Wednesday, February 01, 2006

How do You Hear God Speak?

Teens of Different Faiths Share How They Hear God Speaking to Them

The controversial show, “The Book of Daniel,” is cancelled. That was fast. I wanted to see for myself what all of the hubbub was about because the only commercial I saw intrigued me. It was the one where the Episcopalian priest is driving along, and what do you know, Jesus appears right there in the passenger’s seat. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but they look like they’re having an ordinary conversation, maybe about whether the new coffee shop is really necessary, or possibly something a little deeper, like providing help to inner city families.

Anyway, the commercial unsettled me, but not in the way most Christians were troubled. Mulling over my uneasiness, I realized I actually envied the priest’s experience with Jesus. I mean, how many times have I walked to the mailbox, waited in line or driven somewhere, casually praying and even imagining what it would be like if Jesus were there with me in person? How would I react? Would I still be familiar and casual in my prayer, or would I immediately switch to a more reverent attitude? What would He look like? Would He smile at me? Would He share a deep meaningful truth or offer something simple enough for me to grasp instantly, like, “Better keep your eyes on the road.” Hey, that could be either simple or deep, depending on how you interpret it! Whatever would happen, I yearn for His presence; I want Him by my side.

I haven’t always felt that way, especially when I was a teenager. In fact, the possibility of God popping up and giving me a verbal scathing if not a lightning bolt terrified me. Although I wouldn’t have admitted this, I secretly believed God didn’t really care for me personally because I messed up so much. However, because He said in scripture that He would love and accept anyone who came to Him, I figured He sort of had to keep His word and at least tolerate me. No wonder I feared Him more than I loved Him! It saddens me to know that my level of intimacy and communication with God was so misguided and underdeveloped that I missed a lot of precious opportunities to be in a deeper relationship with Him. However, when I had children of my own, almost immediately, I experienced unconditional, extravagant love and made the connection that my parental love was miniature model of God’s parental love, and my life was changed forever.

Because of my teenage experience, I’ve been wondering how today’s teenagers think about communicating with God. Do they fear Him? Do they yearn for Him? Do they sense Him guiding them, protecting them? Do they talk to Him daily or mainly whenever they need help? How do teens hear God in spite of distractions such as media, friends and activities? And because I’m interested in and love teenagers as individuals and children of God, even when their beliefs are radically different from mine, I want to know how kids of different faiths talk to God, as well.

I asked Solomon Sajjad, Muslim and senior at Yorktown High School, about his prayer life.

“As a Muslim, I follow the laws of Islam and pray five times a day. At the Islamic Center of Muncie, the Imam leads the prayers, and we follow. When I am at home, I may slowly recite a prayer, and if I concentrate intently, I believe Allah is watching me. If I need something, if I am very, very sincere, I believe He sees me.”

When asked what he would do or say if Allah were suddenly in front of him, Solomon said, “I would ask Him to help me follow his laws, guide me to Paradise, and save me from Hellfire.”

Brady Ridge, a junior at Delta High School who belongs to the Latter Day Saints faith, says, “My Heavenly Father often prompts me as I read scripture to make corrections in my life or to do more to serve Him. I usually pray when I wake up, or during the day if trouble comes up, or if I’m thankful for something, and again at night. My Heavenly Father is always available to me.”

When asked if his prayers were conversational or formal, he replied, “They are conversational but with respect and reverence. I would never begin a prayer like, “Yo, God!”

Brady’s reply to God suddenly appearing beside him was, “I guess I would be like the biblical characters and fall on my face out of reverence, or at least kneel. I would be at a loss for words, and I would probably cry. As for what He would say to me, I hope He would give me words of encouragement and instruction, and I hope He would say He is proud of me, and I know He would say He loves me.”

Bethany Planton, a Christian who attends Heritage Hall, shared, “Right now, it seems like God is telling me ‘No’ to one of my prayers, which has been very hard to deal with, but I keep trusting His perfect plan. Prayer does change my perspective. Each time I pray about something, I usually see it in a new light. I had to really pray about going on a mission trip this summer, but because I prayed about it, it made the decision a lot easier.”

Kraig Lehman has pastored Christian youth for 13 years. He offers this insight: “In my experience, I feel there are some young people that we, ‘the elderly,’ can learn from. While many teenagers do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, there are those who have the child-like faith that Jesus speaks of in the gospels. In fact, teenagers who have such a strong faith in God and know that He answers prayers have helped shape my faith. In fact, I have asked myself, ‘Why don’t I have that same kind of childlike faith?’ As a result, at a recent funeral, I was imagining how incredible it would be to see the dead rise from their caskets as they did in Jesus’ day. I found myself praying for that person to rise up, and I can’t help but think it’s because I have been around young people for so long that those thoughts enter my mind.”

Stacy Wall spent five years working with students through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. She encourages teenagers to keep talking to God even when they can’t hear or sense a concrete answer to prayer. Stacy suggests, “Just the same way you’re trying to figure out your relationship with your parents or friends, you have to stay in communication with God, even when you’re unsure about the relationship. Having doubts or struggles is OK and normal, but don’t stop pursuing your relationship with Him; don’t give up because you don’t ‘feel’ an immediate solution or answer. ”

For some reason, God chose prayer as the main method of communication between Him and us. It was His idea, and He loves for us to talk to Him and listen for His voice. What an awesome thought--that the God of the universe likes for us to verbalize what’s on our finite minds to Him--whether we’re on our knees or stopped at a light. Every once in a while, my childlike faith emerges, and I steal a glance at the passenger seat, in hopes of seeing Him there, smiling.

No comments: