DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Hey God, are you there?

Written by: on April 21, 2015

Tanya Luhrmann explores two significant questions in her book When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God: (1) How does God become and remain real for modern evangelicals?; and (2) How are rational, practical people of faith able to experience the presence of a powerful yet invisible being and sustain that belief in an environment of overwhelming skepticism? Luhrmann, who conducted her research with the Vineyard Church (…isn’t that Jason’s church??…), thoughtfully examines the personal relationships people have developed with God and explores how those relationships have been cemented through the practice of prayer.

Reading this book excited me. I love the power of prayer. I have experienced the power of prayer. One of the most meaningful moments of my spiritual journey was reading Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God[1], which chronicles his journey to live in a constant state of communion and conversation with God. Like any friend, my relationship with God consists of intentional moments of speaking and connecting, but many times I will find myself talking and talking or writing and writing, and realize I have yet to be still and wait for His voice. Prayer not only involves speaking, but also listening. It’s a two-way conversation and connection. Perhaps that is why God chooses to speak to me through my dreams; I don’t give Him enough opportunity to speak otherwise!

Thinking of this, I also wondered if part of the gravity of experiencing God, through direct connection with Him, is also magnified by experiencing Him as part of a group? What I mean is, does He become more real to us as we pray as a group, live life together in authentic Christian fellowship, and learn to seek Him with our mind, body and soul? For me, even more than getting down on my hands and knees to seek the voice of God individually, I love to pray in my trusted small group of women. Thinking back to the week we read MaryKate Morse’s A Guidebook to Prayer: 24 Ways to Walk with God, I shared that my small group had begun praying through each chapter corporately. Without the accountability of the women, I may have attempted two or three of the chapters, but as such, we have made it more than halfway through the book.[2] Each week, we read about a new approach to prayer, and on Thursday mornings, we partake in that practice of prayer. While we are no longer meeting in the coffee shop, we have made the prayer chapel at church our new home, and God has revealed Himself in amazing and awe-inspiring new ways to each of us through this book and group. He has spoken to us, and we have experienced the power of prayer through healing, new jobs, and resolution to crises. In three months, the trust between our group has grown even more. We can ask the tough questions, work through them mutually, and quietly await God’s direction.

Taking When God Talks Back from a personal use to a pastoral use, I thought to last week. I confided my love of questions. I love asking questions, especially on mission trips. The questions hold two purposes – one, it invites the participants to debrief their feelings and emotions with a group of people that are likely experiencing the same emotions, and two, it prepares the group to answer the cornucopia of questions they will receive upon their return. I especially love asking questions about the participants’ connection to God and how it improved or changed during the week of service. How did being outside of their comfort zone effect their relationship with God? How did they experience God in new ways? What did God teach them or speak to them? How will they go home changed as a result of their new connection with God?

One could say that I believe Luhrmann’s hypothesis to be true – By now, our mission trippers eagerly await my questions. By asking questions, I am training our participants to expectantly seek God’s voice and presence throughout their mission trip. By asking questions, I have asked our members to connect with God in their daily lives as they work with each other and serve amongst our partners. God is not someone to solely connect with on a Sunday morning in a brick building. He is God, omnipotent and almighty. God can connect with them through every faucet and every corner of their lives. I ask the questions to open their eyes to direct personal experiences with God. Personal connections are not solely for priests or holy pastors. As Luhrmann wrote, “God wants to be your friend; you develop that relationship through prayer; prayer is hard work and requires effort and training; and when you develop that relationship, God will answer back, through thoughts and mental images He places in your mind, and through sensations He causes in your body.”[3]

With this said, maybe you’d like to see how our missioners answer these thoughtful questions? Of course you would! Take a break from your academic essay and see how God is working in the lives of the congregants at First United Methodist Church!

 

How will you go home changed?

What is God teaching you this week?

 

How have you experienced God in new ways?

 

 

 

[1] Read it here: http://thesalvationarmyng.org/ebboks/lawrence_practice_of_presence.pdf.

[2] Tanya M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 279.

[3] Ibid., 41.

About the Author

mm

Ashley Goad

Ashley is the Global Missions Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. She's a UNC fanatic, Haiti Enthusiast, Clean Water Activist, Solar Power Supporter... www.firstserves.org www.solarunderthesun.org www.livingwatersfortheworld.org

6 responses to “Hey God, are you there?”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Ashley, you did a wonderful job on this blog post. I think we just approached the book from different directions. I think that Luhrmann brings up some very interesting and challenging questions, that I have long pondered. I simply thought her too humanistic in her approach to these question, as she seems to be trying to explain connection with God as a mental game or activity….which I assume she thinks is all make believe. But, at the same time, I do EXACTLY LIKE YOU — we missionary types run in the same groove! I ask our trip participants to be mindful of what God is saying to them, to hear Him (especially during the trips they are on). But, it is an expectation of God meeting you as you serve and sacrifice, which comes from a passion and love for God. I think it is in our service and sacrifice that God speaks; not by “pretending we are on a date with Jesus” but as we live and serve as Jesus. And I can tell you a whole lot of ways God has shown up on mission trips. So, we are in agreement on that…that learning to listen to God is great preparation for mission trips. Looking forward to viewing your videos when I have a few minutes…may use them for my orientation work! Thanks for your passion for mission and for leading people into His bigger causes for the world! Happy end of the semester…another almost done!

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      John, “pretending we are on a date with Jesus…” That made me laugh almost as much as “The relationship between spirituality and mental illness is not straightforward.” (227)

      You know, I think my favorite part of traveling with a group is being surrounded by those who are experiencing the same things you are… And as a result of the shared experience, you can unpack the feelings, connect on a deeper level, and process the emotions. God does show up “big time” on mission trips… Do you think it’s because we are so vulnerable, outside of our comfort zones, with people who we may not know well, and in the midst of a culture and language we do not understand? When we are “home”, we default to others, or comfort, or busyness of life. But when we’re “out there,” I default to calling upon Him… Hmmm. Food for thought!

  2. Ashley,

    Good, thoughtful work here. I look forward to watching your videos when I have some time and when I need some inspiration. Thanks for including those here!

    I love your practice of asking your mission participants questions. As you know, I am pretty fond of questions myself. This is a brilliant way to capture the essence of what God did in the hearts of your participants. I am curious about a couple of things. Have you ever done an interview with a person who has not “felt God” on one of your trips? Have you ever heard negative responses from any of them? If so, what happened to them after their return to the States? I am just curious. Let me know if you find time.

    Hope your papers are going well!

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Bill! We do love questions. That’s one thing I love about you so much! You ask GREAT questions. And I love your question here… Come to think of it, I haven’t had someone on video say they haven’t felt God. They always come up with “something” to say. But in those quiet moments off camera, I have sat and cried with many who are feeling the magnitude of being in a poverty-stricken place and calling out to God, “WHY?!” In Haiti especially, it is hard to comprehend the suffering and the poverty. It hits hard. It’s unfathomable.

      After the earthquake, I questioned God all together…The pain, the suffering, and to a people who have already suffered so much. Looking back, it is so good that I did, in order to walk alongside those who question and lament in all walks of life. Much like a counselor, we have to unpack the feelings, understand the emotions, and work through them piece by piece.

      What I love about mission trips with your faith family is that when we return, we are right down the road from each other. It’s easy for me to show up to their house and check in, or send a text message to meet for lunch. Follow up after these trips is so important to continue processing and ultimately learn. …. I’ll close here, but thank you for asking such meaningful questions, Bill!

  3. mm Deve Persad says:

    Ashley, thanks for sharing your own journey of prayer throughout these last few months. It’s exciting to hear about how rewarding those experiences have been. As John mentioned in his post – I do have a disagreement with Luhrmann, in that I do not necessarily think we can train ourselves to pray. Yes, it’s a hard discipline, but I don’t know that there is some kind of level of prayer capacity to attain through training. My experience has been much like yours, I think, in that my prayer experience has been enhanced by learning to limit my talking and leave room for listening to the way in which God wants to communicate to me through His Word, through Creation and through the people around me.

  4. Michael Badriaki says:

    Great Ashley on this post. You captured Luhrmann’s discussion well. Her book was enjoyable for me because I believe she was able to put certain elements of how the vineyard church and many evangelicals relate to God into anthropological perspective.

    I many ways, I believe that the author was seeking to answer a similar question like the one you asked on the group members. Questions are always helpful.

    Well done!

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