I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with Richard about listening to God. Here is my second installment I’m calling Listening 202. I’ve abbreviated both Richard’s comments and questions and my answer. For the whole conversation see Listening 101. Also note question #1 below where I am asking for your stories. I will send the author of any story I publish in this blog with a copy of my book Viral Jesus. I grant to myself the final decision on which stories I post. Ah, the joys of having your own blog.
…I suppose the big debate is the general (“don’t kill…”) to the specific (“go and speak to that stranger over there about Me”…). Different Christians debate how specific God is likely to get. Does he just tell us to “make disciples of all people” and expect us to figure out that we are able to enter a discipling relationship with, say, our mate Bob; or will he specifically and prophetically say “make a disciple of that guy over there”? How often does he tell us to go down Straight Street? (Acts 9:11)…
God can and does speak very directly to us. He will give us as much information as we need to obey Him. But, in my experience, listening is progressive. The more I am willing to listen and obey, and the more I actively listen, the more communication I get. I don’t think hearing the voice of God is any different today than it was at the time of the New Testament (I’m not a big fan of the doctrine of cessation, that the supernatural ceased; although I used to be steeped in it).
In my book Viral Jesus I give an example of God speaking to me very specifically when I was reaching a guy I called Amado. While I was beginning to share the gospel with Amado, God told me, “Don’t disparage other religions or you are going to lose this guy. Lead him like you are catching a horse.” You can read the rest of the story on pages 51-54. But, suffice it to say God spoke very specifically to me using a metaphor I could understand, (I grew up on a cattle ranch in Oregon). Was this audible? Not exactly, but it was very specific and I knew exactly what God was saying. And His communication ended up being spot on and very helpful in my ongoing relationship with Amado.
I think one of the key passages on listening is Acts 16:6-10 where Paul and friends are directed, step by step to Macedonia.
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10)
When we speak of “listening” we are actually using a language metaphor for all types of communication. Very little of “God’s voice” and our “listening” is actually audible, but it is communication. I’ve highlighted in bold the words Luke uses to indicate God’s communication with Paul and friends. Note how specific it was. God moved them from traveling north by foot to traveling west by boat. Also note it was a bit of information at a time. He told them just enough to see if they would respond in obedience. They did, and then God gave them a little more. At the end of the process, there was great fruit…and hardship.
Listening is an ongoing process. One of the quickest ways to stop communication with God is to take over the process, in essence say, “I know what you want, and I’ve got it from here.” Another problem is when we decide how we want God to communicate with us, we want a vision, we don’t want Him to only speak to us through desires or inclinations; we want it to be very direct and unmistakable, etc. We need to understand that God’s communication with us is extremely multifaceted and often subtle. He speaks to our heart and mind (Heb 8:10). He can do that in so many ways, from ideas that pop into our head, to dreams, to feelings, to godly advice…the list goes on. The main issues are that we are intentionally looking for this communication, i.e. “listening,” and when He “speaks,” i.e. communicates in some way, we hear, make sure it is God’s voice (called discernment) and then obey. Remember this is a process, not an event; note again Paul and friends in Acts 16. The main issue is actively joining in the process with Jesus the Lord: ongoing seeking, listening, hearing, discerning and obeying.
- Have you ever had an experience of hearing God that led to fruitful ministry? Send me your story. I’ll send a copy of my book Viral Jesus to every story I share on my blog.
- God still speaks to us as specifically as he did to people we read about in the New Testament. Agree or Disagree? Why?
- How would you answer Richard as to the specificity of God’s communication to us? Does He just give general principles, precepts and instructions, “make disciples of all people,” or does he tell us “make a disciple of that guy over there”?
- What other questions do you have about God’s communication and our listening?