Jesus appeared to Paul four times. The first time was at his conversion on the road to Damascus (Ac 9:5); the second was in the temple after he returned to Jerusalem (Ac 22:17-18); the third was in Corinth when he grew fearful because it looked like he was going to face another violent attack (Ac 18:9-10); and the fourth is here in a jail cell during his last visit to Jerusalem.
The Lord is always watching over us. He knows when pressure becomes too great for us to bear, and because He is our Shepherd, there will always be special moments when He comes to strengthen us. But, you and I need to hear from Him much more often than that. Having Him show up occasionally in the midst of a crisis is not the same as walking with Him day by day. Yes, we need Him at our side in desperate situations, and its a joy to tell stories about those amazing encounters. But, Jesus promised much more. He said He would be with us always (Mt 28:20); that He would never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5). He said He calls us His friends which means He will reveal to us all things that I have heard from My Father
(Jn 15:15). And each of us, when we have taken the time to press in and listen, can testify that He does speak to us, yet for some reason there seems to be obstacles, something in our old human nature, or maybe its something that opposes us in the spiritual dimension, which makes hearing His voice difficult at times. We can go through dark seasons when its very hard to hear from Him, when we feel alone, when were confused about which way to go. I believe this is what Paul was experiencing in that jail cell. But Jesus came
and spoke to him.
24 Hours (Ac 22:30-23:11)
The power of His voice
Theres simply nothing like it. One moment of feeling close to Him, one brief statement that our heart knows is from Him has a remarkable impact on our mood. One moment Im discouraged or afraid. One moment I feel dirty and un-welcomed, and then suddenly Hes there with all of His wisdom and strength. I discover Hes not a bit worried about my situation, and Hes not angry at me, though He may correct me. Hes my loving Lord, and when Hes close its clear its never even crossed His mind to reject me. The psalmist says God has always helped His people this way.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distress. He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions (Ps 107:19-20).
Obviously, learning to hear His voice is a vital skill for every believer, but many of us have found this process more difficult than we expected. Even when we desperately longed to hear from Him, it may have seemed that He was silent. But, Hes not silent. He never is. Hes there, and Hes more than willing to speak to us. The problem is we need to learn how to hear. There are things we need to know and disciplines we need to develop. But, its certainly worth the effort. Its hard to imagine there could be any skill or discipline more important than this.
Three foundational principles
There are all sorts of skills and insights Jesus will teach us about how to hear His voice, but here are three foundational principles which can help every believer:
1. Awakening our spiritual ears and eyes
Walking with Jesus is meant to be more than simply reading about what He did in the past; He promised that we can experience Him in our own lives today. And that has become possible because He actually rose from the dead and is alive, and has come to dwell within us. So, when we worship and pray, we should expect to encounter a Person. Receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit makes a huge difference in this. It seems to awaken our spiritual eyes and ears. We see things we didnt see before; we hear things we didnt hear before. Not that He wasnt there or never spoke to us, but until we personally encounter His power we find it difficult to accept things that we perceive by our spirit rather than our senses. We may have relied heavily on our deductive reasoning to try to discover Gods guidance, or been taught to be suspicious of anything that came to us intuitively. But, when we receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit its as though weve finally stepped out of the boat and onto the water like Peter did. After we take that first step, of course, we all have to learn how to discern between whats from Him and whats not, but thats a normal part of growing in this new dimension. The good news is weve begun to hear and see beyond our five senses.
2. Making space for God
(Ray Vander Laan, That the World May Know, Faith Lesson #10, Focus on the Family). In this video lesson, Ray walks his students through a replica of the ancient tabernacle in the wilderness. Then he makes this point: God created the universe and said, You fill it! and we did... with sin. Then He said, Now, you create a tabernacle, and Ill fill it. And, He did. Rays point is that for God to come and dwell with us in this sin-filled world we must make space for Him. We have a role to play in the process. We cant be passive; we must prepare ourselves. Yes, Christ went to the cross and rose so He can dwell within us, but on a day to day basis, for us to experience His closeness and hear His voice, we have to make a space for Him. And, in this world, and with our flesh, that takes effort. It doesnt often come easily or naturally. It has to be chosen; it has to be fought for; it has to be held on to. As a church, we choose to make space for Him. As individuals, we choose to make space for Him. For example, this is why we as a church give time to corporate worship, and its why we have classes that teach us how to have a daily time with God at home. Our need to do these things goes far beyond some sort of spiritual duty or routine. They become our lifeline, our breath of fresh air, our source of strength to face the day and week ahead.
- Awaken the body/faith
- Awaken the mind/thanks
- Awaken the heart/adoration, love
Operation Solid Lives (OSL)
This is a discipleship track that teaches us how to meet God in the morning, to read the Word, to pray out loud, to journal what He reveals, to memorize essential promises, and to silence the smothering grip of media.
Sabbaths and fasting
We learn how to stop the busy pace and listen intently.
3. Removing doubt
I believe doubt is something we all struggle with. The key isnt becoming doubt-free, the key is learning how to remove doubt when it comes. Jesus likened doubt to yeast (Mk 8:14-21) because it can enter our minds and grow if left unchecked. Doubt is debilitating. We can watch a miracle and learn nothing from it. Doubt is exhausting. It makes us tired, sad, lonely, and it closes off our ability to hear from Him, because even when He speaks to us we tend to doubt were hearing His voice. So, where do we turn when were struggling with doubt? Heres something the Lord taught me recently. The apostle John wrote:
This is the confidence which we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us, and if we know (see) that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the request which we have asked from Him (1Jn 5:14-15; my translation).
There are times when were praying that we know He is listening, yet much of the time we can find ourselves hoping that somehow He hears us, but not actually sensing His closeness or feeling a deep assurance that He will answer us. John seems to be saying that breakthrough in prayer is the precursor to faith. Before I can believe that I have received (Mk 11:23), my heart must first be confident He has heard me present my need. Theres a great difference between crying out into empty space, hoping He hears, and being confident that Hes listening.
Is this where faith begins? There may be an even earlier step. Great men and women of faith often seem to have discovered the discipline of reading Gods Word until something they read stirs them, until a change of attitude comes over them. George Mueller said he would read the Bible until his heart grew happy, and only then would he start to pray. He said that simple step transformed his prayer life. Reading the Word can awaken us to Gods presence, and earnest prayer can receive an assurance that our prayer has been heard.
When Jesus speaks
The transformation begins when I stop talking and He starts. When I worship in church or wait for Him in my quiet times in the morning, my real goal is to hear Him speak to me. It doesnt matter if Hes encouraging or correcting me, theres something about His voice that strengthens me. There are many lessons we all need to learn about walking with God, but none more important than learning to listen. Thats why receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit, learning to make space for God, and removing doubt are meant to be a part of everyones journey.
1. Have you received the baptism with the Holy Spirit?
2. Have you built into your life disciplines that help you make space for God?
3. Have you learned to recognize doubt when it comes and then how to let God refresh your faith?