Learning to hear God’s Voice
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”…
…“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:2-3,14-16 NIV)
‘Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.’ (1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV)
In my last blog I looked at how God tells us to pull down ways of thinking – ‘arguments and pretensions’ – in our minds in order to occupy the spiritual territory we already own in Christ. In this blog we are going to look at the importance of the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit in this process.
If we are to take hold of our spiritual inheritance then we need to learn to hear God’s voice.
One of the ways 3DM teams help churches to do engage with the leading of the Holy Spirit is to do some practical training on how to implement the instructions of Jesus in Mark 1:15: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”
Jesus is referring here to a process of transformation that we are called to engage with so that the way we think and behave begins to imitate Him. We are to allow God to catch our attention through events (‘Kairos’ times in the Greek) in our life, and then to go through a process of changing the way we think (repenting) and stepping out in faith (believing) together. We ask the questions:
How is God getting my attention?
What is God saying?
What am I going to do about it?
Generally, we are more likely to discern the prompting of the Holy Spirit if we process what we think we might be hearing with other believers. In his teaching on hearing God, the Apostle Paul writes: ‘Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.’ (1 Corinthians 14:29 NIV).
In the Old Testament, prophets spoke with scriptural levels of authority and were simply to be obeyed; but if they turned out to be wrong, they were stoned to death! In the New Testament era, all of God’s people get to hear His voice, but there is a process of discernment that is necessary with other believers, weighing the specific word against the general principles of Scripture and the wisdom of other believers, before we can have confidence that the Lord is speaking to us.
The Holy Spirit will teach us all things and speak to us about our specific circumstances (in Romans 10:17 this is called the ‘message’ – the specific thing God is saying to us) but will never say something to us that disagrees with the general plumb line of the Bible.
As we discussed in the last blog, Jesus took the disciples through a process of transformation which involved getting them to observe, reflect and discuss together what the Father was wanting to reveal to them, and then forming a plan, being accountable with each other to make sure they actually did it, and acting on it. 3DM shows this with a circle, which we call the Learning Circle:
Many of us half ‘hear’ things from God, and put them on the back burner for months or even years before we do anything about them. If we regularly process the promptings we feel from the Holy Spirit with others, helping each other to discern what God is saying using Scripture as a guide and holding each other accountable to act on what we are hearing, we will generally find that our spiritual life will begin to mature very quickly.
When you do what says, you will often find that He then tells you what to do next! It leads to a wonderful life of interaction with God and other believers as we learn to walk in obedience to Him.
In my experience, God will speak to us in many ways. Different people will tend to hear Him in different ways, but these might include:
- Conviction or revelation when reading the Bible
- Scriptures coming to mind
- An inner sense of ‘prompting’ or gut feeling
- Visions – which may be anywhere on a spectrum from simple pictures in our imaginations through to an experience that occupies all of our five senses
- A sense of hearing God in conversation with someone else
- Repeated circumstantial experiences
I am sure there are many other ways God will speak to us. The point is that as his sheep, we learn to recognize the Shepherd’s voice, however He chooses to speak.
It is important that if we think God may have spoken to us, we do not start to use this as an excuse to be un-submitted or unaccountable. “Thus sayith the Lord” is an Old Testament way of operating, not a New Testament one. No-one should be claiming that they are accurately discerning what He is saying without input from others.
In my church we teach people to use the words ‘might’ and ‘maybe’ when sharing prophetic words, not because they cannot feel confident that God has spoken to them, but so that when they share what they think God is saying they are implicitly inviting the other person to whom they are talking, to weigh the word with them. This protects against a culture of control or manipulation from developing.
We also teach people to share their experience directly rather than over-interpreting. If we are praying for someone and we experience a feeling of abandonment for example, we might say “This is strange, but as I am praying for you I am feeling a sense of abandonment. Is that just me or could it be something from God?” We certainly would not say “God says you have abandonment issues!” If the word is from God, the person will know.
In Network Church Sheffield we developed a culture over many years where people expected to hear the Lord’s voice and then share it with each other in a sensitive and accountable way. It led to a great environment of faith and confidence, and some remarkable experiences of God setting people free, guiding people as they sought to serve Him, and even people coming to faith!
Paul says: ‘But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!’ (1 Corinthians 14:24-25 NIV) We had this experience on a number of occasions.
Are you confident that you can hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit? God wants you to pursue His voice. Who could you go around the Learning Circle with, so that you can start to discern together what God is saying to you?
Going further: Cath Livesey, who led the prophetic ministry at Network Church Sheffield, has written a great book called ‘My Sheep have Ears’. This is a great way to explore the things discussed in this blog further.