Wednesday, July 28, 2010

‘The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond’ by Bill Hybels – Book Review

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One of the most influential and well-known pastors in the United States is Bill Hybels, whose latest book is entitled ‘The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond.’

Here is the synopsis of this book:

“Without a hint of exaggeration,” says pastor author Bill Hybels in his new book, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond, “the ability to discern divine direction has saved me from a life of sure boredom and self-destruction. God’s well-timed words have redirected my path, rescued me from temptation, and reenergized me during some of my deepest moments of despair.”
In The Power of a Whisper, vision is cast for what life can look like when God’s followers choose to hear from heaven as they navigate life on earth. Whispers that arbitrate key decisions, nudges that rescue from dark nights of the soul, prompting that spur on growth, urgings that come by way of another person, inspiration that opens once-glazed-over eyes to the terrible plight people face in this world – through firsthand accounts spanning fifty-seven years of life, more than thirty of which have been spent in the trenches of ministry, Hybels promotes passion in Christ-followers’ hearts for being wide open to hearing from God, and for getting gutsier about doing exactly what he says to do.

Here is the biography of this author:

Bill Hybels is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. He has authored or coauthored over twenty books, including Holy Discontent, Just Walk Across the Room, and Courageous Leadership, and has written numerous Bible Studies in the Walking with God, InterActions, and New Communities series

And here is Pastor Hybels talking about his latest book:

In the Foreword by Wayne Cordeiro (a pastor in Hawaii), he states that we are supposed to be attuned to the voice of God:

There is a frequency that your life was designed to be tuned to, and that frequency is the unique voice of God. Once you learn to hear it – and you actually can get better at picking it out – you will find that your craving for it intensifies as your soul cranes to hear more from him. I experienced it first as a twelve-year-old and have known it consistently since; the ability to absorb heaven-sent input fills the sails of your life like nothing or no one else can. (p. 12)

In the Introduction, entitled ‘A Fifty-Year Whisper-Filled Odyssey,’ Pastor Hybels asserts this:

Still, I’ve come to believe that hearing the quiet whisper of the transcendent God is one of the most extraordinary privileges in all of life – and potentially the most transforming dynamic in the Christian faith. When people hear from heaven, they are rarely the same again. When the sovereign God chooses to communicate with someone – whether eight, eighteen or eighty years old – that person’s world is rocked. Without a hint of exaggeration, I can boldly declare that God’s low-volume whispers have saved me from a life of sure boredom and self-destruction. They have redirected my path, rescued me from temptation and reenergized me during some of my deepest moments of despair. They inspire me to live my life at what boaters call “wide-open throttle” – full on! (p. 17)

That certainly sounds to me like that is the way God wants us to live our lives!

Early in Bill’s life, he realized that working in the business world was not where God wanted him – and was not going to be fulfilling in any way:

Hearing my thoughts, God responded with a whisper. “Bill, almost everyone you know is living for additional income, and yet you have not spent the last two bonus checks that are still tucked inside your wallet. How many checks will you need to pile up before you get it? If money fired you up, you would have used your last two bullets by now. Paychecks are never going to energize you, Bill. That is not who I wired you to be.”
…Inside my room, I sat with my palms upturned on my lap. With the most sincere words I knew how to say, I prayed, “God, guide my life toward a purpose that really will count. I am wide open to how you would choose to lead my life!”
I heard no audible response. Nothing. Instead, an odd feeling swept over me – the kind of feeling that race car drivers must feel when they’re barreling into a turn at high speed and they start to lost control of their cars – a feeling of pure adrenaline mixed with terror.
Within months of that monumental evening, I would walk away from my family’s business, live the comfortable life I had known in Kalamazoo and move to Chicago where I would help a friend lead the youth ministry that eventually gave birth to Willow Creek Community Church. I was finally beginning to grasp that whispers matter. They matter a lot. (p. 30)

Pastor Hybels points out that there can be a high cost to listening to the whispers:

Whispers can be dangerous things. They can come with high price tags. God’s whisper to his Son, Jesus – to make a redemptive visit to planet Earth – was a costly one…. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a certain number of whispers that come our way will drive us to our knees and stretch our faith like nothing else can. So be it. We only live once, and I much prefer the idea of standing before God one day, having done his bidding to the best of my understanding than to face him knowing full well that I ignored his voice and sidestepped the tougher promptings I received. What started for me with the reciting of a poem to Miss Van Solen is what I cling to still, to this day:
          Oh! Give me Samuel’s ear,
          An open ear, O Lord,
          Alive and quick to hear
          Each whisper of Thy Word;
          Like him to answer to Thy call
          And to obey Thee first of all. (pp. 36-37)  

Scriptures shows us how God uses whispers:

If there is a pattern in Scripture regarding whispers, it is that we serve a communicating God – a God of words. He created with a word, he healing with a word, he encouraged with a word, he rebuked with a word, he guided with a word, he prophesied with a word, he assured with a word, he loved with a word, he served with a word, and he comforted with a word. Throughout all of history, God has communicated, and he still is at it today. The issue isn’t whether or not God is speaking; it’s whether we will have ears to hear what he says. (p. 50)

One way that God speaks to us is to give us correction; often, we are likely to want to ignore those whispers:

If there’s ever a time when you and I employ “selective listening,” its’ when we’re on the receiving end of a dressing-down, courtesy of God himself. Have you noticed this dynamic along the way? God suggests that you stop doing something or start doing something, or, for once in your life, act your age, and instantly, God gets tuned out. “Surely that piece of insight wasn’t from God,” you think. “I was probably just making that up.”
You go on your pre-planned way, thinking everything is copacetic once more, until minutes or days or a few weeks later, when you careen face-first into the brick wall known as God’s wisdom, and realize it was his voice you actually ignored. (p. 71)

Pastor Hybels had sent out a request via email for examples of people from Willow Creek and elsewhere hearing God’s whisper. Here’s once from the other side of the world:

A woman in Australia named Liz recounted the experience of hearing God’s admonishing whisper after visiting the brand-new home of her sister-in-law. “After I left,” Liz wrote, “I sat in my car outside and felt deep pangs of jealousy and self-pity welling up. I wanted the beautiful home and perfect furnishings that my sister-in-law now enjoyed, but as soon as I let myself entertain those thoughts, God broke in with a simple request: ‘Liz, make me your treasure,’ he said. ‘I am everything you need.’” (p. 73)

Pastor Hybels commented:

I received other stories of admonishment – how God corrected a course, reversed a deadly habit, asked for fuller commitment from one of his kids – and each time I’d get to the end of the story, I would think of the power of going God’ way in life instead of insisting on following our own path. Before you get to the final story, please carefully read this next phrase: There is no more critical goal in life than to keep a pliable heart before God.
God cannot be seen by spiritual eyes that are shut.
God cannot be heard by spiritual ears that are plugged.
And God cannot be followed by a heart that stubbornly stays hard. (p. 78)

I loved this insight:

The goal of the Christ-following life is to grow to the point that we live in God’s reality – that we love like he loves, serve like he serves, give like he gives, show compassion like he shows it. And that’s a way of life we’ll only maintain consistently by hearing from heaven on a regular basis. Take to heart the stories you’ve just read. Tell God you want to live wide open to his whispers of assurance, his words of admonition and his promptings to take kingdom-building action in your world. I promise he will deliver on his commitment to guide your steps. (p. 89)

We need to be careful that we are clearly hearing and understanding God’s whisper:

Hearing from God is not like receiving a text message or reading an email. We humans can get in the way. Believe me, I am more than capable of hearing what I wish God were saying rather than what he is actually telling me – and perhaps you are too. Discerning God’s direction is somewhat subjective, but it’s not arbitrary. Even though God’s whispers are rarely tangible, there are concrete steps we can take to help us discern if we’re hearing from God or hearing from the bad sushi we had last night. (p. 91)

This is an interesting observation on what Pastor Hybels has learned from people who claim to have never heard God’s whisper:

In the course of ministry life, I meet many people who claim to have never heard the promptings or whispers of God. Not even once. Sometimes when I probe a little deeper, I discover that their lives are so full of noise that they can’t possibly hear the Holy Spirit when he speaks. Cell phone calls during their commute, boisterous restaurant gatherings with friends, a houseful of excitable toddlers or countless hours of reality TV provide a constant roar of distraction that drowns out any whisper that might be sent their way. (p. 94)

Being a media hound – and an avid reader… - I can attest to the fact that distractions are everywhere, and we need to make a conscious effort to make sure quiet time is available. It is of utmost importance!

Jesus was a perfect example of what we should do:

Jesus himself adopted this practice during his ministry here on earth. The biblical record shows that Jesus wove into the fabric of his everyday life the disciplines of prayer, solitude, reflection, fasting, and worship. He had favorite places to be alone with his Father and favorite places to pray in private. When he faced major decisions, his pattern was to withdraw from the crowds around him and to devote time to solitude and prayer. Not surprisingly, the net effect of a lifestyle was the increasing likelihood of hearing from his Father. (p. 95)

Here are five filters to help test every whisper (pp. 99-106):

1.   Is the Prompting Truly from God?
2.   Is It Scriptural?
3.   Is It Wise?
4.   Is It in Tune with Your Own Character?
5.   What Do the People You Most Trust Think about It?

The Bible is a great way to hear God’s whisper:

The most predictable way to hear from heaven is to read and apply God’s Word. When you increase your biblical engagement, you increase the odds that you’ll hear from God – that’s as complicated as it gets. After all, God already has written down his advice on the most common dilemmas we will face in this world – things like relationships, communication and money management – wouldn’t we do well to take advantage of that? Psalm 119:105 says that God’s Word is “a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” For more than four decades, whenever I’ve needed illumination in life, the Word of God has never disappointed. (p. 117)

God often speaks to us through others; Pastor Hybels offers this advice:

The next time a trusted friend calls us and asks, “Hey, do you think we could talk about something I’m seeing in your life?” I challenge you to lay down your defenses and to pick up humility instead. Tell your friend you’d love to meet – and mean it – trusting that God might have better days in store for you through the wisdom found in their words. One of the ways both you and I will experience a better, more righteous life is to heed those whispers. Open your ears to the in-the-flesh counsel your Father wants to communicate to you today. You’ll never regret the surges of wisdom those interactions might bring. (p. 206)

The world has been changed by people who heed the whispers of God; here’s one example:

Then there is Gary Haugen, the founder and president of International Justice Mission (IJM). In the late 1990s, life was going just fine for Gary, a Harvard-trained lawyer – until one day when God whispered a plea into his ear. “Gary,” the Holy Spirit said, “it’s time you use your legal background to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.”  Today, IJM has field offices in fourteen countries and a staff of hundreds, all of whom are laying down their lives to secure justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and the violent oppression that wreaks havoc in our world. (p. 211)

Pastor Hybels closes out this practical book this way:

You can choose today to be a just-say-the-word kind of follower, someone who jumps at the chance to obey the divine whispers sent straight from heaven to your upturned ear. You can choose to live with an increased awareness of those whispers, an expanded heart to follow through, and an enhanced eternity because of it. You can choose to take God at his word – that he has spiritual goodness and blessing in store for you, when you surrender to all of his ways.
It we were to boil down Christianity to its core, we’d be left with simply this: Relationship with God. The living, loving God of the universe has spoken throughout history, and still speaks today- not just to pastors or priest, but to anyone who will listen. God will speak to you. No matter what spiritual condition you find yourself in, if you train your ear to be open to heaven, God will speak.
A grand adventure with your name on it is on his lips. Tune your ears toward heaven, and he will direct your steps, accompany your path and celebrate your faithfulness one day, in the “flourishing finish” the apostle Paul describes in Philippians 1:6. “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind,” that verse says, “that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” (MSG). (p. 259)

This is the first book of Pastor Hybels that I have read – and I was pleasantly surprised.  I loved the truths in this book; it is clear to me that he has a heart for God and for people.

It is wonderful that Pastor Hybels took the time to study about this important topic. Many pastors in his position perhaps might be too busy to seek after God (funny as that may sound). I am grateful that he took the time to explore these truths in depth and to impart them to his readers.

You can order this book here.

The Advance Reading Copy of this book was provided by Zondervan for review purposes.

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