He goes before the , and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice,(John 10:4)
It is not an exaggeration to speak of a paradox in the contemporary experience and understood of hearing God. It is a paradox that seriously hinders out practical faith.
One one hand we have massive testimony to and widespread faith in God’s personal, guiding communication with us- far more than providential and blindly controlling guidance. This is not only recorded in Scripture and emblazoned upon the history of the church; it also at the heart of our worship services and our individualized relationships with God, and it actually serves as the basis of authority for our teachers and leaders. Only very rarely will someone profess to teach and lead the people of God on the basis of his or her education, natural talents, and denominational connections alone. Authority in spiritual leadership derives from a life in the Spirit, from the minister’s personal encounter and ongoing relationship with God.
On the the hand, we also find a pervasive and often painful uncertainty about how hearing God’s voice actually works today and what it’s place is in the church and in the Christian’s life. Even those who firmly believe they have been addressed or directly spoken to by God may be at a loss to know what is happening or what to do about it.
This paradox must be resolved and removed by providing believers a clear understanding and a confident, practical orientation toward God’s way of guiding us and communicating with us. Our failure to hear God has its deepest roots in a failure to understand, accept, and grow into a conversational relationship with God, the sort of relationship suited to friends who are mature personalities in a shared enterprise, bo matter how different they may be in other aspects.
Within such a relationship, our Lord surely intends us to recognize His voice speaking in our hearts as occasion demands.
The questions that we are facing on an unprecedented scale demand answers. We must confess that the questions and their corresponding answers are far beyond human comprehension in our current environment. The challenges faced at every level by every individual exceed our knowledge and capacity to address. Yet none of these things are beyond the ability of God and His people. Throughout history, the people of God have been looked to for these kind of answers.
In Genesis we read that Pharaoh had dreams, significant dreams and none of his leaders or wise men could sufficiently interpret them. Though they consulted among themselves and sought the answers from all their sources, they were unable to provide acceptable answers. We understand that God was speaking to Pharaoh but Pharaoh was unable to understand what God was saying. Often when God speaks, it may sound like He’s speaking in another language, leaving the hearer still in the dark. After days of searching for satisfactory answers, Joseph was remembered by the cupbearer who had met him in prison. God had used Joseph in a small way to interpret the cup bearer’s dream. Bringing Joseph before him, Pharaoh inquired for the answer.
“Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when Joseph shaved himself and changed his clothes [making himself presentable], he came to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have dreamed a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you that you can understand a dream and interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me [to interpret the dream]; God [not I] will give Pharaoh a favorable answer [through me].” Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The [two] dreams are one [and the same and have one interpretation]; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. That the dream was repeated twice to Pharaoh [and in two different ways] indicates that this matter is fully determined and established by God, and God will bring it to pass very quickly. So now let Pharaoh [prepare ahead and] look for a man discerning and clear-headed and wise, and set him [in charge] over the land of Egypt [as governor under Pharaoh]. Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers and officials over the land, and set aside one-fifth [of the produce] of the [entire] land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. Let them gather [as a tax] all [of the fifth of] the food of these good years that are coming, and store up grain under the direction and authority of Pharaoh, and let them guard the food [in fortified granaries] in the cities. That food shall be put [in storage] as a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine and hunger which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land (people) will not be ravaged during the famine.” So Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this [a man equal to Joseph], in whom is the divine spirit [of God]?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since [your] God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and clear-headed and wise as you are. You shall have charge over my house, and all my people shall be governed according to your word and pay respect [to you with reverence, submission, and obedience]; only in [matters of] the throne will I be greater than you [in Egypt].” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you [in charge] over all the land of Egypt.”
As you read this story, and I urge you to read it in its entirety, note the concise answer and plan that God is providing through Joseph. It’s important also to listen to Joseph’s words to Pharaoh: “It is not in me to interpret the dream; God, not I, will give Pharaoh a favorable answer through me; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do.” Further, the answer God gave included not only what was about to occur but how to address the coming crisis specifically. The answer included a specific strategy.
We must believe that the God who never changes also has the answers and solutions for all that’s taking place in our time. Therefore, we as the people of God ought to be developing a hearing relationship with God so that God may speak through us as He did with Joseph. What God is seeking is a listening ear tuned into His voice and a vessel He can speak through. It doesn’t need to be some great leader. In this story all the leaders including the great Pharaoh were clueless so God chose to speak through a lowly prisoner. It is important to know that even a a small boy, Joseph was listening and hearing God speak through dreams.
Daniel, the Jewish captive served in the court of Babylon under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. We read that he along with at least three other Hebrew boys remained faithful to God even in their captivity. After being brought into the palace to serve the king, they soon captured the attention of him and were given positions. One day Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream. Upon rising from sleep, he called the wise men together. He knew the dream was significant but he could no longer remember it. The wise men insisted that if he could remember it, they could interpret it but since he couldn’t they were clueless.
“Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation.” The king replied to the Chaldeans, “My command is firm and unchangeable: if you do not reveal to me the [content of the] dream along with its interpretation, you shall be cut into pieces and your houses shall be made a heap of rubbish. But if you tell [me] the [content of the] dream along with its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and its interpretation.” They answered again, “Let the king tell the dream to his servants, and we will explain its interpretation [to you].” The king replied, “I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, because you have seen that my command [to you] is firm and irrevocable. If you will not reveal to me the [content of the] dream, there is but one sentence for you; for you have [already] prepared lying and corrupt words [and you have agreed together] to speak [them] before me [hoping to delay your execution] until the situation is changed. Therefore, tell me the dream [first], and then I will know [with confidence] that you can give me its interpretation.” The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can tell the king this matter, for no king, lord or ruler has ever asked such a thing as this of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. Furthermore, what the king demands is an unusual and difficult thing indeed! No one except the gods can reveal it to the king, and their dwelling is not with [mortal] flesh.” Because of this the king was indignant and extremely furious and gave a command to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. So the decree went out that the wise men were to be killed; and they looked for Daniel and his companions to put them to death.
Enter Daniel. Hear his words:
“So Daniel went in and asked the king to appoint a date and give him time, so that he might reveal to the king the interpretation of the dream. Then Daniel returned to his house and discussed the matter with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, in order that they might seek compassion from the God of heaven regarding this secret, so that Daniel and his companions would not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise And [greater] knowledge to those who have understanding! “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. “I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us [the solution to] the king’s matter.” So Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon; he went and said this to him: “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon! Bring me before the king, and I will reveal to the king the interpretation [of his dream].” Daniel answered the king and said, “Regarding the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither the wise men, enchanters, magicians, nor astrologers are able to answer the king, but there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days (end of days). This was your dream and the vision [that appeared] in your mind while on your bed. As for you, O king, as you were lying on your bed thoughts came into your mind about what will take place in the future; and He who reveals secrets has shown you what will occur. But as for me, this secret has not been revealed to me because my wisdom is greater than that of any other living man, but in order to make the interpretation known to the king, and so that you may understand [fully] the thoughts of your mind.
Both of these stories tell us that nothing happens that God isn’t aware of. Nothing catches Him off guard or by surprise. He has the answers and the solutions in perfect detail and not some vague impression or human led solution. In both stories, all the “experts” had no answers but God made them known through His servants. We can find other stories in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments with the same message. We read of the apostles being given specific instructions and details of how to address a current challenge. Throughout the history of the church after the book of Acts, we find many others who heard the voice of God and directed the people of God in how to meet and overcome the challenges.
We find ourselves in our modern church communities floundering in a sea of questions, vague and often divisive attempts to provide direction and hope, and at the end of the day, we are as clueless as the rest of humanity. The call of God to us is that we endeavor to develop our relationship with God so that we may hear Him clearly speak His will and His way. As long as we the church continue to look to resources and leadership outside God, we will continue to find ourselves in a state of confusion and ineffectiveness. We have not been called to be followers of the world but of Christ. I’m not suggesting that we ignore wise counsel but if that counsel is as confused as the rest, then we need to seek godly counsel that may very well lead us as a people to a wisdom and knowledge that exceeds all wisdom and knowledge. Certainly that was the case in the two stories.
Learning to hear God is not some vague or mystical ideology. For every child of God, it should become a reality. We must overcome the objection that God no longer speaks to His people. If you are saved, surely you remember God revealing to you your sinful state and your need for salvation. Have we then believed that after that moment, He never speaks again until heaven? How then do we come to hear God?
If we are to hear, we must listen. Most of us fill our lives with lots of noise and busyness so much so that we even miss hearing other humans. Our minds are filled with so many useless words and thoughts that often we fail to hear important things. Step one is working on mind clutter. To hear God, we must create a zone in our mind that is reserved for God. Jesus taught us to go into the “secret place” and communicate with God. If we are to hear God, we must shut out the other voices and create an intimate place where we spend time waiting and listening for God. Second, we must get to know the nature and character of God so that we can distinguish His voice from all other thoughts and perceptions. We do this by reading His word and literally receiving it as His word. We choose not to dissect or to argue its point of view, but we accept is as God’s view and our instructions. I think some of the confusion in the church today is this move to treat the Bible as a buffet in which we get to pick and choose what we accept as God’s truths. This can be a strong deterrent to hearing God’s voice. Finally, if we are to hear God’s voice, we must learn to wait for Him to speak. Far too many believers treat prayer as though it is some kind of speech and once we finish speaking, we’re through praying, and the prayer is complete. Whether it’s in a public gathering or in our individual prayers, there ought to be a time for God to speak. Why make our requests if we don’t believe He will hear and answer? Prayer must be seen as a two way conversation. I notice that many times our public prayers seem to be directed to the human audience rather than the throne of God. Further, I’ve noticed in our gatherings, we rarely, if ever, build in listening time. Most of the time we hurry on to the next part of the order of service. Maybe this is a curious question, but I wonder what would occur if both in our private prayer and our corporate prayer if we deliberately set aside a time to listen? Perhaps God would speak to us as He spoke to Abraham, Joseph, Samuel, Daniel, the apostles and the like. Let it be so!
Dr. John Thompson