My terrible handwriting and the voice of God

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My terrible handwriting and the voice of God

October 3, 2023 -

A right hand holds a pen above a notepad with the word "Hello" scribbled on it in bad handwriting. By molenira/

A right hand holds a pen above a notepad with the word "Hello" scribbled on it in bad handwriting. By molenira/

A right hand holds a pen above a notepad with the word "Hello" scribbled on it in bad handwriting. By molenira/

I need to begin this article with a deeply personal confession: my handwriting is atrocious. I once wrote a note to my assistant only to watch as she turned it one way and then another, trying to decide which way was the right side up. Typing was invented for people like me (and those who have to work with me).

In this sense, I can commiserate with those Gen Z people who never learned cursive writing. According to the Washington Post, such writing is “becoming as foreign as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.”

But here’s the downside: archival work with written documents from the nineteenth century and earlier will be more difficult since these documents are always written in cursive. In addition, studies show that learning cursive improves retention and comprehension, engages the brain on a deep level, enhances fine motor dexterity, and gives children a better idea of how words work in combination.

I had no idea.

Here are some other news stories that I found counterintuitive:

  • The Texas power grid will be impacted on October 14 by, of all things, a solar eclipse. I would have thought that a state so known for oil and gas production would not be so dependent on solar power as well.
  • The FAA is warning that video recording on airplanes is dangerous because it can escalate conflicts on board.
  • Lego is scrapping a plan to make its bricks from recycled bottles since it has learned that the process to do so requires more energy than it saves.
  • While vehicles are becoming safer for their occupants, vehicle-related pedestrian and cyclist fatalities rose over 60 percent between 2011 and 2022. The steep increase in sales of SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans is being blamed.

“They seek a vision from the prophet”

The theme of counterintuitive truth was highlighted for me recently when I was reading the Book of Ezekiel and found God’s description of his sinful people:

The land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence. I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses. I will put an end to the pride of the strong, and their holy places shall be profaned. When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor (Ezekiel 7:23–26a).

All of this felt tragically familiar to me: crime is escalating in our major cities; we are increasingly threatened by foreign nuclear powers; our “holy places” have been “profaned” by clergy abuse scandals and rising cultural animosity; anxiety is rising daily.

Then comes the statement that arrested me: “They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders” (v. 26b, my emphasis).

In hard times, people especially need to hear a word from God. Not just a word about him or even a word for him, but a word that he delivers to his people through his servants. “Is there any word from the Lᴏʀᴅ?” (Jeremiah 37:17) is the cry of the human heart.

Here is the counterintuitive part of this theme I feel led to highlight: most of us in pastoral ministry have little academic or professional preparation for hearing the voice of God.

“Evangelical is not enough”

I say this with the deepest appreciation for my seminary experience. My professors were without exception godly men and women who deeply loved the Lord and wanted to prepare us to serve him faithfully. When I joined the faculty of Southwestern Seminary to teach philosophy of religion, I found my colleagues to be as spiritually focused in person as I had known them to be in public.

However, we were an academic institution founded to offer academic preparation in an academic setting. Even my one two-hour course in spiritual formation (out of ninety-five hours required for my MDiv degree) was academically structured around readings, memorization, and scholarly engagement.

Consequently, I spent years in pastoral ministry knowing next to nothing about spiritual formation or spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline was a breakthrough for me, as was the work of Henri Nouwen and Dallas Willard. Over time, I began interacting with believers from more liturgical traditions and discovered a depth of insight and encouragement I had not known.

Then a Presbyterian pastor friend recommended Thomas Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament, and I found it especially powerful. Howard makes the simple but profound point that we evangelicals sing hymns to God that were written by others, some many centuries ago, but we refuse to pray prayers to God that were written by others. Both can become rote and ritualistic, to be sure, but both can also be sources of deep spiritual nourishment.

And so, over these years, I have come to value greatly the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and use it every day in my personal devotional time. I also read daily from Henri Nouwen and regularly from Foster and spiritual resources he recommends. And more often than not, I find in their guidance a word from God that I am then privileged to share with the world.

Learning from Dwight Moody

I am not writing to convince you to follow my example. You may have other ways of hearing God’s voice that are deeply meaningful for you. But I am writing to encourage you to make your spiritual life foundational to everything else you do, paying any price to be so close to your Father that you can hear his Spirit and then speak his truth to those you serve.

A woman accosted Dwight Moody with the assertion, “I don’t like the way you do evangelism.”

He responded, “Well, ma’am, let me ask you how you do it?”

She replied, “I don’t.”

Moody said, “Well, I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

When last did you hear a word from the Lord?

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