Friday, December 30, 2011

"How Can I Hear From God?"

Recently I was stopped in my tracks, as I was excitedly telling a friend about some direction that I had intended to take in life, and how God had stepped in to redirect me. God bless them! They wanted to make sure I wasn't presuming and going off in some direction I would later regret. They asked me how I knew God was speaking to me. Another in the study asked, "How can I hear from God like that?" I then remembered back about 20 years ago, writing on this very subject, and I've gone back into my old journals to find the following articles that I wrote on the subject, for some new believers, and for some believers who wanted clarity, before we could move deeper into fellowship. This will take a few entries for sure. But here we go. Mind you, this was 20 years ago when I was writing some of this:

It is wonderful to be a part of a church, and to sit under good solid teaching. I was very blessed to be a part of a church which taught me to listen and to hear God's voice. In my home church, it was common to have people come up during a service and say to me: "Do you know what God told me yesterday?" or "I believe God is leading me to...." Everyone from the Pastor to those in the newcomers meeting, were encouraged to testify as to what God was doing in our lives. And this testifying only led to more hearing it seemed.

So when I first left for the Bible College, I was really very surprised to find that, at this interdenominational school, some of the students, though born again Christians, did not feel very comfortable around me when I would try to testify to them as to what God was saying to me. I would start to share and still be all excited about a scripture that God made clear to me, or how He had shown me a sin that needed expulsion from my life, or how He told me to write a letter to tell an old friend about Jesus. The smile on my schoolmate's face would sometimes drop and a distance and wall was established. There was something threatening about what I was saying.

For some of the students, I found that it was my lingo. They used words like "felt led" in describing something God was saying to them, where I would probably say, "God told me..." One classmate and I laughed at lunch one time, as this tension needed to be dealt with. They loved me enough to ask me what I meant when I said that "God told me" something. They questioned that I should say such a thing as it sounded mystical. Then they told me that what I was testifying about, they would put into the category of "feeling led" to do something. "Felling led!" I blurted out. "That sounds to me much more mystical. Like did you sort of sense a presence causing you to ooze across the room blindly?" He laughed. We decided that we had just learned two different dialects of Christianese. The joy was that both of us were able to break that misunderstanding and continue testifying to one another, what God was actively doing in our lives and ministries.

Sadly though, some people don't bridge that gap of misunderstanding; and the sense of fellowship remains strained. One temptation, is to just stop talking about it, in order to 'keep the peace,' as it were. But to testify that the Spirit of God is telling us things, is very much in according with the Bible. The only times we should not testify as such, is when the Lord has bidden us to keep something to ourselves. Jesus is every bit as alive today as He was when he bore human flesh. Now He speaks to us by His Spirit.

There are some though, and I found this out too late, that have been taught that God no longer speaks today. Once the Bible was completed, according to this teaching, there was no longer prophesy, or tongues, or divine healing, or personal guidance from God. So I have learned that it is important, whenever I sense that my testifying about what God is saying to me is being met with tension from a Christian, that I should ask the person what they believe about hearing from God.

It is really amazing what can happen to fellowship when the silence is broken. I have kept silent when I sensed that the person listening to me was not comfortable with my testifying. And I have later felt convicted of not loving my brother or sister enough to pursue the tension and see it broken. Likewise too, it is not loving if someone is testifying, and you feel a tension, not to clear things up as well.

I’ve come to see that the tension comes from this: That the person who is testifying is claiming that they hear from God directly. The person getting tense, either doesn't use such strong words as "God told me…" or "I felt led by God to…," and they are afraid that the person speaking to them is going too far, and that any smile or relaxation on their part will only encourage the speaker to testify more. Perhaps the listener is embarrassed because they believe that the brother or sister who is telling them about what God has revealed to them is either deceived, or worse, a liar. It is an awful thing to think that of someone, and so they keep silent, stir their coffee, stare into space, and pray for an out from that conversation, or else they quickly change the subject with a "hmm, that's interesting. . . how is the job going?" This leads the one testifying to realize that they are either not being believed, or that the listener is spiritually dead or cold. They don't say anything either and so the two parties just end the conversation and go away with nothing cleared up, and only unflattering thoughts to think concerning the other. What a terrible feeling and sin it is to sit in such judgment on a brother or sister! Much better to just come out with it!

Now, since I cannot see you while you are reading this, I don't know if you are rolling your eyes, or if you are encouraged, or in my other entries, do you just skim past my testimonies and get to the punctuation marks. So in this and the following 2 blog entries, I feel I need to write a few words about hearing from God. What do I mean when I say, "God told me" something? Maybe there is no wall between us. If so, I hope these words will encourage you. Maybe there is a little wall between us whereby you will find that what I am saying you understand, though you wouldn't say it that way. And maybe you have been taught that God doesn't really speak today. If so, you and I both need to admit that we think the other wrong, and express our concern for the other. This is Christian love. What I am going to express now, is why I believe that hearing from God and faith in God go hand in hand. If at the end of this, you still think I am either deceived, or worse, a deceiver, then I hope that you will write to me and let me know that. But let us not just think the other deceived and let it go without expressed concern. Here is my discussion on hearing from God and how it relates to our faith in Him. I hope you will receive it.

So what is faith? Why do we need to hear from God today? The Scriptures tell us that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." And we are also told that "without faith it is impossible to please God." I do not need faith to see that God says "Go ye into all the world," I do need faith if I believe that God is saying to me, "stay here and wait, and one day I will send you to Cambodia." The mistake that many make about faith is that a lack of faith is simply not believing what we can already see about God. For example, if the black and white (or red-lettered) pages of my New Testament tell me to "go into all the world." And if I stay home, then some would say I didn't have faith in God. But that is not so. I simply don't have faith that the Bible is God. The Bible is God's word (Logos), as Jesus is also the "Logos of God." Jesus was seen and touched by human hands. We can touch and feel and read our Bibles. But what is it that makes us to believe Jesus, or to believe what we read? Is it logic? Is it brainwashing or an overly submissive disposition and religious upbringing? No. What makes us believe Jesus, and what the Bible reveals about God to be true is 'faith.' Faith is what makes us act according to our belief in God.

I've never seen God with my earthly eyes. I'm not sure I could see Him and live. The Scriptures I have read on the subject make me think that if I really did see God with my earthly eyes, that I would not be able to handle it; that I would die. Moses saw God's back and God shielded him at that. Still for so long afterwards, Moses' face glowed and terrified the Israelites. Saul, before he believed and became the apostle Paul, says that he encountered Jesus, the Light of the world, on the road to Damascus. It left him blinded, and it took an obedient servant of God, at God's speaking, to go to Paul and to lay hands on him for divine healing. To be honest, in light of these two examples, I'm not sure I am willing to see God with these earthly eyes. That may sound wimpy, but I'm just a bit too self absorbed yet, to want people to shriek in terror when they see my face, or to be rendered physically blind. If I ever feel so led to pray to see Jesus face to face this side of Heaven, I hope I will be obedient and pray accordingly. But indeed, I believe that I will one day see Him face to face, and when I do, it will be with eyes that can handle it. And by faith, I am sure that I will receive these new eyes when that day comes. And for now, I am required to live and walk by faith.

Where do we get faith? Do we look at a Bible verse and then repeat it to ourselves until we believe it? That is brainwashing. No. God gives us faith. Faith is a gift from God. The Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. . ." So if it is a gift, then I guess the response to my receiving faith to believe is to thank Him. And if I don't think I yet possess that faith, then the appropriate response would be for me to ask Him for it. And when I read the scriptures, I can see that He gives faith and increases faith to people freely and gladly. The way I’ve come to understand it, even when God communicates His thoughts to me through His Logos, (Word of God that we can see and touch; my Bible) He is enabling me to perceive or spiritually hear or understand what He is saying to me by His Spirit. He creates in me the ability to respond in belief, and convinces me that what He is saying to me is really true.

When we have received faith to believe in God, we then look at scriptures in a very new way. It is no longer a set of stories or mandates that we are to believe or disbelieve. Instead, the whole revelation of scripture is to us, a revelation of the very nature of God. God uses the Bible to build into the faith He has given us, a true foundation in every way. The Bible and Jesus are the Logos of God. That is, they are the revealed Word of God. God spoke through Christ, and He spoke through the prophets and writers of the Bible. And today He speaks to each born again believer in Christ through His Spirit into our spirit. There is a kind of faith that we call "Saving Faith." Through this saving faith, we become born again. Once this happens, our spirits are reborn; made alive again; and our ability to hear God’s voice spiritually, is restored. What was lost when Adam and Even sinned, fellowship with God, is restored. That is wonderful news!

At least that has been my conversion experience. It doesn’t have to be in that order of events. In America, where knowledge of God is readily available, I think that most people consider saving faith the initial entry into God's kingdom. Like a Billy Graham Crusade, we tend to first hear God’s word, and after learning about His plan to save us from sin, we take a step forward in our lives, believing that He has done that for us, and then we begin to start actively hearing from God. (Hopefully). But after being in other countries and seeing people of other cultures receive revelation from God and take steps in believing more and more, coming eventually to this wonderful message, and coming to a saving knowledge of Christ, I know that God truly blesses whoever will believe what is true, with faith to dig deeper and to go the next step with Jesus. They may be hearing from God on their way to hearing the saving faith message, that we in America tend to proclaim about God first.

Saving faith comes when we believe the truth that Jesus Christ was God's Son, who responding to God the Father's mercy and love for the people He had created, came to do what was necessary for people to again become 'right' in relationship with God. That Jesus came to earth from Heaven; that He was the only person who was not a sinner who was separated by personal sin, from God, that He willingly gave his body over to be punished as if He were a sinner, thus becoming the perfect sacrifice for the sin of others. . . Without faith to believe, all of this can truly appear to be senseless or at least very odd. But after faith comes, all of this makes a great deal of sense. When faith comes, with that faith, as we actively search the Scriptures and continue to receive truth about God's nature and ways, we see that this was a very appropriate and noble thing for God to do for us. And our response becomes: "Oh God, you DO love me. Jesus took my sin to that cross and He paid the price of my sin. I no longer have to be separated from you, but now I can freely come to you. I do believe this and it is wonderful! Thank you so much!"

When we have come to this place of convinced awe, then we have received saving faith. For many Americans, this is the first step. Later we begin to discover so many and scriptures that challenge the way that we think about almost everything. As we learn the scriptures with our new eyes and ears, we then have to choose again and again, who is right; God or us. The wise will learn to not fret over such challenges, but to ask God to speak to them about this.

For example, I remember that I used to believe that people had many lives. You know, the new aged thinking that we have lived past lives and can connect with these? I didn't believe in reincarnation in the Hindu sense; that my well lived or badly lived life would determine what I would return to this world as. But I did think that God was so good, and so kind and so forgiving, that He would let a person continue to come back to life repeatedly, giving them chance after chance, until they accepted the Gospel, and believed. Then after that, the next time they died, they could go to Heaven, finally leaving this hard earth; to spend eternity with God in His glory.

I believed this based upon my former thinking and reading about people's experiences with afterlife and from my own personal hopes. I did not yet realize that, "it is ordered for man to die once, and then face the judgment." So when I read this verse in the book of Hebrews, it was as a part of a teaching that a minister was giving in a church. I had to admit to God that this was a hard teaching for me. When I was growing up my family had not told me about Jesus. I didn't know any relatives from the past who had walked with Jesus. Did this mean that my dear Great Grammy and Grampy might be in hell today? This was a moment of crisis for me. For until that moment, in my then present understanding of having multiple chances to live and find Christ, at least they would have another chance. This verse and this teaching however, was telling me that those who have died, will not get another chance to decide. It caused me to cry out to God. If I had simply religiously believed whatever the Bible had written in it was right, then I could have really become a malcontent. God would have seemed to me to be unreasonable.

But in crying out to God, He was able to impart some doctrinal faith to me. That is, He was able to build around this crisis, an understanding of the teachings of the Bible concerning His nature. Soon, I could see that it was not a person's right to have many chances to be born again. It was instead a proof that God was good, that He would allow anyone to be saved at all. Some have asked how a good God could send anyone to hell. The question when faith is received changes to, "Knowing how rebellious and hateful people are, is it a wonder that God would be so good as to make a way that any of us could be accepted into Heaven?"

Once saving faith and one’s understanding of God has begun to bear fruit upon our souls, another kind of faith comes into play; whereby we begin to hear from God. Well, that order again, may be presumptuous. That was the order with which I had experienced this commencing to “hearing from God.” Maybe some people find themselves being led to do this or that according to God's leading, before their understanding of God is challenged. More likely though, all three kinds of faith: saving faith, doctrinal faith, and practical faith, are working together from the very beginning of our coming to God through Christ.

So we have saving faith, understanding God faith (or doctrinal faith), and now "practical faith," which is "hearing from God" and results in walking with Him. That is where the adventure begins for many of us; and that is what I hope to post in the next few weeks.

So check back as I hope to answer the question: “How can I hear from God?”

No comments: