OK, well, if you haven't been with us, we're doing a study these nights at The Stables: “Hunger For Reality”. What we're looking at is longing to go deeper with God. If the status quo of what you're experiencing at the moment is not enough for you (and I hope that's the case, that always should be the case for us as Christians). We should have an insatiable satisfaction in Jesus - do you know what that means? We're satisfied with Him, but we're not satisfied with the knowledge that we have of Him, or the depth of experience or relationship that we have - so we want to go deeper.
We're looking at "Obeying God's Voice". Let's pray together before we go on any further: Lord, we thank You for Your presence with us, and we thank You that that's something we can rely on - to know that You're here, You're with us, You're working by Your Holy Spirit. We thank You for each person gathered here too. We realise that they're very important to You, Lord. We just pray that You will draw near right now, Lord, that You will settle our hearts, that You will tune us in to Your Holy Spirit, and that there will be a real message from God for each of us tonight. I believe there are people hungering for reality, there are people here tonight hungry after You and encounters with You - there are people here that don't even realise how much they need You. Lord, I pray that You will show up tonight, and if there are people who are not aware of how You communicate to us, and not au fait with You speaking into their heart, that tonight they would move into that experience of actually being attuned to the voice of God. So Lord, we need You, please come. In and of ourselves we have nothing, we are nothing, we can do nothing - but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We wait upon You now, we welcome Your Spirit, we ask You to come into this room, Lord, come into our lives, and move in a mighty way. For Jesus' sake we ask it - and everybody said: 'Amen'.
OK, our reading is from John chapter 10 verse 27, this would be a well-known verse to a lot of folk. John 10:27, Jesus is speaking and He says: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me". I'm sure that's a familiar Scripture, and the second half of it is wonderful as well: "I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand or My Father's hand". But it's this bit at the beginning that we want to look at tonight: 'My sheep' - those who belong to Jesus, those who are children of God, those who are following the Good Shepherd, they hear His voice! 'And Jesus knows them', so they know His voice, and Jesus knows them personally, 'and they follow Christ'.
Now this is really the gist of my message tonight: to obey God's voice - so we're talking this evening about obeying God's voice - to obey God's voice, you've got to hear His voice. To hear His voice, you must recognise His voice. Do you understand? If you want to obey God, follow Jesus, obey His voice; you've got to be able to hear His voice - that makes sense, doesn't it? What a lot of people miss is that in order to hear His voice, you need to recognise it, there needs to be recognition and a perception of how we actually know the voice of God - and that's really what we're going to be talking about. The topics are: how to hear God's voice; how to recognise His voice; and then what to do with it - because what's the use of hearing the voice of God, and being able to perceive His communications if we don't do anything with it? So, as our text, John 10:27, says: it's in order that we might follow Him, that we hear His voice.
Now, I don't know whether there's anybody here tonight frightened of this concept of hearing the voice of God - you know, it makes you a little bit nervous. Anybody? Well, that could be for at least two reasons - maybe more, but I'm going to give you two tonight. First of all, bad teaching concerning the voice of God; and then secondly, bad practice, or bad experience that you've had with hearing the voice of God, or others 'hearing the voice of God' on your behalf.
Let's deal with each of those first of all and get them out of the way immediately. First of all: bad teaching. Now it is not bad teaching for the church to declare that the Bible is the absolute and final authority concerning what God has to say. The Bible is God’s Word, yes, we agree with that. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable, etc - and we are not to add nor subtract from the Scripture; there is a judgement upon that. I have to say to you tonight: if you're wanting to know the will of God, here's a newsflash for you, the majority of the will of God for your life is found in this book, the Bible. Sometimes we can sit in a meditative, passive state: 'Lord, show me Your will for my life’, when maybe 85-90% of it is found within the Scriptures - and so we just need to get into the word of God. A famous preacher was asked recently: 'What's the will of God for my life?', this person said. His retort was: 'Heal the sick, cleanse the leper, raise the dead, and cast out demons - freely you have received, freely give', that covers a lot, doesn't it? The commission that Jesus has given us, the command and instruction for all of our lives - and so let's not underestimate the impact of what it is to truly get into the Bible and realise, as Psalm 119 verse 105 says: 'Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path'. It is what guides our way, and so you need to learn to hear God's voice in God's word. I want to lay that as a foundation tonight.
Let me ask you: do you know how to get a 'rhema' word from God? Do you know what a 'rhema' word of God is? You see, we are very familiar with the Greek word 'logos' which speaks of the actual word of God come in incarnate human flesh, the Son of God manifested in humanity; but also the written word of God. So the 'logos', if you like, is the objective word of God. But the 'rhema' word of God is the spoken word, or the proceeding word of God that is coming out of His mouth for here and now, for you at this very moment in time - we might call it 'the prophetic word'. Do you know how to get that from God out of His word? Well, you need to sit down and read the Bible. You see, for many of us, the bottom line is: we are lazy and we are passive in our devotions toward the Lord. Maybe when it comes to guidance, and we come to a junction in our life and we don't know whether to go left or right, forward or backward, we treat God like a proverbial satnav. We want Him just to tell us: right, left, back, or forth, or whatever - when, in fact, we haven't been cultivating a relationship with Him 24/7. If you want to be guided by God, that's what you need to concentrate on day by day. You can't be lazy, you've got to get into His word. You cannot have a relationship with God without a relationship with this book. I am talking about more than 'read your Bible, pray every day if you want to grow'. You can know the book, but it's another thing entirely to know the Author. I'm talking about getting to know God, and yet the converse is true as well: you cannot get to know God without intimacy with this book.
OK? So right away we want to establish that the Bible is the way that God primarily speaks, instructs, and guides us as His children. Having said that, the Bible is not the only way that God speaks. I have to tell you tonight that that is bad teaching. Much of evangelicalism has imbibed that teaching: that God does not speak to us outside the revelation of Genesis through to the book of Revelation. But, in fact, the Bible itself teaches us that God speaks in various ways. There are a variety of media through which God speaks. Granted, these are more subjective - like visions, dreams, prophecy, etc - and that makes some people nervous, especially if they've had a very sound biblical background and been warned against these things, that can make you frightened. There is no doubt about it: these are more subjective, and equally they are less binding - they are not authoritative like the Bible, the scriptures. These subjective means of God speaking must never supersede the scriptures or contradict the scriptures, yet - to be biblical - we must concede that these exist, and the Bible itself talks about them.
Alright? So I hope that that's clearing up (and I know it's quite cursory for our purposes tonight), but this is an error to say that the Bible is the only way that God speaks. Secondly, not only can people be frightened from the voice of God through bad teaching, but also bad practice. I'm talking about abuses of the voice of God or the way God speaks. Has anybody ever met this man: 'God told me to tell you'? You know, one of these starey-eyed people, a bit weird, maybe their head tilted, and they've got 'a word from God for you'. Sometimes there can be people (and we can't analyse their motivation), but it might be a desire to impress someone, or maybe it's a need for significance to show that they can impart a word of God to you, or in the very worst case scenario sometimes people who operate like this in an abusive way, it's in order to manipulate or control another person. So: 'Marry this person', 'Sell this business', 'Give this ministry so many pounds or so many dollars, and God says He will bless you, or He will do this or that'. Now the Bible teaches about the prophetic word, OK? So we're not decrying that at all, but the Bible also regulates and teaches how to guard the gift of prophecy, and how to protect the people who are prophesied to. Maybe you're here tonight, and it's not that you've had bad teaching, but you've had a bad experience with those who have prophesied over you, or given you a supposed 'word from God'. Maybe you have seen abuse, or you have even been hurt yourself.
We've got to be open to what the Bible teaches, but we also need a good dose of reserve. Would you not agree with me? Caution is necessary. Be open to God, but be cautious of people like this. I came across this picture on the Internet, it's hard to see that - it's a dog with sort of slitty eyes: when someone starts a conversation with 'The Lord told me to tell you', you need to look a wee bit like that! You get the point, don't you? Here is a tip, I've got a tip for hearers of words from God, and then a tip for the speakers of words from God. First of all to the hearers: usually when you get a word from God from someone else, if at all, it's confirming something that God has already told you - and if He hasn't already told you yet, He's just about to, or He's going to get round to it. He will confirm what you're hearing through the prophetic word. So will you remember that? I mean, if it seems totally off beam, it probably is! But equally, a tip to those who might give words from God - and we want to move into this area if we are going to be true to the New Testament, it tells us to 'desire earnestly the gift of prophecy', and that's not just individuals, it's to the whole church, we are meant to be pursuing this prophetic culture - we've got to change our language. What do I mean? Well, definitely we need to ditch controlling words, we need to stop saying to people: 'You must do this', or 'Immediately', and not promise or guarantee certain outcomes. Rather than absolute language, like 'God told me', it would be far better to say things like 'I think God might be saying to you', 'I think, perhaps, God may be saying to me to pass on to you', or 'I sense that perhaps', or 'I feel maybe' - and give it in that context, and then say 'You need to test that before the Lord, so that He might confirm what He is saying or not saying to you'. Do you understand? We need to change the culture.
In fact, Scripture bears this out, it's nothing new. First Thessalonians 5 and verses 19 through 22, listen: 'Do not quench the Spirit', so we're not allowed to say 'Ah, this is too dangerous, it makes people too vulnerable, let's just drop it'. You're not allowed to quench the Spirit, and further: 'Do not despise prophecies'. So if you've got a problem with anything I'm saying already, you need to analyse Scripture yourself. We are prohibited from despising this prophetic word of the Lord. But, Paul says: 'Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil'. I don't know when the last time was you ate bad fish, but you need to work through the bones - don't you? You leave the bones and you eat the meat, yes? So we've got to weigh up prophecy, the other prophets are meant to weigh up the prophetic utterances in churches if they happen. But some people are just weird, let's face it, and we're always going to be perceived as weird by other people for various reasons - but what I'm basically saying is: we shouldn't be going out of our way to be weird. I believe in the concept of being supernaturally natural, that it should be the most natural thing in the world for us as Christians to be supernatural, and we don't need to look strange or sound strange, or put quivers in our voice, or say 'Thus saith the Lord'. Do you understand?
So let's deal - we're going to deal with three things: how do we hear God's voice; how do we recognise God's voice; and what do we do with God's voice? So, first of all, how do we hear God's voice? Well, we've established this already. We hear God's voice primarily and categorically through His word, and that is the Living Word. The Bible is not a dead book, it is a living - 'quick' the old versions said - a living entity, an organism; because Jesus is the Living Word Who inspired these pages through the Holy Spirit. So this is a living book. So, by reading the Bible God speaks to us - I hope you read your Bible. It would stagger you if you found out how many Christians don't read their Bible on a daily basis. Now I'm not saying to condemn yourself and become all legalistic if you miss a day here and there, but we do need - just as we need our daily bread - we need spiritual manna from God's word, more so. So you need to read the word of God, but also the Bible teaches us that we should be meditating on the word of God. Do you know what meditation is? It's not sitting in the lotus position and going 'Hmmmmm' - that's a form of meditation, but not Bible meditation. Bible meditation is muttering, it literally means 'muttering'. You may have seen in Jerusalem, or even been there, some of the rabbis and scholars with the ancient scriptures in front of them, and they would just mutter over the word of God - that actually is meditation. They are saying the word of God over and over, thinking about it, I liken it to chewing the cud. Digesting it, bringing it up again, chewing it, digesting it, bringing it up again - and the word of God is digested and assimilated into our being as we meditate upon it.
That's how we hear God's voice: reading, meditating, even memorising. Now I don't have, maybe to my shame, a programme of memorisation - a lot of my memorisation happens as I read Scripture and meditate upon it. I have, from time to time, memorised stuff, but it's not something that is regular for me. But the point is: getting God's word in is what we need to do, in fact it's a process of computing. It's the same idea that you receive through input, so the computer programmer programs into the computer; the processor, the CPU system, processes the information; and then it produces output. So if you want output, and if output in this case is guidance from God, hearing God's voice, you need to be determined to program yourself with God's word. There needs to be input in order for output. People want God to guide them, but they're not prepared to sit down at any time during the day and read His word. Now I have had occasion in my own life, and I've heard about it in others, where God give me a verse, just like that, that I didn't even know was in the Bible - but that is very rare and unique, and you should not presume upon that. You should be putting in God's word.
Also, from Scripture, I would encourage you to get involved with personal application of the word. So, when you read something, you say: 'So what? What does that mean to me? How does that apply to me?'. One of the best ways that you can actually get a handle on that is journalling. I do it quite often, just an ordinary notepad and pen, and when I'm reading the word I jot down the verses that speak to me, and then I listen - behind the verses - for what God might be saying to me. I might even change the verse to be spoken directly to me if it isn't already, and the implications of what that means. I would really recommend Mark Virkler's writing and teaching - he's got a series on 'The Four Keys to Hearing the Voice of God' - and he's big on journalling, how you just tap into the flow of the Spirit in you and start to hear what God is saying to you in your heart.
Then of course there's not just reading, meditation, memorising, personal application, but there is preaching of the word. We have to believe - sadly preaching isn't often the case, sometimes it's just a running commentary of what the Bible says, you might as well pull down Matthew Henry's commentary and read it yourself - but that's not what preaching is meant to be, preaching is meant to be imparting life, which is actually a 'rhema' word, it's meant to be prophetic in its utterance. But we get fed when that happens, and we can often - some of you were converted by hearing the voice of God through preaching.
But there are other ways that God speaks, and Scripture testifies to this. Not just the Living Word, but Scripture says that God speaks through creation. The psalmist says: 'The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky declares His handiwork'. In fact, this is a language that everybody in creation understands. Have you ever gone out on a starry night where there is no light pollution, and looked up into the sky and just went 'Wow! Isn't God great?'. Have you ever had God speak to you through the sparrows, through the trees, through the seasons - that's God speaking! Now then people get scared, 'Oh, this is New Age, you know we don't worship creation' - no, it's not New Age. You see, sometimes New Age and the enemy in particular seeks to counterfeit the truth. He often mixes truth and error to deceive us - but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. God speaks in creation, OK?
He also speaks through conscience. Everybody, whether they're born again or not, has this mechanism. Now some people can bury it, some people can deaden it and sear it, cauterise it; but we've got this capacity to know right from wrong. Take the innate sense of justice and injustice, when things aren't fair. So, like Jiminy Cricket on Pinocchio's shoulder, we've got this mechanism: thumbs up, thumbs down - that's God-given, and God can speak through it. Circumstances, these unknown conditions that are ahead of us - I'm not saying God actually makes all of it happen, but He is able to orchestrate it in such a way as to come to speak to us. Maybe God is speaking to you right now through some of your circumstances?
But as I said earlier, there are many more ways that God speaks - Scripture itself records the gifts of the Spirit, not just in the New, but in the Old Testament: the movings of the Holy Spirit, where people were given visions and dreams; in the New Testament words of wisdom, words of knowledge, prophecy, and various types of revelation. This is the way that God speaks to the Church. Then there is the audible voice of God - I'll not ask you if you've heard the audible voice of God, I've never heard it. I'm hoping to, by the way, I'm holding out. It's rather rare to hear the audible voice of God, count yourself privileged if you have. You might say: 'Well, why is that?'. I mean it would be wonderful if, you know, God would just part the heavens with a voice like in the films, Charlton Heston, He just booms these dulcet tones, and I shake with the tremor of hearing the voice of God - that would really help me, it would help us all, wouldn't it? But there are reasons why that doesn't happen so much. Primarily, this is the reason for New Testament believers, God tends to speak from His dwelling place. Would you remember that? God tends to speak from His dwelling place. No longer is His dwelling place Heaven alone, and His dwelling place is not temples made by men's hands, but God's dwelling place now is the New Testament believer, the child of God. We are the Temple: 'Do you not know', Paul says, 'that you are the Temple of the Holy Spirit?'. So God tends now, more often than not, to speak internally to the child of God in our spirits. It has been called 'the still, small voice of God'. He dwells within us, we are His Temple, so it figures that when He speaks He will speak within us.
That term 'the still, small voice of God' comes straight out of Scripture, 1 Kings chapter 19. God's presence passed by Elijah. You remember that Elijah was fleeing from the wicked Queen Jezebel, and he goes to a cave, and he goes through a period of depression. God feeds him, and he goes to sleep, and He feeds him again with angelic food and so on - and then eventually he wakes up, and he has been rehabilitated to an extent. He goes out to meet God, to hear what God has to say to them. It says that there were accompanying phenomena with the voice of God: there was wind, there was fire, there was even an earthquake - but it appears from the biblical narrative that God's voice was not in any of these manifestations. Moments later God chose to speak to Elijah softly, peacefully, in a still, small voice. Weisman translates that 'the voice of a gentle whisper'. That's generally how God speaks to Christian believers. I like this slide, it's a fortune cookie: 'Be aware of the still, small voice within you'. Don't be looking for the voice of God in fortune cookies or anywhere else, when God actually lives within you! He will speak to you.
Now there are prophets, OK? There are prophets, I believe, in the church. There are gifted people who God uses, maybe to bring us message and confirmation. But this is the point: we don't need to rely on spiritual elites, super-spiritual giants, to tell us what God wants us to know. The reason being: Scripture clearly says in 1 John 2 verse 20, 'You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things'. Now, there are a lot of know-it-alls in the church, that's not what it means. It means that if you need to know something - God knows your address, He has ways of getting you the information, because you've got the Holy Spirit dwelling within your heart. Have you got it? We're not decrying Bible teaching, of course we're not, or prophets, or gifts of the Spirit, or anything like that - but some of you need to be emboldened to know that God can speak to you. Maybe you've been wowed by people standing at the front and reading people's mail and all that type of stuff, and you think 'Oh, I could never do that, I can't hear God like that' - listen: you've got to understand that nobody has anything else that you don't have or can't have, because you've got the Holy Spirit'. Did you hear that? Don't be intimidated, don't compare yourself to anybody else: you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you don't need anybody to teach you. You got the Holy Spirit with you 24/7, and He is all you need. He is the answer for all the problems in your world, in the whole wide world. Is that reassuring? I think so.
So, from new birth, when you were born again, God lives in you by His Spirit - Amen? Proverbs chapter 20 verse 27, a wonderful verse: 'The spirit of a man is the lamp', or the candle, 'of the Lord, searching the uttermost parts of his being'. So your spirit is the part that God uses to see into you and communicate to you what He needs you to know. He speaks to you in your spirit. Romans chapter 8 and verse 16: 'The Spirit Himself bears witness with our human spirit that we are children of God'. So this is the testimony of God's Spirit with our spirit, we call it 'the witness of the Spirit' - the still, small voice. Let's be more practical: what exactly does this look like? Well, it's a kind of positive 'yes' when God wants you to do something, it's positive. It's hard to describe, but it's like a coming alive inside you, it's like something jumps inside you. Now to be honest, it's better felt then telt, but when it happens you kind of know it. It's like an intuition, or an impulse, or an impression that is weighing heavily upon you. It's hard to describe, it's a bit like when people come to me and say: 'Well, how do you know when you're in love?'. What is usually the answer? 'You just know', yes, that's right - who said that? Go to them for advice! Are you an expert in this department, are you? You just know! How do you explain that? I don't know, but you just know in your know-er. It's the same with this positive 'yes' of God. Conversely, the negative impulse, the thumbs down is a cautious communication, maybe a 'Beware!' or 'Be careful!' - it's a sudden deadness instead of a coming of life, a deadness, an emptiness within you, a lack of life about something, a check on your spirit. Do you understand what I'm saying?
God, of course, can also speak through a word. He can give you an actual word in your mind. He can speak through feelings, through thoughts, some people get a lot of pictures in their mind or in their heart. But the point is this: God is a God who speaks. Francis Schaeffer put it: 'God is, and is not silent'. Generally speaking, God is saying much more than we ever realise! He is speaking to you much more than you ever conceived of! In fact, it's much more likely that God actually speaks to us in a way that we understand. You see, one of the greatest hindrances to the supernatural is actually the desire for the spectacular. Do you understand what I'm saying? Can I repeat that? One of the biggest hindrances to the supernatural is the desire for the spectacular or the sensational. I believe that the supernatural is inherently natural, as I said to you earlier, especially for the Christian. It's not that God can't do really, really sensational things - He does, and He can - but in the everyday run of things, He desires to talk with us in a way that is completely natural in the supernatural. Sometimes because we're looking for the heavens to cleave, and the big booming voice, or we're looking for a vision that is in Technicolor panoramic view, or we're looking for the audible voice of God in our ear, we miss what God is actually saying! The spectacular can stand in the way of recognising God's voice, and most of us here tonight - without even knowing it - are hearing all the time from God but not recognising His voice!
So I want to ask you before we go on any further, and this is elementary, biblical truth: God is speaking to all of us a lot of the time, would you have the faith to believe that God speaks to you? Some of you, I think, struggle with that: 'He speaks to others, but He never says anything to me'. Could it be that you just don't recognise Him? You're looking for something different. Psalm 40 verse 5 in the NASB says: 'Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count'. The thoughts that God has toward me are too many for me to compute! Now, what does that mean? There is more than the days of my life, there is more than the hours in the day, there is more than the minutes and the seconds in every hour. So the communications are constantly coming from Heaven, from God's heart to my heart, and if I'm not hearing anything - what's the problem? The problem is not with God not speaking to me, the problem is that you're not tuned in! You don't need to get a pair of earphones for your ears, but you do need to do something - because obviously something needs to be addressed!
Now here are two problems, why we may not be hearing the voice of God. The first problem - that you may not be tuned in - is the problem of conflicting signals, or communications, or broadcasts if you like. Now, you'll agree with me here, there are so many voices clamouring for our attention in our society it is unreal, especially in the day and age in which we live. There is so much noise pollution! There has been the technological and the communications explosion. You can think of the myriad of ways that our life is invaded by all sorts of interaction and communication. I thought this was a wonderful slide, weapons of mass distraction: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all these different social media sources that bombard us - even just SMS texts and email day by day. It's very difficult to cultivate stillness, isn't it? If God internal voice is the still, small voice, the voice of a gentle whisper, how on earth do you get still in our 21st-century age to hear His voice? But that is the challenge: we need to cultivate stillness.
Both my children play the piano. I don't know whether you have anybody in your house that plays an instrument, but it's very hard to talk on the telephone with a child blattering a piano in the background - have you ever tried to do that? We need stillness to communicate: to hear, to receive, and to give. It's the same with God, we must seek - as far as is possible, at least at some stage in our day - to eliminate distractions. But there are not only, when I talk about conflicting signals I'm not just talking about external distractions of which there are many, but internal distractions: crossed wires, crossed communications. Maybe it's self, it's our voice that we hear over and above God's; maybe it's the voice of other people that have spoken over us; maybe it is even the voice of Satan and the voice of the demonic, which I think speaks to us regularly and we don't even realise who it is. That's what I'm talking about when I speak of conflicting signals, mixed messages, crossed wires of communication.
Do you know what you need to do if that's the case? Not only do you need to de-clutter from the technological back noise, but you also need - inside your heart - to address the voices that are trying to grip your attention that are not from God. You say, 'How do we do that?'. Well, you need to cancel them out, you need to renounce them. What do I mean? Well, if those voices are not in line with the plumbline of God's word - whether it's your voice, somebody else's voice, or the voice of an enemy - you need to cancel them out, and you need to break off all agreement that you ever made with that voice. That agreement could be a mental agreement of dwelling on it - you know, like the meditation of Scripture, but you're meditating on the lies. It could be an emotional embracing of that thing, where you start to feel what is being said in your mind. It could be something that has actually affected your volition, your behaviour, it's starting to dictate your actions, it might even be affecting your body. You see that's what happens: the soul becomes affected, and then the spirit as a consequence.
Would you do that tonight? Some of you desperately need to renounce things that you've been listening to in your mind and heart. This is one problem preventing us hearing God's still, small voice: conflicting signals outside and inside of us. But the second thing is wrong frequency, we need to tune into God's frequency. That slide is hard to read, it says: 'God is a natural frequency that exists within you, tune in!' - and that's for the believer. God's Spirit lives within you, but some of us are on the wrong wavelength. We're not on God's wavelength - you say: 'Well, what is God's wavelength?'. God's wavelength is grace. Some of you are still trying to work to earn God's favour, even in your devotional life. You're trying to pray long enough, or read enough chapters, and all this sort of thing - you're trying to meet God on the plane of performance, and He's not there, you'll never find Him there. You always meet Him on the plane, the level of grace - that's where God can be met. But some of you need to tune into God's wavelength according to how He really is, because you're trying to connect with a God that doesn't exist. What am I talking about? Well, maybe you still see God as a stern taskmaster, who is a great judge who just wants to batter you every time you trip up and sin and fail. You need to understand that God is your Father. If you're a born-again believer and a child of the King, He is also your Father, He indeed is your Abba Father, He is your Heavenly Father - and it's a different relationship entirely. You need to get grace, you need to get the Father-heart, you need to get the perfect love of God. What is it 1 John says? 'Perfect love casts out fear', because fear is to do with punishment, 'whoever fears has not been made perfect in love'. So you need to tune in to this love station of God's communication to us, through grace, through His Father heart. That's why some of you are not hearing the voice of God, because there needs to be healing deep in your heart, maybe there even needs to be deliverance from the bondage of the enemy, maybe there needs to be a renewal of the mind according to how you perceive God actually to be.
So maybe your problem is conflicting signals or wrong frequency - but can I appeal to you tonight: don't make it complicated. Now, we preachers are guilty of this, and you could read a hundred books on how to hear the voice of God. We can complicate things that are actually rather simple. It is quite hard not to hear the voice of God if you really want to obey Him. If you get rid of the clutter, it can be hard not to hear Him. If you stay humble, that is, He promises to guide you. There are times in the Bible where God goes silent, God goes mute, there have been times in my life where that has happened - but I have to say to you, both in the Bible and in personal experience, that is the exception rather than the rule. He does it for a reason for a short period of time, but it's not the norm. Do you know why? God has a lot to say to you! The problem is, our ears are often plugged not just by the things that we've talked about already, but by unbelief. Some of you don't believe God does speak, or that He would want to speak to you. Some of it is pride, we don't think we need to hear anything more, or 'The Bible is enough for me, the teaching that I have had from I was a child'. For some of us, it is sin that blocks our ears. For some it is even more simple than that, we just don't expect it - and, guess what, if you don't expect it to happen, it's not likely to happen. If you don't expect God to speak to you, what are you not going to be doing? Listening! You're not going to be in a disposition to receive. If you're not expecting God, and you're not listening, there are other people who are listening, but they don't know what they're listening for and so they are not hearing God.
So if you're not tuned to God tonight, I want us to answer the second question: how do we recognise God's voice? Can I say to you first of all: it can take time to discern and recognise God's voice. There is no way round this, alright? You can hear God's voice the moment you're born-again, but it can take a cultivation of experience before you're hearing God's voice often. Can I add to that: it doesn't just take time, it takes practice. You might say: 'That's ridiculous, practising hearing the voice of God?'. It's not ridiculous, it's actually biblical. Listen to Hebrews chapter 5 and verse 14: 'Solid food belongs to those who are of full age', so you don't give people who are mature baby milk, you give them a steak hopefully. 'Solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who' - now watch this phrase - 'by reason of use', that's another way of saying 'practice', 'by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil'. Now the senses that are being spoken of there are not your ordinary natural senses, this is a spiritual statement. It's talking about our spiritual senses to discern both good and evil. So what is the verse saying? It's saying that mature Christians who are feeding on the meat of the word of God should be getting to the point where their senses are being exercised to discern the spiritual realm.
It's not just the senses of hearing God's voice, there can be other senses - I personally believe that all of the natural senses have corresponding spiritual senses. So just the way you can hear in the Spirit, you can see in the Spirit, you can smell in the Spirit, you can taste in the Spirit, you can feel and touch in the Spirit. We're talking about hearing the voice of God, but some people hear direction from God through seeing - all sorts of spiritual senses. Would you consider tonight praying to the Lord that He might activate your spiritual senses? Sounds a bit strange, but actually Paul prayed that for the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians chapter 1 verse 18, 'That the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened'. Were they all blind? Of course they weren't, they were physically sighted - what's he talking about? He's talking about spiritual understanding and spiritual sight. He said, 'This is a good prayer to pray, I'm going to pray it for you', so is that not a good prayer for you to pray tonight? 'God, activate my spiritual senses: give me spiritual hearing to hear You more clearly, to see You'.
What I want to say is - and I alluded to this a little bit earlier - God can actually speak to you in ways peculiar to you, did you know that? Sometimes I hear how God speaks to someone, and I think: 'Oh, I wish He could speak to me like that, I want Him to speak to me like that' - but, in fact, listen: it's not always about us learning God's language, but actually God chooses to learn ours. Isn't that beautiful? God actually will condescend down to our level to speak to us in a way that we understand. You know the way spouses learn to communicate and read each other - they can laugh over similar things, there is a certain look, maybe a raised eyebrow and the husband knows what that means, only he can understand. But all of that communication, spoken and non-verbal, what does it come out of? Relationship. If you want to hear the voice of God, you've got to understand that it's about relationship. Just as physical, facial expressions can be non-verbal means of communication that develop out of relationship, we can interpret God's nudges, His promptings, His checks because of relationship. So many of us want guidance: 'Lord, who do You want me to marry? What job do You want me to have? What country in the world do You want me to live in?' - there could be a thousand different questions, but guidance is first and foremost a relationship with the Guide who is your Father. Let's never go for the gifts before the Giver - very rude that, isn't it? It's out of cultivating a relationship with the Lord our Father and Jesus that we get to know His voice. He'll even speak to me, David, in ways that He'll never speak to you - isn't that beautiful? Because He knows me, He knows you.
You know, God is more concerned about who you are in relationship to Him than what you are. You see, very zealous Christians, they want to know how they're going to serve the Lord, what role they have, or gifts they can exercise. Those things are not unimportant, but God is more interested in who you are in relationship to Him. The fast track to hearing the voice of God is getting an intimate knowledge of Him personally. No formulas, or tricks, or courses that will get you there any quicker.
But here's the big question that maybe many of you're asking already: how do you know if it's yourself talking, or if it's even the devil? Some of us have been made to be terrified of the voice of God in case we get misled by a demon. Well, here's the best answer I can give to that, OK? Out of everything that I have read and studied and known in my own life, the best answer of 'How do I know the voice of God?' is the tone of the voice of God. Do you know that God's voice has a specific tone? I know that we live in the age of Caller Display - you know what that is? Whether your smart phone, or even on the house phone, when somebody is ringing usually their name (if they're in the directory) or their number will come up, and you know who it is. Well, I can remember the day before that was, and even now when I can't see the display on my phone, if I lift the phone and answer it and it's my wife on the other end of the phone, of course I immediately know it's her. I don't need her to say: 'Hello David, it's Barbara, your wife'. What's that coming out of? It's coming out of familiarity in the relationship, yes? So there is a tone to God's voice that you will learn actually to recognise immediately, because you know Who is speaking, you know the Person Who is speaking.
This might be helpful for you, so that you don't have that reaction when you hear a voice: 'Is it me, is it the devil, or is it God?'. Two lists that I find immensely helpful, you may want to jot this down or take a photograph of it on your smartphone if you have one. God's voice and Satan's voice - look at how correspondingly different they are. God's voice stills you, Satan's voice rushes you. Have you ever had that experience where you feel pressurised into doing something, and you think it's the voice of God? 'You really must witness to that person over there, you really must witness to that person. You're not a good Christian if you don't witness to that person'. I'm not saying God doesn't prompt you to witness to someone, He does, He does it to me regularly - but He never does it like that. Some of you are living your life like that, God is rushing you to do your quiet time. Now, He does like to meet with you at that time every day, I know that, but you've got to discern what is God and what is not. He leads you, God leads you, but the devil pushes you, he drives you - yes? God reassures you, but Satan frightens you. God has not given a spirit of fear, isn't that right? Perfect love casts out - what? Fear.
God's voice enlightens you, Satan's voice confuses you. Now that's not to say you're never confused about the will of God, it's one of the most difficult things at times to know. But you've got to understand that if you're hearing a voice that is more confusing than anything else, it may not be God. God encourages you - of course, the Holy Spirit is called the Parakletos, the One who comes alongside and strengthens, He's called the Encourager, that's a literal translation, He encourages us - but Satan discourages us. Some of us are perennially discouraged Christians, and we perceive that it is God that is making us that way. It's not to say that we blame God, but we attribute it to Him because we're not a good enough Christian to the standard that we feel is required of us. We think that it is God that is driving us and hammering us and pushing us forward, when it's not! God comforts you, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, Satan worries you. God's voice calms you, Satan obsesses you. It's interesting, yes? God's voice brings peace. Obsessive-compulsive religious people, very highly strung religious folk, perfectionist folk, it's not God. God's voice convicts you, Satan's voice condemns you. There is a very, very important distinction there, do you know what that actually means? It means that when you're convicted by the Holy Spirit - and He does convict of sin and of righteousness - you go to God, confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins, cleanse you from all unrighteousness, and if you have truly repented and confessed that sin you are free, you are forgiven! So if you continue to feel as if you're convicted, that is not conviction any more that is condemnation, and it's not the voice of God, it's the voice of the devil. If you don't know who's condemning you - well, God never condemns you, He might convict you, but all you need to do is confess it, deal with it, finish with it, and if that bad voice is still going on you know it's not God.
He is the accuser of the brothers, Satan - Revelation chapter 12 tells us. So when you get this accusatory tone, this nitpicking tone, this drivenness that is coming over in the voices that you're hearing, it may be you but in all likelihood it is the enemy. Especially with conscientious Christian people, you know, if Satan can't push you over the edge of backsliding through moral failure, he will try to drive you over the edge through frantic activism in Christian activity where you become obsessive in your devotion to the Lord. You say, 'Well, I need a bit more help. OK, I understand that there is a certain tone to the voice of God - but, you know, when I'm in this state, when there is this conflicting signals stuff coming, and my heart just is hard to get into God's frequency; how can I sort of still everything that I might know that I'm hearing the still, small voice of God?'. I'm going to give you three practical steps, very simply, you'll be able to remember these even.
First of all, what you need to do if you're questioning what the voices are you're hearing - is it God, is that the devil, is it demons, or is it you - first of all, you need to submit. What does that mean? Well, you need to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Every area of your life, submit it to Him as Lord. No no-go areas for Jesus and the Holy Spirit, OK? Now that will take humility, and this might be hitting a few red buttons here for folks. Humility presupposes that you have a sense of need. If you're sitting here tonight, and saying: 'All I need is the Bible', or 'Everything is working well for me, and I've got intelligence, and I'm quite capable or whatever, I know how to get along in life' - if you've got that kind of attitude, that's pride, and pride is the greatest obstacle to hearing the voice of God; it's the greatest obstacle in the Christian life in entirety. If you want to hear the voice of God, you need to take the low place. The Laodicean church in the book of Revelation, it says of them: 'They had need of nothing' - that's why Jesus Christ was standing outside a closed door, He wasn't in the church. Proverbs 3:5-6 says: 'Trust in the LORD with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding; but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path'. So you're not leaning on your knowledge or your own past experience, but you're saying: 'Lord, I need to acknowledge You in every area, and I need to trust You that You will guide me and direct my paths'. So there needs to be humility, that's part of what submitting to the Lordship of Jesus is.
There also needs to be purity. You will hear more clearly with a clean heart. Psalm 66 says: 'If I regard', or cherish, or harbour, 'iniquity in my heart, then the Lord will not hear me' - that is God going deaf. We might be deaf to the voice of God, but God actually goes deaf - so the two-way communication is broken through sin. Now, who of us doesn't sin? But we're talking about confessing, repenting, dealing with sin; not continuing on in habitual, lifestyle sin, but actually being ruthless with it. 'Who has clean hands and a pure heart, he will ascend the hill of the Lord' - he will have communion with his God. So you need to submit to the Lord, say 'Lord, I surrender every area to You in humility, ask You to purify me now'. In that act of submission, ask Him to help you silence your own thoughts, your own desires, your own opinions and that of others. So, you're submitting completely to Jesus. Second Corinthians chapter 10 verse 5 says we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. Do you get what we're doing here? You could picture it by lying prostrate on the floor and saying: 'Lord, over to You. I'm submitting everything to You, mind, body, soul and spirit; everything I'm submitting to You. I take captive every thought, every feeling, every desire, every aspiration, every dream, everything to Your obedience'. OK? So that's submission.
The second thing to do is resist, and this is coming directly from Scripture of course - some of you have guessed it already. James 4 verse 7: 'Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you'. So after laying everything in surrender at the feet of the Lord, you resist the enemy who may be trying to deceive you. So you use the authority that Jesus has given you to silence the enemy. What does that look like? Just what I said: 'Enemy, I silence you in Jesus' name. If you're trying to deceive me, any spirit is trying to deceive me, I rebuke you in the name of Jesus and I silence you and command you to leave me' - easy as that.
Submit, resist, and then thirdly: expect. Expect what? An answer! You see, you've got to believe that God speaks to you and that God will speak to you. Hebrews chapter 11 verse 6 says: 'Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him'. Do you know what that means? Expectancy draws God. If you're walking around not expecting God to speak to you, do you think you're going to recognise when He does? Of course not! Believe that He will speak to you, and then wait until He does. There might be a waiting - but do you see when you do wait, and when He does speak, then you've got to allow Him to guide you in whatever way He sees fit. Not second-guess Him, but wait for what He will tell you to do.
So we've looked at how to hear the voice of God, we've looked at how to recognise God's voice, but thirdly and finally we want to look at what to do with God's voice. Obey! As we began, we can look at how to hear God's voice, how to recognise God's voice, but what is the use of any of it if we don't do anything with it? Here's a principle that is really intrinsic to you hearing the voice of God and continuing to hear the voice of God, William MacDonald says: 'Obedience is the instrument of revelation'. Obedience is the instrument of revelation. Do you know what that means? If you want to have a continued revelation from God concerning your direction in life, you need to continually be obeying God. Obedience will actually open up the avenue of guidance for you. I'm told that the glowworm only ever glows (I know he doesn't have feet), but he only ever glows one step at a time. In other words, he only ever sees what's just right in front of him at any given time - that's the way God guides us, because He requires us to be obedient. Some of us are stuck in life, in Christianity, at whatever juncture we may find ourselves in, we're stuck because there has been a point at which God told us to do something, and it was very clear to us, and we disobeyed. Now we are expecting guidance with our job or relationships, church life, ministry, all the rest, but we haven't been obedient - and obedience is the instrument of revelation.
Amos chapter 3 verse 3 says: 'Can two walk together except they be agreed?'. The prophet is speaking there about how God was speaking to him because he walked with God, but Israel, God's people were not walking with God, so they weren't hearing from God. You see, Amos heard from God because he was walking in agreement with God, he was walking at God's pace. It was the blessing of obedience in his life, that prophetic vision. The blessings of obedience in the Christian life are immense. I'm going to show you on the screen two of probably my most favourite verses in the Bible. John chapter 14 verses 21 and 23, let these words sink in, Jesus said: 'He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father', watch this, 'and I will love him and manifest Myself to him'. Wow! Who would like Jesus to manifest Himself to them? That is what the verse says, isn't it? How does that happen? Obedience, obedience. You can't circumvent obedience. You can have all the weird and wonderful experiences you like, but if you want to truly go deep with God into an intimacy that Jesus is talking about, obedience is the way.
But look at the second verse, it's not just about Jesus. 'Jesus answered and said to him', this is to Judas (not Iscariot) who said 'How will You manifest Yourself to us and not the world?', 'Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him (or her) and make Our home (abode, habitation, dwelling place) with him''. Wow! That's the Trinity. That's the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will come and live with you, if you - what? Obey God's voice. Do you see the blessings of obedience? Jesus said: 'If you love Me, keep My commandments. Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and do not the things that I say?'.
So let me ask you: do you really love the Lord? Now, I know obedience comes out of love, it's not that by being a legalistic religious type person that you will end up loving the Lord. It's more that when the love of God shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit, you will start living out love towards God by obeying Him - it's more like that. But through your obedience you're showing that you truly love the Lord. But let me ask you: what impulses are you obeying? What impulses? Maybe the fruit of your life is confusion, but what are you listening to? What actually are you heeding? Just analyse for a moment some of the thoughts that you have on a daily basis. Now, this is what I'm talking about: if the impulse is 'Let's sit down and just surf the net here to see what we find', or the impulse is (and this is a dietary thing, I'm not talking spiritually here) 'Let's go and look in the fridge at 9 o'clock at night and see what's there' - those are impulses that are not very healthy to obey if you're wanting to say fit and healthy and tuned in, isn't that right? The impulse might be to lie in every morning in your life, but you don't listen to that voice, do you? Hopefully! But many of us in the spiritual realm are listening to those impulses, and we're following them - I've done it, and do still struggle - following them without even questioning where these thoughts are coming from, when we're actually being brought so near the edge of the precipice of moral failure at times, and we are playing fast and loose with sin, and we do it at the behest of a voice that speaks to us. We're not even alert to the fact that this is the enemy, and he knows that we're heeding him so he keeps doing it.
What are the impulses that you're following? The thoughts? The prompts? You know what Samuel said to Saul, don't you? You remember the incident in 1 Samuel 15 where the prophet, you see, would come and the priest would slay a sacrifice for the army going into battle - and Samuel was late. It was seven days, and they were standing encamped, and the enemy was coming at them. Saul was panicking, and out of fear of the people, he decided to perform the sacrifice illegally himself - he wasn't allowed to do that. He did the sacrifice, and then Samuel comes on the scene and says: 'What have you done?'. He says: 'Well, you wouldn't come, and I feared the people, so I did the sacrifice myself'. Then later on, what happens is: God had instructed them to kill all the Amalekites, but Saul spared King Agag and all the best livestock. He said: 'I'm doing that for the Lord, the livestock is for the Lord'. Samuel again comes on the scene, on this scene of disobedience, and he hears the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the cattle, and he says: 'What does this mean?'. Saul says: 'Oh, I spared them for the Lord and because of the people' - again he blames the people. Samuel says: 'To obey is better than sacrifice'.
You want to hear the voice of God, don't you? Who wouldn't? But are you going to obey Him? Do you think He's going to say an awful lot to you if your default position is disobedience and rebellion? No, He's not. I want to encourage you that spiritual growth does not develop until the Christian begins to hear from God; but equally, spiritual growth will never develop until you are obedient to what God is saying to you - because obedience is the instrument of revelation. 'My sheep', Jesus said, 'hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me'. One biblical commentator said: 'One of the reasons people find it hard to be obedient to the commands of Christ is that they are uncomfortable taking orders from a stranger'. Intimacy in relationship is the key to hearing the voice of God. Yes? Obedience is the way that you will go on hearing more clearly and more accurately what God is saying.
Now, I'm finished, but I want us to pray a prayer - potentially - if you feel up to it. Let me just read it over and explain it for you. This is really now positioning you to hear from God like you've never done before: 'Father, I thank You that You do speak' - and for some of you, that is a confession that you need to make, maybe undoing bad teaching or bad experience. 'I confess that I have not been listening, or have not been able to recognise Your voice' - for whatever reasons, we need to confess that perhaps. 'Through sin, unbelief, distractions, or listening to the enemy's voice, I have missed Yours. I repent of agreements made with inner voices of self or Satan, and I ask You to unblock my spiritual ears from any consequences of this'. Now, as I've been going through tonight, maybe the Holy Spirit has revealed to you certain things that have been said, you have agreed with, agreements that have been made internally, all the rest - you might need to break those tonight. 'I ask You to break off from me false pronouncements, curses, or false prophecy, or any words of rejection that have clogged my ears to You'. I believe that people who have received words of rejection a lot can have blockages in their hearing with God because of that - it can affect how they perceive God toward them. 'Please heal my heart, and deliver me from anything hindering me hearing Your voice. Forgive me for when I have heard Your voice and have disobeyed You'. How many times has that been the case? I know for me. 'I ask You now to awaken my spiritual senses to hear and perceive You better' - that's an exciting one. Expect that to happen. 'Draw me into greater intimacy with You, Lord', that's the key. 'May Your Holy Spirit completely possess me now' - remember the picture of the Temple of the Holy Spirit, that's what it's about, the still, small voice comes within and speaks to you from your spirit. 'Please give me the grace and strength to obey Your voice when I hear You. I submit to You, I resist the devil, and expect to hear from You from now on' - those three things, submit, resist, and expect - 'in Jesus' name, Amen'.
Can you pray that? Are you willing, ready to pray? Let's pray it together, only if you want to, OK? Let's pray: 'Father, I thank You that You do speak. I confess that I have not been listening, or have not been able to recognise Your voice. Through sin, unbelief, distractions, or listening to the enemy's voice, I have missed Yours. I repent of agreements made with inner voices of self or Satan, and I ask You to unblock my spiritual ears from any consequences of this. I ask You to break off from me false pronouncements, curses, or false prophecy, or any words of rejection that have clogged my ears to You. Please heal my heart, and deliver me from anything hindering me hearing Your voice. Forgive me for when I have heard Your voice and have disobeyed You. I ask You now to awaken my spiritual senses to hear and perceive You better. Draw me into greater intimacy with You, Lord. May Your Holy Spirit completely possess me now. Please give me the grace and strength to obey Your voice when I hear You. I submit to You, I resist the devil, and expect to hear You from now on'.
Let's pray: Lord, we thank You for what You're doing tonight. We thank You that You're the God who is, and we believe that You're not silent, we believe that You're constantly speaking. Give us ears to hear what the Spirit is saying right now, Lord, to all of us. We pray: give us ears to hear; let the word go deep down into our ears, as Jesus said; let it go deep into our heart; let it make a change, Lord, in all of our lives. Lord, may we be people who walk in step with what Your Spirit is saying for the 21st-century, for this day and age. I pray for The Stables, that You will raise up a people who can hear God for this time, for this moment, for such a time as this. Lord, that's what we need. Lord, You're not saying what You said in 1859, You're not saying what You said in 1921, You're not saying what You said in 1904 and 1905 - You're saying something for the 21st-century, for this year, for this day, and we need to have ears to hear! So, Lord, let us not be hearing second-hand messages, but let us all be hearing from Your heart what You've got to say to me, to my marriage, to my family, to my neighbourhood, to my ministry, to my church, to my county. Lord, give us ears to hear. Lord, keep ministering on to people here, whatever their needs might be. In Jesus' name we pray - receive our praise, and we ask Your blessing on our refreshments as well and the rest of the evening - in Jesus' name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Stables in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'Hunger For Reality' series, entitled "Obeying God's Voice" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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