In our last blog post, we introduced you to the 3 areas deacons must practice the art of listening as they minister to God’s church and beyond: God, Each Other and Your Communities.
This week we want to look first and foremost at listening to GOD. For all believers, especially leaders, spending time LISTENING to God and letting Him lead us is a crucial part of our Christian walk. Initially this may sound pretty obvious, but how much time do each of us, individually and corporately, practice this?
We don’t consciously and deliberately disobey God— we simply don’t listen to Him. God has given His commands to us, but we pay no attention to them— not because of willful disobedience, but because we do not truly love and respect Him. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Once we realize we have constantly been showing disrespect to God, we will be filled with shame and humiliation for ignoring Him. (“Listening to God, My Utmost for His Highest, O. Chambers)
Whoa. Let that sink in for a minute. But if we continue our reading, later on in John 15, Jesus reminds his disciples (which includes us!): “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We accept this truth, don’t we?
One objection heard among some church-going circles is that God doesn’t speak today. The God of the Bible spoke directly through an audible voice/conversation, through visions and dreams and also through angels. Some say that God no longer speaks to us this directly. Others say He does speak, but it is only through His Son, Jesus (see Hebrews 1-2:4 and this article). Clearly this isn’t a cut and dry issue and not something all believers are in agreement on. As I write, I wonder where each of you stands on this matter.
A resource developed by Andy Groen and Josiah Bokma, and taught within our denomination, walks us through some of the core principles, guidelines and practices for listening to God and discerning His voice and guidance in our lives. Let’s look at this together and see when, where and how God may be speaking to us still today.
What the Bible Says About This
- God is the same yesterday, today and will be the same in the future (Heb. 13:8). This means the God who spoke throughout history is still speaking today and will keep on speaking;
- Jesus stated in John 10 that His sheep would hear and recognize His voice. His grace is sufficient for you and His Spirit is with you and within you;
- God communicates in dynamic and creative ways. He speaks through Scriptures, songs, pictures, senses, visions, words/phrases, nature, people, events, and however else He pleases;
- As God’s beloved children, we speak AND listen to God for the sake of intimacy and friendship. It is more about relationship and lifestyle than skill or ability. Discerning God’s voice not only leads to dynamic intimacy, but also to dynamic mission (John 15:9-17).
Do you agree with these? Would you add to this list or take anything away? So now, if we do believe God still speaks today, how can we discern we are hearing His voice? Here are some tips they give:
Guidelines for Discerning God’s Voice and Words
- Does it line up with Scripture? A word from God will never contradict what the Bible says (1 Tim. 3:16);
- Does it point to Jesus? What we hear must lead us to love Jesus more, praise Him and focus on Him and His teachings (Rev. 19:10). It must never be self-serving;
- Does it give us peace? What we hear must be an inner resonance of God’s love and peace, even if it’s a rebuke. Feelings of fear, confusion and condemnation are not from God;
- Does it encourage, strengthen and comfort? (1 Cor. 14:3);
- Is it the voice of love, compassion, wisdom, grace, joy, peace? Is it the voice of a Heavenly Father and Bridegroom?
So… if this is all true, what now? How can we now begin to take the time to listen to God in order that we can follow His leading?
Practices of Walking with God; Letting Him Talk to Us and Lead Us
- Pay attention to what God has already spoken and the ways He already speaks with you;
- Ask for and embrace a hunger for God’s leadership and voice. Get tired of your own ‘wisdom’ and limited perspectives. Isaiah 55:8-9: “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”;
- Create time and space for God to lead and speak (personally and corporately):
- Spend time in silence so you can be attentive to God’s person and voice;
- Use the practice of reading Scripture prayerfully (lectio divina), seeking to encounter God in His Word. “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8);
- In your prayer time; ask His Spirit to lead you: asking who to pray for and how you should pray for them;
- Try journaling while you study God’s Word and pray – writing down questions, concerns, areas where you need wisdom, etc. and writing down the answers you receive;
- Ask God for His eyes, perspective and wisdom in how to see and love your neighbours/those around you.
In all of this, we see a theme of intentionality. We must choose to come before God and spend time communicating with Him, which will lead to a life of blessing. We see this when we read Isaiah 30:
18 So the Lord must wait for you to come to him
so he can show you his love and compassion.
For the Lord is a faithful God.
Blessed are those who wait for his help.
19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem,
you will weep no more.
He will be gracious if you ask for help.
He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
20 Though the Lord gave you adversity for food
and suffering for drink,
he will still be with you to teach you.
You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
21 Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or to the left.
What a beautiful picture of walking in step with God, our loving and faithful Heavenly Father. What would happen in our diaconates if all of our decisions were Spirit-led? How would that affect your churches? Your communities?
Our prayer for you as Deacons is that you will continue (or begin!!) to spend time listening to God, both personally and corporately. Hearing God’s voice is not a mystical experience for the “super-spiritual.” It’s a natural part of being in any relationship. And in our relationship with God, He never stops communicating with us and He wants us to know and follow His voice. Spend some time in the next month asking God what you need to do to become a better listener.
Keep the Conversation Going!
What do YOU think? Have you experienced a time when you know God spoke to you? Have you ever felt the Spirit prompting you to say or do something? Do you think our churches spend enough time learning and practicing this discipline? Would you recommend any further bible or book studies on this? We’d love to hear from you!