Saturday, September 21, 2019

Listening out for God

"My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Proverbs 2:1-5

When I was a new Christian listening to people talking about God speaking to them, I imagined that they heard a loud booming voice, undeniably from God. Some people do, but generally he speaks through us, through our surroundings, and through others.

While I was waiting to hear that audible voice, I was missing the other ways that God was trying to speak to me. He will do anything to get His message across to us when He wants us to hear Him.

God's voice is familiar to us, it sounds like our own thoughts. It sounds like our friends and our families. He will use a friend to tell us exactly what we need to hear. He will use the lyrics of a song to talk to us. He will inspire a sermon that resonates within us so profoundly that we can't deny that it was meant for us.
It is a familiar voice...but also not quite...which is why we can recognise it if we are really listening.

I prayed a few weeks ago that God will give me an undeniable sign so that I will know that the plans I have for my future are from Him and not from myself. I feel that He had been planting little seeds in my mind about where He wants me to be and what He wants me to do, but when He speaks through our own thoughts it can be difficult to discern whether it is from Him or from ourselves, and I needed confirmation.

He first answered this prayer through a friend who had sent me an encouraging message about where she feels God is leading me. Then He spoke to me through my Chinese fortune cookie said "new and rewarding opportunities will soon develop for you". I did laugh when I saw that message...He will use any means necessary to get His point across! It's always important to listen to fellow Christians, because sometimes they can confirm or debunk what you feel that God is saying.

God speaks primarily through His written word. There is a piece of scripture for literally everything. The bible offers us comfort, advice, instruction, encouragement, I love that one person can read a bible passage and get one message from it, while another person can get a different message from the same passage. God intended the Bible to be like that we have to come together as a community to get the whole picture of what He is saying. The same goes for hearing God speaking to us in external ways; we get pieces of the puzzle from various people and places that come together to show us the whole picture.

God can also speak to us through our dreams, as He did to Joseph in the Old Testament and others throughout the bible. "he said, "Listen to my words: "when there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams."

Our minds use the stillness of our sleep to process the information that we have gained throughout the day, and God can plant little seeds in our day that come together during this process of dreaming. God made us that way and gave Himself that tool to speak to us.

Have you ever had your mind wander off during a sermon or during prayer? You are definitely not the only one! You may have felt guilty for not paying attention and you bring your focus back...but sometimes your mind isn't wandering as aimlessly as it might appear to be, God can guide our thoughts.

However, sometimes it's hard to hear His voice because our lives are so busy that we don't take the time to be still and listen. I'm guilty of sitting down to a bible study hour and then being distracted by a "ding" from my phone. It's almost a knee-jerk reaction nowadays to grab my phone and get sucked into my Facebook new feed, or my emails, or texts from friends. My house is pretty loud too, having 4 children, a husband and a Dog who all need attention. I also have a cat who likes to sit right on my bible! While writing this post I have actually had to grab endless things from the fridge for the kids, answer questions from the Husband, stop to put a load of washing on...I have a daughter opposite me who is watching videos on youtube, and other next to me who is listening to music. Daily distractions are inevitable, so I completely understand Jesus' need to go to a solitary place to pray and spend time with God.

Of course, God could speak to us audibly, clearly and directly (and he can when he needs to!), but he makes it so that we can ignore His words if we want to. He makes it so that we have to show our faith when listening to Him.
If Jesus appeared before you and said "I want you to do this..." you would do it without question; but the fact that He talks in such subtle ways, ways that we can easily push aside and ignore, means that He is giving us a choice. He is giving us free will to decide whether to listen to Him or not. When He speaks through our friends and through our circumstances, His voice gets a little louder, but still we can brush it off if we choose to.

God wants us to choose to listen to Him. He wants us to search for His voice and obey Him.
If we choose not to listen, He won't give up trying to speak to us, but the more time we spend searching for Him and listening for His responses to our prayers, the easier it becomes to recognise when He speaks.

On the flipside, the enemy uses the very same ways to feed us lies and nurture our insecurities.
For instance, he may use one friend to tell you that you aren't good enough, yet God, being stronger, will send 3 more friends to tell you that you are.

Unfortunatley, we will usually dwell on the one friend who feeds us negativity and makes us question ourselves and question God's voice.

The best way to discern the voice of God from the enemy is to remember that God will never contradict scripture. The enemy will make you think "I can't do this!", whereas God's Word says "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". The voice of God is calming, reassuring and full of love, whereas the enemy will bring anxiety, worry and doubt. If the message we hear is not helpful or from a place of love and guidance, we can assume that it is not from God.

We must also make sure that we aren't being  that one friend who the enemy is using to discourage and weaken the faith of our friends and those around us. We must build each other up with love, and not knock each other down.

I actually had a friend (or two) when I gave my life to Jesus react really badly. I was called "stupid" and "easily led". I was made to feel like a crazy person, I was called a "bible basher" and it hurt to have so much hate directed at me. My faith got me through those difficult conversations, and I recognised that the enemy was using these people to wear me down and put doubts in my mind. We will unfortunatly encounter people like this over and over again.

As 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing", and also Ephesians 4:29 "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." We are called to be a community of people who love, encourage and trust one another, so when we find ourselves as that one who the enemy is using, we should put on the armour of God and remember His word.

When we are getting closer to God, the enemy works harder to pull you away, which is why it is SO important that we can discern what is from God and what is not. If we are not "loving our neighbour" and are holding ourselves above others then that's a pretty good sign that we are being used by the enemy and we could be muffling the voice of God to the person we find ourselves (intentionally or unintentionally) putting down. We also find ourselves becoming further from God by opening up our hearts and minds to hate and selfishness.

We are all called as Christians into a ministry that welcomes people into our family; encouraging, nurturing and leading them to Jesus. Listening to God on this one is easy, because it is written in black and white in the Bible. Any message we seem to get which goes against this is not from God.

In Pastoral Ministry, we are trained in "good listening", which means that we must put our focus entirely on the person speaking. We must be prepared to sit in silence and just "be" with the person who needs us. I feel that we must do the same when listening out for God...we must be patient and attentive, putting our focus on Him and noticing where He is speaking to us externally, as well as internally.

What are the ways that YOU have noticed God speaking to you? Let me know! It's always encouraging to others to hear how God is working in other people's lives, and quite often this can help us to discern God's voice in our own lives!

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