Listening for the Spirit (#2)

We are seeking the Lord’s guidance as a congregation and will be coming together for a meeting next week after church. As a part of our preparation I shared last week on Listening for the Spirit – to help us know what this means and how to do it. We are continuing on with this theme today.

Last time I made the point that it’s normal for believers to be led by the Spirit of God. As Paul says in Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (children) of God.” This is simply a part of being in relationship with God.

And we also looked at the most common way the Spirit leads us, which is 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.

Today we want to go further on the topic of the Spirit’s leading, and first we look at –

How to receive God’s leading

 That is, how do we get ourselves in a place to hear what God might want to say to us?

First and most basically, listen. If you want to hear what anyone has to say, you have to stop and listen. And the same is true in our relationship with God.

Much of our praying is about talking to or even at God with our needs. Among other things, we also need to have intentional times of listening, where we invite God to speak to us.

We can follow the pattern of Eli’s advice, when he told Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” – 1 Samuel 3:9. Open your heart to be led, and see what God’s leading might be. God doesn’t always have something specific to say to us, but sometimes he does.

Now the bigger goal is to have a life that is tuned in to God, so that we are always attentive to God’s leading. But certainly we begin by making space in our times of prayer to allow God to speak.

Second, walk in the light you already have.  All of us stumble in many ways, as James says (3:2), but this is different from continuing to walk in known patterns of sin. Where we know God’s will and leading and just choose not to do it.

There is no reason to think that God will say more to you if you haven’t dealt with what he has already told you; what you already know and are choosing not to do. Such sin creates a barrier between us and God (Isaiah 59:2). It damages or even destroys our relationship with God. So set aside your sin and come back close to God once again. As James says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” – James 4:8.

John teaches us that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9. God’s mercy is wonderful to us. And then it will be true what John says in 1 John 1:7, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another . . ..” Fellowship means we have an unhindered relationship with God.

Make things right in your relationship to God and draw near.

And finally, submit yourself fully  to God. You may not like God’s leading. Often it is the hard way. Not always, but often. And we don’t want this. We want what is easy and comfortable.

Yet God leads those who actually want to be led; who are willing. So we have to set aside our own agenda, what we think the answer has to be, what we desire. (Not in terms of what Scripture teaches, but in the application of Scripture). Then God can lead us in his way.

Jesus models this for us in the garden of Gethsemane. When seeking God’s will and confirming the path of the cross he says, “Not what I will, but what you will” – Mark 14:36.

Humble yourself before God confessing that you don’t know everything and you really do need God to help and lead you. Remember these words from Proverbs 3:5-7 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes . . .”

And then say to God, I will do whatever you tell me. This is submission. And this is someone who is ready to be led by God. And someone that God readily leads.

Let’s take a moment to pause for prayer. Maybe you need to draw near to God; maybe you need to submit yourself to God; or maybe you are here this morning ready to listen – so invite God to lead you. We’ll take just a minute.

Next we move to the very important topic of –

How to test any leading you receive

 When you seek to be quiet before the Lord and listen, it can be hard. Maybe you have just experienced this. Our minds are often so full of things – our own thoughts, our inner list of things to do, our own emotions, our own inner voices, our own desires. And also at times wrong thoughts or voices from the evil one. There is a swirl of voices and thoughts. So it can be hard to set all this aside to truly receive God’s leading. We don’t want to accept just our own thoughts as those of God and certainly not the thoughts of the evil one.

So Scripture teaches us to test the spirits:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 says, “Do not despise prophecies (e.g. words of the Spirit), but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
  • 1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

There is a sorting process and we keep what is good. This applies to those who speak out words of the Spirit or in our own minds as we listen for the Spirit.

I would like to share with you two ways to do this and the first is that everything must be in line with Scripture; God’s Word to us. God’s written word is what tests any leading we receive. It is definitive and authoritative. So any leading that goes against it, you know it’s wrong.

Deuteronomy 13:1-4 says, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”

Here the test is God’s revelation through Moses talking about idolatry. This was the Bible at this time. Anything that leads away from God’s Word is wrong.

But even more specifically, everything must be in line with the New Testament and it’s witness to Jesus. John 1:17-18 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the beloved who is at the Father’s side, who has made him known.” John is teaching us here that Jesus is the full and perfect revelation of God to us. There are things that are different from Old Testament to New Testament, as we see in Matthew 5. And Jesus is the standard. He is the Word of God come in the flesh. And his life and teachings are only found in the writings of the apostolic church preserved for us in the New Testament. No leading of God will go against this.

Second, make sure you recognize the leading as God’s. From my own experience I know that God’s voice is different than my own inner voices or the voice of Satan. These others are often harsh, nagging or condemning. There is nothing redemptive about them. They either tear us down and lead us to despair or they artificially build us up and lead us to pride. They don’t lead us to God and his grace and power to be transformed.

God’s voice is firm, clear, strong, quiet, pure, from the outside of us; from outside of the swirl of voices we can hear.

How do you discern God’s voice? It comes from a lifetime of being in relationship with God. Being immersed in the Scriptures and spending time in God’s presence in prayer and worship helps equip us to know God – who God is and what God sounds like.

For instance, I am not good with identifying voices on a phone. Just a few months ago someone called me and was talking on and I had to say, “now who is this?” Awkward! But I do know by wife’s voice. There is never any doubt there. We have been in close relationship for decades. And the more time we spend with God, the more we will be confident in recognizing his leading in our hearts.

Let me just end by encouraging you to seek after God this week.

  • Put yourself in a place to hear from God
  • And then test whatever leading you might receive

And then we will gather and discern together as a group next week.

Again, our goal for our meeting is to be able to sense what God’s leading is for us as a church. Not just what we think is best – our own opinions or wisdom; not what we think the right answer should be; not what we think others want us to say – but what God is saying to us. My guess is that God will give different ones of us a piece of the puzzle, that as a community we can put together, to show us the way forward. And it may take more than one meeting.

Releasing fear and moving forward in faith

(edited)

Anytime you are involved in the work of the Lord you can be overcome by fear.

  • Perhaps God speaks to us powerfully or calls us to do something special. This can make us afraid.
  • Perhaps God asks us to do something that is really hard or involves risks. This can make us fearful.
  • Or perhaps we are serving God and are going through trials and hard times. This can cause us to be afraid.

Fear isn’t good. It doesn’t help anything

  • When we are afraid we become reactive so that we make quick, impulsive decisions; we can’t think straight or hear God.
  • When we are afraid our mindset becomes distorted; we just see the problems around us.
  • When we are afraid we just want to retreat or give up.

In short, fear will keep us from doing what God wants us to do.

For all who are feeling fear this morning, God is calling us to faith, which is the opposite of fear. It’s not that there aren’t things to be afraid of, it’s that we are called to trust ourselves into the hands of the one who can lead us through anyway.

And so we have to release our fear into God’s hands, so that we can hear God and what he wants us to do, so that once we have heard from God – we can move forward in faith.

This threefold pattern of releasing fear, hearing from God and acting in faith shows up in three examples from the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. I want us to look at these, and the first one is –

The story of Zechariah: Luke 1:11-20

  • Something happened to him.  v. 11 says, “And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” Gabriel, was his name (v. 19).
  • And this caused him to be afraid. v. 12 says, “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.” Surely the presence of the angel could cause anyone to fear and maybe he even thought he was in trouble with God.

And what is the first word given to him from God? 1. “Do not be afraid” – v 13.  You can’t hear God or do what he wants when you are overwhelmed with fear. So step one is to set aside your fear.

What’s next? 2. He listened to what God had to say. Gabriel goes on to say that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son, even though she has been unable to and they are older. And this son will play an important role in God’s plan; he will be a great prophet – John the Baptist.

And once the message is heard, 3. He was to act in faithNow, at this step, Zechariah doesn’t fully measure up. In v. 18 he asks several questions that reveal doubt in his heart. How can they have children? And because of this he is sentenced to not be able to speak until the baby is born.

And so here we have a warning that we should act in faith when God speaks to us, or at least with more faith than Zechariah demonstrates.

Next is –

The story of Mary: Luke 1:26-38

  • Something happened to her. v. 28 – Gabriel (the angel) greeted her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”
  • And this caused her to be afraid.  v. 29 – “She was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” There is an angel, and, given the greeting, it sounds like God is about to ask her to do something special. And so she is afraid.

What is God’s first word to her? 1. “Do not be afraid Mary” – v. 30.

What’s next? 2. She listened to what God had to say. Gabriel told her that she would have a son, even though she was a virgin. And that her child is the promised Messiah.

Once the message is heard, 3. She acted in faith.

Interestingly, in v. 34 she also asks questions, about a virgin birth. But these did not come from doubt. And her faith rings out loud and clear in v. 38 – “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

The final example is –

The story of the shepherds: Luke 2:8-20

  • Something happened to them. v. 9 says “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them”
  • And this caused them to be afraid. v. 9 says, “And they were filled with fear.” What’s going on? What does God want from us?

And what is the first thing that the angels said to them? 1. “Fear not” – v. 10.

And then, 2. They listened to what God had to say. The messiah has been born and they are to go and see him; to be witnesses of this amazing event.

3. They acted in faith. 16 – “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.”

What about us?

  • Well, sometimes things happen to us, hardships and trials.
  • And like in all these examples, our temptation is to be afraid.

But what do you think God’s first word to us is? 1. Do not be afraid. Don’t let fear and anxiety overwhelm us so that we can’t hear God, so that all we see are the problems, so that we just want to give up.

We must release our fear to God and choose to trust God, knowing that whatever happens he will take care of us. Yes, we don’t have all the answers, we don’t know the future and there might be a basis for fear and concern. But despite all this, we choose to trust and to put ourselves in a place to be able to hear from God and then move forward with whatever he says.

And 2. We need to listen to what God wants to say. This involves praying and listening to God. It involves seeking wisdom for what God wants to say to your situation. What does he want for you? What is the path forward?

3. Then we must move forward in faith. Move forward based on what you hear God saying, with trust and boldness.