Friday, October 6, 2017

How I Learned to Listen to the Voice of God

Post by: Thomas Cross

In 1993, I arrived in Haxtun for my first solo pastorate after serving for six years as an associate pastor. Haxtun is 30 miles east of Sterling, a farm community of about 1,000. I had never lived in a rural community before, and it took me some time to understand the culture of the town and church. Fortunately, God was ready to teach me some new lessons. All I needed to do was give God room to speak – and start listening.

I served as pastor there for seven years, and found my time at Haxtun to be a rich season of learning, growing, teaching, and ministering. It was at Haxtun that I learned to listen to the voice of God and to be responsive to the ways that God was moving in our midst. I am profoundly thankful for all I learned during this fascinating season.

During my time in Haxtun, I learned that God speaks in quiet meditation, through other people, and through the Scriptures. My two favorite memories in Haxtun are of the group which read and discussed the entire Bible over the course of 18 months, and of the God Squad we started for older elementary students at the encouragement of Diana Green.

Early on in my tenure, we discussed the possibility of starting a contemporary worship service, but God made it clear that it wasn’t quite time for it yet. In those days, I was always on the go, attending meetings and events, visiting people, and writing. But God found a place where He could get my attention. This was in the sauna at the local health club on a day that only the desk attendant was in the building. To my surprise, in that quiet moment, God spoke to me with great clarity, instructing me to advise the Church Council to pursue a blended worship service rather than a contemporary one.

So we developed a lively spirited traditional worship service with Pat Meakins directing a good-sized adult choir, and Adele McConnell directing the children’s choir. About a dozen different people took turns playing the piano and organ together on a rotating schedule. We purchased a second hymnal, The Celebration Hymnal, which featured praise choruses and blended worship sequences in the same key, mixing liturgy, choruses, and hymns. It simply wasn’t yet time for the contemporary service.

A couple of years later, God spoke to me through two members of the congregation. The first was a delightful middle-aged gentleman, a farmer, who had an idea for a new small group. He suggested a group that would read through the Bible, cover to cover, over a year’s time. This idea didn’t immediately appeal to me, because it sounded like a lot of work, but somehow I knew it was inspired by God. So I advertised the group and was pleasantly surprised when a dozen people from the church and community registered to participate.

We met every two weeks on Sunday evenings, discussing the insights the Spirit gave us, as well as the questions that puzzled us. It took more than 18 months, but we covered the whole Bible. I wish I had recorded our discussions; they were profound.

Then Diana Green, one of our faithful parents, approached me with an idea for a youth group for older elementary children. We already had a long-standing high school youth group, and I had started a junior high group with the help of a few parents. The junior high group was proving to be a bit of a struggle. Diana explained that the time to start interacting with the youth was at the age of identification, when they still admire adults and want to imitate them. With those bonds formed during the elementary years, productive relationships would continue through the years. Diana was absolutely correct, and the God Squad was born. Our three youth groups grew to be quite large, involving 75 students from the church and the larger community.

Finally, I learned to hear the voice of God in Scripture during my years in Haxtun. This started during our Bible-reading group, as verses would jump off the page and speak to me as I read passages in preparation for our discussions. I began to realize the Spirit was speaking me through Scripture and helping me to understand its meaning. Our Sunday-night discussions were rich, as we all shared what God was revealing to us.

Then in the summer of 1997, I attended the Aldersgate Renewal Conference in Dayton, Ohio. This conference was sponsored by Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, the charismatic United Methodist group which Darryl and June Todd helped to lead. Jack Pedotto, my colleague from Holyoke, took me to this fascinating conference. To my surprise, at every session I attended, somebody quoted Psalm 37. Some people quoted it in their remarks, and others quoted it in one-on-one conversations. It was clear that God was giving me a specific message for that season of my life, and I took Psalm 37 to heart. Its message, to delight in Yahweh, stop fretting, and keep trusting, became dear to me. My life changed as I practiced these principles.

As I let this message soak into my spirit, I realized it was a message God wanted me to share with the church and community as well, which I did over time. Returning from Aldersgate ’97 was an invigorating experience as well. With my glow from basking in the Holy Spirit, I discovered I could have spiritual conversations with people as I went about my business. I experienced many “God winks” that summer, connecting with people on a deeper level than before.

Before moving to Haxtun, I had no idea that our God is a speaking God. Given the fact that the Christ is referred to as the Word, I should have understood this truth, but some lessons are learned only by experience. Having lived my life at warp speed before my years in Haxtun, I hadn’t left large enough margins in my life to hear God’s voice. It was in Haxtun that I learned to slow down, practice quiet meditation, and read the Scriptures with expectation. I also learned to listen for God’s voice in others, whether they were quoting Scripture or suggesting new ministries. I would never be the same.

Thomas Cross is one of the pastors at BUMC, starting his ninth year here.  He loves to help people grow in Christ and start new small groups.  He says his passion is ‘to introduce people to the God I know through Jesus Christ, the God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.’  He enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, going to movies, working out, collecting art, listening to jazz music, and watching the Broncos for fun.  And he has a blast meeting with the diverse small groups he facilitates! 

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