Listening for the Spirit (#1)

As you know, we are seeking the Lord for guidance regarding our future as a congregation. And as a part of this I want to give some teaching this week and next on Listening for the Spirit – to help us know what this means and how to do it. Today, let me begin by saying that –

It’s normal to be led by the Spirit

That is, this isn’t just for certain people like leaders or “saints.” Or perhaps coming from a different direction, you might think that this is the language of those who have gone off the deep end and so you want to stay away from it. No. This is the privilege of all Christians.

It is the Spirit, after all, that gives us life in the first place, for we are born of the Spirit (John 3). But that’s not all. As believers the Spirit of God actually lives in us (Romans 8:9). So there is a closeness and a relationship. And in any relationship there has to be communication. And certainly God does seek to relate to us and guide us by his Spirit dwelling within us.

Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (or children) of God.” You can see here the close connection between our relationship with God and that we are led by the Spirit.

Now the Spirit can lead us in many ways. He can give someone a word to say to the congregation, he can speak a word deep within our heart, or he can move by what I call the “inward witness” of the Spirit. This is when the Spirit doesn’t necessarily speak words, but gives us a deep inner sense of things that goes beyond words; an affirmation or a conviction that teaches and guides us in the way to go. I believe that this inward witness of the Spirit is the most common way that the Spirit leads us and so I want to focus on this today.

The inward witness of the Spirit

There are several places in Scripture where this is talked about. And the first one has to do with how the Spirit works in us to draw us to Jesus. Here we are talking about the process whereby we first became believers.

Jesus said in John 16:8, “When the Spirit comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Spirit speaks in the deepest part of our hearts to show us our sin, and what righteousness looks like and that judgment is coming. He shows us that Jesus is true and that he is the Savior.

This is how salvation works. We don’t just go and seek out God, God seeks us and draws us to himself by the Spirit, by this inward witness of the Spirit within us that teaches us and guides us in the right way. This is how we come to faith.

So simply to be a Christian means you have been led by the Spirit in this way. You know the inward witness of the Spirit.

Another example of the inward witness is when the Spirit affirms in us that we are a Christian. Just after talking about being led by the Spirit, Paul says this in Romans 8:15-16 – “. . . You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God . . .”

In this passage we see that first, we receive the Spirit. And what does the Spirit lead us to do? To cry out “Abba, Father,” which is an expression of our relationship with God; we confess that we are children of God. How can we do this? It’s because the Spirit “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” In other words, the Spirit affirms, deep in our hearts, that we are a child of God. And so we can cry out to God our Father.

And this is not just a one-time event when we first believe. Throughout our lives the Spirit works in us to affirm our relationship with God.

To have the assurance of the Spirit means the Spirit is leading you in this way.

Another example of the inward witness is when the Spirit guides us in everyday life. In Ephesians 4:30 Paul says, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” In context he is talking about living the Christian life; the choices we make whether to sin or walk in the way of Christ. And the point is that when we choose sin we grieve or sadden the Spirit who dwells within us, who is affirming that we should choose the way of Christ.

Unless we have become hardened and distant to the Lord this goes on in us regularly. We sense the Spirit deep in our heart either guiding and affirming our choices or convicting us that we are wrong. When we walk in the right path we have the fruit of the Spirit of peace. When we do not, the Spirit is “grieved.”

So simply to walk the Christian life means that the Spirit is, or is seeking to lead you in this way.

But the Spirit doesn’t just lead us as individuals, the Spirit can also lead us as a group; as a church. We see this in the example of the Jerusalem church council of Acts 15. The early church had a huge controversy over how to accept Gentiles as Christians and there was conflict. So the mother church in Jerusalem gathered together, along with the apostles to settle things.

They talked about the issues and heard from various ones, including the apostles Paul and Peter. And then at the end in Acts 15:28 it says, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .” and then they hand down their decision. It isn’t necessary to get into the issues or what they decided right now. The point is that they testify that the Spirit led them. We don’t know what all this might have meant, but certainly at a minimum they are saying that they feel the Spirit is affirming deep within their hearts, that their decision is right.

And this is what we are seeking as a congregation. Not just what we think is best; not what we think the answer ought to be; not what we think others want us to do – but what does God have to say to us, so that we can be confident in our decision before God and others.

Let me end with –

An encouragement

I share all this to encourage you to listen for the Spirit. As you continue to pray these next weeks and fast on Friday afternoons, listen – expecting to hear from God. What is the Spirit saying to us here at New Providence Mennonite Church? And then we will gather to pray and discern together and make some decisions. If God could lead the believers in Jerusalem in their big decision, God can certainly lead us here as well.

Second, I have shared this with you to remind you that as a Christian you already know what it’s like to be led by the Spirit; the inner witness of the Spirit. It’s not rocket science. We have all been there and we have all done that. We just need to tune in and be sensitive to listen and hear.

And if you would say, I don’t feel like I am really that in touch with the Spirit anymore, let me say it isn’t too late to get in tune with God’s Spirit and listen. And we will talk about some of this next week, Lord willing.

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