How To Hear God’s Voice… No Kidding
So there’s the sermon title, “How To Hear God’s Voice… No Kidding”. “Sure Jim,” someone might say… “Hearing God’s voice. Wasn’t that the story about the guy that had all the people drink the poison Kool-Aid? He said, ‘God told me to go down to Guyana with you.’ Jim Jones. Yeah, that was Jim Jones!” Remember that cult leader, a couple decades back? He took his whole group to Guyana and told them that “God told me to have you drink this Kool-Aid” and they all died because it was poisoned! Yeah right… Or the guy that goes up to the gal and says, “’God told me’ to marry you.” And she says, “Well, He certainly hasn’t told me!” We’ve all probably heard stories like that and yeah, this whole idea of really hearing God’s voice can definitely be abused.
What I’m encouraging you to think about this morning is to not “throw the baby out with the bath water.” There are many good things in the world that can be misused. That doesn’t mean they can’t be used! What I want to raise up for us this morning as a church is the real possibility of hearing the voice of God! Not necessarily as an audible voice but as thoughts inside of us, voice that comes through spontaneous impressions, visions, pictures, the vast kaleidoscope of the ways that God speaks to us. Folks, it can happen, and it does happen! It happens to me and you. We may not always recognize it! But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
God does speak. Why? Because God is real, and it’s the characteristic of real persons to communicate. John did an awesome sermon a little while ago about the “dumb” idols in the Old Testament. They call them “dumb” idols not just because they are stupid blocks of wood and don’t have much high IQ; that’s true. They call them “dumb”, in the old English sense of the word: “Dumb” as in they can’t speak. The Israelites made fun of these local deities because they could not speak. They could do that because they knew our God does speak! He’s not “dumb”! (That would be a good one liner-remembering, “what did Jim preach about this morning? God is not dumb.” That would be good! But I’m going to carry on a little further this morning anyway.)
Jesus speaks! He rose from the dead: and Jesus brought His voice box with Him from the grave! Think about it: a one-way relationship where we do all the talking - even in our earthly relationships - that’s not much of a relationship if it’s only one-way talking. Hey, I want to hear God speaking to me! When I speak, by the grace of God, maybe some things happen. When God speaks, the universe explodes into existence! I want to hear Him rather than just me flapping my gums.
The Bible proclaims a God who speaks. Folks, this is biblical. Of course, He speaks authoritatively and perfectly in His written word. But even this Word talks about his living voice. It sets up a relationship where we can hear the Lord and we’ll talk about how we do that. But the Bible proclaims a God who speaks to me in a living way right now! We heard that as Marilyn read John 10. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” That’s a characteristic of being a disciple of Jesus. My sheep hear my voice. The whole point, Jesus says, is my sheep can grow into being able to hear it. Otherwise why would He bother speaking to us? They will run away from a stranger. Why? They don’t recognize His voice. So the Bible is saying here not only that Jesus speaks, but that you and I can learn, as John 10 just said, to recognize His voice. We can learn to distinguish it from the robber’s voice!
Acts 2, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy…” A fancy word meaning they will speak what they hear from God. Your old men will dream dreams - from God. Your young men will see visions - from God.” The book of Acts is full of this stuff. The whole Bible is full of this! In Acts it says to one of the disciples, “Go up to the street called Straight.” God’s saying, “Go to this street.” He told Philip in Acts 8, “Go to the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza and then Philip, get up by the chariot.” Philip leads a guy to Christ on that chariot. I mean this is like, God is - what do they call them, Garmin’s? The little GPS things you’ve got in your car! “Go up to this road and go here.” God is your Garmin! Maybe the Garmin folks got this idea from the Bible. Hebrews 3:15: “Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.” Why bother talking about hardening your heart if we could never hear His voice in the first place? God expects us to hear His voice and then respond to it - not harden ourselves, but soften ourselves - to hear Him.
Here in Habakkuk 2:1-2 is one of the most vital places where the scriptures proclaim how to hear God. Four kinds of keys emerge from this passage. This is ok, by the way, to be on a learning curve. None of our children learn to hear our voice or recognize it right away. They had to learn over time. Some of you have kids that are thirty-five and still trying to understand what you are trying to tell them. It takes time to learn this, and that’s ok!
Point number one: the key here is to quiet yourself. Quiet yourself! Even in Habakkuk’s world, it was pretty noisy. So he said, “I will go to my guard post.” In the ancient world, guard posts were pretty solitary kind of places. Habakkuk says, “I’ll go to the guard post, get away from the clamor.” If you really want to hear the voice of God, first of all you have to get away to a quiet place. Is your home a difficult place to find quiet? Come here to the church building during the week! This is your church. A lot of people do that, by the way. I see people going by my window all the time to the prayer room, or wherever, to hear God. That’s what this building is for! So get away, come here, go to the public library, anywhere. Put a sign on the door of your room, “Do not Disturb.” Or a sign on yourself, “Do not disturb”! But get away so you can be quiet.
Now when I quiet myself to listen to the voice of God the first thing I hear is… “make sure you go by Wal-mart and pick up the milk”! Folks it’s normal to hear distracting stuff in the clutter of our brain. When that happens to you, God doesn’t get huffy at you and go, “Oh man, you are such a failure.” No: Get a separate piece of paper and write down the things that are distracting you on your “to do” list. Write those down and say to that thought, “I’ll get back to you later.” Otherwise, that thing is going to keep nagging at you while you are trying to pray! That happens to me and that happens to you. Write that down so you can put it aside. God’s patient with that. You know folks, when the Lord teaches us to hear His voice - I’ve really experienced this in my own life - He’s much more patient with us, He’s much more gentile with us, than we usually are with ourselves. That’s Him!
So you are quieting yourself, you’re getting away, you’re writing down the distractions. What can you expect then? Secondly, you tune into the spontaneous thoughts and flow that come to you. You’ll begin to hear what is going on . As I said, the voice of God is usually not an audible voice: It’s often thoughts that come out of nowhere. For example, have you ever been driving your car and all of a sudden you think about somebody and a need that they are in? Well, do you realize that that is very likely the voice of God - right there and right then - calling you to intercede for them? The Hebrew word for intercessory prayer is “paga”. It basically means a spontaneous thought that just “lights” on our mind. Now, as we know, not all the thoughts that light on our mind are from God: we will talk about that in a minute! But that’s what you tune into, the flow of thoughts first of all.
Then third, he says, “Use vision to see what God will show you.” It says Habakkuk looked to see what God would show him. Take the time and look at what God is showing you. He opened the eyes of his heart, just like Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:18, “that the eyes of your heart may be opened”. Why write about that if God isn’t going to open the eyes of our heart? He can and He does!
Then fourthly, finally, use journaling. Write down what you see and hear! Habakkuk wrote down what he was hearing. And I’m learning to do this. This is kind of new to me, in some ways, but I am doing it and enjoying it. Writing down what the impressions are, what is coming to you. You will edit them in a minute. But journaling is very biblical. The whole Bible, especially the book of Psalms, is like a journal. The Psalmist will be pouring out his heart to God; he’ll be spilling his guts. And then there is that “Selah” word which means a pause or musical interlude. What’s he pausing for? I think he’s pausing to hear God’s response. Then the rest of the Psalm is what God is saying to him! Write out what’s getting impressed on your heart. Then, after that flow has stopped, you can go back over and edit it and you can discern according to scripture what is really from God. You know what’s really from God if what you’re writing down lines up with scripture, first of all, but also with the character of Christ. For example, if I hear in the next room some gal swearing her head off, I know it’s not Sherri because she doesn’t do that! You know the voice by the character, by what it’s like. Jesus’ voice's character is in line with His word. It’s pure, it’s gentle, it’s holy. You’ve had an experience with somebody calling you on the phone, and if you know the person only slightly, you have to think for awhile: “is this Richard, George; who is this, exactly?" If you know the person really well, you pick up on who it is right away! Folks, the more we know Jesus Christ through His written Word, the more we know Him in our personal relationship, the more we are going to understand not only what He is saying, but we will recognize it is Him. If I’m in a crowded area in the church here, even if I can’t make out the words, I can pick out my wife’s voice a hundred feet away because I know that voice. I know that person! I know by the character and the tone and the quality that it’s her.
The same thing applies to God. God’s tone, God’s voice is going to be gentle. It’s going to be nurturing. It’s not going to be accusing. The word of God says the voice of the accuser is Satan! The one who runs you down, smashes you down, and says you are never quite good enough: “Boy I’m just frustrated with you, I’m disappointed in you”. That’s the accuser, folks. Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” So if you hear a condemning voice in your head, that’s not God. So you can discard that one. His voice is like the character of God. He’ll never condemn you, He’ll never whine at you. God is not a whiner! You don’t have to ask Him if He “wants some cheese with His whine”. He’s not a whiner! His character is gentle; encouraging you, confident in what He’s doing in you, hopeful, loving, merciful: that kind of stuff tends to be Him.
Finally, to discern God’s voice you share with others what kind of things are coming to you. Folks, when we’re discerning the voice of God, it is a corporate experience. We don’t just launch off on our own. If the guy I mentioned earlier really heard God telling him to marry the girl, He would be telling her, too! There’s a corporate way of checking this all out.
I want to pull this all together and share with you an example of what one person heard. This is really cool. After this fellow sat down, quieted himself, got away, put his little errand list out of the way, tuned into that spontaneous thoughts and that flow, tuned into Jesus, opened and surrendered his heart to Jesus here are some things he heard. In his journal he said, “Lord, what would you like to say to me?” The Lord said back to him, “You’re too hard on yourself.” (Does that surprise you? Have you ever imagined God telling you that you are too hard on yourself? Sometimes we are a lot harder on ourselves than Jesus is!) You’re too hard on yourself. I don’t expect you to be perfect. I called you out so I could live in you and so we could both experience what the combination of the two of us looks like when we are expressing our personalities through this one body. When we are separate, (and I love this creativity; this is great!) I, the Lord, am like chocolate and you are like peanut butter. Blend us together and the result is a tasty treat. Except there is only none like us in the whole world. Together we are a tasty treat. I want you to enjoy that about yourself in me and stop lamenting what you are not. (Boy, the Lord says a lot of this kind of stuff to me, believe me! “Stop lamenting what you are not!”) I will complete you in your weak areas; take captive and put away thoughts of inadequacy in your area of gifting. Remember to look to me and rely on me and depend on me and I will supply everything you need to serve in the kingdom.”
Now, wouldn’t hearing stuff like that change your life? It has mine. I was getting ready to help teach on some of this for our session retreat. We are going to go on a session retreat and learn to hear the voice of God, and I was feeling so overwhelmed. So I said, “Lord, what do you want to say to me?” When I quieted myself and tuned in, I saw a vision of His hand just reaching out to me. Not Him crossing his arms and saying, “Oh brother, you’re on your own. You’re going to blow it!” But rather Him reaching out his hand to encourage me, to walk with me, to teach me. That felt so relieving!
A lot of times, you can see if it is really God’s voice by how you feel when you hear it. Do you feel more relieved? Do you feel more encouraged? Do you feel more loved after tuning into that voice? Well then that’s probably God! If you feel more nervous, more worried, more agitated, more depressed that’s not God, because God is never worried, God is never depressed, God is never: “oh my goodness, what am I going to do now?” That’s not Him!
How serious is Jesus about wanting to talk to you? Folks, let’s get a hold of this as a church. I’ll put some things in the newsletter so you can take this home and work on it, and get on that learning curve! But how serious is Jesus Christ about what I’ve said today? What price did he pay to open the communication line between Him and you? What price did he pay? That price (pointing to the cross)! Folks, this isn’t just Jim talking. This is real. It’s changing my life, and it’s biblical. Don’t sit there today going, “oh I could never do that… besides, that’s just gab for Sunday morning.” Don’t dismiss it that way! I’m going to close with one last very brief reading here. Another example of a person quieting himself, tuning in, journaling out, and being in the presence of God and listening. See what you think about this. One entry wrote like this: The person wrote to Jesus, “Why do You love me so much?” And He responded, “Because you are my child”. “Lord is there anything you want to say to me?” “Yes, something very, very important. That I love you very, very much.” “Lord, is there more you want to say?” “No.” “Thank you, Lord, for all you’ve spoken to me. Good night!”
That was a seven year old girl! Can you imagine what it would be like to grow up with the living voice of God speaking to you like that? And if a seven year old can do it, you and I can do it!
Let’s pray. Lord, thank You that You never shame us when we tune you out… when we look at the vision of life with You that is not just one way communication, but two-way, out of your love! You are still so kind with me when we look at the possibility of hearing your voice and go, “oh brother that’s for weirdo’s,” or, “I could never do that”. Lord You never give up on us! Father, keep speaking. Speaking of your healing love, of your redeeming possibilities. Keep speaking, Lord. And help us to hear… whether we are seventy-seven, or seven: or anything else. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. James A. Tilley
First Presbyterian Church