Listening to God, I think it might be the same now as when Samuel, Hannah’s miracle child, was training in the temple with Eli. 1 Samuel 3:1 it opens with “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Might that not describe our place, our time? In a time of tremendous spiritual poverty, men and women are needed who speak for God, who turn the world back to His love and to hope. That is why it is so important to listen today.
Today we hear a lot about Attention Deficit Disorder. It is characterized by the inability to sustain focused attention. This checklist rates the following behaviors which are present in most people with ADHD: Distractibility, Inattention, Free flight of ideas (free associations to any other idea), Impulsivity – Moodiness, Insatiability, Bursts of hot temper, Hyperactivity. I believe that many Christians suffer from a kind of spiritual AD/HD. No, I’m not joking.
The reason we often don’t hear from God as clearly as we might, is because we are distracted, inattentive, and hyperactive. Turn of the world and reject the diversions that surround us. Cell phones keep us constantly plugged in. Internet connections can be made at any time, let’s check facebook, instagram and snapchat.. Email and IM allow real time written communication. As a result of being offered a smorgasbord of information, most of us have an attention span of about 30 seconds. If one thing bores us, we simply switch channels.
The background ‘noise’ of our life is deafening. Increasingly we yearn for the meaning and stability that hearing His voice brings to our lives, YET we attempt to satisfy our longing with more stimulation of an worldly nature. NOTHING in this world will satisfy our longing to hear the voice of God. To hear that voice, we must learn to focus, to wait on the Lord.
So how does He speak?
1. God speaks to us through the Bible.
His will, His purposes and plans, His nature are all are clearly revealed to us through the pages of the Holy Bible. Paul wrote that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Common English Bible: “Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” Having said that, we must add this note: Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our minds, the Bible is just another collection of ancient stories that are pretty cool. We may read it, know the content from cover to cover, and even be able to have theological discussions about the Bible without being spoken to by the words on its pages. Millions of people have owned and read Bibles without hearing God’s voice.
If reading your Bible is just a routine, something you do like brushing your teeth absentmindedly then you are just reading it out of repetition and not living it. You are wrong if you think you can discover God in the Bible through your own intelligence. You are wrong if you believe that God’s truth can be gotten from the text through study alone. You are wrong if you conclude that the voice of God is heard through your church’s traditional interpretations of the Scripture. Intelligence, discipline, and tradition failed the leaders of Israel at the time of Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees had all of those AND still they missed the Messiah in their midst.
In John 5:39-40 Jesus spoke to these religious leaders and challenged their sterile reading of the Bible: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
I am not dismissing intellect, careful study, and the traditions of the Church. They have their place in helping us to know God and His will. But IF you want to hear from God as you read the Word, you MUST faithfully invite the Lord to send His Holy Spirit to be your guide and interpreter. Read it slowly, think about it and let the Holy Spirit work. The 2nd chapter of 1st Corinthians speaks at length about the necessity of the Spirit’s work in revealing truth to us. In the interest of time, let me just read one small part of the passage.
1 Corinthians 2:11-13 NLT
No one can know what anyone else is really thinking except that person alone, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And God has actually given us his Spirit (not the world’s spirit) so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you this, we do not use words of human wisdom. We speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.
2. God speaks to us through EXPERIENCES.
Almost everyone knows this parable/joke. The man is in the ocean in a life raft. He prayed desperately for God’s help. Here came a boat up to rescue him and the man shouted at the boat: “I don’t need you, God’s going to save me.” Time goes by and a coast guard helicopter shows up and he heard “Take the rope, you’ll be safe.” “No, thanks,” he yelled, “God’s going to save me.” He drifted for days and died.
Happy to be in heaven but mad that God didn’t answer his prayers, he stood before Jesus, and said, “Why didn’t you save me as you promised that you would?” Jesus said, “Say what? I sent a boat and a helicopter!” Many times God is shouting to us in our experiences, but we are so intent on just one option, which is our option and plan, that we fail to hear Him. We can be so fixed in our “thing” that we cannot see what He is doing, or wanted to do, in and through us.
How many of our interpersonal relationships and yes, marriages would be much improved IF we stopped demanding that God change the other person, that’s usually our plan and let Him refine us through the circumstances of our lives? How much pain might we spare ourselves IF we were willing to consider that constant source of irritation might be a messenger of God sent to grab our attention? How much more quickly might we mature spiritually IF we actually applied the Bible to our experience instead of cutting it off from ‘real’ life?
For example: We read in the Bible that God heals sick people. Most of us believe that but when was the last time you really prayed for the sick? Do you take each week’s bulletin home and truly pray for all the concerns? Have you considered going to see them and praying? Are you struggling financially? Have you asked God IF He is trying to talk to you about your values, the way you spend your money, or your work habits, or your maybe even present occupation?
Are you enjoying a time of abundance? Have you considered that God is pouring out His blessings on you OR have you just congratulated yourself on your cleverness, brilliance, and hard work? Understanding the right messages that God may sending to us through our day to day experiences requires discernment and prayer. Some of us are too quick to judge another’s circumstances. We think we know exactly what God is doing and we judge. Careful about that!
KEEP your experience informed by the Scripture. If you are violating God’s principles as revealed in the Bible, I don’t care how you argue from experience, you can’t make it right! For example, are you possibly kind of cheating your employer with your work habits, the way you use your time on the job, justifying it in some way in your mind and getting by with it, don’t take that as a message from the Lord approving your dishonesty! 1 in 4 people say they lie on their taxes, I doubt they are all non-believers. Statistics show only 5% of Americans tithe. Tithing was spelled out in the Bible. Bottom line here, a higher principle takes precedence over your experience. IF you persist in dishonesty, you’ll ultimately pay the price of judgment.
Paul, the apostle, helps us to see how God works through the experiences of our lives to accomplish HIS purposes. Paraphrased – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – I asked the Lord to remove this thorn away from me but God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Humbly open your mind to the fact that God may be sending you a message through the experiences of your life.
3. God speaks to us supernaturally- by His Holy Spirit to our spirit.
I opened this message talking about Samuel and he heard an audible voice while in his bed at night. Finally his spiritual mentor Eli discerned that God was speaking and Samuel received his life commission to service that night. Throughout the Bible, there is evidence of God speaking to men and women, showing them His will, directing their lives, and equipping them for spiritual service.
I quoted last week: Acts 2:17-18
‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. God still speaks to us supernaturally. It may an audible voice. It may be an impression in our mind that won’t fade away. It may be through a dream or a vision. Are you open to that? I KNOW, the more intimate with Jesus we get, the more He speaks through the Holy Spirit.
Invite the Spirit of God to fill you with Himself and in faith to allow you to enter into this mystical, sweet prayer communication. It will teach you to ‘hear’ God’s voice more clearly. Are you open to His voice in a supernatural means? Would you even consider that God might be speaking to you to step out in faith with Him? Those just may NOT be just weird voices in your head.
Those are the “how too’s” to hear God’s voice, but I must point out the biggest deterrent, besides spending quiet time, to hearing the voice of God. Pride, of all people, the proud have the most difficulty hearing the voice of God. They seldom seriously ask God’s opinion because they are convinced they already know what God thinks. God is repulsed by pride, and normally you don’t talk to those who repulse you. One of the most sobering statements in the Bible is found in Psalm 138:6 “Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.” In other words, God is intimate with the humble, but distant with the proud.
The disciples told Jesus once that they were worried he had offended the Pharisees. They thought he’d been careless in his treatment of the religious leaders, but Jesus said – Matthew 15:14 “Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” This doesn’t seem to be very kind since he had come to heal the blind. Yet if we look carefully, it is not the fact that they are spiritually blind that causes Jesus to reject them. It is that they are prideful blind guides. It is one thing to be blind and groping for the truth. It is quite another to put yourself in the position of being a guide who has found the truth but who is in reality blind.
Religious pride blinds our eyes and stops our ears like no other sin. Neither her bad theology nor her immorality kept Jesus from extending a hand to the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4) Not even being presented with a woman taken in the act of adultery did it repulse or embarrass him. But, he was content to leave the Pharisees with their pride, prejudice and blindness intact.
The man who thinks he knows something is left alone in his ignorance. Paul wrote this warning to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 8:1 “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Seven hundred years before, Isaiah said, Isaiah 5:21 “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” One thing I believe, hell will be absence of God’s presence for eternity. The proud drive God’s presence away. When we embrace religious pride, God leaves us alone and we rarely hear His voice.
He is an awfully big God and this is an awfully complex world. We need a fresh word, a new vision daily. Listen for His voice. Read your Bible prayerfully allowing God to speak to YOU, to inform your mind and change your heart. Pay attention to your experiences and ask God to help you to discern His voice in the ordinary moments of your days. Be open to the blessing of a supernatural visitation that will prepare you for a moment of extraordinary achievement or that will carry you through a season of tremendous testing or trial. God is speaking, are you listening?