Takeaway: Classics are classics for a reason. If you are serious about trying to follow after God, this is a book that will challenge you no matter what your maturity.
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Finding God’s will is a common desire. Often people can be paralized because they are afraid of not finding God’s will. Hearing God is a classic. This is the third copy of the book I have owned (one given and two purchased) over the years but the first time I am actually reading it.
I like that Willard starts by moving the pressure down a notch. He has a good illustration of the fact that no parent wants to tell their children everything that they should do. Parents want to teach their children how to do something, and expect that they will do it. If they are supposed to make their bed in the morning, they should make it every morning. Children complaining that the parent did not tell them this morning to make their bed will only incur the parent’s wrath. So Willard starts telling us we should listen to what scripture says and do that.
Another good point that I have never really thought of, is that we should always read scripture assuming that the people of scripture were much like us. They were not particularly special people, they were sinful, afraid, made bad decisions, etc. If we see them as much like us, then we can assume that we to should be hearing from God and seeking to follow God’s will in relatively similar ways as the biblical characters. Since reading that section, I have been more aware of the large number of Christians that actively resist thinking of biblical characters as ‘like us’. I think it shows one area that we have far to go to move Evangelicals into historical Christian Orthodoxy.
There is a good illustration about what it means to live in Christ and hear from the Holy Spirit. My shortened, weakened version is that Cabbage is alive. But Cabbage is dead to the world of movement and play. A rabbit might be able to move and play in some form, but it is dead to the world of art and ideas. It is not that Christians that do not hear from the spirit are dead in Christ (not saved), but rather are some are blinded to the plane that the Holy Spirit is speaking to them on. He spends several pages developing it and it is much more impressive than my few lines makes it seem.
Overall what I am most impressed by, is the biblical balance that Willard attempts to strike. When you discuss hearing from God there are lots of places to veer into shaky ground. And I know that some are of the opinion that even discussing hearing from God goes too far. But Willard attempts to keep the desire to hear from God, the ways we hear from God, the reality of the power of God, and the limitations of our own understanding all front and center.
This is not a new book, but I think it would be good to read along with Bill Hybels’ Power of a Whisper (my review). Hybels spends more time talking biographically (and telling other people’s stories), which I think is helpful to put hearing from God in context of a life lived. And Hybels probably is a bit more directive in how to hear from God. But Willard is more theologically and philosophically oriented. I think the balance between them is useful.