God’s Voice is Like A Headache

This is an approximation of the zig-zag visual...

Scintillating Scotoma as imagined by Wikipedia.

As a follower of Christ, I’m inherently – at least at some level – a mystic. At least one dictionary defines the word as , “a person… who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.” What I’m talking about specifically is what is often referred to in Christian circles as “hearing God’s voice.” (This is almost always followed up with “I don’t mean audibly, I don’t think I actually heard anything,” as if a group of fellow semi-mystics have any right to judge if someone did claim to hear something from God.)

I do believe that there have been a few times in my life that I’ve been distinctly ‘spoken to’ by God, but the how of His voice in my life are not always easy to explain. Recently I came up with a way of describing it that is no less subjective, but, perhaps, somewhat illustrative.

God’s voice is like a migraine.

When I first got my migraines in 2004 they came on pretty gnarly, so bad in fact that I ended up getting tests done to make sure I didn’t have a tumor. They would (and continue to) start with what experts call a scintillating scotoma or a migraine-aura (see the image above) and every once in a while with one side of my face or a few fingers in my hand going numb. Thankfully, the tumor-fear-inducing numbness is now far more rare. This is how I first started knowing that my day was ruined… I wasn’t going to be able to read anything the rest of the day, driving was going to be a difficult for at least a half-hour. Day ruined.

Nine years later, I can see them coming 5 minutes away; that is 5 minutes before my vision gets all trippy. I don’t have any way of describing what I’m feeling, but I have close to 100% accuracy of feeling it coming before it does. Even more so, I can always tell when it’s going to go away about 10-15 minutes before it does.

Constant Homeless Prayer

For three of those years, we lived in the Washington, DC metro area. I’d never really had experience in living in a legitimate city – the public transportation and eating-out options are still life changing experiences in my life. Living in a city with a ubiquitous population of homeless people was even more life changing.

People often have “rules” about how to deal with people asking for money on the street. I am not really a “rules guy,” but I am a “systems guy.” I like having processes to solve problems, I don’t like always/never guidelines. So, I had to come up with a guideline for how to deal with the situations. It seems clear to me from the Scriptures that followers of Jesus are to care for the poor, but there’s debate whether giving money is a good thing at all and I don’t know what the answer to that is. But, I believe there is a “best” in every situation and that the Lord was willing to tell me what that was.

The only always/never rule is that I will always buy a new issue of Street Sense from a vendor with his license/ID displayed.

So, here are my guidelines:

  • They have to actually ask for money or something else.
  • If they ask, I will quickly pray and ask God what I should do.
  • I do what I’m told.

It was amazing how often I got to pray this prayer. On Metro days (as opposed to driving days) I would walk by at least 10 people asking for something. Over the three years, I probably prayed the prayer more than 1,000 times. Still, it took about a year, but I actually found out that Jesus’ promise that His “sheep hear [His] voice” was true! I honestly would get an answer just about every time.

“Give her $5.”

“Not today, but if you see him again tomorrow.”

I did.

“Reach in your pocket and the first bill you touch is his.”

That bill ended up being a $20.


“Give her your gloves.”

I did.

“I want you to take him out to dinner.”

That last one will be one of my life-long regrets. I didn’t.

So Many Voices

I think that we often struggle with hearing from God. How often have you bounced back and forth between “yeah, I think that’s the Holy Spirit,” and “nah, that’s just my own thoughts.” (It’s funny how often “it’s your own thoughts” when it’s something that is stretching or distasteful.) But, I know His voice now! When I hear it, I know it like I know my dad’s voice , my uncle Dal’s voice or my brother’s voice – a voice that kinda sounds like my inner voice, but it’s definitely not! It’s not that sneaking voice that entices me to stay on that show a few more minutes or to have just one more of whatever. That voice sounds like mine as well, but is far too easy to hear and far too similar to what I want to do anyhow.

The thing is, I can’t describe or explain why it is that I know one voice from the other. Or one tug versus another. The only advice that I can give was actually just described to me last Tuesday by my friend Jon who is a pastor in DC:

You have to keep practicing.

Learning to Hear

I hate my migraines, but I know them. I know their voice, I know how they feel coming and I know how they feel going away. But, it’s an experience that’s pretty close to solipsistic – I have no idea how to describe it. I’m impressed that someone was able to somewhat accurately create an image of what I see when it’s coming on. Just add tunnel vision. My migraines have helped me learn to hear my brain’s “voice.”

I loved our three years in DC. They were formative in a number of ways and I am hopeful that one day we’ll move back. But, even if we don’t it will still reside in a foundational location in my life it was the place I learned to hear God’s voice, tutored by the 7,000 or so homeless residents of the area.

Things to check out:

I am far too likable.

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” – Luke 6:26

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. – Luke 15:19

I don’t feel that I am at all like Christ in these verses. That is probably a problem.

The Gospel & Culture

“…there are features of every culture which are not incompatible with the lordship of Christ, and which therefore need not be threatened or discarded but rather preserved and transformed. Messenger of the gospel need to develop  deep understanding of the local culture, and a genuine appreciation of it. Only then will they be able to perceive whether the resistance is to some unavoidable challenge of Jesus Christ or to some threat to the culture which, whether imaginary or real, is not necessary.” – The Lausanne Committe, The Willowbank Report

If you read my blog regularly, or talk to me about missions work and the apologetic behind it, you know that I often talk about it’s relationship with cultures. Specifically, I think it’s amazingly important to recognize two facts (that are hinted in the previous quote) regarding the Gospel’s interaction with any culture. The Gospel (not necessarily the people bringing the message, but the Gospel itself) will do two things:

  1. Affirm some things in that culture.
  2. Oppose and condemn other things in that culture.

The Gospel is a respecter of cultures, but not blindly. The Gospel may affirm our American ideal of charity, openness and honesty, but it opposes our desire for comfort, utter safety and self-sufficiency. Much ink has been spilled and electrons inconvenienced on the topic of missionaries historic insensitivity, utter disdain for and destruction of cultures – particularly those of peoples who were lower on whatever socio-political structure the current empire was enforcing; but they were overwhelmingly wrong and destroyed and distorted cultures that many would say echoed the creativity of their mutual Creator.

When Grace isn’t Grace

Last week Will (a fellow “Cabal” member) wrote a great piece on our site. We’ve been writing pieces that relate a common cultural story (a myth, movie or common theme in our lives) to some element of the Gospel; he chose Comcast’s crappy service as his story to riff on.

While the connection to that particular story is fleeting, I was struck by this analysis of forgiveness and grace in marriage:

True grace is rarely practiced in human relationships.  If I’m honest, when I do something wrong in my marriage, deep down I think I deserve forgiveness…

[My wife will] admit that her forgiveness of me is based on our past relationship and experiences.  And the same is true when I forgive her, it’s largely based on her past forgiveness of me and my anticipated need for future forgiveness… The “grace” we give each other really isn’t grace at all.

Wow. It’s so true, I definitely see this as the case in my own heart when I forgive Carrie for something (which is rare due to her near-perfection).

I’d suggest that you go read his post.

Polluting the Darkness [Fatherhood]

So, as you may know, we’re having a kid. This means that I’ve been thinking about what kind of dad I’m going to be and how we’re going to raise the incoming kiddo.

Today DesiringGod Ministries posted something on their blog that caught my eye and spoke to the way that I would like to see my children raised. They quoted from a book that I have on my shelf, but haven’t read yet, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson:

The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.


There is no kind of parent that bothers me more than the parent that hides the world from their children so that with the effect that their children don’t know what to do when they get out into the world. I know a family  that does this and it pains me to watch their youngest enter his teens and have no idea how to engage in the world that is really out there. He is home-schooled, and is allowed to play football, but is not allowed to hang out with his team outside of practice and games… no sleepovers, no movies, just the actual team work. He’s barely a teen but he’s about 6’5″ and he doesn’t know his own strength – in the exact opposite way in which that phrase is most often used. He doesn’t know how to resist the temptations of the world because he doesn’t see them. He doesn’t know how strong he is physically because he isn’t allowed to test it against other boys his age except for when he has pads on.

I fear that when he turns 18 one of two things will happen – he’ll either stay weak or he’ll go off the deep end.

I know where this desire comes from, 2 Corinthians 6:17 says:

Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,

They try to do this, and that is wonderful, but they do it wrongly because they forget what Paul has already written in 1 Corinthians 1:9-10

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

Paul specifically says to not hide yourselves from the immoral people on the outside of the Church, but to protect yourself from being polluted by the immoral people who claim to be following Christ.

This is why Wilson’s quote is so wonderful; he does not advocate blind joining and engagement with the world and with the grossness in it, but a trained, vigilant and purposeful engagement. Train your children to be wary of the ways that the world may tempt them, but train them also to bring joy, truth and grace to the world as one who would help rescue it through the blood of Christ.

“They will pollute the darkness.”