I came across this today as I was following through on thoughts about listening prayer. Brad has written some really good stuff in his book: "Can You Hear Me? Tuning In to the God Who Speaks"
Here's what he wrote on Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice
Discernment: Testing My Own Voice by Brad Jersak
In recent days I have been thinking about our dialogues with God and how we weigh them. I started noticing that when the prayer conversation alternates: God, then Brad, then God, then Brad, and son on, I was diligent to test what God is allegedly saying. I test to see whether the voice of God is really God or not God. I check that voice according to the three-legged stool of the Word, the Body and the Spirit, as recommended in Can You Hear Me? Tuning in to the God who Speaks.
But I neglected to test MY voice. And why should I? After all, it’s my own voice, isn’t it? Or is it? But when I began to categorize the themes that came under the umbrella of ‘my voice,’ I noticed something. On the one hand, there was the voice that agrees with and responds to God in faith. We could call that the voice of my ‘true heart,’ or the voice of the ‘new creation,’ or the ‘new me.’
On the other hand, there are these other voices that I assumed were my own as well: The voice of condemnation (beating myself up) that would then trigger the voice of self-pity (feeling sorry for myself), and the voices of shame, self-hatred, fear, worry, anger, and so on. In my head, I would hear and say, ‘I am afraid; I am angry; I don’t like myself; I’m not worthy,’ etc. Perhaps you know those voices as well.
THE VOICE THAT IS NOT EVEN ME
And then it occurred to me, esp. as I read the dialogues from prayer journals of about sixty Bible school students, if the voice of my true self loves God and responds in faith and love to the voice of Christ, what are these other voices? On occasion I suppose I could have been hearing an unclean spirit. Or I suppose I might have been dealing with a wound in my heart. But mostly, I found these voices could not be cast out like a demon nor could they be healed like a wound. In fact, my greatest discovery was that those voices were NOT ME at all! ME is my true self. ME is the heart Jesus gave me. ME is the new creation. So what was I hearing that masqueraded as ME?
The Bible calls it the old nature (Rom. 8), the old Adam or Eve, the flesh or desires of the flesh (Gal. 5). In modern terms, we refer to the false self, the ego. My mentor, Ron Dart, calls it ‘the craver’ that underlies all of my cravings, demanding that I feed it but knowing it’s a bottomless pit. It is that vacuous demanding echo of something that was crucified with Christ; something to be reckoned dead (Rom. 6) but still far too talkative in my head; something to be disowned and discredited; marginalized and silenced as far a possible.
DISOWNING AND DISCREDITING THE VOICE OF THE FALSE ME
How do we silence the voices of the flesh or ego? We’re half way there when we begin to recognize that voice and declare, that’s not me. That’s not the beat of the new heart Jesus gave me. We can step back and hold it at arm’s length and begin to make a practice of disowning it—even to the point of refusing to call it my ego or my flesh. It is an ‘it’ of days gone by.
Besides disowning it, we can discredit the ego’s voice by challenging its motives and its fruit. The flesh or ego always has a motive. For example, when it is accusing you, its motive is pride and self-righteousness and it is punishing you for not living up to its standards of perfection. Your stumbles embarrass and offend the ego, triggering a barrage of condemnation. OR when the flesh lapses into self-pity, its motive is to seduce fleshly sympathy out of others—a deadly counterfeit of compassion that brings death rather than life. The ego can multi-task, both accusing and sulking at the same time, but when we step back quietly and watch that ludicrous inner dialogue, it ceases to be credible.
We also discredit the ego/flesh by challenging its fruit. Jesus called us to test everything, including every voice, by the fruit it produces. In testing the fruit of the ego, we see that when we have listened to it, NOT ONCE has it ever produced a smidgeon—not the slightest sliver—of goodness in our lives. So why give it a voice at all, much less the freedom of speech it currently enjoys under the guise of being ME just because I hear it beaking off inside? It is as if we’ve said, ‘As long as you don’t claim to be God, you can say whatever you want. By pretending to be me, you have free rein because I don’t discern MY voice. I only discern God’s voice.’ The resulting fruit has been most rotten.
I have also noticed that when the dialogue is between God and my true, restored heart, God tends to take the lead in the conversation and I find myself following, responding, led by the Spirit to listen. Conversely, when the ego/flesh dialogues with God (when it lets me, for it aggressively tries to unplug from the conversation through doubt or shame) it consistently tries to control the conversation, attempting to argue God into corners, silence or defensiveness. Here I see his relentless patience on the one hand and the complete waste of time on the other. I want to say, “Ego, would you just get over yourself and listen to what God is saying?” Of course, it never does. The flesh/ego does not really listen and its innumerable arguments are a distraction from where God would like to take the prayer time.
SPIRIT TO SPIRIT CONVERSATION
Finally, I do not silence the voice of the ego/flesh by obsessing over it. That only feeds it. Rather, I am learning to give it a brief, passing nod: “I see you, you blood-sucker. But I know what you’re up to and I’m not listening to you today.” And then I quickly move on to listen to the voice of God’s Spirit interacting with the responsive, faith-filled and loving voice of my renewed spirit. 1 Cor. 6:17 goes so far as to say that in uniting with Christ, his Spirit and my spirit become one. I.e. I don’t even need to distinguish between the Holy Spirit and my spirit, because they are in an ascending spiral of heavenly agreement.
True discernment simply means refusing to listen to all that is not God AND all that is not me. To me, this latter half was an ‘aha moment’ that I hope will upgrade our discernment and bring readers fresh freedom as well.