The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Recognizing Your Conversations with God: Lesson 1 – Two Kinds of Thoughts

AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

“God never talks to me.  He only talks to other people.” 

If this is what you think, you’re dead wrong.  God most certainly does talk to you.  Not only does He talk to you, He talks to you a lot.  When He does, you talk back.  The reality is that you and God are frequently conversing with each other on a soul level.  It doesn’t matter if you never read the Bible—the Bible has nothing to do with the kind of conversation we’re talking about.  We’re talking about you and God chatting it up with no props involved.  It happens all the time in your life.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your gender is, or what religion you claim to be.  Talking to God isn’t something that only Christians do.  It’s not just an adult activity.  Everyone talks to God, and if you want to learn how to start recognizing the conversations that are already happening between you and God on a daily basis, you’ve come to the right place.

We love teaching humans the principles of spiritual discernment.  Notice we said humans, not Christians.  God is interacting with us all, not just with those of us who feel confident in using the “Christian” label.  And since your relationship with your Creator is the most important aspect of your existence, any insights you gain that will help you build that relationship are well worth the effort they take to learn.

The massive and highly complex subject of spiritual discernment can be broken down into two basic goals: learning to tell truth from lies, and learning to identify the source of incoming information.  In this series of lessons that we’re going to write, we’re going to be focused on that second goal.  We’re going to be specifically focused on helping you sort through all of that chatter that goes on in your mind—what you call your thoughts.  The specific goal of this series is to help you identify when God is speaking in the privacy of your own mind.  Everyone hears God talking to them in their minds, but few people recognize when He is doing this.  In this series of posts, we’re going to help you understand why you have so much trouble identifying when God is talking to you, and we’ll show you how to get better at it.

So why write a series of posts?  Because this is a massive topic, and the skill we’re going to be teaching you is very complex.  There is no quick way to explain complex discernment skills, but it’s very easy to overwhelm people by throwing too much information at them at once.  Instead of having you slog through a 60 page post only to end up feeling fried and confused, we’re going to present you with a series of baby steps that you can actually practice applying in a hands on way.  The steps will build on each other, and if you take the time to do the exercises we recommend, you just might find yourself developing some pretty sharp discernment skills in this area.

Now for practice in this series, we’re going to use a journaling activity.  We’re teaching you how to discern what’s going on in the privacy of your own mind, and since you’re the only human with access to that information, you are the only one who can provide yourself with relevant study material. What you’ll need to do is start writing down streams of thoughts that flow through your head.  It is vital that you be as detailed as possible.  Don’t just pull out the main ideas—pretend that your job is to record every single word and try to capture the whole flow in written form.

When you really start listening to the chatter in your mind, you’ll discover that there is quite a lot of activity going on in that brain of yours.  Many of your thoughts are not complete sentences—instead, you’ll hear a lot of partial phrases. You’ll hear yourself interrupting yourself, debating with yourself, and waffling back and forth as you ponder various subjects.  The better you are at accurately recording every single word, the faster you’ll progress.

Now because it’s time consuming to do this sort of thing, it’s not going to be practical to do it all the time.  You’ll need to find a block of time when you can sit down with a journal or at your laptop and really focus on listening to what’s happening in your mind.  We’ll teach you easy ways that you can get some chatter going in your head so that you’ll have some material to record.  Then you’ll want to record everything you hear, so that you can then use the written script to practice the discernment principles we’re going to be teaching you.

So why make scripts for yourself? Because when you’re new at discernment, the activity in your head is happening too fast for you to analyze.  When you write it out, it becomes much easier to start identifying what’s going on.  It’s rather like learning a new language—to have some native speaker talking at you is often frustrating.  But if you can study a paragraph in written form, it’s much easier to identify different parts of speech and grasp what’s going on.  Once you get good at discernment, you can “discern on the go” and you won’t need to write things down anymore.  This is what’s happening with people like us.  We hear God talking to us all the time and this makes some people feel envious, as if we’ve got some special advantage over them.  And yet there’s no reason to be envious, because the big difference between us and the folks who never hear God talking to them is discernment.  Anyone can learn discernment, and the better you get at it, the more you’ll discover that God is talking to you personally. You’ll feel like He’s just starting to get chatty with you, but in reality you’ll just be learning to recognize something that’s been happening all along.  Our point is this: don’t waste time being envious when you could spend that energy getting educated. God is talking to you as well as to us, and He will teach you how to get better at recognizing His Voice if you go into it with the right motivations, and that means you want to learn discernment for the sake of growing closer to God.

There a lot of wrong reasons to study spiritual discernment, and the world is full of buffoons on power trips who think that if they learn enough tricks, they can successfully manipulate supernatural beings.  God knows what our true motivations are, and when we’re pursuing knowledge just to gain power, He turns us into spiritual idiots.  But when we seek knowledge because we want to grow closer to God, understand what pleases Him, and improve the way we treat Him, then God thoroughly enjoys teaching us.

So now that we’ve explained the goal of this series, let’s get to work. The first couple of principles we’re going to discuss will explain why the scripts you’ll be creating are going to be so flawed and incomplete.  That might sound like a downer place to start, but stick with us—this really is essential information.

PRINCIPLE #1: Mental Thoughts Are Different Than Soul Thoughts

When you look in a mirror, what you see is a body, which we call your earthsuit.  Your earthsuit is a highly complex machine that is run by a central computer which you call your mind or brain. 

Now you are not your earthsuit.  You are the soul that is riding around inside your suit.  You’ve never seen your real self.  It’s like you were born inside of a costume that you can’t take off.  You’re so used to that costume, that you think that costume is the real you.  Everyone around you treats your costume like the real you, so you do as well.  And once you think that your earthsuit is the real you, you end up feeling totally disconnected with the reality of your soul.  Because you aren’t consciously aware of your soul, you feel like it doesn’t play a big role in your daily life.

Now because every human soul is born wearing an earthsuit that they can’t take off, human souls can’t communicate with each other directly.  Instead, souls have to communicate with each other through their earthsuits.  Think about how you converse with another human.  What do you use to speak to them?  You use physical components of your earthsuit. You use your lips and tongue to form sounds.  You gesture with your hands.  You must use your earthsuit to communicate with another human because you don’t have the option to go direct.  Reading, writing, speaking—these are all earthsuit skills that you learn to do in order to communicate with other earthsuits.  And because it’s not possible for you to talk to any other human without using your earthsuit, it’s easy to conclude that your suit is the origin of all of your thoughts.  But it’s not.  And here’s where things start getting weird.

Imagine that you and your friend Joe are living in two separate farmhouses.  It’s nighttime.  The power is out.  The cell phones are down, and neither of you can leave your houses.  The only way you can communicate with each other over the large distance between your two houses is by using bright flashlights.  By flashing your lights at each other in long and short signals, you can spell out words and communicate thoughts.

Now in this situation, your flashlights are clearly playing a critical role.  We could even say the flashlights are doing the communicating, because they are the tools that you and Joe are using to pass information back and forth.  But where is that information coming from?  Are the two flashlights actually having thoughts and expressing their own ideas?  No, the flashlights are being used to communicate ideas that originate from the humans.  When you ask Joe if he has extra food in his house, you’re the one who wants to know, not your flashlight.  And what you really want to know is if Joe has a stash of your favorite brand of potato chips, but it’s much too tedious to try and say all that in flashlight code, so you change your coded message to be a mere summary of what you’re actually thinking.  You intentionally don’t translate most of what you’re thinking into flashlight dots and dashes.  You don’t even attempt to share with Joe every single thought that crosses your mind because it’s just too tedious to try and convey all of that when your only method of communicating is so limited.

The longer you communicate with Joe, the more information goes unsaid, and soon there’s a huge difference between the number of thoughts you’ve actually had versus the number of thoughts you’ve shared with Joe.  There’s also a huge difference in content quality.  Your personal thoughts are much longer and more complex than the choppy phrases you’re beaming over to Joe.  Joe is only receiving mere fragments of your complex thought life, and when he pieces those fragments together, he can tell he’s missing information.  He then tries to fill in the gaps with assumptions that seem logical.  You do the same all the time when you verbally communicate with other people in real life.  When people talk to you, they’re only ever sharing fragments of what’s going on inside their heads.  A classic example is you asking your friend how he’s doing. You can see that he’s upset about something, but all he says is, “I’m fine.”  This is an obvious fragment—a clear withholding of information on his part.  He’s not just withholding from you, he’s tossing out a deception to discourage you from pressing him for more information.

Now the key point we want you to grasp here is how shortened, changed, and chopped up human thoughts become when they get translated from verbal thoughts in your mind to words you say out loud.  In going from silent thoughts to spoken words, content gets severely mauled.  Often what comes out your mouth is nothing close to an accurate reflection of what’s going on in your head.  It’s the same even when you are trying to be truthful: what comes out your mouth is only ever a partial translation of what’s going on in your mind.

Okay, so that’s how things work when you go from private thoughts to spoken words.  But now we need to talk about where your private thoughts come from.  Remember that your mind or brain is a component of your earthsuit.  Your mind is not part of your soul.  When you talk to God, you talk to Him with your soul, not your earthsuit.  When God talks to you, He talks directly to your soul, He doesn’t talk to your brain.

Ah, but when you pray, you form verbal thoughts in your mind, right?  So obviously you are talking to God with your brain, right?  Wrong.  You always talk to God with your soul, and your soul doesn’t use a verbal language.

When you pray, what you’re doing is listening to your brain translate mere fragments of your soul’s conversation with God.  Your brain isn’t just translating your side of the conversation—it’s also translating some of what God says to you as well.  But mental translations of spiritual conversations are extremely flawed.  A lot of information is left out.  Why?  Well, remember how you found it so clunky and slow to communicate with Joe with your flashlight so you found ways to abbreviate your thoughts?  This is how your brain feels about trying to translate the thoughts of your soul.  Your soul is much too fast for your brain.  Your brain simply can’t keep up, so it doesn’t even try.  It just pulls out key fragments of what it hears you and God talking about.  When it hears something that is too difficult to translate into its verbal language, it just skips that part.

Let’s use another metaphor to demonstrate the difference between your mental language—which is a verbal language—and your soul’s language.  You might be a slow verbal speaker—the kind of person who struggles to find the right words.  And if you’re a slow verbal speaker, you might think you’re also a slow soul thinker.  But you’re not.  Every human is born fluent in their soul’s non-verbal spiritual language.

Imagine yourself picking up a machine gun, squeezing the trigger, and watching a stream of bullets fly out.  One squeeze, and you get a spray of ammunition that happens so fast that you can’t even count how many bullets have been fired.  When kids imitate the rapid sound of machine gun fire, they often say something like: “eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh!”

But now set the machine gun down and pick up a single shot rifle.  First you have to cock it open so you can access the bullet chamber.  Then you have to shove in a cartridge.  Then you have to close it.  Now you can aim and fire.  But then you have to reload.  Open it up.  Take out the spent cartridge.  Shove in a new one.  Close it up.  Aim and fire.  This is slow going, isn’t it?

Let’s try a game.  First, fire your sleek machine gun for 60 seconds: “eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh!”  Then count how many spent cartridges there are so that you can figure out how many bullets got fired.  Real life machine guns can fire anywhere from 300 to 6,000 bullets per minute.  Let’s say you’ve got a sweet model that can dish out 6,000.  Now let’s see you play catch up with your single shot rifle.  That’s 6,000 sessions of open-empty-reload-close-aim-fire that you need to do.  Forget it, right?  This is way too much work.  A single shot rifle just can’t keep up with a machine gun.  Well, when your brain listens to your soul talking to God, it feels like a single shot rifle that’s trying to imitate machine gun fire.  The non-verbal language that your soul and God converse in is extremely efficient, extremely fast, and extremely complex.  Your soul only needs a fraction of a second to communicate a complex sentiment to God which your brain would need several minutes to try and verbalize.  No matter how broad your brain’s verbal vocabulary is, it can’t begin to compete with your soul’s highly complex language.  Ever hear your thought voice stammering inside your own head as it struggles to find the right words to express something?  That mental stammering is a result of your brain struggling to translate non-verbal thoughts into a verbal language.  It can’t always be done.

So what’s the good news here?  The good news is that you were born totally fluent in the spiritual language that you and God converse in.  You’re a stellar communicator in that language, and when you talk to God, you’re saying way more to Him than you hear yourself saying when you try to pray in your mind.  So while you might find verbal communication tedious, that’s not holding you back at all in your relationship with God.  If we liken your verbal prayers to God to trickling streams, then what you’re actually saying to Him with your soul would be like a massive waterfall.  Whenever your soul prays to God, it’s a torrential outpouring of thoughts, feelings, desires, and questions.  When your brain then attempts to translate some of that deluge into a verbal prayer that you could say out loud in a home group, what comes out your mouth is just a tiny fraction of what your soul actually said.  The point is that there’s never any need to stress because you can’t find the right words to say to God.  When you struggle to form prayers in your mind, what’s happening is that your brain is struggling to translate a portion of what your soul has already said. Your soul always gets it right, because your soul is an excellent communicator.  So while your brain bumbles around, your soul effortlessly communicates everything it wants to say, and God never misunderstands your soul.

When it comes to information flowing from you to God, there is perfect understanding.  But when it comes to information flowing from Him to you, there’s often major confusion.  It’s not that your soul doesn’t hear what God’s saying, because it does.  But then your soul often rejects much of what God says and sends a revised version of His message to your brain for translation. Your brain then translates portions of that revised message, and the end result can be quite messy.  But there are ways of sorting these things out, and that’s what we’re going to teach you to do in this series of lessons. So don’t be daunted by the messiness of this process.  Yes, it’s a mess, but recognizing the mess exists is a critical first step in dealing with it.  When we pretend that our mental thoughts are accurate translations of what’s being said between our souls and God, we end up totally stalled, and this is what most humans do.  By the time you finish this series, you’ll have a far more accurate understanding of what’s going on inside your own mind, and that is going to really help you get better at discernment.

APPLICATION OF PRINCIPLE #1

This is the end of our first lesson.  As we said, we’re going to present this material in small chunks so that you don’t get overwhelmed.  To start applying what you’ve learned in this lesson, start trying to pay more attention to the formation of thoughts in your mind, especially when you pray.  Listen for the sounds of your mind struggling to come up with the right words and realize that what’s happening in those moments is that it is trying to translate non-verbal thoughts into verbal ones.

There are many ways to get your mind to start tripping over itself.  Thinking about any loaded topic is usually enough to do the trick.  For example, if you’re a serious Christian, try describing to God exactly how you feel about Him.  Try to explain the depths of your love for Him and the intensity of your desire for Him using verbal words.  For your soul, discussing these things is effortless, but your brain quickly finds itself at a loss for words.  If you’re not a Christian, think about the person you love most in the world.  Then try to describe exactly how you feel about them inside the privacy of your own mind.  As you hear your mind searching for words and digging for better ways of phrasing things, realize that what you’re hearing is its translation process. Your mind is not the true source of many of your thoughts.  When it comes to pondering spiritual issues or your strong emotional bonds with other humans, it’s your soul that does the talking, while your brain simply tries to translate some of your soul’s musings.

LOOKING AHEAD

Now you might have been bothered by our comment that your soul rejects a lot of what God says to you and intentionally mangles His messages.  Why would your soul do this?  Is this a sign of spiritual rebellion?  No, it’s a lot more complicated than that.  In our next lesson, we’ll learn about some of the reasons why your soul often finds it impossible to accept much of what God says to you—at least at first.

Click here to go to Lesson 2.

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