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, 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. 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.”
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?
 Read it here: http://thesalvationarmyng.org/ebboks/lawrence_practice_of_presence.pdf.
 Tanya M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 279.
 Ibid., 41.