But that generally speaking, as a rule of thumb, God will not call us to do what is blatantly unreasonable or-or foolish.

Q. Yeah. What does Edwards add to this equation?
A. Well I, and particularly I think he’s a great tower of American theological reflection, it’s just exciting to see the recovery of an emphasis on Edwards in our generation. He affirms the priority. I mean, his book Religious Affections, affirms the priority of affect and emotion in Christian experience.

Q. Yes.
A. But what he does is give us, in his Religious Affections, a basis for discerning when is what we’re experiencing in terms of affect and emotion, when is it authentic?

Q. Yes.
A. And I find his emphasis on it’s only authentic if it’s motivated by the true, the good, the noble. That is, where does it come from?

Q. Yes.
A. It’s only authentic if what’s happening to us emotionally is a fruit of the renewal of the mind and his emphasis on the relationship between heart and mind.

Q. Yeah.
A. And then, of course, that it’s evident in transformation of character.

Q. Yeah.
A. So Edwards, for example, will pick up you may feel great grief for your sin, but if it does not lead to moral reform it’s just an empty grief and the evil one will be happy for you to feel terrible for your sin if it ultimately doesn’t lead to any change.

Q. So just in the interest of time, because you and I could probably talk about Ignatius and Wesley and Edwards for the rest of the day and never even get to anything else in this book, but if you took Ignatius, Wesley, and Edwards together, what do they believe in common about discernment? What’s the composite picture that we get?
A. Well, one, the interrelationship between heart in mind. That these are not in tension, but mutually supporting.

Q. Yeah.
A. Secondly, that the primary data of the spiritual life is what’s happening to us emotionally. That this is, that the goal of the spiritual life is not understanding, but joy and peace.

Q. Yes.
A. And that understanding is meant to cultivate that end. And then, thirdly, that just because we have joy and peace doesn’t mean it’s from God, we need to be discerning. I would say those three things.

Q. And then I would say that they all agreed, too, that there had to be some expression in the outcome of Christian character, that you could…
A. All true.

Q. Observable. Yeah, absolutely.
A. All true.

Q. Now, when you look at the issue of the emotion in Evangelicalism today, you point out that there is this argument we have faith, our faith is based on promises not feelings, that there are a whole set of reasons advanced why you should not allow yourselves to focus on your emotional state, and yet you’re concluding that discernment requires attentiveness to emotional state. And then you have this radical statement, “Spiritual maturity requires emotional maturity.” What do you mean by that?
A. Well, I’m convinced here, reading both the Psalms in the Old Testament and Paul in the New, I am convinced that what Paul is particularly attentive to is that we are not governed by fear, by anger, that these are the great… That a person of fear, of anxiety, of worry is in a sense, has a disposition that will keep him or her emotionally mature. And maturity is found in the expression of joy. And this is what Jesus came for. Now going to Saint John, in John 15, “that our joy might be made complete,” that this is what the spiritual life is leading towards. And so if we are not maturing emotionally, then we’re not maturing in the very way that the spiritual life is designed for in terms of its goal.

Q. This is… What you’re saying to me is so important and so exciting because when I look at the Barna research about why young people are leaving the faith it’s because they feel they never encountered God in their worship experience, they never felt like what was being talked about was applicable to their own life, and they never saw anything in their own family life that led them to conclude that they wanted what their parents have.
A. Wow.

Q. And it’s a condemnatory view of the church. And there’s certainly so much to be said positively about the effect of the church on the younger generation. My sense is that this next generation wants something real or they don’t want it all. And when it comes to this issue of joy and peace and the spiritual disciplines, you know, the eastern religions are kind of offering a path to that, and Christian spiritual development have been kind of off on the side track.
A. And I don’t want to over-react, and it’s with heart and mind we want to be able to teach. And I’m anxious that in my own tradition, in my own denomination, increasingly worship is entirely about what makes me feel good –

Q. Yeah.
A. – and there’s a neglect of substantial teaching that informs the mind.

Q. Yes.
A. And I’m saying, No people, don’t assume that that’s where I’m saying that we need to go or that Wesley, Ignatius, and Edwards…

Q. I think a lot of the younger generation is seeing that as superficial. What they want is the real stuff, and what we’re talking about is three leaders of the church in the area of personal spiritual development that all concluded that there was something very deep and rich in our tradition around those issues of joy and peace.

We’re going to be back with some concluding comments from Gordon Smith. The Voice of Jesus is the book.


Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Gordon Smith. He is the author of The Voice of Jesus, published by InterVarsity, subtitled Discernment, Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit. And at the outset he says there’s two questions every Christian should be able to answer. What is Jesus saying at this point in your life? There is this particularity around this issue with kind of a generic but specific that we’re talking about here. And how do you know that it is Jesus when you begin to sense that there is some direction coming into your life?

Q. Now, and Gordon Smith as we’ve kind of sketched out, Ignatius, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and some of what they contributed to the understanding of the deep, personal walk with Christ. You talk about four expressions of the inner witness and… Well first of all, what are the four expressions of the inner witness?
A. Well, I’m trying to break it down. I hope I’m not being overly academic or analytical, but I’m trying to suggest that when we use the language, the witness of the spirit, it has multiple expressions. And I find it helpful to think in terms of the four, that the spirit witnesses with our spirit, that I’m a child of God, to use the language of Paul in Romans 5 and 8, the assurance that I’m loved. Secondly, that the Spirit’s witness is one that convicts me of sin, calls me from death into life. Thirdly, that the Spirit’s witness, in tandem with the scriptures, illuminates the mind. And then, fourthly, the one that often people are most interested in is the Spirit guides us in times of choice.

Q. Now, it was very interesting to me because, as you know, I mentioned that earlier in my life I was raised in the Christian Missionary Alliance, third generation preacher’s kid from the CMA. And you pointed out that the CMA, in your experience, dealt with, you know, the Holy Spirit and the life in Christ a lot, but that the work of the Spirit usually went to some of these other issues like convicting of sin, guiding in choice, not at the very outset that assures us that we are loved by God, that-that-that sense of the role of the Spirit in the inner witness in our life that we are loved by God. That’s where it all starts.
A. That has to be the point of departure and, ironically, it was outside of my tradition. In Ignatius, but more recently perhaps, in Henri Nouwen, that I said I’ve come to an appreciation that any other attempt to live the Christian life except by, except out of an assurance that I’m loved –

Q. Yeah.
A. – will inevitably be skewed. So there is, I mean, these four that I present – and the order is not incidental – there’s a logical sequence in that the point of departure is that I know I’m loved. Only then can I really open up my heart to the convicting ministry of the Spirit.

Q. Yeah.
A. Only if I’m willing to turn from sin will my mind be filled with truth.

Q. Yeah.
A. And only from that kind of way of thinking and acting and responding to the Spirit can I begin to choose well in times of choice.

Q. You tell a really interesting story on the illumination of your mind of a pastor in the Philippines. And you were eager to learn from him and so you were taking copious notes. And he observed this. And he had a piece of advice for you that I think really got to this issue of particularity of the Spirit, in other words, what the spirit had to say more specifically to you, not just mastering the entire outline. Tell that story for the folks.
A. Well, Alex Aronis, and interestingly enough he’s back pastoring that same church again.

Q. Huh.
A. Alex saw that I had the typical young man’s eager desire to learn.

Q. Yeah.
A. What you might even call Jonathan Edwards uses the language of notional understanding. I wanted to have breadth of understanding. I wanted to know a lot and I was impressed by how when Alex preached he preached with a range of both exigenical depth, great illustrations, solid theology, and I wanted to get it all down.

Q. Yeah.
A. He challenged me to say the primary issue is not to hear all of this, but the primary issue is to ask, Where is the Spirit of God teaching me at this point in my life?

Q. Yes.
A. And in this particular sermon.

Q. Yeah.
A. And now, when I listen to a sermon, I will lift up my hands and lay them literally on my lap and say, Lord, through this your servant today, what is it you’re wanting me to hear? To know? What Edwards would call, “to relish the truth so that it more fully and completely actually permeates my being.” Or to use the language of Paul in Colossians 3:15, “that it dwells richly within me.” This is what I’m after. Not to know a lot, but to know that which actually captures and embraces the depth of my being.

Q. Now, we don’t have a long time to get into this but I want to mention it because it’s one of those things that you flush out in the book and I think it will be useful to people. And that is that the whole phenomena which for many Evangelicals is a recent introduction, but for within the Catholic tradition it’s been around a long time, and that’s the idea of spiritual directors. Talk about the role that they can play in our life. Who are they? How do they do their work?
A. Well, probably many people have had spiritual directors without ever having the phrase, “spiritual direction” –

Q. Yeah.
A. – just because they had somebody who was older, wiser, further down the spiritual road, who was a source of encouragement and counsel to them. The danger always in spiritual direction is that somebody will literally direct, that is, that they will control the life of a protégé. They will say, As I experience God, you need to experience God.

Q. Yeah.
A. But the real genius of spiritual direction is that one comes alongside, as a co-discerner. And as one who comes alongside enables the other to ask, What is the Spirit saying to you at this time? And I-I think that it’s one of the most fundamental and essential gifts within the church, where an older, wiser person enables someone who’s younger to hear the voice of Jesus for themselves. Not to mediate to them, as so much pastoral ministry or spiritual ministry, which is a flawed notion in a sense, not to mediate them the word of God, but to talk alongside and enable them to interpret their own experience to say, as Eli said to Samuel, “Next time that happens say, Speak, Lord, for your servant heareth.” To come alongside as a co-discerner. And when that ministry happens well, it is-it is invaluable. I’ve had the experience of feeling a deep desolation but I didn’t name it. And to have a spiritual director say to me, Well Gordon, what you’re experiencing there is desolation. Why do you take it so seriously when it clearly can’t be from God? And just to have somebody name what I was experiencing. I was embarrassed. I had taught on this. I had written books on it. But in my own prayers I didn’t see it and was taking it as though somehow God was speaking to me. So I need someone. And when I got on a long prayer retreat, it’s important to realize that when you go into the desert to pray you might meet more than just God there, just as Jesus himself did. And a co-director or co-discerner, spiritual director, can help us interpret our own experience for us.

Q. Somebody right now is listening and they’re saying, Man, this just all sounds so good and it sounds so much like what I sense I need in my life. But they’re looking at the chaos of their life. They’ve got kids, they’re married, they’ve got a demanding job and career, they’re-they’re frazzled, they’re busy. What are you learning about bringing the-hearing the voice of Jesus, discerning, praying, hearing the witness of the Spirit in life as we know it today, which tends to be way too busy.
A. Well, and it’s that very busyness that makes us emotionally superficial and out of touch with what God is saying to us because we’re moving too fast. God is in the language of Kosuke Koyama, the three-mile-an-hour God. It’s not that he is not speaking, it’s just that we’re not slowing down enough. Not because God can’t go slowly, it’s that our hearts can’t. They’re not designed to move that quickly and to be consumed with that much noise and hectic behavior. So there is no choice. Where we as communities of Christians have to find and encourage in one another, find a pace of life, a pace of life and work, a pace of life and relationships, where we say no much more frequently than we are inclined to do. And we are racing about largely because we want more or we’re trying to fulfill duty and obligation, but there isn’t enough – to use a word that I learned a few years ago – there’s not enough margin in our lives. And if we don’t find it, we’re not going to find God.

Q. Yeah. Slow down, you’re going too fast.
A. Yeah, I love that great tune from Paul Simon.

Folks, you can spend more time with Gordon Smith by picking up your own copy of his book, The Voice of Jesus, published by InterVarsity Press. It’s available at your local bookstore, it’s available online. This is Dick Staub, we’ll be back with more right after this.

The art posted with this article may be found at www.marybethart.com/images2.htm

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