One of the greatest obstacles to hearing God’s voice is the fear of getting it wrong. The risk can be so debilitating that it actually leads us to shut down our spiritual ears and miss out on the kind of two-way conversation God offers us by his Spirit.
On the other hand, hesitation can be a good thing. It’s healthy for us to acknowledge our human limitations in properly discerning the voices we hear. Our mindsets, our experiences and especially our desires get in the way of hearing God’s voice above our own.
The latter scenario is one pastors fear the most – those times when a member of the congregation arrives for their pastoral appointment; “God spoke to me this week”. “Oh and what did he say?”
He told me I should move to Africa.
He told me I should quit my job.
He told me I should leave this church.
So it goes.
And the pastor finds themselves with nothing to say.
You see, once someone has made the claim to a divine communique, there’s not much left to be said. After all if God has spoken, absolute submission is required and there is little room for negotiation.
The truth is, God may tell us to go to Africa or he may tell us to quit our job. We serve a God who speaks and who is deeply concerned with the details of our lives. He wants to be involved in our decision-making and at times will provide specific direction. But before we make a claim to be hearing from him, the first thing we must do is recognise a foundational truth I speak about here:
We know that God speaks, and he is able to do so clearly. But we also know we’re not like him. His communication is pure, while ours is not. We see and hear through the filter of our experiences, our mindsets and especially our desires. The scriptures tell us, we see only a ‘reflection’ or ‘through a glass darkly’ as the older versions translate it (1 Corinthians 13:12). We don’t see fully, but only in part. That means; we can get it wrong.
Therefore until we know it is clear; until it has been confirmed by the Holy Spirit through the witness of our brothers and sisters in Christ and tested against the character of Jesus in the scriptures, it is far wiser to say something like; “I think God is saying…”, Or “I get the feeling God might be saying…” There’s no need to introduce every statement with sledgehammer conviction. There’s no need to make each pronouncement with the strike of a gavel. And we should never say; ‘God told me’ as a way to silence any voices of dissension.
When we come to hearing God’s voice, humility is the key. We recognise our frailty and our sinfulness by subjecting what we hear to testing and confirmation (1 John 4:1, 1 Corinthians 14:29). After all, no-one wants to take ‘steps of faith’ and fall flat on their face.
Test everything. Wait for God to confirm. Be accountable to others. It’s safer that way.
And believe me, your pastor will thank you for it.
Episode 6 of The Other Side of the Conversation DVD Series covers the whole topic of how to test a word from God. It is perhaps the most important episode of the series, showing us how God uses the Scriptures, church communities and even signs to show if a revelation is from him.
Watched the series yet? Here’s some feedback I received this week from a couple of small-group leaders in New Zealand:
We’ve just finished teaching The Other Side of the Conversation at my church in Palmerston North and we absolutely loved the experience. We had 45 people when we were only expecting 25! People listened intently, shared their God-journeys and kept coming back. A brilliant resource! Thank you! (Andie and Rachel, Gateway Christian Fellowship).