Feeling close to Abba-Father even while we are being disciplined — especially while we are being disciplined – comes from knowing how precious we are to the Father. Discipline is meant to be an exchange of love. In a trusting relationship, we are glad to receive instructions that will purify us. And the Father, who wants only what is best for us, is glad that we are glad — just as any good parent is happy when the child accepts the lesson being taught. But to reach this level of trust, we need to know how to differentiate the Father’s voice from other voices.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17 NIV).
Do you know why Jesus was baptized? He wasn’t in need of repentance like everyone else who came to hear John the Baptizer.
Thirty years prior, Jesus had humbled himself to become one of us, uniting himself to sinners so that he could take onto himself the punishment of our sins. Now here, at the initiation of his public ministry, he surrendered himself to the baptismal water so that when we are baptized, he is there in the water with us, raising us up to a new life, the holy life, everlasting life.
Everything that Jesus did is meant to reveal, by his example, not only what God the Father is really like, but also who we are. As the Son of God, he shows the children of God what the Father created us to be like and how we can live as children of God.
So, when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” he showed us by example what happens at every person’s baptism.
The Holy Spirit descended upon YOU and the Father said about YOU: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased!”
Do you find this hard to believe? Yes it’s true that he knows what we do wrong. Yes he knows how we have sinned and which sins we have not yet repented from. But he also knows how much you want to be one of his true children. He knows that you want to be holy. He knows that you’re working at it, improving from day to day or perhaps from week to week. The Father is very pleased with you because you are not rejecting him but are seeking to grow closer to him. The Father is very pleased with you because you are interested in healing your image of him. The Father is very pleased that you want to spend eternity with him.
What do you think the Father’s voice sounds like when he tells you that he is pleased with you? Can you bring to mind a parent or teacher or coach who praised you because something you did or said was very pleasing? Project that person’s voice and smile onto God the Father.
But what about your sins? What does the Father’s voice sound like when you sin? Is it scolding? Belittling? Frightening?
There’s a huge difference between the scolding voice of a human parent and Abba-Father’s corrective voice. The Devil likes to counterfeit the Father’s role. The Devil abuses our memories of getting scolded by humans who were displeased with us. He knows how to push your buttons and make you feel belittled and frightened of God’s displeasure.
The good news is: There’s an easy way to spot the difference between the Father’s reprimands and any other voice. When the Father calls our attention to what we’ve done wrong, we actually feel delighted. We feel the goodness behind the call to repent.
I can remember my dad yelling at me for not helping Mom do the household chores. He succeeded in making me change my ways, but I resented him for not pitching in to help alongside me. Abba-Father, on the other hand, is able to call my attention to a sin I’m committing and at the same time give me strength to overcome the sin. He’s on my side! He does the chores with me. He supports me and renews me whenever I’m weak or tired.
There is so much love in the gift of his assistance that my heart melts. Any resistance I have against repenting dissolves away in his embrace.
God in his wonderfully compassionate goodness empowers us to make necessary changes. This is especially evident in the Sacrament of Confession because, as a sacrament, it provides a supernatural grace that is not available during one-on-one, alone-with-God confessions.
Here’s an example: One time when I was mad at my husband Ralph, I went to Confession but I didn’t really want to stop being angry with him. I knew that my anger could be used as leverage to make Ralph change his mind about what he was doing.
So, after confessing a number of other sins, the priest asked, “Is there anything else?” (This is another advantage of going to Confession. During one-on-one with God, it’s a lot easier to pretend that there is nothing else.)
Reluctantly, I nodded my head.
After explaining the whole situation to the priest — including why Ralph was in the wrong — he asked, “Do you want to stop being angry at him?”
I tried to shake my head “no”. But I knew God was waiting for my “yes.” I felt no condemnation. I felt no fear of punishment. What I felt was God waiting patiently. And a loving nudge to take the next step.
Almost imperceptibly, I nodded. “Okay, yes,” I said to the priest. “I don’t want to stop being angry at Ralph, but okay, I sort of do. Just a little.”
“That is all that God needs!” the priest replied. And he continued with the prayers of the sacrament. Through the priest, Jesus gave me absolution. Through my tiny bit of willingness to change, Abba-Father gave me peace. Peace! Suddenly I no longer felt angry at all. Through no effort of my own except a slight nod of the head, my heart changed.
The Accuser’s voice
When we hear any accusatory voice, we should never listen to it. Not at all. Never ever. It’s the sound of condemnation. If it make us feel belittled, unworthy of love, undeserving of good things, unable to receive forgiveness, that’s not Father God speaking.
Always prayerfully discern the voice that whispers in your mind and the message that comes to you through the people in your life. If it agrees with what God says about you, believe it.
Or here’s an easier way to discern whose voice is trying to get your attention: If it’s loving, if it’s affirming, if it builds you up, if it acknowledges that you are good and helps bring out the best in you even though you are far from perfect — believe it.
In Philippians 4:4-7, we read that if we rejoice in the Lord always (trusting him, grateful that he is with us through good times and bad), “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV).
The Accuser’s voice wounds your heart and confuses your mind. And it lacks the peace of God.
Continuing with verses 8 of Philippians 4, we see another clue about what God says about you: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” This scripture is advising us to think about such things because they are all reflections of the true nature of God. Therefore, because we were made in the image and likeness of God, they describe our own true nature. It may take the rest of our earthly lives to become fully who God created us to be (which is the journey of sainthood), but know this:
Whenever the Father speaks to you, he speaks to whatever is true in you, whatever is noble, what is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy in you.
On the other hand, if the voice disagrees with Abba’s nature and what he has said about you, reject it. It’s Satan accusing you. And he’s a liar. Jesus called him the father of lies (see John 8:44). Satan wants to undermine your relation with God the Father so that he can become your spiritual father.
For example, Abba-Father would never say to you, “You’re a sinner, therefore I do not love you.” Or, “You’re a failure.” Or, “You’re not good enough.” Nor would he ever communicate words of shame to you. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again because it’s so vital to your relationship with the Father: The Father created you as “good” (see Genesis 1:26-31). You were made in the image of God and he always sees the good in you. When he invites repentance, it is with encouragement, never shame.
There is no condemnation for us if we are in Christ Jesus, because Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and the punishment of death. He gave us his own Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:1-2), and therefore when the Father looks at us, he sees the Holy Spirit and he sees our desire to grow in holiness. Even if that desire is nearly imperceptible, he sees it. He smiles at you and embraces you and affirms what is good in you.
Only those who have no such desire should worry about condemnation. There are many who claim to believe in Jesus but, lacking a desire to be holy, they do not remain in him. They do not follow him. Even demons believe in Jesus — which is why they work so hard to pull us away from him.
This is the only unforgivable sin: To reject the desire to be holy. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29 NIV). Heaven is only for the holy. No one who deliberately rejects holiness will want to spend eternity with God and the saints.
Isn’t it ironic that we live in a world where holiness is mocked (“She acts like she’s holier than thou.”) and sin is glorified (“If it feels right to you, do it.”) even in our own churches?
Every person who rejects Jesus and the path of holiness was created with an inherent desire to seek God and to do good, but they’ve been taught to go against their true nature. Jesus took to the Cross the sins of evil-doers, and the Holy Spirit wants to enliven in them what is holy. That’s the plan.
However, they have heard the Accuser’s voice condemn them. People often live up to (or down in) what is expected of them. “You will never amount to much with bad school marks like these” might start as a parent’s imperfect attempt to inspire greatness, but the Accuser shouts, “You will never amount to much!” every time the child makes a mistake, and so a lie becomes a life-long misconception about us and about Father God’s goodness.
Jesus has given us the power to silence the Accuser. We can succeed just like he did when he was tempted. He told Satan the truth as God had revealed it. Saint James tells us to “resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Resistance is not passive. Nor does resistance mean pushing the accusations out of your mind, which can be oh! so hard to do. And resistance is not a form of self-defense.
Saint Teresa of Avila said:
When the Devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future! The Devil will try to upset you by accusing you of being unworthy of the blessings that you have received. Simply remain cheerful and do your best to ignore the Devil’s nagging. If need be even laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Satan, the epitome of sin itself, accuses you of unworthiness!
To resist the Devil and make him stop his accusations, we do what he doesn’t want us to do. We confidently rejoice in who we are to Abba-Father. We crush his lies by quoting scriptures out loud or by doing the opposite of what the Devil wants us to do.
Today’s Exercise Part 1: Silence the lies
Write down some of the accusations or condemnatory statements that have been said to you or about you. Also list some of the bad things that you think about yourself. While you’re doing this, if any of it disturbs you, stop and say, “Aha! That is the voice of the Accuser!” You are allowed to reject every one of them as a lie. In fact, renouncing these lies is exactly what Abba-Father wants you to do so that you can hear his compassionate, fatherly voice more clearly. So do this exercise now, before continuing with this day.
* * *
The Father’s voice
Probably a few of what you listed above contain a half-truth about you. We all make mistakes. We all have faults. We all love others imperfectly. But while the Accuser condemns us for what is wrong about us, Abba-Father praises us for what is right about us. And that’s not all! If we desire it, the Father addresses what is wrong in what we have done and empowers us to grow in holiness. He blesses us with lessons to learn from our mistakes. He increases our compassion for others so that we become less likely to sin against them.
Our Divine Daddy looks at our willingness to change — no matter how tiny our willingness is — and rejoices.
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17 ESV).
Loud singing! Can you hear your Heavenly Father singing over you with loudness?
A silent father is a difficult father to know.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27 ESV). Now remember, everything he said and did came from the Father. Jesus was the Word of the Father made flesh (see John 1:1-5). Therefore, whenever you think that Jesus is speaking to you — either through a scripture, a song, a homily, direct revelation, or a friend — it is the Father you hear. He speaks through Jesus who is the Word of God.
Let’s also realize the Holy Spirit’s role in this. Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26 NIV). In other words, the Holy Spirit brings us the messages of the Father. Ever since the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, the Spirit of God has been that Person of the Holy Trinity who empowers Christians to hear and understand the voice of the Father.
In the Sacrament of our Baptisms, we received all three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The voice of the Father is therefore already in us. Jesus frees us from the Accuser so we can hear the Father. The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the Father.
You might be wondering: Which Person of the Holy Trinity we should be praying to and listening for? Aren’t they all equal? Don’t we pray to the Father through the Son with the help of the Holy Spirit? Does God care how we address our prayers?
It doesn’t really matter which One of the Trinity you pray to, since they are all the same God. Each Person of God relates to us in a different way for a different purpose. For example, Jesus is our Savior, not the Father nor the Holy Spirit, and yet both Father and Holy Spirit are key to the salvation plan as much as Jesus is. Another example: the Father fathered us in our mother’s womb. We are his children. But Jesus and the Holy Spirit are totally involved in this.
For what we want to accomplish in this book, we’re focusing on the First Person of the Trinity. But having a personal relationship with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit are needed while we heal and journey our way deeper and deeper into the Father’s heart.
Don’t get hung up on which is which. When God speaks to you or ministers to you or blesses you, all three Persons are involved.
How to recognize the Father’s voice
Sheep really do know whose voice to follow, and they come running — not sauntering, not procrastinating — but running to the shepherd when they hear him. We need that kind of relationship with Jesus because when we run to him we are running to the Father. When Jesus calls, it is the Father calling.
To more fully understand this, take a few minutes to go to YouTube and search for “my sheep hear my voice”. This will locate several videos of sheep responding to their shepherd. Watch a couple of them. My favorite one is called Do sheep only obey their Master’s voice? by Way2Much Productions, which I’ve posted here.
Awesome to watch, right? It gives me goosebumps every time I watch this video, and a tear or two of joy.
The more time we spend with Jesus the Good Shepherd, the easier it becomes to recognize when God is speaking to us and to discern what he’s actually saying. We accomplish this by reading the Bible, going to church, attending parish missions and other adult faith formation opportunities, reading spiritual books (like this one), and listening to videos and podcasts that do not contradict the Bible and Church teachings (like my Footsteps to Heaven podcasts @ footstepstoheaven.com).
Meanwhile, here are three questions that can help you sort the Father’s voice from your own imagination and from any other voice. First, though, do a background check. Make sure that the message passes the test of: Does it contradict scripture and Church teachings? If you don’t know the answer to that, ask clergy or a spiritual director or a friend who is knowledgeable about such things.
- Is it affirming? Even when Abba-Father chastises us because we have sinned, he is always full of awareness of what is good in us, and he speaks to us with a desire to bring out that goodness and to strengthen us in it.
- Do you feel uplifted? Abba’s messages always include or begin with some version of, “I am here to help you. I care about you. You are My beloved.” When Jesus told someone, “Go and sin no more,” it was with the Father’s belief that this person could and would embrace a life of holiness. It was a command based on hope — the kind of hope that knows the future. Therefore, it was more than a command. It was a message that completed a healing.
- Do you feel loved? Every time Abba-Father speaks to us, he is loving us, completely and unconditionally. Jesus did not come to save us from the Father’s wrath; that’s an old misconception about God. Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love. Focusing on what is wrong with us does not accomplish the Father’s plan. Berating us for our sins does not make us holy. Rather, the more fully we understand, accept, and return the Father’s generous love, the holier we become. Sin becomes easier to resist.
These questions are ideal when we’re asking the Lord for guidance. They identify the false guidance of wolves who want to devour the sheep and the poor guidance of half-hearted shepherds who might inadvertently lead the sheep astray.
When I was around ten or eleven years old, I asked my parents, “Do miracles happen today like they did in the Bible?” My family belonged to a mainstream Protestant denomination. My dad was a minister and therefore should know the answer, right? Well, that’s what I expected. However, neither of my parents had ever witnessed the supernatural the way the first Christians did in the Book of Acts.
“No,” they answered me. “That was just for getting the Church started.” In other words, today we no longer need to raise people from the dead or heal the lame or multiply food. That showiness of God converted a lot of people in the beginning, but now we have a well-established Church.
My inner lamb did not recognize that voice. I knew they were wrong. I thought, “Of course we still need miracles today. Of course there are still a lot of people to convert.”
I looked around the sheepfold for another voice. This was before the days of Christian television channels and long before the Internet made it easy to search for testimonies and photos of miracles. So by the time I was 14, since I couldn’t find anyone in church who believed in miracles, I began looking outside the church. I discovered that there are many who claim to experience the supernatural: psychics, astrologers, tarot card readers, and the like. At the library, I found nothing about Saints (lots of miracles there but I wasn’t Catholic yet and I didn’t even think to research Saints), nor anything about modern-day activities of the Holy Spirit (again, I didn’t know how to look for it).
What I did find were plenty of books on the occult.
I read them avidly. Thus began my journey away from the Good Shepherd. What I learned was exciting and I shared it with my sister and friends. We formed a “psychic club” to experiment with what I was reading. By the time I was 20 and moved away from home as a newlywed, I had lost all interest in the One who had been my Best Friend since my earliest childhood. I still believed in Jesus, but I no longer spent any time with him.
A friend named Janet gave me a book that explained how the ghosts I contacted in séances were really demons. Since I no longer recognized the voice of the Good Shepherd, I didn’t believe it.
In my Senior year of high school, I started dating Ralph. I wanted to get him involved in my occult activities, but as soon as he tried it, he saw a demon and ran out of the house because it was trying to suck him into something like a “black hole”. That should have warned me, but I shrugged it off.
My friend Ed also tried to warn me. I didn’t believe him either. He became a priest in 1975, the same year Ralph and I got married. A couple of years later, Father Ed spent a week of his vacation with us. He didn’t try to set me straight about the occult, though. My mind was closed.
That weekend, I drove him to a Catholic Church because he wanted to celebrate Mass. Father Ed asked me, “Are you planning to attend Mass?”
“Sure,” I said. “I want to see you do your priest thing.”
I’ll share the rest of this story in the next chapter. What’s important to know today is that when my friend explained to me what and who the Eucharist is, a miracle happened. I recognized the voice of God speaking through my friend. I heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and I ran to him like the sheep in the YouTube video. I wanted to be fed by him all the time, and several months later, I officially became Catholic so that I could participate freely and fully in the miracle of the Eucharist.
We don’t have to put hard work into recognizing the voice of God. Abba-Father desires to be heard. He makes it easy. All we have to do is give him our yes, however slight the nod of our head. That’s the first step.
The hardest part of this is letting go of old ideas and replacing misconceptions with the truth. That’s exactly what you’re doing now! The Father is very pleased with you. Very pleased.
Listen with the ears of your soul for the familiar sound of truth; it’s the Father’s voice speaking through the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth, and your soul recognizes him. Practice listening every day while your trust in the Father grows through shedding your misconceptions about him. During every private prayer time, ask the Holy Spirit to anoint your imagination, and then trust what comes to mind as long as it passes the tests that I named earlier in this chapter.
Today’s Exercise Part 2: What is Abba-Father telling you?
Revisit what you wrote in part 1 of today’s exercise. Now write what Abba-Father says about each one of those accusations. Imagine the Father looking like an adorable old gentleman, and he’s sitting next to you. He’s reassuring you: “Trust your instincts,” he’s saying. “Why do those accusations make you feel condemned or belittled? They make you feel bad; that’s not My voice you’re hearing. What would be a loving counter-point to each of those accusations? That’s My voice!”
For example, if you wrote, “My third grade teacher accused me of cheating on a test and would not let me explain why I was innocent,” the counter-point could be, “I studied hard for that test; I am a hard worker and I love getting good grades through my own honest efforts.”
And the Father says to you, “I am delighted that you studied hard for that test! You are indeed a hard worker. It’s wonderful how much you enjoyed getting good grades through your own honest efforts. That’s the kind of daughter (or son) that I created you to be.”
If there is any truth to what your accusers said about you, how would a loving parent defend you and at the same time guide you to change? That’s the Father’s voice.
For example: “You cheated on the exam at work because you wanted to get that promotion. But notice that it has made you feel bad about yourself. You really do prefer to do well through your own honest efforts. I am very pleased about that! Now go to the Sacrament of Confession and remember to forgive yourself.”
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you fully accept the truth of your goodness. Then notice that you have received a miracle of healing!
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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