Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hearing From God Part 3

I’ve had many professing Christians tell me, “Well, I just don’t hear from God like you do.” I say they probably do, if they are in Christ.

For the unconvinced, let me ask this:

If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to Heaven? Old question for evangelical Christians. But do you know for sure? How do you know? Well, you might tell me that you know because you have believed what the Bible says about Jesus, coming to earth, living a sinless life, and taking your sins upon Himself, He was crucified to pay the penalty for your sins; but that being sinless Himself, He arose from that grave and is alive today, and that He has returned to God the Father, and has sent His Holy Spirit into your heart. And you may tell me that His Spirit confirms with your spirit, that you are a child of God now, and that you will be in Heaven forever.

If you can tell me that, then brother or sister, you have heard from God. How do you know Christ is in you? How do you know you are forgiven of your sins? How do you have hope to overcome sin or trust that your mind is being renewed day by day, or that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, or considered righteous in God's eyes, or that you are seated in heavenly places? Do you say that you believe these things simply because your Zondervan Red Letter Bible says that anyone who confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, will be saved? NO, you do not say that. If you do, please write to me.

If you are born again, you can say all these things because God has conveyed them to you somehow. You know it, somehow. And so if I say that God 'told' you these things and you right now believe them, is that okay? If your spirit has been raised with Christ, His Spirit can and does, speak to yours. Your Zondervan Red Letter Edition even says this: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.” (Romans 8:6)

If so, please continue and bear with me. I'm writing this to encourage you, not to correct. I want to encourage the children of God, to hear from Him more. Yes, read His Logos (word) in your Bibles. But just as His Spirit has been able to tell you all these wonderfully true and otherwise impossible to believe things, He has much more to say to you, as to how you can walk this out today. When He says these Rhema words to you, obey them. Follow His leading (voice).

Doing so called 'great things' for God is not an expression of faith. It is usually just really doing things that impress other people, and so we consider them great. Nothing is too great for God to do. It may well actually be that “the little things” that you do in response to God's voice, will eternally be proven to have been very important, but you probably shouldn't dwell on that now. Concentrate on obedience in the small things. The first step is to hear from Him, and then to respond to that which He says to you. As you do this again and again, His voice in your life will become something normally wonderful to you; and something you soon won’t want to ever do without.

Missionaries itinerate a lot, visiting different churches to help them with their mission conferences. Over the years, we've been all over to different churches and find the most amazing teachings about faith. To hear some teach on faith, planning a big plan, and claiming that God should bless you in this venture because you are a child of the King and so are entitled to a success in this venture, is not faith. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." First you have to hear from God. We do not dictate what God tells us. We can only hear that which He tells us, and act accordingly as our faith suggests, for true faith to be displayed. Just as you have heard the Gospel message, and have responded to the Holy Spirit's call for you to repent and to give your life back to Christ, in the same way, you can still hear His voice today, and must, if you want to take that next step of faith.

Did God tell you to build that church building that seats 500 people? How did he tell you? Did He tell you while you were praying? Were you reading the Scriptures and did He tell you to widen your tent pegs? Or did you just want an increase in your numbers at church and this is the next logical step? Did someone come up to you and suggest this and offer a plan to pay for this building? How did they come up with their plan? Test it out. Who spoke first? Did God speak first, or you or a friend or a business associate?

If it was you or a friend, and you are now praying fervently for God to bless this, don't blame Him in the end if your plan doesn’t happen. But if it was His idea, and you heard Him tell you to increase your seating that much, and you have faith to go with it; then say so. Go ahead and say, “God told me to do this.” Saying so shows all that this is God’s idea. And when it is done, God will get the glory (credit) and praise. Let people know that God has indicated this, or that He’s spoken, led you, or shown you that you need to make room for more people. However you want to word it is fine. But faith ventures start with God speaking. Then when it is completed or fulfilled, people will follow your lead and give God the credit. And all involved will be eager to hear from God again. Your action and God’s faithfulness, will have helped these folk grow in their faith. Next time God leads them to do something greater than they could have hoped for or imagined, they will again step forward in faith, much bolstered by your testimony.

In 1982 God told me to go to Haiti? I didn’t want to go. In fact, I was at the time attending a church where the pastor had a love for world missions. Once a month they would have an evening service dedicated to having a missionary come and speak. I went every Sunday night, but when it was missions’ Sunday, I’d realize it after I got to church and my heart would sink. Sometimes I would miss it altogether, on purpose. I resisted going because I loved my new life in Christ, and the career path He seemed to have me on, and I didn’t trust myself once that pipe organ and piano started playing and Pastor started asking, “Who will go?” “Who has not yielded this area of their life to God?” “Will you come and give your life fully to God with this too?” I honestly don’t remember if I ever went forward and said, “Okay God, I must admit that I have not been open even, to your leading me to cannibals. But you know I love You and if you were, that I would want to obey. But please don’t, eh?” I don’t remember that. But it didn’t matter.

I was working in a children’s home, and on duty at the time. I’d gotten all 8 of the kids up and out to their different school buses and rides, and I was about to have the weekend off. So I went to take a shower. While I was in the shower, I opened my eyes, and I saw a scene. It was dark shirtless men carrying lumber on their shoulders. They were walking through a coconut grove. And then I heard the word, “Haiti.” And I got scared. I closed my eyes and reopened them. White tiles and water and a soap dish! I was back in the shower. But I got out quick. I got out and towel around my waist, I grabbed my clothes and ran upstairs to my room. Getting behind my dresser, where I often prayed, I gave it all to God. Not myself at first. At first I offered him to pray an hour a day for Haiti. No peace! Then I prayed and offered to give all that was in my savings at the time. (Not much!) No peace! God wasn’t letting up. “Okay Lord. How about I will go to Haiti, if you will show me the way to get there? Amen.” Peace came. I had no desire to go. But I had peace. I still had 7 months left on my contract, and for those months I wished God would take this cup from me. I did not want to quit my job. I did not want to go.

Researching to understand Haiti didn’t help. It was the poorest country. English was nowhere to be used there really, and I failed both French and Spanish in high school. Everyone there was black and I was white. I would see a lot of death there among babies and people dying of illnesses and just dying young. The Lord did show me the way. A man came to our church a week later, looking for volunteers for his new mission in Haiti. And God was so gentle with me! Whenever I would ask Him, “Really?” He would send me someone who’d either just been to Haiti, or I’d get something in the mail with Haiti on it, or I’d actually meet a Haitian person in some store. By the time the month arrived when I was to go, God provided all of the funds for me to stay longer term. I was going to go for a year. I knew it was right. But I still didn’t want to go. I had anxiety attacks over it. But all of the many times God had confirmed my going was His leading made it impossible it seemed at the time, for me to not move forward. So the day came, and I went.

I brought a journal with me to write in it. The first entry was not very hopeful at all. But I was going. I got to the airport, and a Haitian lady who had trouble lifting her luggage, kissed me full on the lips for helping her. Right in front of the missions director who had come to pick me up. Great way to make that first impression! I got into the back of the truck, and it went through the city streets. At every stop, hands were held up to me for hand outs with people saying, “Blanc! Blanc!” (“Whitey! Whitey!”) The truck moved soon out of the city, and down a 2 lane highway for about 45 minutes I guess. And then onto a dirt road that seemed to go for miles. Rural village after rural village till we stopped at a hut to pick up two American midwives who had just helped to deliver a baby. The villagers were not holding up their hands or looking for me to give them things. They asked my name and were told, “Fre Toma.” We then rumbled on to the mission station. I was shown to my cement room without a door and no screen in the window. Still under construction, there was a corrugated tin piece to put by the bottom of the door to keep the critters out at night. No electricity, here was my kerosene lamp for reading. Toilet is out back in the cane field. Watch out for tarantulas when you go. Good night.

In the morning I prayed for 2 hours before I could get out of that room. The other missionaries looked in and saw me praying and assumed it was my habit. I was scared! What got me out the door, was the Holy Spirit reminding me of how good God was, and how faithful He is to His own all the way through the scriptures, and then reminding me of the many ways He had spoken to me to go there; and how many times He had confirmed it. I got out there. The next day I prayed for an hour or two again. The third day too. This was hard, but I had to admit that I was liking the people I met each day; and while the kids laughed at me constantly as I struggled to learn the language, it was a joyful and not at all a mean laugh. By the end of the first week, I’d put in some screens, helped dig a ditch, dished out a lot of food at the feeding program, held down a couple patients as they got stitches, and played a lot with the kids at the elementary school’s feeding program. And one night I went to a funeral in the village. Wild and nothing like I’d ever seen. Skits, crying, hymn singing, men making fishing nets and playing cards, etc. And this thought hit. “I could live here and die here. I like it here.” And by week two my journal reads how I never wanted to leave. I loved it there in Haiti. God knew I would. How patient He had been with me; and how faithless I had gone into this whole adventure!

But the point is, it is very important to hear from God, because it is the things that He says to us, that He will make happen. And it is our going along with it, that brings us to places where we could only go by faith. He speaks, we follow, He rewards by giving us what His will was for us if we’d obey; “His good and pleasing and perfect will.” Listen to God!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hearing from God Part 2

To read part one, see the previous entry:

Here is a little Haiku poem, in order to help prepare for the next important point:

On hearing God's voice:

Exhilarating, thrilling
Happy, joyful

Okay, so it's a pretty bad poem. But did you find yourself saying the word "Repentance" in a happy tone? Do you usually say this word in a glad tone? Or do you say it more gravely? People who hear from God a lot, have come to befriend repentance. Just as faith is a gift from God, and something we cannot achieve or gain by our own efforts, so also repentance is a gift from God, something that we cannot gain by human effort. The most effort we are allowed to participate in regard to either faith or repentance is that of asking for it and/or responding when receiving it. Asking for its increase in our lives, and receiving them when God bestows them are wonderful gifts that put us in position to experience God’s voice and guidance in our lives..

When many people think of repentance, they think of a turning away from sin. And then they think that this alone somehow satisfies God. But what we need to understand is that more important than our turning from sin, is that we must turn towards God. Paul preached Christ crucified, not so that we would turn from our sin so much as that we would be turned toward God. God is Holy. Man is born in sin. Therefore if we are heading towards God, it is understood that we must have turned from sin in order to be facing towards Him. (Acts 10:21)

It is very possible and even far too common, for people to turn from sin, but to, instead of turning towards God, to turn towards something else. Many times people just exchange one idol for another, or one drug for another, hoping to become well and whole. They may turn from a particular manifestation of "sin" and turn toward the 12 step program that offers them freedom from that particular thing. That is a kind of repentance, but unless the program turns you toward God Himself, you will either be putting your trust in a program, or you’ll fail in your goal. If your goal is just to try not to ever do a particular negative behavior again, you may succeed; but God has much more in mind for His children than simply not expressing sin in particular ways. When we turn towards a particular program intended to keep us from one particular problem habit, there is a limit to what that program is designed to do for us. The program may be effective. But it isn’t God. God may use it to bring relief from that thing causing the immediate pain in life, but if we'll turn to God Himself, He will take us onward towards Christlikeness. That is something no program, even an effective one, can do. But facing God, (having repentance towards God), will put us in position to be hearing His voice, and so to being transformed.

Repentance does not mean that we will feel bad. In fact most of a believer's repentance should not be as a result of godly sorrow so much as a result of seeing the light at last. We need to pay attention to the conviction of God's Spirit. If we sin, godly sorrow is a healthy thing. It is godly sorrow's function to bring us to repentance when we need His transforming power in our lives. We must never think that God is somehow appeased because we feel bad about our sin. Feeling sorry is not what changes our lives. It is the blood of Jesus that saves. God's goal is not for us to feel bad, but that we find our completeness in Him; to be conformed into the likeness of Christ. Repentance can happen without godly sorrow. God delights to show us ways that we need to change our direction or thinking. Repentance is the turning of our intentions and hearts away from the way we were, and towards God, trusting Him to make the transformation that we long for.

Sometimes when I have see how off track I am, I will feel a godly sorrow. But sometimes it is more God freeing me from fetters that have kept me from the freedom which Christ came to give me. A personal example of this is when God gave me a greater amount of Christlike peace and love towards others, when He spoke to my heart about a particular truth in scripture, concerning God and people. For years I worked on my evangelism techniques. My thinking was that if I could just present the gospel to my unbelieving family and friends in an effective way, then they would see the light, as it were, and believe.

Then I read where Jesus says in John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

When I read those words, it was as if that verse jumped right off the page at me. God was speaking something to me, by His Holy Spirit. How do I know it was Him speaking to me? Scripture says in Romans 10:17, and I’ll repeat this often, that: “…Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

On Rhema and Logos: That word “word” in Romans 10:17 is in the Greek, “Rhema.” In English we have only one word for "word." But in Greek there is both "Rhema" and "Logos." When we read the scriptures from our Bibles, we call the Bible the “word” of God as well. But that word, “word,” is in Greek, “Logos.” Both the Rhema and Logos are God’s revelation to us. The Logos is the word of God that we can touch and see; scripture is the Logos of God. Jesus is talked about as the “Logos of God.” (John 1:1) When we talk about "hearing from God," we are talking about the Rhema, even if God uses His Logos to speak to us.

According to Romans 10:17 here, faith comes when we hear the Rhema of God. You can always test a Rhema, as it will not contradict the Logos. The scriptures for instance tell us not to kill or steal. So if someone says that God told them to attack a certain person and take their money, then that was not the Rhema of God. That person is deceived. Many times though, God will use His Logos as we are hearing it or seeing it, and it will impress us in our spirits, as a Rhema. That is what John 6:44 did for me that day. And by my responding in repentance from hearing that word, I gained much more love and understanding for people who don't yet follow Christ. By "repenting" here, I simply prayed, "Thank You Lord. I get it. I was wrong and now I see why! Thank you!"

Prior to that repenting, when I would present the gospel to family and friends, and they didn't respond (either positively or negatively), I assumed that they either were not listening to what I was saying, or they flat out rejected God’s word but wouldn't say so, and so instead were just shutting me off. It would hurt when I took it that way, and I'd struggle with my emotions, because I thought our relationship was better than that. Now after God spoke John 6:44 to me, I understood that there was more to my loved ones' lack of response than what I had previously understood. They simply did not have ears to hear, what the Spirit was saying through the Logos; at least not at that time. Now I could tell them the truth of the gospel in love, and not consider it a personal put down or slight if they did not respond, positive or negatively. Many just couldn’t respond. They didn’t have ears to hear the Logos that I was presenting to them. It was not Rhema to them that day. I needed to pray for the Father's drawing of them.

This new understanding changed my life. That is what hearing from God does. And that is why repenting from what we hold on to in even what we understand, enables us to turn and listen to God and receive what He is saying. After this I prayed more for the lost, and became less frustrated with those who simply were not able to respond to the truth that was being said. Besides, I find I gain a much greater love for people when I pray for them. When I just nag at them, not so much. They didn't need me; they needed the Father to draw them.

Back when I first believed, many of my friends thought I'd become a religious and joyless soul. Looking back I can understand why. Growing up, I hardly gave heaven or hell a thought, really. When I came to faith, heaven became a reality to me. I was so excited about the things God was saying to me and in having eternal life, why wouldn't all my loved ones believe? But when I saw my relatives and old friends unable to hear, or just not gladly receiving Christ, I was at first so surprised, and I began to grieve. To think of them bypassing the offer of heaven, and considering the alternative was such a heavy matter! I was growing in my love for God, but was my love for Him stronger than my love for them? I had always loved spending time with family and friends all growing up. But now I would think of hell and ached for them to know heaven. And so whenever hanging out with them, if I didn’t present Christ’s offer to them, I would feel I wasn't doing right by them. But if I did bring up the subject, yet again, and they rejected God's truth yet again, I would grieve. I can see why they saw me as a sad soul. Hell was now very real to me, and some dearest to me were heading right for it.

I had to repent much in those days. I had to choose God over my family and friends often. I was seemingly always being led to turn from friends' invitations and to turn towards activities that God's voice was leading me into. Sometimes I would go out with friends who didn't know Christ, and hold my tongue and say nothing of God, because I wanted the evening to be peaceful. I did this because I loved and missed them, and I wanted to feel that old feeling of their friendship. But by hiding God like that, not to mention not loving my friends enough to risk our friendship, (as I still truly believed the best thing in life for them was not a relationship with me but to find eternal life through Christ, felt really bad. I acted both as if I loved my friends more than God, and as if I loved myself more than I did my friends. I had to repent those days a lot! Sorrow would hit, and then I'd repent again. And each time God would speak to me again, and with such love! He would speak comfort to me, and He would show me what I needed to be doing, and He'd remind me that He loves my friends much more than I ever will. Peace would come from what He'd say. Repentance is very important in hearing God's voice.

I've heard people talk about repentance as if it were something they did once many years ago, and that now they are fine and on the right road, period. Repentance is not a one-time deal. Daily we should be turning from self to God. I learned this early on. Back then, anytime I would put devotion for my friends over devotion for God, I needed repentance. Repentance meaning, I'd turn from idolizing friends and having my companionship needs being met through them, to turning TOWARDS the living God who loves me, and start trusting that invisible God was more real in His love towards me, than anybody else could ever be. And whenever I would do this repentance, God would bless me in a way that I could hear or see. His voice is so wonderful!

When we turn towards God, He lavishes revelation upon us that His great love for us is real, and our faith in Him grows. Our faith grows, because by turning from lesser things (anything other than Him is lesser) and turning to God for all our needs, we experience His presence, and we are rewarded for going to Him, by seeing His hand in our endeavors and situations, and in hearing Him speak into our lives. The more we do this, the more normal hearing His voice becomes to us, and the more our faith grows. It grows because we go from seeing Him act on our behalf and speak into our lives on the things we need immediately, like for help or a job, or healing, or provision; to things that we need in life that take longer, like sanctification, hard hearts to soften, gaining freedoms that help us walk in victory, where once we were bound up. Hearing His voice, and then walking accordingly is living by faith. And that faith grows as we increase in our hearing and in our obedience. Repentance is part of the puzzle that we need to appreciate. Walking with Him becomes a most refreshingly alive adventure. Acts 3:19 says:

"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,"

As these times of refreshing come from the Lord, the more we find ourselves turning from ourselves and turning towards God, the more we will be hearing from Him. This is salvation and a building of our faith and of our experiencing the truths of God. The more we repent in this way, the more we will see that repentance is a wonderful gift; and that as often as it comes, and the quicker we embrace it, the more our joy will be. Conversely, the longer it takes a soul to repent, and the more stubbornly it clings to worthless idols, the less their joy, and the greater their grief in the meantime.

Learning to follow God's voice well, is a process, that often requires repentance. Embrace repentance! Thank God if you get it! I've experienced both times of repentance and times of resisting it, and thus prolonging the painful part of the process. I've learned to ask Him for repentance, whenever I feel I have let my spiritual progress halt. At these times I pray, and you may pray too, "God grant me repentance more in this."

For having such a negative public image, repentance is such a blessing! As an unbeliever, I thought of repentance as a kind of reluctantly or remorsefully giving up of one's pleasurable ways, for a life of stoic sackcloth and religious doldrums. Yet this has certainly not been my experience. Once I did begin to really and often repent, I can truthfully say that it has never brought me to place of disappointment, but always to a better place, spiritually, and eventually if not right away, in situation. The believer profoundly desires truth in their innermost parts. We want to enjoy God our Father and we want Him to enjoy us. We ask Him to change us.

When we ask, He answers us because our changing will be good for us. God wakes us up to our wrong motives and sinful goals, and we repent, turning and running right to Him. And His arms fly open for us. Happy is the soul which rushes to full repentance. Lost is the soul that has never received this wonderful gift. Frustrated will be those who having once received repentance, but have since convinced themselves that they no longer need repentance. Repentance becomes welcome and wonderful when over time we find that it is the means by which we are realigned with what God is doing and where He is leading us; when we see that it is often just the link needed for us to hear again, His amazing voice. Yes, sometimes repentance may include godly sorrow. But sometimes it is more an, "Aha! Thank You Lord! I want to think Your way now. Thank you!" Moment. As the song says, “I need Thee every hour.”

If you want to hear from God, you must be willing and eager to receive both faith, and repentance towards God. ". . . to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21)