Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Spiritual Conversations, Part 2—Getting Started
Pastor Steve Schell
Acts 26:14
It’s one thing to believe that God still speaks to us today, but it’s quite another to know how to listen to His voice. Many believers, many long-time believers, have never been around anyone who actually lived this way. They have no models to show them how or prove to them it works. Yes, they read about such things in the Bible, but outside of that the Christians they know seem to function just like non-Christians when it comes to making decisions, the only difference being that a Christian will use a different system of values to guide his or her choice. Whether someone is a Christian or a non-Christian, most people tend to make decisions by using their deductive reasoning. They evaluate the possibilities, and then choose the best, or maybe the safest, course of action. The Christian hopes the choice they make will please God, but God Himself has remained a passive observer in the process. There was no divine voice or spiritual revelation involved, just well-intended human reasoning. And that type of decision-making is not wrong; it’s just not enough. It’s always our desire to please Him that pleases Him. And frankly, there are a lot of day-to-day decisions which need to be made this way. We have been given a rational mind and are meant to use it. But as believers we’ve also been given the Spirit of God to dwell in us, and His presence is not just a biblical truth to affirm. He is a Person who has joined Himself to us. We don’t have a distant God we pray to. We have a living God who is near us every moment, and who wants to guide us through life.

In a previous message we introduced the subject of “spiritual conversations.” We observed Jesus’ words to Paul about “kicking against the goads” (Ac 26:14), and said that such a statement revealed that God had begun a “conversation” with Paul long before Paul realized it. His spirit knew things his mind didn’t understand, and we noted that this type of spiritual deafness was not unique to Paul. We too can get stuck in the reasonings of our rational mind and not hear what the Spirit is saying to us. Our lesson today is meant to help us step out into our own “spiritual conversations” with God. In other words, to help someone who wants to hear God’s voice and see what the Spirit is doing, get started.
Spiritual conversations (revisited)
God has given us a mind and He wants us to use it, but He warns us not to “lean” on it (Pr 3:5). We’re also supposed to listen to Him with our spiritual “ears” and observe what He’s doing with our spiritual “eyes” (Mt 13:13). It’s normal and right to seek God’s will by testing a decision, using biblical criteria to determine which choice would be acceptable to Him. And this kind of biblical examination of our decisions is always appropriate. If a choice violates a biblical principle, it’s not from God. But this mental process of elimination is not the only way God wants to guide us. We must also spiritually listen for His voice, and that can be challenging because it requires faith. It means I have to acknowledge someone I can’t see with my eyes and obey a voice I didn’t hear with my ears. I have to allow a part of me to awaken which other people may mock.

Preparing ourselves
Here is a very important truth to keep in mind when trying to learn how to hear God’s voice. We don’t need to motivate God to start communicating with us. We need to recognize that He has already been communicating with us all along. When I turn on a radio, the radio station doesn’t suddenly start broadcasting. It was broadcasting a signal before I began listening. What changed was my capacity to hear that signal. Listen to this early Christian saying that Paul quotes to Timothy:
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2Ti 2:13).

I grant you that there are situations in the Bible in which God withdraws His voice from a person or a group of people, but those are extreme situations in which His voice was rejected so often He judged their rebellion by going silent. This is not why the vast majority of believers can’t hear Him. Our struggle is that we’re untaught or wrongly taught. We need guidance and encouragement, and then ultimately the process is learned by experience. We must step out and try, and to do that we must:
1) Desire to hear God and see what He is doing. It’s those who seek Him with all their heart, who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, that find Him.
2) Be humble enough to make mistakes and acknowledge them. Being completely honest with ourselves is absolutely essential.
3) Be persistent, keep trying, realizing that God communicates with each of us somewhat differently. We discover what works for us only by trying. If we don’t quit, there will come moments of breakthrough when it suddenly makes sense.
4) Be confident that God wants to lead us more than we want to be led (Jas 1:5).
5) Be flexible because God seldom does anything exactly the same way twice. We may learn processes that help us. We’ll discover our own strengths and weaknesses, and how to prepare ourselves to listen, but there are no formulas, no techniques, to get God to speak to us about a topic of our choosing, or in our time.

Jesus’ example
It’s very important to realize that Jesus Himself functioned this way. Everything He did was a response to the Father’s leading. He did nothing on His own initiative. He was constantly engaged in a spiritual conversation with the Father, doing what He saw the Father do and saying what He heard the Father say. If He was guided this way, and He is our model, then we too must learn to do the same. The only difference is, we now respond to His leading as He responded to the Father’s. Listen to how Jesus explains this process in the Gospel of John.
• John 5:19-20,30 • John 6:38 • John 8:28-29
• John 12:49-50 • John 14:10 • John 20:21

Different ways God communicates (4 Vs)
• Verbal (hear)
• Visual (see)
• Visceral (feel)
• “Verseral” (remember verses of Scripture)

First steps
A “spiritual conversation” with God must start somewhere. It begins with first steps; it doesn’t just suddenly appear. And we don’t have to wait to be confronted by a major crisis to start learning. In fact, we would be wise to start right away on relatively simple matters. Here are some suggestions:

1) Keep a daily journal. Read one chapter of the Bible a day and ask yourself, “What speaks to me personally in this chapter?” Next, write that verse out in your journal. Then briefly restate the truth you see there in your own words. Then, write down how that truth applies to you now. And finally, write a prayer that asks God to bring about that truth in your life. This is a very safe first step, but it presses you to listen with your spirit.

2) Pray for someone without first asking them what they need. Ask God to show you what they need, then wait for His guidance while worshipping quietly. When an impression comes test it. (Is it Scriptural? Appropriate for you to pray? Will this edify the person or injure? Do you feel the Lord’s love for this person as opposed to a desire to correct, scold or display your spiritual powers?)

Then share with the person what you believe you heard. Say, “I believe I heard this, does it sound like it might be from the Lord?” If they answer positively, then ask, “May I pray this for you?” Then lay a hand (or hands) on their head or shoulder and pray gently and humbly what God showed you. Afterward, ask the person if what you prayed made sense. How did what you prayed apply to their situation?

3) Responding to spontaneous prompting. Occasionally a suggestion will come to mind to say or do something which was not sought for. These often need to be tested very quickly because the opportunity for obedience will soon pass. First, quietly, to yourself, repeat what you think you heard. Then test it by asking the same sort of questions as above: Is it Scriptural? Will it edify or injure? Is the motivation behind this God’s love for someone or does it come from a personal need to correct someone, prove your courage, show your spiritual powers or impress someone? These can be hard questions to answer because it requires me to evaluate myself objectively, and it has to be done quickly.

When we walk in faith we are never 100% sure. That’s what it means to walk in faith. We have to step out on what we believe we have heard, trusting an unseen God to do something after we do what He’s asked us to do.

There is a difference between being genuinely confused as to whether I should or should not do something, and simply being afraid to do what I’m rather confident He wants me to do. In the first, I would say, “When in doubt, don’t.” To the second, I would say, “If I don’t obey now He’ll probably keep giving me opportunities like this until I do.” God doesn’t give up. He keeps working with us until we get past our fears and learn to obey.

• You’ll be amazed at how often you get it right.
• Being guided by God builds faith and brings joy. He becomes very close.
• We need to start each day by preparing ourselves spiritually. This awakens our spirit so we can listen throughout the day.
• Prayerlessness dries out our spirit. The more we pray for people, the more God reveals to us. We can ask Him how to pray for an individual and He’ll show us.
• God guides those who are seeking to serve Him. He never allows us to use Him for our own ambitions (Jas 4:3). He knows why we want His guidance.
• Some people have a harder time learning to do this than others, but all can. All believers are called to walk as Jesus walked.
• Learning to listen may someday save your life.
• This capacity declines when not used, but can be stirred up again when we choose to seek Him and step out in faith.
• Disappointment with God, personal failure that leaves a lasting sense of shame and bitterness toward another, can all dry up our spirit for a season.

An unseen wind
“Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:7-8)

1) How does God tend to communicate with you? Verbal (hear), visual (see), visceral (feel), “verseral” (remember verses of Scripture)?
2) Describe a time when you stepped out in faith on something God told you to do, and got it right. 

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