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In our last lesson, we explained the concept of soul blocking. Your theology is your set of beliefs about God, and what you currently believe about Him has a major impact on how you react to Him. When God says things that make you uncomfortable, your soul will often respond by rejecting part or all of what He said. Three of the most common reasons that souls refuse to accept what God is saying are the following:
- God says something that seems too good to be true.
- God says something that sounds too scary to handle.
- You simply can’t accept the fact that God would actually be talking to you because you don’t believe God would be willing to engage with you so personally.
In our last lesson we mentioned that soul blocking greatly affects how your brain summarizes conversations your soul is having with God. As we begin our next lesson, we’re going to explain this concept in more detail.
LESSON 3: HOW SOUL BLOCKING AFFECTS MENTAL SCRIPTS
In today’s modern world, you can find many artists selling songs on the internet. Among artists who use a lot of vulgar language in their lyrics, some record two versions of their songs: an original “explicit” version, and then a “clean” version. In “clean” versions, vulgar words are either replaced with no words at all, or the artist records himself singing different words in their place—words that get the point across without the offense. Why go to all of the trouble? Well, if you put out two versions, you’ll reach a broader audience and get more sales. People who like your sound but don’t like your language will end up buying your material if you dial down the cussing.
Now in cases of soul blocking, your soul finds God’s original message to you offensive for some reason. So your soul edits what God said and creates a version that seems theologically “clean.” It’s that “clean” version which your brain then summarizes into verbal thoughts. The more you do this, the less you’ll ever hear God saying something in your mind that theologically upsets you. Since God is a big fan of spiritual maturity, and since maturing you involves Him pushing you to constantly revise your theology, in real life, God is frequently saying things to you that theologically upset you.
In this world, many humans are striving to surround themselves with fans who will only ever affirm anything they say. The more power you hold in your society, the easier it is to collect fawning fans. But in your relationship with God, things are quite different. God is not a human who envies your social status. God doesn’t need you to help Him advance His own career, He doesn’t need you to like Him, and He isn’t threatened by you badmouthing Him to others. Because God is such an autonomous, self-reliant Being, He doesn’t have any problems letting the constructive criticisms flow in His relationship with you. And since God knows that you’ll never unlearn lies without His help, the more you care about pleasing Him, the more conviction you’re going to receive. The point is this: if you never hear God saying anything to you that bothers you, then you’re doing some heavy blocking. Understanding this principle is a critical step in identifying when the summaries your brain creates are severely mangled. Let’s now look at some examples of souls heavily editing God’s messages to them.
Fiona is a very popular Christian worship leader. As her popularity grew, so did her ego. Now she’s a pompous glory hog and God is convicting her that her priorities need to change.
GOD SAYS: “Fiona, I love you, but not your attitude. I am very displeased with the way you’ve been using Me as an excuse to promote yourself in this world. You need to repent out of your rebellious attitude and resubmit to My Authority. I keep telling you to stop with these world tours, and I don’t want you to sign that new record deal. Obey Me for a change and I won’t need to mess your life up with some serious discipline.”
Fiona’s soul finds most of this message offensive, so she cuts most of it and just keeps the good parts. By the time Fiona’s mind translates the portions that her soul approves of, this is all that’s left:
FIONA’S VERBAL SUMMARY OF WHAT GOD SAID TO HER SOUL: “I love you so much, Fiona. You rock.”
Due to her consistent, heavy soul blocking, Fiona never hears God convicting her in her mind. She just hears an endless stream of compliments.
Fiona’s example illustrates how souls cut out material that is offensive for negative reasons. Let’s now see how this same principle can work when a soul is offended for positive reasons.
Jessica is a drug addicted prostitute who grew up being emotionally and sexually abused by men. Her pimp abuses her as well, and her clientele tend to be violent jerks. Because Jessica has spent her whole life being treated like trash, she’s come to believe that she actually is trash. She views God like a negative blend of her abusive father, grandfather, brothers, and current pimp. There’s no room in her theology for God to be a kind Being who actually wants her, so six months ago, when God started haranguing her soul about starting a relationship with Him, Jessica responded with heavy blocking. Every day, multiple times a day, her soul hears God saying things that sound way too good to be true, for example:
GOD SAYS: “Jessica, you’re not trash. Your view of yourself has been shaped by the jerks who have mistreated you in life. It’s time for you to break out of this miserable cycle you’re stuck in. I have something much better for you, but you need to work with Me and stop resisting Me. I want you. You’re My beautiful creature who is full of amazing potential.”
Well, no, Jessica’s soul isn’t having any of this. So every time God talks, she rejects what He says and sends a negative recap to her brain.
JESSICA’S VERBAL SUMMARY OF WHAT GOD SAID TO HER SOUL: “God thinks I’m trash. He’ll always think I’m trash.”
Is this really what God said? Not hardly. Even though this message makes Jessica feels depressed, it aligns with her current theology so she goes with it.
The point we’re making here is that the scripts your brain creates can be way off from what God has actually said to your soul. Your soul knows when it is blocking God, but because it feels it has very good reasons for doing so, it isn’t going to lower its shields without a struggle.
So what now? If your soul is frequently lying to itself about what God is saying, and if your brain is going to just go along with what your soul says, then how can you ever get anywhere with discernment if all you’re doing is looking at your verbal thoughts? In an ideal situation, you’d be very tuned in to your soul’s non-verbal language, and we could then teach you how to discern when God is talking to you by having you focus directly on your soul. If you went direct like this, you’d be able to catch your soul in the act of blocking and you’d have a lot more material to work with. But most humans are totally oblivious to the voice of their souls, so trying to teach people how to discern using their soul language is like trying to teach someone how to fix a shoe that they can’t find. If we say to you “listen to what your soul is saying,” most of you would not even know how to do that. Even though you actually hear both your soul and your brain talking all the time, to you, it’s a garbled mess that seems dominated by your verbal thought life. So in this series, we’re having you work with material you actually feel capable of accessing: your mental thoughts. And even though those thoughts are not ideal material because they are heavily mangled, there are ways of detecting just how mangled they are and sorting out what God is actually saying to you. It’s rather like learning how to rub the top layer of paint off of a canvas to reveal what the original painting was. When your brain summarizes your soul’s conversations with God, it’s like it’s painting another picture over an original to hide what the original looks like. The discernment tools we’re teaching you will help you rub off portions of that second coat so that you can see what lies beneath and start reconstructing what the original picture was.
Now in case some of you are feeling discouraged to realize how inaccurate your brain’s summaries of God’s messages can be, there’s another key principle you need to understand. The better you get at discernment, and the more confident you grow in your own relationship with God, the more accurate your brain’s translations will become. Your brain will never be able to keep up with the speed of your soul, of course, but as you mature spiritually, you’ll feel less need to do soul blocking, and that will result in your soul passing along un-doctored versions of what God said. This is why folks who have learned to overcome certain theological hurdles have a much easier time of hearing God talk to them in their minds. For example, if our friend Jessica were to reach the point where she was able to accept how much God loves her, then she would stop trying to block out the sound of Him saying so. Jessica’s soul would hear God saying He loved her, and it would feel encouraged instead of cringing. It would then pass on that information to her brain, and she’d hear herself thinking something like, “God really loves me.” The difference here is not that God has changed what He’s saying, but that He’s helped Jessica to mature out of the false belief that He must view her the way that she views herself.
A lot of Christians and non-Christians balk at the kinds of subjects we cover on our website. We thrust a lot of upsetting truths in your face, and we tackle a lot of negative subjects that most Christians don’t want to touch. Do we do this just to be shocking and controversial? No, there is a very strategic method to our madness. The reason we push you so hard to grasp certain tough theological principles—such as God’s involvement with evil—is to help you reduce soul blocking.
All humans feel intensely threatened by certain aspects of God—we just can’t help it. And the longer your personal list of upsetting topics is, the more your soul will block. By submerging you in difficult theological principles, we’re pushing your soul to wrestle these things out with God so that you’ll be able to cross some items off of your personal list of things about God that bother you. The shorter your list is, the less blocking you’ll do, and the easier it will be for you to “hear” God talking to you.
Theology plays a huge role in your relationship with God, and in Christian churches you’re usually taught to avoid upsetting theological topics. But the more you avoid things, the more blocking you do, and soon all you hear in your head are heavily edited versions of what God is saying to you. So you see, there is great value in wrestling with distressing truths about God. Wrestling will take you a lot farther than trying to pretend that God is everything you want Him to be.
So now that we understand that soul blocking can really mangle your mental summaries of what God says to your soul, let’s move on our next key discernment principle.
PRINCIPLE #3: God Always Initiates In His Relationship With You
Adrian is standing in a room when he feels someone tap him on his shoulder. So he turns, sees his friend, and says, “Hi, how are you?”
Who initiated this conversation? Adrian was the first person to say something out loud—does that mean he started the conversation? No, because Adrian didn’t even know his friend was present until his friend tapped him. It’s really the friend who started the conversation by doing something that would attract Adrian’s attention.
In your relationship with God, He always initiates. He begins every conversation that you have with Him. Sometimes God says something complex to your soul, sometimes He just gives you a soul tap. Regardless of what form of communication He uses, the point is that He always speaks first. This means that when you say something to God, you’re actually responding to Him talking to you.
So why is it important to understand that God always initiates? There are two key reasons. One has to do with how you mature in your relationship with God, and the other has to do with mental scripts. Let’s deal with maturity first.
In your relationships with other humans, it’s a simple thing for you to initiate. You see your friend Wanda, but she doesn’t see you. At that point you decide to either slip away without Wanda noticing or you call out to her and initiate a conversation. In human relationships, you have options that you don’t have with God. Maybe Wanda doesn’t want to talk to you, but you can get in her face and make her look at you. You can create a scene so that she’ll feel forced to engage with you. In human relationships, you not only have the option to initiate interactions, but you also have the power to force other humans to interact with you even when they don’t want to.
Now when it comes to God, things are very different, and you suddenly find yourself stripped of a power that you’re used to having with other humans. In your relationship with God, He can force you to engage with Him, but you can’t force Him to engage with you. You can’t even detect God’s Presence or become aware of His reality until He wants you to. When you’re dealing with God, you suddenly find yourself in an uncomfortably powerless position that can easily lead to great fear and frustration. The Christian who spends hours in a prayer closet only to have God refuse to speak comes out of that closet feeling very frustrated. Souls who feel abandoned by God often plummet into major depression as they realize there’s nothing they can do to make God engage with them.
In your relationship with God, He has absolute control over your rate of progression with Him. You can’t sneak into His bedroom, find His diary, and learn things about Him that He’s not ready for you to know. Because God cannot be conned, it’s impossible for you to trick Him into sharing secrets with you. Because God’s Personal well-being does not depend on your current emotional state, the fact that you’re very upset about something does not make God feel obligated to discuss that matter with you.
When you’re relating to other humans, you’re dealing with creatures who are very sensitive, vulnerable, and easy to throw off balance. But when you’re relating to God, you’re relating to Someone who you have no leverage with. This forces you into a position where you are helpless to progress forward with Him until He is ready to draw you closer. With God, you don’t control the level of intimacy between you and Him: He does. If He doesn’t want to get all snuggly with you, there’s nothing you can do to make Him go there. If He doesn’t want to talk to you, there’s nothing you can do to force His lips open.
Now because being powerless in our relationships with God really threatens us, we try to pretend we have more power than we do. Among Christians it’s very popular to view the Bible as a tool we can use to force God to speak to us. Simply open the book and read until God speaks—this is what many Christians are taught to do. When it doesn’t work, they just pull out some verse that they like the sound of and pretend that was God talking to them. Faking it is more comfortable than acknowledging that God can’t be controlled.
If you listen to the way Christians pray, you’ll hear them using very directive language. “Do this, stop that, help her, save him.” Using directive language with God is one of the ways that we try to maintain the illusion that we can initiate in our relationships with Him. But we can’t, and pretending that we can only gets us stalled, which is why we really shred the Christian style of praying in our material. The sooner you start talking like the follower instead of the leader in your prayers, the better off you’ll be. God simply won’t be led by us, and if we insist on trying to get Him to align with our agendas, we’ll only end having the door to intimacy with Him slammed shut in our faces. Learning to approach God with a submissive, teachable attitude is a vital step in progressing with Him.
Understanding that God always initiates can help you shed false beliefs about how salvation works. No one gets saved because they searched for God or because some Christian came along with the right words at the right time. No one gets saved because some human prayed for them. We never find God on our own—He comes to us, then we respond to what He says to us. The same is true for conviction—it isn’t your conscience making you realize that something you’re doing is wrong, nor were you just born a “good” person. What people call their conscience is often God talking to them. Not always—sometimes what we’re calling our conscience is just social conditioning and has nothing to do with God’s moral code. For example, a white man who grows up in a society that promotes the segregation between blacks and whites may feel it is morally wrong for a black man to eat in an all-white restaurant. Is it? No, this racial attitude has nothing to do with morals. There are many reasons why humans will feel intensely bothered by something—things like fear, personal insecurities, greed, and pride can easily trigger what feels like a “prick of the conscience.” Labels get messy, and they’re often over-applied. But you do need to understand that you are not your own moral accountability partner. You’re not the one keeping yourself on the moral high ground. You’re not the one warning yourself not to be a fool when you’re tempted to do something wrong. There isn’t a little angel sitting on one of your shoulders and a demon on the other. God is the One who teaches you how to tell right from wrong, and He’s the One who then convicts you to course correct when you’re heading the wrong way.
Before you understand who the real Gods are, it’s easy to think the desire to find God is something you came up with all on your own. But it’s not. Whenever we find ourselves longing to seek out a relationship with our Creator, what’s happening is that our souls are hearing Him talk to us, and they are then responding positively to Him. If you ask a Christian how salvation is acquired, he’ll probably quote some verses and describe specific steps that you ought to take. But in reality, your relationship with God begins long before you reach the point of acquiring salvation.
Americans have a very negative view of arranged marriages. We value independence, freedom of choice, and hormonal highs. So for us, marriage is something we talk about after several other steps have happened. First, we have to meet that special someone and feel that rush of infatuation. Then we want to date a while and enjoy the fun of pampering each other while everyone puts on their best behavior. Then we might want to move in together and see if we still like each other after living in close quarters. Then we want to get officially engaged—and the more theatrical that moment is, the better. Then we want to take our time to plan a wedding that will give all of our friends reasons to envy us. It can take us years to get to the point of actually exchanging vows and rings.
Now if we use American marriage as a metaphor for your relationship with God, then when Christians talk about “getting saved” or being “born again,” it’s like they’re talking about the actual wedding ceremony. But just as American weddings often don’t happen until years into a relationship, you and God kick off your relationship long before any third party would look at you and say it’s obvious that you and God are an item.
Often the early stages of your relationship with God are undetectable to the other people in your life. There’s a lot of soul stirring. Questions begin to surface that never used to cross your mind before, and this time they linger, pestering you and making you feel a need to find answers. You find yourself wondering how to even start finding answers about God. Should you go to church? Should you talk to some religious person? Should you see what the weirdos over at The Pursuit of God are ranting about? These kinds of restless stirrings are a result of your soul suddenly finding itself being spoken to by a strange, non-human Being who seemed to appear out of nowhere.
God always initiates, and the first time He really gets in your soul’s face, you notice it. You feel strange, unsettled, and confused. If your soul is responding positively to God, then you find yourself wanting to know more and seek out spiritual answers. If your soul is being hostile to God, then you feel bugged, but you work hard to shrug off your distress as irrelevant. The point is that God is the One who came to you—you didn’t go to Him. No human dragged God over to you (even though they might be trying to take the credit for doing so). God came to you of His own free will, because He wanted to engage with you. No matter where you’re currently at, it’s pretty exciting to realize that your Creator is expressing such Personal interest in you.
So now that we understand that God is always leading in His relationship with you, and that the only reason you even have a relationship with Him is because He is inviting you to do so, let’s move on to another critical principle.
PRINCIPLE #4: When God Speaks, He Encourages You Towards Him
God has a specific agenda in relating with you. He doesn’t need your help, nor does He need you to make Him feel complete. So what does He want? Well, God’s primary focus in His relationship with you is to help you thrive as His creature. So what does that mean? Well, when humans create machines, they design those things to do very specific functions. Cars are built to transport humans around. Cars aren’t built to vacuum or wash windows or cook breakfast. If you try to use your car to do something it wasn’t designed to do, the car ends up damaged and your goal ends up unachieved. But if you use a car the way it was designed to be used, things work out very well.
Look around this world that God has created and you can see that He has built many different kinds of things. A rock was obviously designed to serve a very different purpose than you. So what is your purpose? What did God design you to do? Well, you were designed to be a relational creature. You have the capacity to form relationships with several kinds of creatures, but you have a very strong need to relate to your Creator. Your personal relationship with your Creator is like gasoline is to a car—it’s the key to you performing your other functions well. If you don’t put gas in a car, it can’t run. If you put very poor quality gas in it, it can limp along, but not without damaging its engine. Cars work best with quality gasoline in their tanks. As a human, you work best when developing a quality relationship with your Creator is the central focus of your life.
In God’s relationship with you, He will be constantly encouraging you to make your relationship with Him your top priority. He will also coach you on how to thrive as a human being. Since God designed you, He knows what kinds of conditions will help you function the best. Because you don’t understand your own design, you have very poor judgment about what is truly best for you. You’re like a man who knows nothing about cars, so when his car runs out of gas, he pours water in the tank. “Fluid is fluid, so what difference can it make?” he thinks to himself. But cars can’t run on water, they need gas. In the same way, as you go through life you come across many things that seem like good ideas, fixes, and strategies. But many of the things that sound smart to you will actually harm you, so God pipes up with a warning. These helpful warnings are what Christians call “convictions.” Many people associate convictions with feelings of guilt and shame, so they see them as bad things. But God’s convictions are always designed to help you, not just make you feel bad, and in another lesson we’ll learn about the concept of people thinking God is saying harsh things to them when He’s really not.
Now remember that God always initiates in His relationship with you, therefore the fact that you even have a relationship with Him is a clear indicator that He actually wants to relate to you. Relating to you isn’t some chore that God has been forced to endure. He actually likes humans—He chose to make us, He didn’t just get stuck with us.
Understanding that God actually wants a relationship with you is an important part of learning to recognize His Voice. God isn’t interested in grinding your face in the dirt just to do it. He isn’t interested in harping on your past mistakes or beating on you the moment you make one wrong move. God wants the relationship to work, and He actually enjoys seeing you thrive as His little creature. So when God talks to you, He has positive motivations for the things He says. He knows that the quality of your relationship with Him will determine how satisfied you are as a human, and He pushes you to go for the most that you can have. God is like the father who wants his son to have the best of everything, so he is always encouraging the boy to make wise choices because he loves to see his son happy. Because God designed you to need Him and to function best when He is your top priority, God pushes you to keep pursuing Him. In the end, everything God tells you to do is designed to help you realize your full potential as His creature.
Now understanding God’s positive motivations towards you is critical to recognizing when He’s talking to you and when your soul is blocking out something He’s saying. Let’s use our friend Jessica again. In her head, what she heard was: “God thinks I’m trash. He’ll always think I’m trash.” Is this statement one that is going to encourage Jessica towards God? No, this thought makes her feel hopeless about ever getting anywhere with God. But wait—Jessica is God’s creature, and God wants to see her thrive. Jessica can’t thrive unless she develops a positive relationship with her Creator because that’s how God designed her. So since God wants Jessica to thrive, and since God has made it so the only way Jessica can thrive is by pursuing Him, is God going to say something to Jessica that makes her feel totally discouraged about even attempting to relate to Him? No, He’s not.
Knowing a few facts about God’s personal priorities for you will help you get better at recognizing His Voice. After all, if you know your friend hates tuna, and someone says that your friend ordered a tuna salad for lunch the other day, you’ll know something’s wrong. In the same way, when you find your brain reporting God as saying something to you which makes you feel hopeless about ever relating to Him, that tells you something went majorly wrong in the translation process. What you’re hearing isn’t God—it’s a false representation of Him that was created either by you or by a third party (more on that later).
Now wait a minute—so are we saying that God only says pleasant things to you? No, we’re saying that God is always saying things to you that will help you develop a positive relationship with Him. Sometimes what we need is not sweet words, but a swift kick in the shorts. Worship leader Fiona is so caught up in her pride that she’s totally blowing God off. This isn’t good for Fiona’s soul, because Fiona will never thrive as a human without making God her top priority. So when God tells Fiona to stop parading around in her self-exalting circuses, God is encouraging Fiona towards Himself. We can’t form a positive relationship with God by acting like we’re as fabulous as He is. We thrive with God by submitting to Him as the Supreme Authority. By convicting Fiona to repent out of her arrogance and resubmit to Him, God is demonstrating how much He cares about the well-being of Fiona’s soul. The point is this: God says both positive and negative things to you, but in both cases, He encourages you to make choices that will help you in your relationship with Him. Why does God care about your relationship with Him? Because He wants you to thrive as a human being. This is one of the reasons we say that God is good–because He cares so much about our quality of life.
Now of course God could have set things up so that we could thrive apart from Him, so why didn’t He? Well, in this world there are distant fathers, and there are involved fathers. Distant fathers avoid engaging with their kids. Involved fathers make a real effort to stay connected with their kids. God is an involved Creator. He make a point of always being in your business. So when you relate to God, you’re relating to a Being who really cares about your well-being as a human, and you’re also relating to Someone who insists on being in your business all the time. If you were hoping for some indifferent, aloof Creator who is content to ignore you and let you run your life without Him, you’re going to have to get used to disappointment.
SCRIPT EXERCISE #1
It’s time to start writing down detailed scripts of your thought life so that you can start putting to use the discernment principles we’ve discussed so far. When you’re new at discernment, the best scripts to use will be ones in which you’re pondering spiritual issues. So how do you do that? What if your brain is a total blank? Well, we’re going to list some ideas out for you in a moment, and what you want to do is read through the list and see which topics jump out at you as relevant. Then, sit down alone with either a journal or a computer. Start pondering the topic that jumped out at you and try to write down every single thought that forms in your mind. Don’t just write the complete thoughts—capture any mental fumbling that goes on as well. A verbal script will be excellent, but if you want to take it to the next level, try to record any changes in your emotions that happen as well. Maybe you notice that a certain thought suddenly makes you feel sad—if so, draw a frowny face at that point in your script and keep going. Maybe another thought makes you smile—draw a smiley face right there and then go on to the next phrase. Write until the thoughts stop coming. If you only have a couple of sentences, then pick another topic and write on that as well. A good paragraph or two will give you a decent amount to work with, although more is always better for this kind of exercise.
Here are some topics for you to mull over. Work with any of them that stand out. Topics which touch on unresolved issues and theological difficulties are going to give you the best material for this exercise. Since the focus of this series is to learn to recognize God speaking to you, the focus of these questions is on your personal relationship with God. That means whatever you write will be very personal, so be sure you store your scripts somewhere private where no one else will come across them.
- Have you done things in the past that you have a hard time forgiving yourself for? Think about specific incidents and ask God what He thinks about each one. Is God wiling to forgive you or not? Do you hear Him expressing compassion, disgust or something else?
- Try to put yourself in God’s shoes and write out a detailed description of how He feels about you. Does He like you? What qualities about you does He like most? What qualities does He like the least? Does He think you’re a good listener? A stubborn brat? Does He find you entertaining? Boring? Funny? Tiresome?
- Describe three times when you felt like God was clearly intervening in your life—either with words, actions, or both. Why do you think He did what He did? What was He teaching you?
- What do you like least about yourself? What are your worst flaws and/or most shameful secrets? How do you think God feels about your personal struggles?
Take some time to create some scripts to work with. If you feel like you can’t really “hear” your thought voice rambling on, then just compose answers as you would some email or school essay. Don’t worry—even paragraphs that you try to write by yourself will show evidence of God talking to you, because He really is that involved in your life.
At the start of our next lesson, we’ll show you how to analyze your scripts using the principles that we’ve discussed so far. Then we’ll teach you some more principles and we’ll show you how to use those principles to analyze your scripts more completely. Journaling about any event that upsets you will also give you excellent material. When you journal, try to write as if you’re talking directly to God—as if you’re writing Him an email. If you feel it’s too difficult to directly address Him, then don’t, just capture your feelings in whatever style feels natural. No matter what style you use, you’ll be able to use your material to practice discernment—directly addressing God just helps things surface. Feel free to create more scripts for yourself any time you feel like you’ve got some good material compiling in your mind. The more scripts you make, the more you’ll get out of these exercises. As we progress, your analytical process will grow more complex.
Click here to go to Lesson 4.