Full text of Bible teacher Derek Prince’s teaching on ‘How To Hear The Voice of God’.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Derek Prince – Bible Teacher
It’s good to be with you again at the beginning of a new week, sharing with you keys to successful living which God has placed in my hand through many years of personal experience and Christian ministry.
My theme for this week is: Hearing God’s Voice. I believe you’ll find it exciting and inspiring.
The Bible reveals that God has dealt with the human race in different ways in different periods of human history. God’s different ways of dealing with the human race in different periods. Theologically the title for them is Dispensations.
So what I’m saying is over the recorded history of the human race in the Bible, we find various different dispensations; that is different periods in which God dealt in a specific way with the human race. Then later in some respects He changed His way of dealing; we would call that changing from one dispensation to another; that’s the technical theological word.
Now I’m saying this because I want to point out certain facts about the dispensations, ways in which they differ, and then one important way in which they do not differ.
Let’s take THREE MAIN DISPENSATIONS that are generally recognized in the Bible.
The first is the Dispensation Of The Patriarchs. That means the fathers of families, a people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, even before them people like Enoch and Noah. In that period, in that dispensation God dealt primarily with individuals and with their families, and they related directly to God.
Then there came the dispensation which is often called the Dispensation Of The Law, when God began to deal with Israel specifically as a collective nation, and He put them under a special law which was special for Israel and a law that did not apply entirely to other nations. And during this period, this dispensation for most of the time, Israel had a temple and a priesthood. So the outstanding features of that dispensation were: the law, the temple, and the priesthood.
And then there came what we usually called the Dispensation Of The Gospel, which is really a proclamation to the whole human race, irrespective of their race or their nationality. And this proclamation of the gospel requires from each person an individual response.
So you see we can discern three major dispensations: the patriarchs; Israel under the law; and then the dispensation of the gospel in which we are still living today.
GOD’S UNVARYING REQUIREMENT
And as I’ve already said God’s requirements in these different dispensations were somewhat different. However in the midst of all the differences they remained one unvarying requirement, one thing that God always required. I wonder if you know what that was, I wonder if you can guess what I have in mind. I believe it’s very very important that we see this.
I believe the one unvarying requirement which never changed from dispensation to dispensation: was the requirement to hear God’s voice. I believe that was what always marked out those who belonged to God and made them different from all other people. It was that they had learned to hear God’s voice.
I’d like to give you now some examples from the Pentateuch, from the first five books of Moses, all of which show the unique importance of hearing God’s voice.
The first is found in Exodus 15: 26. Israel had come to a stage in their journey through the wilderness where they were very thirsty; there was a pool of water, they’re called Marah, but when they wanted to drink the water, they couldn’t because it was bitter.
And Moses prayed to the LORD; the LORD showed him a certain tree; when he cast the tree into the water, the waters were healed and the people could drink. And in the context of this, the LORD said this to Moses:
Exodus 15: 26: ‘If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.’
What is the primary requirement? If thou will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God. The Hebrew says: if you will listen listening. I interpret that to mean that we have to listen to God’s voice with both our ears, the right and the left. That is to listen listening.
God said to Israel: if you’ll do that you’ll never be sick. I’ll keep you healthy; I’ll be your doctor, I’ll accept responsibility for your physical well-being.
Now there was a time in my life when I was sick in hospital, and doctors couldn’t heal me. And at that time I had to seek God for how I could receive healing from Him.
And as I studied the Scriptures in that context, I discovered that almost every place where God speaks about being healed, the emphasis is on what we listen to, just as it is here: if thou will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, I will put none of these diseases upon thee.
I believe that’s true today. I believe that those of us who learn to listen to God with both ears to listen to God’s voice and obey Him can lead a life that’s free from sickness and many other plagues and problems.
And then a little further on in the book of Exodus… in Exodus 19 when Israel came to the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses went up and the LORD spoke to him and gave him a message to the children of Israel. And this is what the LORD told Moses to tell Israel.
Exodus 19:3-6: ‘Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.’
Notice again the primary emphasis, the first condition: if ye will obey My voice, then My will will be worked out for you; you’ll be a unique people different from all other people living on a higher level, living in a area of provision and blessing unknown to other people. But the primary requirement is: if ye will obey My voice.
THREE PHASES OF GOD’S DEALINGS WITH ISRAEL
I’d like to point out just three phases of God’s dealings with Israel as revealed in that passage.
First of all, God says that He brought Israel to Himself. That’s the primary purpose of redemption always: to come to God personally.
Secondly, God said, ‘I want you to obey My voice.’ That’s what leads us into the provisions of God.
Thirdly, He said: ‘If you’ll keep My covenant…’ God’s covenant is the way He settles and finalizes His relationship with the people.
And fourthly, He said: ‘You’ll be a kingdom of priests; you’ll be a unique people blessed above all other peoples, distinct from all other peoples.’
That’s the order: brought to God; obeying His voice; keeping His covenant; and so becoming a kingdom of priests.
Now I want to move on to the Fifth book of the Pentateuch: the book of Deuteronomy. And I want to read a few verses from the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy. These words were spoken by Moses to Israel just before they entered their inheritance in the land of Canaan. They were a kind of recapitulation of God’s requirements.
And again one of the things that’s most strongly emphasized is hearing God’s voice. This chapter sets forth two different things that could come upon Israel. The first are the blessings for obedience; the second are the curses for disobedience. And in each case, whether it’s to be a blessing or whether it’s to be a curse, it’s determined by whether they do or do not hear God’s voice.
Listen to the first two verses: and it shall come to pass if thou shalt
Deuteronomy 28:1-2: ‘And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.’
Notice it begins and ends with: listening diligently to the voice of the Lord, and the result of listening diligently to God’s voice is: ‘all these blessings shall come on thee and overtake thee.’
Now let’s look at the opposite side of the picture, little further on in the same chapter, chapter 28 verse 15.
Deuteronomy 28:15: ‘But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.’
Isn’t that very clear how foolish if we neglect, if we hearken diligently to the voice of the Lord, all these blessings… But if we do not hearken to the voice of the Lord, all these curses…’
See, that is the continuing requirement of God from His people in all ages, all dispensations. Basically it’s very simple: ‘if you want to be My people, if you want to enjoy My blessings: hearken diligently to My voice. Listen with both your ears to My voice.’
But if you fail to listen, if you will not listen to Me, then it will not be blessings, but it would be curses, particularly in the matter of healing: if thou will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, I am the LORD that healeth thee.’
But also beyond healing, to all other provisions and blessings of God, the key is: if thou will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God.
In my introductory talk yesterday, I explained that God has dealt with mankind in different ways at different periods of history. In theological language we call these different periods of God’s dealings with mankind: dispensations. I gave some brief examples: the dispensation of the patriarchs, when Gaunt dealt with men and individuals in a personal relationship.
Then the dispensation when God put Israel under the law, and dealt with them through the law and they had a temple and a priesthood.
And thirdly, the dispensation in which we are now living today: the dispensation of the gospel, a universal proclamation of God to all mankind which requires an individual response from each one who hears it.
However, I also pointed out that in the midst of all these differences, there was one unvarying requirement, and that was to hear God’s voice.
In this connection I shared with you some very powerful Scriptures from the Old Testament which I just want to quote again briefly, because they have such a tremendous impact when they put together.
The first was in Exodus 15:26: the Lord said ‘If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.’
If thou will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, the guarantee is complete, continuing health. The Lord becomes your personal physician.
And then the words that the Lord spoke to Israel from Mount Sinai when He brought them there to make a covenant with them.
Exodus 19: 5-6: ‘Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.’
God wanted to make a covenant with Israel to bring them into a special relationship, to make them a special kind of people: a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. But the condition was: if ye will obey My voice.
And then just Israel entered the promised land in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 28, Moses reminded them of God’s requirements and of the results that would follow, if they kept God’s requirements, also of the results would follow if they did not.
Deuteronomy 28:1-2: ‘And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.’
Notice it begins and ends with: listening to the voice of the Lord and the result is all these blessings shall come on thee and overtake thee.
But then the opposite side is presented in Deuteronomy 8:15: ‘But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.’
Not listening to the voice of the Lord brings upon us all the curses. See there’s the dividing line, the watershed between the blessings and the curses. All the blessings are for those who hearken diligently to the Lord’s voice, but just the same all the curses are for those who do not hearken to the Lord’s voice.
Now later on through the prophets, God reminded Israel of this primary requirement which He had first laid upon them through Moses, and it’s summed up very briefly succinctly and vividly in the prophet Jeremiah chapter 7 verses 22 and 23 where God is reprimanding Israel for not understanding what He required of them and not obeying Him.
Jeremiah 7:22-23: And He says this: ‘For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ God says you’re so busy with your burnt offerings and sacrifices but that wasn’t the primary thing that I required of you. There was something more primary than that. And then He goes on: ‘But this thing commanded I them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people.’
I believe that sums it up as simply and as clearly as it ever can be stated: obey My voice and I will be your God. That’s the unvarying requirement of God from age to age and dispensation to dispensation. Many things may change but this remains unchanged: obey My voice and I will be your God.
But alas, Israel did not do what God required. And so Jeremiah goes on in Chapter 7 verse 24, the next verse:
Jeremiah 7: 24: ‘But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.’
What was Israel’s great problem? We can put our finger on many outward manifestations of the problem, but the inward essence of the problem is stated there: they hearkened not, nor incline their ear.
Notice it’s all to do with what they listen to. They didn’t listen; they didn’t bow down their ear; they didn’t hear the voice of the Lord their God. They didn’t receive what God had for them… they missed the whole of God’s purpose and plan.
You remember, God said in Exodus 19: ‘if you will obey My voice, then you’ll be a peculiar treasure. You’ll be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.’ The one essential requirement is that you hear and obey My voice. Obey my voice and I will be your God.
I want to say that with the greatest emphasis to you today. If you really want to belong to the Lord, to walk in His ways, to enjoy His blessings, that’s what He’s saying to you just as He did to Israel: ‘obey My voice and I will be your God.’
THE MARK OF CHRIST’S SHEEP
Now we’ll move on to the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament, and I want you to see that in this vital essential respect of hearing the voice of the Lord, nothing has changed. Other things have changed but this essential requirement remains unchanged.
Listen to some verses from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus presents Himself to His people as the Good Shepherd. This is what He says about the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep, that is between the Lord and those who are His people.
John 10: 3: ‘To him [that’s the Shepherd] the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.’
What’s the mark of the sheep of Jesus? They hear the Shepherd’s voice.
In the next verse…
John 10:4: ‘When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.’
What is the great basis of our relationship with the Lord Jesus? We follow him. Why? Because we know His voice.
The next verse:
John 10:5: “A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Everything turns around hearing and knowing the voice of the Lord. His sheep, His people hear His voice, recognize it and follow Him. They will not follow deceivers; they will not follow false prophets and false teachers because it’s not the voice of the Lord. They know the voice of the Lord; they’re not deceived by false teachers.
And then in John 10:16 and little further on. Jesus had been talking up till now about those that believed in Him among the people of Israel. But now He goes on to people from other nations, and He says: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold [not of the Jewish fold]; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.’
Again what is it that’s going to draw believers to Jesus from amongst all Gentile nations? How is it they come to Him? It says ‘they shall hear My voice’; that’s the distinctive mark of those who come to Jesus.
And I think it’s interesting in this context that it says ‘they shall become one flock with one shepherd.’
What’s the way to Christian unity? I don’t believe it’s organization; I don’t believe it’s doctrine or theological discussion primarily. I believe it comes as we all learn to hear the voice of the Lord: ‘they shall hear My voice’, Jesus said, ‘and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.’
How? Through hearing the Lord’s voice.
And then it’s all summed up in John 10:27, Jesus is speaking again, He says this: ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me.’
There are three things that mark out the true followers of the Lord, His disciples, His people.
First, they hear His voice.
Second, He knows them; He recognizes them; He acknowledges them.
Thirdly, they follow Him.
You see, it’s not a question of denominational labels. Jesus isn’t talking in terms of Catholics or Protestants or Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians or Pentecostals. He’s not saying my people come from any particular denomination or group but He’s saying the distinctive mark of My people that which singles them out from all other people that which makes them different and makes them Mine is they hear My voice. I know them; they follow Me.
And we realize of course that in Bible times and Bible lands, a shepherd did not drive his sheep, he led them and he led them by the sound of his voice. They didn’t follow him by watching him primarily; they followed him by listening to him and they always went where they heard the shepherd’s voice.
So you see an actual fact, if you apply that analogy and it’s a totally scriptural analogy, it is impossible to follow the Lord unless you hear His voice. It must be through hearing His voice.
Let me say this in love and I must close. Jesus did not say ‘My sheep read the Bible’. I believe it’s essential to read the Bible, but it’s not sufficient, because many people read the Bible but don’t hear the voice of the Lord. It’s not reading the Bible that enables us to follow Him; it’s hearing His voice.
‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me.’
HEARING GOD’S VOICE: Three Distinctive Features
In my previous talks this week I’ve explained that the great unchanging basic requirement for an ongoing relationship with God is to hear God’s voice. In other respects, God’s way of relating to mankind changed with the change of dispensations. But this one requirement of hearing God’s voice continues unchanged throughout all dispensations.
I pointed out in my talk yesterday that this requirement is very succinctly summed up in the prophet Jeremiah chapter 7 verse 23 where God says through Jeremiah to His people Israel: obey My voice and I will be your God. I believe that says it, that states it, that’s what God requires of His people in all ages, all dispensations from different cultures, different backgrounds. Many things may change but this one thing never changes.
God says, you wanted me to be your God? Obey My voice. Obey My voice and I will be your God. Many Christians don’t realize that the basic requirement of the New Testament is just the same; it hasn’t changed.
In John chapter 10 verse 27, Jesus says ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me.’ What marks out the true followers of Jesus? It’s not a denominational label; it’s not a certain form of worship; it’s not adherence to some particular doctrine; it’s hearing His voice.
‘My sheep the ones that belong to Me hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me.’ Those three things go together, begins with our hearing the voice of Jesus. When we hear His voice He knows us, He recognizes us, He takes note of us. He acknowledges that we are His. And then we follow Him.
I pointed out yesterday that according to the pattern of shepherd and his sheep in Bible lands, sheep followed the shepherd; the shepherd didn’t drive them, the sheep followed the shepherd and they followed because they heard His voice. And if they didn’t hear His voice, they couldn’t follow and I believe that’s just as true in the relationship between Jesus and us. If we don’t hear His voice we can’t follow Him. We have to hear His voice before we can follow Him. That’s what makes us His sheep.
His sheep hear His voice, He knows them, they follow Him.
Now today I’m going to point out three distinctive features of hearing God’s voice, three features which are significantly different from much of what is traditionally accepted as normal religious conduct or activity. This message of mine in many ways is very revolutionary. It sounds simple but when you really take it to your heart and begin to apply it, you’ll find that it will change a whole lot of things that you’re doing in your life, it will change your standards, it will change your values, it will very probably change the way you live.
The three features of hearing God’s voice that I want to point out are these, I’ll state them then I’ll comment briefly on each of them.
Firstly, hearing God’s voice is personal. Secondly, hearing God’s voice is intangible. And thirdly, hearing God’s voice is present in the sense of time. It’s not past, it’s not future, it’s always present.
Just grasp those three features: it’s personal; it’s intangible; and it’s present in time.
Now let’s think a little bit about what that indicates. First of all, hearing God’s voice is very personal. Every voice is individual and unique. No two voices are exactly alike. Voices are one of the most individual features of human personality. That’s why Jesus said about His sheep: they won’t follow a stranger because the strangers’ voice is different.
You see, our protection it’s hearing the Lord’s voice relating to Him individually, personally, not just relating to a historical figure, not just relating to some movement or some doctrine but relating to the Lord Himself through His voice.
I heard a rather remarkable statement made; I have never really checked on it but I hear that there is a way of designing a safe perhaps for use in a bank in which the thing that opens the safe that triggers the combination is a certain voice, maybe the voice of the bank president or the bank manager. And no other voice can cause that safe to open. That just shows us how absolutely distinctive and individual a person’s voice is.
There’s a voice that can open that safe that will not open to any other voice. And you know to me that’s a parable, because I think that’s what the heart of the believer should be like. I think our heart should be like a safe, something that treasures the most valuable things we have.
And I think that there should be only one voice that opens up that safe, the voice of the Lord Himself. We come into terrible grief and problems if we open the safe door of our heart to the wrong person. That’s what causes most of the tragedies and problems in the world today, is people open their hearts to the wrong person.
Think of your heart from now on as a safe with a combination in the door and that combination will respond only to one voice, the voice of the Lord. You know when you open to the Lord you’ll never be harmed, you’ll never be deceived, you’ll never be disappointed.
But many of you’ve learned from experience if you open the door to the wrong person, if you respond to the wrong voice, many harmful troubles and problems can result. You see that’s the shepherd-sheep relationship.
David said in Psalm 23:1: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.’ Out of that personal relationship, every need of David was assured, that it would be supplied.
But Jesus says, ‘My sheep hear My voice.’ How can the Lord be our shepherd? Only if we hear His voice, but if we hear His voice, then He’s our shepherd and all our needs are supplied; isn’t that beautiful?
Cultivate hearing the Lord’s voice. I’m going to speak more about that in later messages.
The second feature of hearing the Lord’s voice that I mentioned is this: it’s intangible. You know what I mean by intangible? It can’t be touched. We can’t apprehend it with our sight; we can’t apprehend it with our feeling. There’s only one sense that apprehends a voice and that is the sense of hearing.
You see, most of our religious associations relate us to something tangible. When we talk about religion, we think about something in space and in time… a building, a church, certain kinds of furniture, pews, pulpits, maybe stained glass windows, organs, certain kinds of clothing. In some churches they wear special vestments. In most churches people dress up a little bit different to go to church. Certain kinds of books, prayer books, hymn books, books with stiff covers usually.
And in the days when I was a regular churchgoer they were usually black. There was a certain kind of a field of associations which was tangible; it was in space and time; it was associated with a place and with things.
But hearing God’s voice has got none of those features; it’s not restricted to any particular place; it doesn’t have any kind of uniform or clothing or furniture or building; it’s just out there. It’s ready in a way tricky; it’s almost dangerous; you’ve got nothing to cling on to. All the old associations, all the crutches as Luther called them have been taken away and you’re just in that intimate personal relationship with the Lord, an intangible relationship.
The third feature that I wish to point out about hearing God’s voice is that it is always present in the sense of time.
Hearing God’s voice is never in the past, and never in the future; it’s always now. Only now can we hear voice. A book we can pick up and read and put down and say it’s over there, or we can say I’ll look at it again tomorrow. But our voice is only now, a voice has no past, a voice has no future; it shuts us up to the present.
You see what I’ve noticed about religious people is much of their thinking is always about the past or the future. Christians talk about what happened in the days of Moses or what happened in the days of Jesus or in the days of Peter; that’s all in the past.
Or they talk about what will happen when we go to heaven, how beautiful that will be. Well I agree with that. But we’re not living in the past, we’re not living in the future; we’re living in the present. And a lot of religious people really hardly live because everything for them is either past or future.
But when you realize that you’ve got to relate to God through hearing His voice, then that forces you into a present relationship, a present experience.
It was interesting when the Lord appeared to Moses in the desert and sent him back to deliver his people out of Egypt, Moses had a very practical question. This is recorded in Exodus chapter 3 verses 13 and 14.
Exodus 3:13:14: Moses said to God, suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, the God of your fathers has sent me to you and they asked me what is his name, then what shall I tell them? God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. That is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.’
You see, I AM is present, it’s not past, it’s not future. God’s name is present. God is living now. Our relationship with God needs to be NOW, and as we learn to hear God’s voice, we have that present personal relationship with the Lord.
HEARING GOD’S VOICE: Hearing Produces Faith
In my talks this week I’ve explained that through all the different dispensations of God’s dealings with men, the one great unchanging basic requirement for an ongoing relationship with God is to hear God’s voice.
Yesterday I dealt with three distinctive features of hearing God’s voice which make it significantly different from much of what is traditionally accepted as normal religious conduct or activity.
The three features that I mentioned were these: first, hearing God’s voice is personal; it involves a direct intimate person-to-person relationship with God.
Second, hearing God’s voice is intangible. We can’t just locate it in a building; we can’t tie it down to some familiar situation; it isn’t something that we apprehend with our eyes; it isn’t something that we feel with our hands. The only sense that apprehends it is the sense of hearing, and that’s not tied to any particular time or place.
Thirdly, hearing God’s voice is present in time; it’s not past, it’s not future; a voice has no past, a voice has no future; a voice is always now. And so when we relate to God through hearing His voice, we’re relating to God in the eternal now.
God told Moses the name by which He was to be known to Israel was I AM. I Am that I Am. That’s always true, God always is, there’s a certain sense in which He’s in the past, and He’s in the future but essentially we know God always in the eternal present. The Great I AM. And that is part of what comes of hearing His voice; it’s always present in time.
Today I’m going to speak about one particular result of hearing God’s voice which is of inestimable value; there’s no way we can express the value. And this result is faith. Hearing God’s voice produces faith.
Many people long for faith and struggle for faith, and run to and fro seeking faith, but they don’t achieve it, because they haven’t discovered the secret of faith: faith comes by hearing God’s voice. This is stated in Romans chapter 10 verse 17.
Romans 10:17: ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ, [or from the word of Christ]’. [NASB95]
So faith comes from hearing, hearing from the word of Christ. We need to understand that in the New Testament Greek, there are two distinct words each of which in English is translated by the English word: word. These two distinct Greek words are logos, and rhema.
MEANINGS: LOGOS & RHEMA
Now if we don’t see the difference, we won’t grasp the meaning of what I’m saying today. Let’s look at logos first. ‘Logos’ is one of the great concepts of the Greek language. Let me say that I studied Greek since I was 10 years old, and I’m qualified to teach it at university level. I only say that just so that you may know I have some idea of what I’m talking about.
‘Logos’ is one of the great concepts of the Greek language; it has all sorts of meanings; it means mind, counsel, reason, it’s comprehensive. Really ‘logos’ in the Bible is the mind of God; it’s the counsel of God, it’s God’s total purpose.
For instance, listen to what David says about it in Psalm 119: 89: ‘Forever, O LORD, Thy word is settled in heaven.’
Another translation says: ‘Your word, O LORD, is eternal. It stands firm in the heavens.’ (NIV) That’s God’s logos; His total counsel; it never changes; it’s eternal; it’s out of time; it’s in heaven; it’s settled. From beginning to end, it’s there all the time always. It’s the mind and counsel and purpose of God.
This ‘logos’ — this counsel of God is summed up in a person. John chapter 1 verses 1 & 2 says this:
John 1:1-2: ‘In the beginning was the Word, [logos] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’
So Jesus is also the personified logos; He’s the total counsel and purpose and mind of God.
You remember, Jesus said ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.’ (John 14:9) I represent everything the Father is; everything the Father does; everything the Father wills. Every plan, every purpose I represent it; that’s logos, and it’s settled forever in heaven. It can’t be changed; it’s eternal.
Now the word ‘Rhema’ has a different meaning, though at times of course they overlap. The word ‘Rhema’ means specifically a spoken word. It is not a ‘rhema’ unless it’s spoken. God’s Word, God’s counsel is settled in heaven forever, whether it’s spoken or not, it’s there, it’s eternal.
But a ‘rhema’ is only a word that is spoken. Now listen to what Jesus says, in Matthew chapter 4 and verse 4 and He uses the word ‘rhema’.
Matthew 4:4: ‘He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ Every ‘rhema’ that proceeds out of the mouth of God, every preceding word. So there’s the counsel of God if you can picture it: eternal, unchanged, complete in heaven.
But we don’t know the whole counsel of God. We can’t apprehend with our finite minds the whole counsel of God. But God measures it out to us in a rhema, in a word that’s spoken to us, and a word that becomes personal, in a word that we receive personally.
So man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. The total counsel of God is imparted to us in portions as we’re able to receive it… rhema, by rhema, by rhema. The implication of what Jesus said is that God has a rhema for us each day.
Man shall not live by bread alone, but every day the preceding word of God… the word of God, the rhema that comes out of the mouth of God shall be his portion for that day.
So that’s the difference between logos and rhema. ‘Logos’ – eternal in the heaven, unchanged. ‘Rhema’ – coming down to us: personal, a word that we hear, something that’s spoken.
And so you see in Romans 10:17, it has to be ‘rhema’. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the rhema… the word of Christ. If it weren’t spoken, we couldn’t hear it. We can’t hear the logos, that’s eternal, that’s the counsel of God in heaven. But we hear the ‘rhema’ that brings that little portion of God’s counsel we need at any given moment to us personally.
And that’s how faith comes. Listen I hope I will not offend you, but the Bible doesn’t say faith comes from reading the Bible. Lots of people think it does.
Why not? Well, be honest, many times you read the Bible and hear nothing. All you have is black marks on white paper in front of your eyes, and you can go through that process for an hour and get no faith.
But another time you can just pick up the Bible, open it, and one sentence leaps out of the page. And you say that’s it; that’s what God’s saying to me right now. I can’t tell how many times that’s happened in my life. Sometimes quite accidentally I just open the Bible, the Holy Spirit focuses my eyes on a verse, God says, that’s it, that’s my rhema.
And when you hear that rhema, that’s a lot more than reading the Bible. That’s the personal Word of God; that’s God’s voice speaking to you. And faith comes by hearing the spoken word of God.
See, it all centers around: hearing God’s voice. ‘Obey My voice and I will be your God.’ If thou shalt listen diligently to the voice of the Lord, then none of these diseases will come upon you.’
I want to go back again for a moment to Romans 10:17: ‘Faith comes from hearing, hearing from the ‘rhema’ of Christ.’
I want to explain something to you which I’ve learned and experienced which is of inestimable importance and value if you can grasp it. It’s how faith comes.
You see, I lay in a hospital bed for a year on end as a Christian. The doctors were not healing me; I knew that my only hope was in God. I kept saying to myself: if I had faith I know God would heal me. But then I always said ‘but I don’t have faith.’
And then one day Romans 10:17 came to me: ‘Faith cometh by hearing…’ and I left at it… faith comes; if I don’t have it I can get it. And then I looked at the rest of the verse, and I pondered and I prayed and I sought God. And gradually God opened it up to me and when He’d opened it up to me how faith comes, I received the faith for my healing. I thank God for the ministry of doctors and nurses but they weren’t able to heal me.
Healing had to come to me that time direct from God, and it came. When I heard the ‘rhema’ — the spoken word of God, it brought faith. So you see there’s a process by which faith comes, lay hold of this.
There’s three stages in the process. First of all, God’s Word, God’s Rhema, God speaks.
Secondly, your response: hearing; you’re open to the Word of God. Later in these talks I’ll explain more about hearing.
Thirdly, out of hearing, faith comes. Now usually there’s an element of time in hearing. Hearing isn’t usually something instantaneous; we have to get into a certain attitude; we have to come to a certain frame of mind. We can sit reading the Bible or maybe listening to a sermon, and it’s just words flowing past us.
But then we settle down into a kind of inner stillness, our mind is at rest; our busy mental processes are suspended for a moment. We’re hearing, and out of that hearing faith comes.
Let me advise you: cultivate this ability to hear; be open to what God says to you personally. It’ll be in line with Scripture; it’ll never be out of line with Scripture, but it’ll be scripture quickened, made alive, made personal by the Holy Spirit. That’s how faith comes. That way by hearing the voice of God.
HEARING GOD’S VOICE: The Distinctive Lifestyle
Now today I’m going to speak about the distinctive life style that results from hearing God’s voice. People who learn to hear God’s voice lead a life that’s different from other people. They just can’t be the same.
I want to return to a scripture that I quoted in my talk yesterday, Matthew, chapter 4, verse 4. Jesus is answering Satan’s temptation to turn the stones into bread in the desert and this is what is written:
Matthew 4:4: “But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.” (NASB95)
The word there is rhema, every rhema that proceeds out of the mouth of God. The verb, proceeds, is in the continuing present tense, every proceeding word, every word as it proceeds out of the mouth of God. You remember I said that hearing God’s voice indicates a direct personal relationship with God. We’re in tune with God right there, right then. It’s not past; it’s not future; it’s here and now, in the present.
That’s the continuing, proceeding Word of God for that given moment, for that given time, for that given situation. That’s what we live on.
Jesus was speaking and comparing that rhema with bread. He said, “Man doesn’t live by bread alone but he lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” And in a certain sense he was comparing that with natural bread. And as natural bread feeds the natural body of man, so that proceeding, personal word of God feeds man’s inner being, his spirit. It nourishes his spirit.
And we need the one just as much as we need the other. To keep our bodies alive we need natural bread. To keep our spirits alive and healthy, we need the spiritual bread, the proceeding word, the personal word, the voice of the Lord coming to us.
Now this comes only through the Holy Spirit. You see, if you hold a Bible in front of you, all you have actually is white sheets of paper with black marks on it. You can’t hear that. No one can hear black marks on white paper. It’s impossible.
How can that ever become a voice, a spoken word that you can hear? There’s only one power in the universe that can turn those black marks on white paper into the voice of God and that power is the Holy Spirit.
So you see, we’re totally dependent on the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit who brings to us in any given situation the rhema, the Word of God that we need, that quickens it, that imparts life to it, that makes it a living voice.
And so, through hearing that Word of God, we are related to God, the Holy Spirit. It’s God, the Holy Spirit, who’s guiding us and directing us all the way, every day by the rhema that He gives us.
See what Paul says in Romans 8:14: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (NASB95)
So what makes us sons of God? Being led by the Spirit of God. See, there are many different ways in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives. But I want to distinguish two.
First of all, we are born of the Holy Spirit and that makes each of us a new-born child, a baby. Peter said in his first Epistle, “As new born babies desire the pure milk of the Word.” But that doesn’t make us mature grown up sons of God.
How can we become mature, grown up sons? Only by being led by the Holy Spirit. And all who are being led by the Spirit of God, they are sons of God, not children, not babies, but mature sons.
And notice, that’s a continuing, ongoing present, all who are being continually led by the Spirit of God. It’s not something that just happens once or even once a week, not just in church on Sunday or whatever day you may go to church, but it’s something that’s going on all the time in our daily life. It’s our daily bread. It’s hearing the voice of the Lord through the Holy Spirit and as we hear the voice of the Lord, we’re directed.
My wife and I have a prayer that we regularly pray whenever we go about any kind of business. Our prayer is that we may always be in the right place at the right time. We’ve discovered it makes a lot of difference. It’s amazing how often without planning it, we meet the very person we need to meet at the very moment we need to speak to them, because we are in the right place at the right time. Who organizes that? The Holy Spirit. He prompts us. He says, “Today’s the day to go to the bank.” You go to the bank and there’s the very person standing in front of you in the line waiting to cash his check.
Or, “Don’t catch that bus, catch another bus.” That’s the rhema. That’s the spoken word. It’s the ongoing direction of the Holy Spirit. That’s what makes us mature sons of God. We’re born again by the Spirit of God to be little babies, but to grow up we have to hear the voice of the Lord. We have to be led continually by the Holy Spirit.
To close my talk today, I want to show you that this lifestyle that I’m talking about, of hearing God’s Word as daily bread, of having the Holy Spirit speak to us daily and personally, was the lifestyle of Jesus Himself. He didn’t merely preach it, he practiced it.
In the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 50, verses 4 through 7, there’s a beautiful prophetic picture of the earthly life of our Lord Jesus, of His ministry, and in particular, of His ongoing daily relationship with God, the Father. And this is what it says, Isaiah 50, verses 4 through 7:
Isaiah 50:4-7: “The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, [This is Jesus speaking] to know the word that sustains the weary. [You know Jesus was able to speak that word that sustained the weary. Now how did it come? Listen:] He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. [That was the secret of Jesus, that God woke his ear every morning, that every morning He heard His father’s voice speaking, guiding Him, giving Him direction and instruction and strength for the day. He goes on:] The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. [And here’s a very clear, prophetic picture of Jesus.] I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I hid not my face from mocking and spitting. [Why was Jesus willing to go through with all that He went through? How was He able? How did He receive the strength? The answer was by hearing the Father’s voice. Every morning He heard from His Father before He communicated with human beings. Then He goes on:] Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” (NIV)
So you see, Jesus began each day listening to the Father. And here are some of the results that followed from His listening to the Father like that each day.
First of all, He had words of encouragement for others. Secondly, He received personal direction for each day, Himself. Thirdly, He received obedience. You know hearing God’s voice produces obedience. Fourthly He received strength to go through all that He had to go through. He needed more than human strength. He needed supernatural strength and He received that through hearing the Father’s voice. Fifthly, He received determination. He said, ‘I’ve set my face like a flint, I’m not turning back.’ All that came to Jesus through hearing the Father’s voice and hearing God’s voice will do the same for us as it did for Jesus. We need to cultivate that habit of letting the Lord waken our ear each morning that we may hear His voice first thing.
HEARING GOD’S VOICE: Hearing From The Heart
In my talks last week I explained that the great, unchanging, basic requirement for an ongoing relationship with God is to hear God’s voice.
In the Old Testament it was summed up in one brief phrase by the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 7:23. God says: “Obey My voice, and I will be your God.”
That’s the great, unvarying condition. In all ages and dispensations, God says, “The one thing that matters, ultimately, is obey My voice and I will be your God.”
In the New Testament Jesus stated this as the one distinctive mark of all who would truly be His disciples. In John 10:27, He says this: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (NASB)
That’s the mark of the true disciples and followers of Jesus in all ages. It’s not a denominational label. It’s not some doctrinal emphasis, but it’s those who hear His voice and follow Him; and without hearing His voice, we cannot follow Him. So, hearing His voice is essential to being a follower of Jesus.
Then I explained last week that the result of hearing God’s voice is true faith. Romans 10:17: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.” (NASB)
Then, as we cultivate the practice of hearing God’s personal word to us each day, it becomes the fresh, daily bread that nourishes us spiritually, and through it we receive daily direction and strength for our ongoing walk with God.
Now, in my talks this week I’m going to deal with the practical outworking of my theme. I’m going to ask and answer the question: How can we hear God’s voice?
I want to turn, first of all, to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. Many times Jesus spoke about having ears to hear, and particularly so when He was teaching in parables.
For instance, in Mark 4:9, we read: “Then Jesus said, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’” (NIV)
And in Mark 4:23, a little further on in the same chapter: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” (NIV)
What does that mean, having ears to hear? Obviously, Jesus was not referring to physical ears. Presumably all the people who were listening to him were in possession of two physical ears, at least the great majority of them. Most of them were not physically deaf. But Jesus still said, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
So what was He talking about? I believe that He was talking not about outward physical hearing and physical ears, but about an inner condition of the heart. I believe the essence of what we’re saying is that we have to hear God with our heart. There’s such a thing as having a heart to hear God, a hearing heart.
I’ll turn to an example from the life of Solomon. Early in Solomon’s reign as King of Israel, it says the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked him a very vital question.
1 Kings 3:5: “At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’” (NIV)
That’s a situation that I’m not sure most of us are ready to face. Suppose God appeared to you and said, “Ask for what you want and I’ll give it to you.” What would you ask for? Well, let’s read Solomon’s answer.
1 Kings 3:7-10. This is what Solomon said: “‘Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. [And now here’s Solomon’s request. He was confronted with a situation that was too big for him. He knew he couldn’t handle it. What was he to ask for? This is what he says:] So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of Yours?’ [And the comment is:] The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.” (NIV)
Now, where the translation says “a discerning heart,” the Hebrew says literally, “a hearing heart.” That’s what we’re talking about, a heart that can hear God. And Solomon received it as a gift from God. God gave it to him because he asked for it. Let me pause and ask you this.
Have you ever asked God for a hearing heart? Do you realize that it’s with your heart you hear God? Do you realize that this is going to make all the difference in your life whether you can hear God’s voice with your heart? You see, it’s with our heart that we hear the voice of God, not with our physical ears.
In my talks last week I gave what seemed to me to be rather a vivid example of a bank that has a safe and the safe is programmed electronically to open only at the voice of the bank manager. And his voice, like every voice, is unique. There’s no way to copy that voice. So the only one who can open that safe is the bank manager when he says certain words in his voice.
Well, I believe that your heart and my heart are like that. The heart is the safe. It’s the place where we keep the things that really matter to us.
Proverbs 4:23, the words of Solomon again: “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
What you have in your heart is going to settle the course of your life. So your heart is a safe that keeps things much more precious than those that are kept in a bank safe. And I believe that every child of God should have a heart that’s a safe that’s programmed only to open at one voice: the voice of the Lord.
You remember what Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, they follow me.” He said they will not follow a stranger because they don’t recognize his voice. How important it is to have a heart that will open to the voice of the Lord and will not open to the voice of an alien or a stranger.
What kind of a heart is that? It’s a hearing heart. We have ears to hear not physically, but in our spirit. In the innermost depths of our being we have a heart that responds to the voice of the Lord.
Now I want to talk for a moment out of Scripture about the opposite condition, spiritual deafness. The Bible, both the Old and the New Testament, have much to say about people who are spiritually deaf. Jesus said of those who could not understand His parables in Matthew 13:13-15 that they were spiritually deaf. This is how He expresses it. He said:
Matthew 13:13-15: “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” (NIV)
There is a picture of people who have no heart to hear the voice of the Lord. They’ve become inwardly deaf. And there’s one word which I think is very significant. It’s a frightening word. “This people’s heart has become calloused.” Their heart doesn’t respond. It’s not sensitive any longer.
Compare what God said about Israel in the Old Testament in Psalm 95:7-8. He said:
Psalm 95:7-8: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert.” (NIV) And then He goes on about those people who did harden their hearts: “For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known My ways.’ So I declared on oath in My anger, ‘They shall never enter My rest.’” (NIV)
See, I believe there are many of God’s people today who never really enter God’s rest. They’re always wandering in the wilderness but they never enter the Promised Land. The reason is they haven’t learned to hear God’s voice. The only way to enter God’s rest is to hear His voice.
If you put those two accounts from the New Testament and the Old Testament together, of people who were deaf in their hearts, spiritually deaf, there are two significant words that describe the condition of their hearts. The two words are calloused and hardened. That’s the kind of heart that does not hear.
So what’s the application? What’s the opposite to being calloused and hardened? I would say the keyword is sensitive. We have to cultivate inward sensitivity toward the Lord and toward His voice.
Let me give you a vivid picture. Have you ever seen a blind person reading braille? Have you seen their fingers skimming over those little dots on the paper? If I were to brush my fingers over those dots, they would mean nothing to me. I would just feel something a little above the surface.
But a blind person has so sensitized his fingers that those dots mean something to him. They are words. They have a message. I believe that’s what it means to cultivate a sensitive heart toward the voice of the Lord. It’s to have our hearts so sensitive that when God speaks we hear His voice. It means something to us.
I believe that’s the real key to blessing, to entering our inheritance. It’s so grieving to think of the people that wandered in the wilderness when they could have been in the Promised Land, all because they had not cultivated a sensitive heart toward the voice of the Lord. Let me challenge you to do that, to cultivate a sensitive heart.
HEARING GOD’S VOICE: Four Requirements
Let me begin my talk today with a brief, personal comment. In my own life, I find that hearing God’s voice correctly is usually the key factor in achieving true spiritual success. I can’t think of anything at this time that seems more important to me in my own personal walk with God than learning to hear God’s voice and hearing it correctly.
You see, one thing about God is He doesn’t shout. Very rarely do you read about God shouting. Some people’s picture of God is just a big man shouting with a loud voice, but that’s not God at all. As a matter of fact, we’ll look at some examples in the course of these talks where God spoke in a whisper.
Well, today I’m going to deal with four specific requirements for a achieving this kind of sensitivity of heart.
The first two requirements go closely together and I would describe them as “attention” and “humility.” Let me just say those two words again, attention and humility. These requirements are stated many times in the book of Proverbs and we need to bear in mind that Proverbs was written by the man who had asked God for a hearing heart, by Solomon.
Let me give you just three passages from the book of Proverbs where these two requirements are joined together.
Proverbs 4:20: “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.” (KJV)
The two requirements: attend, incline thine ear. To incline your ear means to bow down your head. To bow down your head is a mark of reverent, respectful humility. You’re not arguing with God. You’re not dictating to God. You’re waiting to hear from God. The inclined ear is an essential part of hearing from God.
Proverbs 5:1: “My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding.” (KJV)
Again, the same two conditions: attend and bow the ear.
And then again, in Proverbs 22:17: “Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.” (KJV)
The implication of the first part of that verse, “bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise,” is that if we don’t bow down our ear, we won’t hear. If we don’t have the right attitude, the attitude of humility, respectfulness, reverence, then we will not hear. So it says, “Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.” You see, always it’s the heart that hears the voice of God and we have to apply our heart. We have to attend. We have to focus our attention.
Let me sum up those two requirements briefly.
First of all, to hear God’s voice we must give Him our undivided attention: attend, apply thine heart. Now, that’s totally contrary to contemporary culture where most people are used to listening to at least two things at one time.
I remember when I had teenage children that were still in high school. I remember seeing one of my daughters sitting there at the kitchen counter doing her homework and watching a television program at the same time. And my mind reeled. I’ve been a student; I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a professor at a university, and I absolutely could never do that.
If I’m watching television, I cannot focus on my homework. If I’m focusing on my homework, I could not intelligently watch television. Now I’m not saying she didn’t achieve any results; I’m sure she didn’t achieve the maximum.
But that’s typical of contemporary American culture… culture in the Western world: People are afraid of silence. Do you know that? They always want some noise going on: background music, something somehow to distract them. But if you want to hear God’s voice, you can’t afford to be distracted. You’ve got to focus both ears and all your mind on God. You have to cultivate attention. It’s a gift or a quality that many people just don’t possess today.
Secondly, as I’ve said, we have to bow down our ear. We have to be humble and teachable. Many people read the Bible or pray to God with their own preconceptions. They believe they know what God should have said. They believe they know what God is going to say. And if God actually has said something different or does say something different, they’re simply unable to hear. They’re made deaf by their own preconceptions.
Most people who belong to any kind of denomination read the Bible with their own denominational slant. They think, “Well, if it’s not in my denomination’s teaching, it isn’t in the Bible.” Believe me, I don’t think there’s any denomination of which that is completely true. There are things in the Bible that we don’t hear many times in church, and if we only expect to hear from God what we’ve heard, maybe in church, we’re spiritually deaf; we’ll miss what God is saying to us.
So, the first two requirements for hearing God were: “attention” and “humility.”
Let’s look at the next two now for awhile. I would say the next two requirements are: “time” and “quietness.” Let me say that again, time and quietness. How remote those two words are from our contemporary culture.
Two things that almost nobody has today are: time to be quiet, and yet this is stated so many times in the book of Psalms about hearing God.
For instance, in Psalm 46:10, it says: “Be still, and know that I am God…” (NIV) Out of stillness we hear God’s voice.
An alternative translation of this same verse says this: “Cease striving and know…” (NASB) And the alternative version in the margin of that is, “Let go, relax and know that I am God.”
Put those together: “Be still and know; cease striving and know; let go, relax and know.” What does that speak to you about? To me it speaks of quietness and relaxation, and this requires time. We hear from God very many times when we take time to wait for God. God doesn’t always speak the first instant that we would like to hear.
Psalm 62:1 says this. They are the words of David: “My soul waits in silence for God only.” (NASB)
Tremendous words: “My soul waits in silence for God only.” You have to wait. You have to be silent, and your attention has to be focused on one person only: God.
And then in Psalm 62:5, just four verses further on, David addresses his own soul and tells his soul how to wait.
Psalm 62:5: “My soul, wait in silence for God only.” (NASB)
Have you ever said that to your soul? “My soul, wait in silence for God only.” The emphasis is on waiting in silence for God, being in an attitude of attention, of reverence, of quietness, of relaxation, our hearts and minds focused on God.
I want to say that there is no better preparation through which we can achieve this attitude than the preparation of worship. This is beautifully brought out in another Psalm.
Psalm 95:6-8: “Come, let us worship and bow down; [and again, the emphasis is on humility] Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” (NASB)
Always that warning against hardening our hearts if we want to hear God’s voice.
So how do we prepare our hearts? Well, there is no better way of preparation than that which is outlined in those words I’ve just read to you, “Let us worship; let us bow down; let us kneel; let us come to God with reverence; let us open our hearts to Him; let us worship Him, acknowledge His greatness, His majesty, His sovereignty, His wisdom. The Lord is a great God,” the Scripture says. We need to give Him all the respect and all the reverence of which we’re capable.
We need to appreciate the tremendous privilege of hearing from God that the Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe will speak to us, individually.
Today there’s little respect for authority in our contemporary culture but God still demands respect. And if we come to Him, we must come to Him with respect, respect that’s expressed in worship, in humbling ourselves before Him, in kneeling before Him if need be, in acknowledging His greatness, in opening our hearts to Him.
So when you want to hear from God, approach Him with worship.
HEARING GOD’S VOICE: God Sets The Time And The Place
The truth that I’m going to deal with today follows on naturally from the points I’ve just established. The truth is, God sets the time and the place.
We have to give absolute priority to God before all our own interests and activities. We may have our own program, we may have our own interests, we may have the things we’re excited about, the things we’re eager to get done. But if we want to hear God’s voice, we have to be prepared to let those things go, “to let go and relax,” as the psalmist says.
We have to let God set the time and the place, and it may not be the time or the place of our choosing.
I want to give you three examples of men who met with God and heard His voice. The three men I’m going to speak about are Moses, Elijah, and Jeremiah.
First we’ll look at Moses as it’s described in Numbers 7:89. This describes how Moses went into the tabernacle that had been erected in the wilderness, and there he spoke with God, and God spoke with him. As I read this verse, always a kind of stillness comes over my soul.
I think of that tabernacle there out in the blazing sunshine of the desert, surrounded by things that were barren, dusty, and then inside, the coolness, the shade, the quietness. And that always challenges me to get away from the heat and the dust and the busyness and the activity, to come into a quiet place where I can speak with God and God with me. This is what it says about Moses:
Numbers 7:89: “When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting [the tabernacle] to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim over the atonement cover on the ark of the testimony. And He [that’s the LORD] spoke with him [Moses].” (NIV)
See, there was a place where God spoke with Moses. It was behind the second veil of the tabernacle, from the Holy of Holies, from the most sacred place. And that shows me how sacred it is to hear the voice of the Lord. It was from between the two cherubim. The cherubim speak again of worship and also of fellowship. And it was from over the atonement cover on the ark of the testimony, the place where the blood had been sprinkled. It spoke of covered and forgiven sin.
So, how significant all those points are. It was a place of worship. It was a place of fellowship. It was a place where there was the eternal evidence of sin forgiven and covered. And bear in mind, uncovered and unforgiven sin will always keep us from hearing the voice of the Lord. And so that’s where Moses heard the voice of the Lord.
I think of something that Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 6:6: “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room…”
Why into an inner room? Surely to get away from all distractions, to shut out all the sounds and the sights of the world, to be still before God. I believe every Christian should have some kind of inner room.
I remember a man who was a friend of mine who used to go into the closet, under the stairs, with the brooms and all those things, but that’s where he heard from God. It became a sacred place for him.
The second example of a man who heard God’s voice is Elijah. Elijah had the tremendous personal triumph. He’d called down fire on the sacrifice on Mount Carmel. He’d humbled and humiliated and even had executed all the false prophets.
But then, he’d run away from a woman: Jezebel, gone out into the wilderness and asked God to take his life. God had sent an angel to strengthen him, and in the strength that he received from the angel, he’d made his way to Mount Horeb, the very place where God first made His covenant with Israel.
And this is what happened to Elijah when he got there to Mount Horeb. 1 Kings 19:11-13: “The Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.”
Three tremendous demonstrations of God’s power: a wind that shattered the mountains, an earthquake, a fire. But how significant God wasn’t in any of those tremendous demonstrations of His power.
And then it goes on like this: “And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
You remember what I said, that God doesn’t shout. Some people picture God as a man shouting. I think that was Hitler’s picture of God, a man shouting. A lot of dictators and people like that have seen God as just a big man shouting, but God is very different.
After all the demonstrations of His power, there came a gentle whisper and the impact on Elijah was tremendous.
1 Kings 19:13: “When Elijah heard it, [not the wind, not the earthquake, not the fire, but the gentle whisper] he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
What did that mean, pulling his cloak over his face? It meant worship. It meant bowing. It meant humbling himself. It meant opening up his spirit to God.
Now, when he was ready to listen: “Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (NIV)
Think of the careful preparation that God made for Elijah to hear His voice. God is concerned that we hear His voice. But remember, God may not be in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but if you have ears to hear, after that there’ll be a gentle whisper. When you hear that, you’ll want to put your cloak over your face. You’ll want to worship. Your heart will bow down.
It’s important to see the results that came in Elijah’s life from hearing that gentle whisper. There was strength and new direction for his ministry.
When he went to Horeb, he was really a beaten man. He was ready to give up, to quit, to throw in the towel. But after he’d heard God’s voice, he was a conqueror and he had new direction. Up to that time, he didn’t know what to do next, but hearing God’s voice gave him direction for his ministry. It will do the same for you and me. Strength and new direction come from hearing God’s voice.
The third man that I want to speak about who heard the voice of God is Jeremiah.
This is what Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 18:1-6: “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you My message.’”
You see, God said, “If you want to hear my voice, you’ve got to be in a certain place; I’m going to speak to you but you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.”
So, Jeremiah obeyed. He said: “I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him [the potter] working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as it seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.’” (NIV)
You see, there was a time and a place. God wanted Jeremiah in the potter’s house because He wanted him to see what the potter was doing with the pot on the wheel, because that was going to be a picture of how God was going to deal with Israel, how God is dealing with Israel.
Remember today Israel as a pot in God’s hands, and He’s shaping them on the wheels of circumstance and history right now. That message is true today.
But Jeremiah couldn’t get the message until he was in the right place. He had to obey. He had to be there. God made a kind of appointment with Jeremiah. He said, “If you’ll go to the potter’s house, I’ll speak to you.” And you see, before Jeremiah had a message for others, he had to hear from God.
It’s always impressed me that in Bible schools and seminaries, they spend so much time training people how to speak, but seldom do they train people how to hear. And if you’ve never heard from God, you have nothing to say. And believe me, a man who’s heard from God is worth listening to, even if he doesn’t have all the fine points of homiletics. What people are waiting for today is a man who’s heard from God.
I just want to close with a little example from my own experience. Some years back I was in Europe. I was in Denmark, the native country of my first wife, Lydia, and the Lord very clearly directed me to go to a certain cliff top overlooking what the Danes call the Western Sea, what the British call the North Sea, and it was a fine winter afternoon.
The sun was going down in the western sky. The rays were falling across the water and shining into my face, and when I got there to the cliff top and quieted my heart before God and looked at the sea, the Lord spoke to me for about one hour. He showed me that the conduct of the sea, the way the sea’s waves behaved, was like the history of the Church. The Church started with high tide, but gradually the waters went out and there was low tide, the Dark Ages.
Then the tide turned and the waters began to come in again, but they came in wave by wave, one great move of the Spirit after another. And God showed me things that I’m not free to share with you right now about what’s going to happen as the Church age comes to its climax.
But all that happened because I had an appointment with God on a cliff top overlooking the North Sea.
HEARING GOD’S VOICE: How Can We Be Sure?
I’m going to explain to you three important ways in which we should look for confirmation that we have heard God’s voice aright, three kinds of confirmation.
The first is agreement with Scripture. Does what we believe God has spoken to us agree with the Spirit and the tenor of Scripture? This is of tremendous importance, of supreme importance.
Let me present to you two interrelated facts. The first fact, it’s the Holy Spirit who brings God’s voice to us. The second fact, the Holy Spirit is the author of all Scripture. This is stated in many passages of the Bible and I’ll just quote one.
Second Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (NASB)
“Inspired by God” carries with it the implication that it was the Holy Spirit that inbreathed the Scriptures, that motivated and directed the writers of Scripture. So the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of all Scripture. Behind all the human writers there is one divine person responsible for the accuracy and authority of Scripture. That divine person is the Holy Spirit.
Now, let’s put those two facts together again. It’s the Holy Spirit who brings God’s voice to us and it’s the Holy Spirit who is the author of all Scripture. And one thing we know, the Holy Spirit never contradicts Himself. So the Holy Spirit will never bring to us the voice of God saying something that does not agree with Scripture.
So, the first way to be sure that you’ve heard the voice of the Lord is to check what you believe you’ve heard with Scripture. Does it agree with the words, with the Spirit, and with the principles of Scripture? If not, be sure it was not God’s voice that you heard. We must be very careful to reject all Satan’s counterfeits. Satan has many counterfeits for the voice of the Lord.
There’s a passage in Isaiah 8:19-22 which really says it so clearly in a way that’s so appropriate for our culture and our situation today. This is what Isaiah says:
Isaiah 8:19-22: “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, [the law and the testimony, the Old and the New Testament, the Scripture] they have no light of dawn; they’re in the dark. [And then this is the judgment on those that bring messages or listen to messages that are not from God:] Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and looking upward will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.”
What a terrible list at the end of that verse: distress, darkness, fearful gloom, utter darkness, that’s the result of being deceived, of listening to Satan’s counterfeits. And all the world is so full of those counterfeits today. It would take a long time to list them all. Let me just mention some of them.
First of all, mediums, spiritists (as mentioned there in Isaiah 8), then fortune tellers, horoscopes, Ouiji boards, tarot cards, tea cup readings, various forms of mental science, so called. Believe me, I’m talking from experience. Before I came to know the Lord Jesus, I was deeply involved in yoga and I know the darkness that I was in. I know the struggle that I had to turn from that darkness to the light and truth of Scripture and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the end of all these counterfeits? Well, we’ve looked at the words. Let me read them once more. “They will see only distress, and darkness, fearful gloom, and utter darkness.” But, if we walk according to the Scripture, we will have light.
Psalm 119:105 says this: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (NIV)
When we walk according to Scripture we never walk into the dark. We may not see far ahead, but we always have enough light for our path and for the next step to take. So bear in mind, the first and most vital requirement of all is that what we believe to be God’s voice shall be in total agreement with Scripture.
Then there’s the confirmation of circumstances. I’m going to turn to an example of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was in prison at this time. The city of Jerusalem was being besieged. Jeremiah himself had prophesied that the city would be taken and that the land would be ravaged by the Babylonian army and that there would be destruction and distress everywhere.
And yet, while he was there in the prison, having actually prophesied these things himself, he heard a most amazing word from the Lord.
Jeremiah 32:6-9, Jeremiah said: “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’ [Now that field was nothing as real estate values went in Israel at that moment. There was no reason to buy a field that was going to be overrun and ravaged by the Babylonians. It was an amazing thing. Then Jeremiah goes on:] Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’ [Now listen to what Jeremiah says:] I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel.” (NIV)
“I knew that this was the word of the Lord.” The Lord had spoken to him something amazing, improbable. He wasn’t quite sure but he kept it, as I would say, in his pending file. And then very shortly afterward something happened that made him know that this was the word of the Lord. His uncle did an amazing thing. He came to him in the prison and asked him to buy the very field that the Lord had spoken to him about. So that’s what I call the confirmation of circumstances.
Let me give you a couple of possible examples that are really based on experiences of people. You may be prompted to buy a house in your area. The house isn’t even up for sale. But you go and you knock on the door and you say to the lady who comes, “You know, if you ever should put this house up for sale, I’d be interested to buy it.” And the lady’s response is, “Isn’t that amazing; my husband and I have just decided to sell the house, we haven’t had time to put it on the market.” This is the word of the Lord. You see, you’ve got the confirmation of circumstances.
Or, you’re a business executive in a certain city with a good home and a good position and yet the Lord speaks to you about moving to a different city and you can’t understand it. You say, “Lord, I don’t understand this, but if it’s so, make it clear to me.” The next day your boss calls you in and offers you a transfer to the very city that you felt God wanted you to move to, plus a raise in salary. What are you going to say about that? You’re going to say, like Jeremiah, “Then I knew this was the word of the Lord.”
The third important kind of confirmation that we should look for when we believe we’ve heard God’s voice in our heart is God’s peace in our heart. God’s voice will always produce God’s peace.
Let me read from Colossians 3:15-16: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (NASB)
The key phrase there is at the beginning, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” That word that’s translated “rule” means to act as an arbiter or an umpire, to decide on certain things, whether they’re right or whether they’re wrong.
The Amplified Bible has a very good rendering of that. It says this: “Let the peace [soul harmony which comes] from Christ rule [act as umpire continually] in your hearts, deciding with finality all questions that arise in your minds…”
Do you see what it’s saying? We have an inward umpire, an arbiter, one who decides questions that we cannot decide. What’s that umpire, that arbiter? It’s the peace of God. When the peace of God says “yes,” it’s right. But when the peace of God is not there, we need to be cautious.
We need to say, “Well, God, if this is from you let there be peace in my heart.” But if there’s unrest and struggling, and particularly if you feel pressured to act hastily, then be on your guard because it would seem that God’s peace has been withdrawn. And God means by that, “You didn’t hear Me right,” or “You’re not applying what I said right.”
You see, there are three factors combined in that passage that I’ve read. There’s God’s peace, there’s thankfulness, and there’s God’s Word in your heart. You want to keep those three together. God’s peace will be there if it’s the voice of God, and you’ll be filled with thankfulness.
If it becomes an awful effort to thank God, if your praise dries up, then it’s probably not the Holy Spirit that’s moving in you. And then it says let the Word of Christ or the Word of God richly dwell within you. You’re checking it with the Scripture all the time.
All right, let me just recapitulate those three ways we should look for confirmation if we really think we’ve heard the voice of God.
First of all, the voice of God always agrees with Scripture. The Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture.
Secondly, there will be the confirmation of circumstance. In one way or another, things will work so that we will know that God is in this.
And thirdly, we need God’s peace in our heart, God’s peace umpiring, arbitrating, saying, “Yes, this is right. No, that is wrong.”
HEARING GOD’S VOICE: How Can We Be Sure? (Part 2)
I shared with you three important ways in which we should look for confirmation. First, agreement with Scripture: the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture.
Second, the confirmation of circumstance. Third, God’s peace arbitrating in our hearts. That means God’s peace is the umpire, the arbiter within.
Today I want to share with you one further way in which we may expect to receive confirmation that we’ve heard God’s voice, and that is through our fellow believers.
I want to take an example, first of all, from the New Testament: the sending out of Barnabas and Saul for apostolic ministry from the church at Antioch. This is described in Acts 13:1-3. And this is what it says:
Acts 13:1-3: “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Saul. [Five men are named: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul, who, of course, later became Paul.] While these men were worshipping the Lord and fasting, [and remember what I said earlier about worship being the best preparation to hear the Lord’s voice. And they were fasting. They were really seeking God with all their heart.] While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ [‘The Holy Spirit said,’ notice that. I’ve pointed out already it’s the Holy Spirit who brings to us the voice of God.] So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (NASB)
Now, I want you to notice the words that the Holy Spirit used, because it’s important. The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” The Holy Spirit had already called Barnabas and Saul. This was not the first time that they heard about this. But this was public confirmation, through their brothers in the assembly, that their call was from God. And that was very, very important. They needed that public confirmation.
We need to go back into the history of God’s dealings with Paul, a little, and see that right from the time that Jesus first appeared to Paul, he knew that he was to be an apostle. This is what he says and he emphasizes this in various places in his writing, that his apostleship was not of men.
He says, for instance, in Galatians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead…” (NIV)
Notice, he was sent not from man nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father. So Paul’s apostolic calling came direct from God, not from men. Nevertheless, God confirmed it through men. And this happened in the church at Antioch where the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
They had already received their individual call, but this was public confirmation. This shows what importance God Himself attaches to confirmation, that we’ve rightly heard His voice.
I believe this public confirmation in the church of Antioch, of Paul’s calling, served at least three purposes. First of all, it strengthened Paul’s own faith. I believe many of us know that there are times when we need confirmation from others. We’re walking a rather lonely road. We’re wondering if we really have heard God aright. Things seem so impossible, what God has spoken about seems so far away. And then, God in His grace gives us confirmation through our fellow believers.
Secondly, this incident at Antioch validated Paul’s call to his fellow believers. It wasn’t enough that he knew he was called, they had to know he was called to send him out and to support him.
Thirdly, this incident emphasized the interdependence of the members of Christ’s Body. And that’s something to which God attaches tremendous importance, that we don’t act unilaterally, just on our own, that we realize we’re members of a Body and we depend on the other members. None of us can just act on his own and say, “It doesn’t matter what the others do. I know I’m right.” That’s an attitude which is almost invariably wrong.
I want you to notice two points about this incident, they’re both important. First of all, the confirmation to Paul and Barnabas came through fellow believers of proven integrity and maturity. That’s important. It matters through whom God speaks to us. If it’s a believer whose faithfulness, whose maturity, whose integrity we know; that’s much more significant than somebody who may be very unstable, perhaps just a new believer, perhaps not leading a very godly kind of life. Confirmation through that kind of person is worth relatively little.
But when it comes through fellow believers of proven integrity and maturity, it means a lot.
Secondly, truly spiritual men do not go ahead unilaterally, regardless of their fellow believers. I respect that in Paul’s character. He knew God had called him, but he didn’t just go ahead and say, “Well, I’m going. Good-bye.” He waited on God with his fellow believers until the call was validated and confirmed. Then he went with their support and their prayers. Believe me, all of us need to do that.
It’s important to see that our ability to hear God through others depends to a large extent on the nature of our relationship with them. In other words, the better our relationship is with others, the better we can either hear God voice through them or receive confirmation through them. Right relationships are very, very important in being able to hear God’s voice.
And there are three special relationships through which we should expect to hear God, three relationships to which the New Testament attaches special importance and even, I would say, sanctity.
The three relationships are: between pastors and their people, between husbands and wives, and between parents and children. Let’s look at what the Scripture says about each of these relationships briefly.
Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (NIV)
The word “remember” there indicates respectful consideration. “Have respect for your leaders, they spoke to you the word of God.” Consequently, if God speaks to you independently, in another way, directly and personally; it should be very important to you that your leaders, who’ve already spoken to you the Word of God, should confirm what God has said.
Now I’m not saying this will happen one hundred percent. But if I were in a situation where I were a member of a congregation that had godly leadership, that spoke the Word of God to the people, and I thought I’d heard from God, and when I went to my pastor or the elders or whoever the leaders were and they waited on God and prayed and they came up with the answer, “We don’t feel this is God,” believe me, I would be tremendously cautious about going ahead with that thing. Because, it’s normal and it’s right for God’s people to hear through their leaders.
Then there’s the relationship between husbands and wives, Ephesians 5:22-24: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (NIV)
There’s another sacred relationship. God in His infinite wisdom has made the husband the head of the wife; responsible for caring for the wife, responsible for her spiritual condition.
Now I understand that many husbands are not really accepting this responsibility. But nevertheless, the scriptural order is for the wife to submit to her husband. It’s very dangerous for a married woman to claim that she’s heard the voice of God and then to go ahead, even when her husband doesn’t agree and doesn’t give his approval and blessing.
I’ve known a good many cases in which women did that and almost always the result has been some kind of spiritual disaster, because it’s contrary to divine order. And the kind of spirit in a woman that says, “Well, no matter what my husband says, I’m going to do it!” That’s not the kind of attitude that really hears from God. That’s a rather hard, rebellious type of attitude and rebellious people don’t accurately hear the voice of God.
The third relationship is similar and also a sacred one, the relationship between parents and children.
Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (NIV)
Notice the safeguard, “in the Lord.” If parents demand their children do something morally wrong or totally unscriptural, they’re not obligated. But otherwise, children are obligated to obey their parents. And if God speaks to a child, God can also speak to the child’s parents and cause them to accept what He has said to the child.
So there’s a twofold application to these relationships. First of all, the positive. We should expect to hear through these relationships. Secondly, the negative. We should be doubly cautious if we ever think God has spoken to us in a way that ignores or sets aside these sacred relationships.