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Notes & Transcripts

Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 26: Listening to God


July 11, 2010



·         118 (#3), 061 (Silence)

Scripture reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (Nicole Barry)

Intro: Christian Jargon

Q   Did you grow up in the church?

If so, it can be difficult to appreciate just how weird we talk, you know the whole “Christian-ese” thing. What do we mean by:

·         Bow your heart?

·         Intercession?

·         Slain in the Spirit? (it is weird too)

Q   What do we mean when we say “God spoke to me”?

I grew up hearing people say that and saying it myself, so I know what I mean, but for those not “in the know” it can be both strange and super-spiritual, like God called me up on my cell.

I know it sounds goofy, but I am at a loss for another way to describe the 2-way interaction God welcomes. Talking to God and listening for him to speak back is a normal, thought frequently misunderstood part of everyday Christian life. 

For example, the leadership is currently praying for God’s direction for 2011. That doesn’t mean we are hoping to get a business plan from him by fax, rather we want God to work through us as we do the work of careful and prayerful planning.

·         This is one way that God speaks to us, and it is not just for church leadership or super-Christians.

The core point of Christianity is restoring and developing a relationship with God, and prayer as interaction with God is a key point of that relationship.

Q   So how do we listen to God?

Q   How do we know when God is speaking to us?  

For this we turn to the classic story of Samuel first hearing God. I love this story because we have someone very relatable, young, inexperienced, and confused.

He is not silent

First, some quick theology: When we talk about the character of God, we think of things like loving, just, kind, and holy. But he is also a God who communicates.

That’s not a given, you know. God could have created this universe, including us, and then just left us alone. That’s basically what Thomas Jefferson believed.

But God communicates with us, he tells us what he is like and how we can know him. He first speaks through creation (general revelation) and through Scripture (specific revelation).

·         But Jesus was God’s highest form of communication, he is called “the Word.

Hebrews 1:1-2  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...

God spoke to me

But there is another God speaks to us: personally. Not in a “let’s add a book to the Bible” sort of way, and not in an audible voice. Rather, he speaks through your own thoughts.

·         In fact, it is typically hard to distinguish, from your own thoughts, because he is guiding your thoughts.

Think of it this way: We cannot ever make a person think something. But we can guide their thoughts in a direction they wouldn’t have gone otherwise.

·         I am trying to guide your thoughts to think about making listening to God a part of your daily life.

·         But you could be thinking “how much longer will he talk?” – As long as it takes.

In the same way, if we are listening, God will work to guide our thoughts – that is how he speaks to us.

Best but weakest

When God speaks to us this way, it’s very subjective and prone to error, so it tends to be the most neglected (Spurgeon focused on Scripture). But if you ignore it you are really missing out.

·         It’s a bit of a paradox: It is by far the most subjective kind of revelation, but it is the most meaningful to me.

In other words, it is the least trustworthy because what I think is God might just be last night’s pizza, so I it must continually be tested by Scripture, yet, it will outlast it.

Hang on with me for a second; I am not being a heretic:

Q   Will you read your Bible in heaven?

Q   Will Jesus say “As I said in Matthew 5:3...”? No, he’ll say, “Let’s talk!”

God’s words are eternal, like a spring of life, but the Bible like a stream that flows from it. It’s the only trustworthy supply, but in heaven we’ll drink straight from the spring.  

·         Learning to listen to God speak into our hearts prepares us for heaven, building a desire for God himself!

Most and least Pentecostal

The emphasis on listening to God and expecting him to speak is most common among Pentecostal. I this area, I am at my most and least Pentecostal:

“Least,” because I have no faith in my ability to hear God with perfect clarity, and I really have a problem with those think otherwise: “Yoke is light” story.

Some people tend to overvalue experience and undervalue careful study of God’s Word:

It’s reported that John Wesley once received a note from a self-appointed evangelist telling him, “The Lord has told me to tell you that He doesn’t need your book learning, your Greek and Hebrew.”

Wesley replied, “Thank you, Sir. Your letter was superfluous, however, as I already knew the Lord has no need of my ‘book learning’ as you put it.

However, although the Lord has not directed me to say so, on my own responsibility I would like to say, the Lord does not need your ignorance either.”

“Most,” because I so eagerly desire and depend on God to speak to me to me in everyday life. Every sermon begins with a desperate plea for God to speak “to me and through me.”

But it’s not just about work, it’s about knowing he is there and enjoying connection and conversation with him throughout my day.

Have you heard about the atheist ads on buses? “God probably doesn’t exist, so stop worrying about it and enjoy life.”

·         I can’t think of anything that would make life less enjoyable, not having God there – I’d be losing my best friend.

Learning to listen

What I am trying to say is that hearing from God is a normal, natural part of life that I want all us to learn how to do. But how do we do that? In the story of Samuel I found four lessons that can help us (I even manage to make them all “L” words!).

1. Location:

First is location, are you in the right place to hear God?

1 Samuel 3:1-3  The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.  2 ¶ One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.  3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.

The lamp of God, the temple, and the Ark all represent where God dwelled. The author is making the point that Samuel was in God’s presence when he heard God speak.

·         In every way, Samuel was closer to God than anyone else.

Now in the New Testament era, if you are a Christian, when the Holy Spirit dwells inside every believer, it is no longer a question of physical location, but we can still be closer or further from God’s presence.

·         We can still be distant from God in our hearts, we can expect the “Word of the Lord to be rare.”

What I mean is this – if we are living in willful disobedience to God, we will probably not be able to hear from God.

·         Frankly you won’t want God to speak to you, because you know what he is going to say.

You may come to him about other stuff (like a guidance for a job or relationship), but he won’t be so interested in dealing with that until you deal with the elephant in the room.

Let’s see if this scene is familiar: I tuck my girls in and tell them to go to bed. Then ten minutes later I hear screaming and then Grace comes out and want my help because Sarah won’t give back her toy.

Q   What is my first question?

Why were you playing? If you were obeying, you wouldn’t even have this problem.

·         We tend to worry about the wrong thing, our agenda, not his.

If God seems distant and silent, the first question is if you are living in disobedience. That may not be the reason – God uses silence to build maturity, but then again it might be.

·         And if so, whatever it is, it’s just not worth it.

2. Listening for God:

It was during the middle of the night when God spoke to Samuel. Why? Because it was quiet enough to be heard. God seldom shouts, he usually speaks quietly.

·         Remember that in the story of Elijah, God spoke in a “still, small voice.”

We fill up our lives with so much busyness and noise that we can’t hear. Our culture hates silence, we are always trying to fill it up with sound.

·         We even have “noise makers” to drown out the other noise (and sometimes the silence).

And it’s not just the sound, it’s the continuous distractions. The information age pull our attention every which way all day long. It’s enough to make all of us ADHD!

Q   With all this, could we even hear God above the racket if he were to speak to us?

Now more than ever, we need to “Be still, and know that I am God...” (Psalm 46:10).

Chatty Kathy

And even we are spending time praying, we spend almost all of our time talking, and none of it listening.

Q   Do you know anyone whose idea of a good conversation is chatting away for 30 minutes without allowing you a word?

How much do you enjoy talking to them? I wonder if God ever feels that way. Are we just as self-absorbed?

Q   How much time do you give God to speak?

Listening challenge

·         To put “Listening” another way: In order to listen to God, we have to listen for God.

As a quick exercise, in your head, tally up how many minutes of each day you could actually hear a God if he were to speak to you in a “still, small voice.” [Wait]

Q   How healthy would your relationship with your spouse, your kids, or friends be if you gave them that amount of time?

A challenge: This week try not turning on the radio or making phone calls in your car this week. Spend that time talking to God, and try to divide that time between talking and listening:

·         Tell him about the stresses you are facing, then listen.

·         Tell him you love him, then listen.

·         Thank him for his gifts, then listen. 

Even if you don’t “hear” anything, it will be good practice for when God want to speak.  

3. Learning: to listen to God and how he speaks.

I love that Samuel did not immediately recognize God’s voice – apparently God sounds a lot like Eli. It gives me hope that we too have to learn how to listen to God – it’s not instant.

·         I said that God rarely speaks in a clear, audible voice, like “Biblical proportions” rare.

Accordingly, it is useful to learn what “God speaking to us” is: He typically guides our thoughts in his direction. He does this through a variety of ways:

1. He instructs us: We might be reading the Bible and he help us understand it, or listen to a sermon, or just driving along and you understand something new.

Q   Have you ever had the experience of understanding something in a whole new way, and you can’t take credit?

John 14:26   26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

2. He convicts us: They Holy Spirit will speak to us when we are disobeying or falling short.

Q   Have you ever been in an argument with your friends, parents, spouse, and though “If I say that, I will really regret it,” but then you say it anyway?

·         That was probably God convicting you, but you blew it!

3. He encourages us: When we are discouraged, or worn, he reminds us of his love.

·         Seeing the Northern Lights in Edmonton.

Romans 8:16   16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

4. He directs us: He gives us guidance in what to do, from a simple thing (invite that person over) to life altering things (become a missionary in India).

·         In my life, the vast majority of decisions I make come from this kind of guidance.

This doesn’t mean he makes everything crystal clear, in fact he has become less clear the closer I get, because he is more interested in the process of my growth.

Bad reception

It’s also important to know what “God speaking to us” isn’t – not everything we think we is God is actually God.

I have seen “God told me” becomes a trump card to defeat any objections, from shoddy work, bad theology, or just plan stupidity.

·         I mean, how do you respond to that? “I think He was wrong.”? Better yet, “No because he does better work than that.”

Here’s the thing: God is infallible and perfect, but me and my ability to hear him most certainly are not. Doubting our ability to hear him is not a lack of faith, it’s a lack of arrogance.

·         There is a lot of interference between you and God (it’s like a cell phone) and it is foolish to think else wise.

Don’t think of it as a “Yes or No” thing, but a percentage thing – Most of this was from me, but part of it was from God.

Q   So how do we know for certain if what you heard was God, and what parts of it were him?

You can’t but there are some ways you can be more confident:

·         Test of Scripture

·         Test of counsel (Samuel sought Eli’s help)

·         Test of confirmation

·         Test of time – continuing peace (give God time, a lack of planning on your part...)

4. Living it: Put it into practice

The most important part is obeying, acting on what you have been told, and it’s the hardest part:

NIV 1 Samuel 3:17-19 17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.” 19 ¶ The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.

Samuel had to tell Eli that God was going to bring some pretty severe judgment against his family. How’s that for you first assignment?

·         Like Ezra Fowler telling me God would shut down this church.

Fortunately, our assignments are a lot easier, but if we don’t listen and act on what God is telling us to, he has little reason to keep talking to us.

Listening to God takes practice – this isn’t just something you magically get right, it takes years of expecting God to talk and then acting on it.

·         Sometimes you will get it right and sometimes you’ll get it wrong, but you have to keep on trying.

·         EG: Herb Marks

But humility is vital, throughout our “practice.”

To sum it all up: The fact that we are allowed to have a two-way conversations with the Maker of the Universe is a high honor and a great joy.

It requires that we be in the right location to hear from God, be listening for him to speak, learning how he speak to us, and living it out.

·         Then we can truly say “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Q & A

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