Have you ever had this experience? You around a campfire with your close friends, or at dinner with colleagues from work, and somewhere in the middle of the conversation there is a shift. The conversation moves from news, weather, and sports to something much deeper. Your friend or colleague says something that causes you to stop and pay special attention. You are struck by their words – and you realize it is a very sacred moment!
There is a story out of Bible that describes that very same phenomenon. It a post-resurrection encounter that Jesus has with two of his friends. The friends were walking to a town called Emmaus. They were talking to each other and Jesus meets them on the road and interrupts the conversation. He asks them what they are talking about. They start explaining what took place with Jesus (his crucifixion and resurrection) and they are surprised that this man didn’t know about it. They were surprised, because they didn’t recognize that it was Jesus. Jesus was with them, but they couldn’t see it was him – until much later in the conversation. They got to Emmaus and stopped for something to eat. Jesus was with them and when he broke the bread, they finally recognized him.
Looking back on the day they reflected on the conversation, they wondered why they didn’t see it earlier. How could they have missed that Jesus had been among them,
Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road…”
There was something about the conversation that made the experience a God moment. It became a skinny place – not just because Jesus was with them physically – it became a skinny place because of what happened in their hearts as a result of their conversation.
I think this still happens, but we generally miss it. Maybe it’s because we don’t think God can show up in such a common way. Maybe it’s because we are busy, and our mind is centered on other things. Maybe we just don’t even think about it at all – which leads us back to the heart of what I’ve been addressing in this series of blogs.
God wants to break through into our everyday world – to create a skinny place, a holy place, a God moment. But, because we don’t know what to look for or because we are preoccupied, we miss out. And no where is that as common as with what I want to address in this piece.
In the last few blogs, I have encouraged you to consider ‘skinny places’ and candidly they are regular preaching topics in many church circles. For example, when we talk about the importance of the Bible, most people see it as an important Christian resource. Some may not believe all of it, but it’s importance and credibility are widely affirmed and understood. With nature, people can’t help but be overwhelmed by its beauty, and its splendor quite naturally elicits the question, “What/who is behind it?” Which (not surprisingly) leads us to its creator!
But, when it comes to finding God amid ordinary conversation, we miss this skinny place, because it’s, well, too ordinary. It’s too common place. We don’t expect God to use conversation, because it just seems way too mundane. If “GOD” were going to speak to us, or make himself known to us, he would most certainly use something much more profound and impressive.
But what if we could become more open to seeing conversation as a skinny place?
Consider this, God has always been revealed as one who places a high value on words. The entire creation account is sprinkled with the phrase, God said, and whatever he spoke, came into existence. The scriptures also regularly admonish us to be careful with our words. Most notable, in the book of James, we are given a strong warning about the destructive propensity of our words (James 3:5-10).
Point being, that though we see words/conversation as commonplace, God sees it as something sacred. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise that God might delight in using ordinary conversations as means to reveal himself to us. If so, how would that happen? We are in conversations all day long. Is every conversation a skinny place? How do anyone know, if God is trying to say something to them through a conversation with someone else?
God is spirit, and because he is spirit, he can be active in everything and through everything. God can use human conversation as a potential skinny place, in that he could choose to inspire thoughts/ideas in the mind of one person, who is then impressed to share them. In turn, those words become “the thing” someone else needed to hear.
We see this happening in a dramatic way with the prophets of the OT. God places thoughts and ideas in the minds of the prophet and God says, “Say this to my people.” Obvious skinny place!
But this doesn’t mean that is the only way it happens. In fact, I am sure most of us have had experiences somewhat like this. We have a moment where we find ourselves saying something to a friend, and then after that conversation we think, “I have no idea why I felt impressed to say that. It didn’t feel even like me talking. That seemed to come from somewhere else.” Later we hear back, “You have no idea, but that was exactly what I needing to hear…”
So, if something like that has happened, and God seems to be behind it, is there a way for us to be alert to it happening more often without it becoming weird? I believe so – through a raised awareness, developing discernment, and thinking through a confirmation grid.
- Awareness – this whole process begins by raising our awareness to the possibility that God might want to use any conversation as a potential skinny place. We all know the power of paying greater attention. When you start shopping for a car, and you find a car you really like. But you say to yourself, “I don’t know if I have ever seen this car before.” What happens? You see that same car everywhere. Was the world instantly populated with your car? No, those cars were already on the road. A lot of people liked them – just like you. The difference is that your curiosity had been piqued and you were “all of a sudden” paying attention to cars. As a result, you began to see cars that were already there – you just hadn’t noticed them before.
This same dynamic happens when we proactively start the day by saying, “God, I am open to you speaking to me through the conversations I have with other people.” We don’t have make it a big deal. You can watch a negative conversation play out in front of you, that God might use to say, “See what happens when you aren’t willing to listen…” Or, when someone says something like, “Wow, you are really good at that…” God, might whisper, “See, I have gifted you in ways that are important. You have a contribution to make…” In my mind this is a practical outworking of what the Psalmist said,
I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from whence come my help…
What is looking really all about? Isn’t it nothing more or less than having a raised awareness? Isn’t it about saying, “God, I really want to hear from you in any place at any time? I am open!” That place of openness is where it begins for all of us.
- Discernment – this is just another way of saying, having the capacity to make wise assessments. It’s about being able to catch the nuances between good, better, and best. In context of our faith, it has spiritual roots. In other words, for the Christian it is about paying attention to the working of God’s Spirit in your heart and learning to identify what is right and good for you – and what is meant for you. Paul talks about it in this way,
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…
Discernment is a learned art. Part of it is about being familiar enough with God’s word so that you can discern the difference between something that is truly part of how God works and what just sounds interesting. It is also about being confident enough in what God has already led you to do, and discerning whether (or not) what is being said/heard is consistent with that. And it’s also about growing in your recognition of God’s voice, so that you can discern between what is truly from him or what is actually an appeal to the flesh or a temptation from the evil one.
The more you develop your capacity to discern rightly, the more you might be surprised at how often God uses even normal everyday conversation as a means by which to direct your path.
- Confirmation – for many (myself included) the most common way conversation is used by God as a skinny place is as a confirmation of things already being considered.
Perhaps you have had the experience where you will read something in a book, and on the way to work you hear a song with a similar theme. Then you go to church and hear a talk that is closely related to the same idea. Finally, you end up in a conversation with a friend, and “interestingly enough” you are talking about the very same thing – and the way your friend describes it gives you words for the things you have already been feeling. As you walk away from that conversation, you can’t help but feel like a God-thing just happened. The words your friend said stick with you. They ignite something in your soul. It wasn’t just coincidence. It was confirmation. You realize that this conversation was a skinny place.
Let me close with this one last thought. It is not uncommon for people to experience a significant amount of euphoria in their initial encounters with God. When people first realize that God is real, and that Jesus laid down his life for them – it is absolutely amazing. God is everywhere. New believers can’t imagine a day where it will be any less amazing.
Over time, however, things can change. The newness wears off, and people can fall into Christian routines. It’s a better routine than before. But it can also become stale and life-less. Somehow, we all lose sight of the fact that God is “still” interested in everything going on in our lives. We can sometimes complain that, “He doesn’t seem real. He doesn’t seem close. We are not sure what to do…” I get it, that’s life…
But, but, but…is it also possible that we have grown accustomed to a Christian routine that doesn’t really take the time to stop and read, and stop and see and stop and listen to the everyday ways in which God still speaks today. And if you can relate to that at all, let me close this series with a prayer. I invite you to join me.
God, I open myself up to a new level of interaction with you – through your sacred words in scripture, through the creative work of your hand in nature, and even through the ordinary words that come my way in the course of casual conversation. Should you grace me with a skinny place, I will pay attention. I’m here, waiting, anticipating and wanting to walk with you afresh!