Hearing from God
Preached at Main Street Church on March 18th, 2018
God speaks to us in four ways:
- God speaks to us through His word
- God speaks to us through His people
- God speaks to us through His Spirit
- God speaks to us through His wisdom
John 16:13-14 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Revelation vs. Illumination
When we say “God speaks to us,” we are talking about illumination. NOT revelation. Here is why we need to be very careful to distinguish between these two things:
- Revelation 22:18-19 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
- These verses at the end of the Bible are saying that if anyone claims to have any revelation from God on the same level as Scripture, they will be damned. They will be cursed to hell.
Revelation is God’s revealed truth. Illumination is God’s truth revealed.
- Revelation is God’s Word, aka the Bible
- Illumination is when God’s Spirit helps you to understand God’s word.
- 1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
- In other words, anyone can have access to revelation, God’s revealed truth, but it takes the illumination of the Holy Spirit to help us actually understand it.
When we say “God speaks to us,” we are talking about illumination. NOT revelation.
- John 16:13-14 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
- God has given us all the truth he wants us to have, but he has given us the Spirit to guide us into that truth.
4 Ways God Speaks to Us
- God Speaks to Us Through His Word
The first, and most common way that God speaks to us is through his word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” This says that Scripture is ‘breathed out by God,’ that is, it is God’s Word, and it is sufficient to equip you for every good work. God has chosen that the primary way he speaks to us is through his written word, the Bible.
If you truly want to hear from God, soak yourself in the Scriptures. Memorize verses and just chew on them throughout the day. Spend intentional time learning the Bible. If you refuse to hear from God through his Word, his primary means of communicating his will to us, you probably will not hear from him at all.
If you’re waiting for God to speak to you through a burning bush like he did to Moses, or through a donkey like he did to Balaam, or through eccentric prophets like he did to Israel, you need to change your approach. Look at what Hebrews:1:1-2 says: Hebrews 1:1-2 “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,” In other words, now that Christ has come as the full expression of God’s will, there is no longer a necessity for extra revelation to be given through prophets. And since Christ has ascended, he has sent the Helper, aka the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all the truth, or to illuminate God’s word to us. The primary way God speaks to us is through his Word.
God uses other means to speak to us, but we have to get this clear: Someone who has not soaked in the ocean of Scripture will not drink much from the streams of the Spirit.
Ephesians 6:17 says we are to take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” You can’t expect to have these great illuminations from God if you’ve never spent any time studying the thing you want him to illuminate. Spend some time reading God’s word each day. Memorize one of the verses on the sermon notes and meditate on it throughout the day. Use a study Bible to help you understand. Get a commentary on a particular book of the Bible and work through it. All of these things will help you hear God speak to you through his word.
- God Speaks to Us Through His People
The second way that God speaks to us is through His people. Many of you have experienced this, and I for one hope you are experiencing it right now! 1 Thessalonians 2:13 “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
Paul is referring to the fact that when he preached the gospel to the Thessalonians, they received the message as God’s truth, and not simply as Paul’s personal opinion. Romans 10 says, “How can someone believe in Jesus if they’ve never heard of him? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” And then verse 17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Therefore, God can speak his word to us through His people. It could be through sermons, it could be through conversations, text messages, it could be through a gift of prophecy, which we will get to.
When I was in high school God used the message of a special speaker to convict of my call to vocational ministry as a pastor. God used one of his people to speak to me. God can speak through his people in a variety of ways, but one particular way that we see in Scripture is through the gift of prophecy.
The gift of prophecy in the NT, is vastly different than those who were called ‘prophets’ in the OT. Look at what 1 Corinthians 14 says about prophecy: 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy…the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation…the one who prophesies builds up the church.” So prophecy is a NT gift that involves telling something that God has brought to mind, and it is always for up-building, encouragement, and consolation. It is not predicting the future like a fortune-teller.
Anyone who claims to be a prophet nowadays, and goes around making predictions about future events and when Jesus is coming back is earning God’s judgment upon themselves. Deut. 18:20-22 “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously.” Friends, don’t waste your time listening to people like that. The gift of prophecy in the NT is about building up and encouraging the church.
There is a view of the gift of prophecy that says, “If it says the same thing as Scripture, why is it needed? And if it says something different than Scripture, then it should be discarded.” I appreciate an approach with a high view of Scripture, but lets apply that same logic to the gift of preaching or teaching. My preaching or teaching is not God-breathed, like Scripture, but I hope that it is helpful and that God speaks through it and uses it. In the same way, when someone believes they have a prophecy to share it is not God-breathed, but it is a gift God has given his church for encouragement and building up.
A good example of this is several weeks ago one of our elders of the church here, Mark, felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit during our time or worship to share something that the Holy Spirit impressed upon him for the building up of the church. A sermon series was borne out of that. That is one good example of prophecy.
Because the concept of prophesy is abused, it is tempting to simply ignore the idea of the gift of prophecy, but we see it in the Scriptures, and it is for our benefit, so we won’t ignore it. Here is how we are to receive prophecies:
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Quenching the spirit would be when someone shares something they believe the Holy Spirit has given them to simply write it off as them being over-emotional, caught up in the moment, or simpy disbelieving that God could speak through someone in that way. The Scripture says ‘don’t quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies.’
So does that mean we just take everything that is said as God’s inspired word? No, we are commanded to ‘test everything, hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.’ So how do you test a prophecy? The same way, I hope, you test this sermon. You compare it to God’s word, you hold fast to the good parts, and if any part was wrong, you abstain from it.
Friends, let us not quench the spirit and deprive ourselves of how God might speak to us through other people by giving them prophecies, but let us not also be simple-minded and accept everything, but let us hold fast what is good. God speaks to us through his word, and God speaks to us through his people
- God Speaks to Us Through His Spirit
Third, God speaks to us through his Spirit. John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Again here we see that the Spirit gives us illumination, not revelation. The Spirit will ‘teach us all things, and bring to our remembrance what Jesus has said.’ So it’s not new information. But the Spirit also leads us as we live our lives. Acts 13:2 says, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” So the Holy Spirit can at times prompt us for particular acts of ministry. We see this happening in the book of Acts many times, that the Holy Spirit guides and leads the apostles as they carry out their ministry.
When I was a campus minister I once felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to ask a young woman if she had an eating disorder. It was not something I would have done on my own, and I didn’t have any knowledge of her situation, but I felt a strong constraint of the Spirit that I needed to ask the question. When I asked it, she confessed that she did have an eating disorder, and that she had never told anyone before. She got into counseling, talked with her family and pastors, and has journeyed down the healing path since then.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit will impress upon you or prompt you, or convict you to do something. The challenge with this is that we will often talk ourselves out of doing it. I think that the more we ignore, or say no to the Holy Spirit’s guiding in our life, the more calloused we become and the less sensitive we are to his prompting.
How can you know that is the Holy Spirit leading you to do something and not simply some emotional response of your own? Here is my advice: if you feel led to do something that is by it’s very nature, a good thing, like praying for someone, saying a kind word, reaching out through a phone call, or something like that, then you ought to do it. Those are low-risk things, that if you do them, are pleasing to God aren’t they? Now, some things are higher risk, like asking someone serious questions, or big life changes. Those are areas that may be a bit more challenging.
I would definitely not have asked that girl about her eating disorder if it had not been the Holy Spirit clearly directing me in that. I was constrained by the Spirit. Another examples is my parents sense of call to spread the gospel overseas in South Korea. My dad was 45 years old, advancing in his career, had four kids, one who was about to graduate high school, and then myself, only 8 years old. For my parents to uproot their lives and their family to move to the other side of the globe took a serious sense of the Holy Spirit speaking into their lives. Issues like that take times of serious prayer, reflection, and conversation.
I want to caution you here not to use the Holy Spirit as an excuse to do or not do things though. It can be tempting to use God as an excuse, and that is a form of taking God’s name in vain. You are attaching God’s name to your will, and that is wrong. God speaks to us through his Spirit, and we discern the Spirit’s voice by the Word of God, which are one in the same
- God Speaks to Us Through His Wisdom
So God speaks to us through his word, through his people, and through his Spirit, and finally, here is an important and yet often neglected way that God speaks to us: through His wisdom. Proverbs 4:11-12 “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.”
Wisdom is: “The art of godly living” Wisdom is applying the belief that God always chooses the best goals and the means to those goals. Wisdom is looking at the way God designed the world and how it works, and applying those principles to life in a way that makes sense.
Sometimes we want God to give us direction on non-truth issues such as: Who to marry, where to live, what college to go to, what job to work, how many kids to have what car to buy, and things like that. God’s word will give you some guidelines for some of those things. God’s people will give you input and advice for those thing. God’s Spirit will give help guide you, but it is the combination of these three things along with observation of God’s world that make up wisdom, and God speaks to us through that.
God might not tell you exactly who to marry, but his wisdom can tell us who is a good candidate to marry. God might not tell us what house to buy, but his wisdom can tell us that a million dollar mansion on a hundred thousand dollar budget might not be a good idea. God might not tell you what college to go to, but his wisdom can tell you that you ought to go somewhere that will deepen and strengthen your relationship with him. God might not tell you exactly what job you should have, but his wisdom ought to play a role in that. You might want to hear from God about what time you should go to bed. I don’t think that God’s word alone, or his people, or his Spirit, would give you a specific time, but his wisdom would actually help give you answer.
If you have a certain time you have to get up for work, things you need to do, time you need to eat, and amount of sleep you need to function, God’s wisdom can actually help guide you in things as mundane and common as what time you should go to bed. God’s wisdom is having an understanding of how the world works, self-awareness, openness to God, in addition to listening to God speak through his word, his people, and his Spirit. There will come times in your life when you simply need to make a decision, and that’s when you rely on God’s wisdom. James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
Aren’t you glad that God has not left us to navigate this life alone, but he communicates with us through his word, his people, his Spirit, and his wisdom? In Isaiah 30:21 Isaiah prophesied of a time when God’s people would follow his voice forever. When there would be no more sin, no more following the voices of the world, and no more ambiguity of God’s voice. He says, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”
Friends, God’s word says, “This is the way, walk in it.”
God’s people say, “This is the way, walk in it.”
God’s Spirit says, “This is the way, walk in it.”
And God’s wisdom says, “This is the way, walk in it.”