16 January 2018

How To Hear From God

How to Hear From the Lord

In the years before he died, my father and I occasionally discussed why my faith-walk was so different from his. He was a staunchly denominational Southern Baptist, of the branch of that church with no charismatic leanings.

Dad expressed his curiosity about how, given the same passage of Scripture, he & I could have radically differing interpretations. His reading was informed by various commentaries, all expressing man’s ideas about what the passage meant. Those authors, no matter how devout or sincere, were simply scholarly interpretations of the words, followed by anecdotal examples.

But my time had not been spent gathering commentaries. As led by the Holy Spirit, those passages were interpreted by the Spirit, as He gave me understanding … enlightenment, if you will … of those verses.

The Lord, you see, as the Divine Author of the Word, will “cut to the chase” more quickly and more accurately than any theologian.

For example, let’s look at Matthew 9:13:

But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (King James translation)

What does it mean? Let’s look at the circumstances in which this passage came up. During one morning’s Bible reading, I saw this passage and inquired of the Lord for its actual meaning.
He instructed me to research it. So I looked at the Greek-English Interlinear Bible and a well-known commentary, and began to write down what I’d found.

The Greek language, in which much of the New Testament was originally written, had various layers of meanings, depending on the context. So I pulled out my Strong’s Concordance and wrote out an expanded, amplified interpretation of the verse. When it had reached a half-page of single-spaced handwriting, I finally did the smart thing: I asked the Lord to tell me.

He said, “Acts of mercy and compassion do more to attract sinners than rituals which don’t appear to help anyone. And I want you, My children, to attract sinners to Me.”

If I had been content to deal with theological commentaries, I might – or might not – have ever understand what Jesus had been getting at, in the referenced verses.

So let’s look at the same passage again, from The Message translation:

Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.

That gets closer to what the Lord said to me. Now let’s see it from The Passion Translation:

Now you should go and study the meaning of the verse: ‘I want you to show mercy, not just offer me a sacrifice.’ For I have come to invite the outcasts of society and sinners, not those who think they are already on the right path.

Neither of the translations used here were available in the mid-1990s, when I had that conversation with the Lord. So you can see that asking Him to provide the understanding was infinitely better than reading books about what others thought it meant.

So I told my Dad the same thing I’ve just written, above. He looked at me and said, “Are you sure you’re hearing from God? He hasn’t ever spoken to me.”

“Are you sure, Dad? When you’ve prayed for an answer, what about circumstances coming about which make the choice obvious? Has anyone ever spontaneously said something to you which sparked a sudden understanding or interpretation of the thing you were praying about?”

Dad was silent for a few moments, and then admitted that answers had come through circumstances. Those things were so coincidental that he just never realized it was God answering his prayer.

One other personal story: as many of you know, I was a music minister for some 20 years (and may yet be, again, but that’s another story). One evening, after the praise & worship team had practiced, they asked me to conclude the session with prayer.

When the prayer was over, one of the associate pastors said to me, “I wish I could pray like you do.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you pray, it’s like you’re just talking to God. It’s so conversational.”

Up until that moment, I’d never given it much thought. So – speaking of others inspiring a thought – I realized that prayer is supposed to be a conversation.

When you speak with a friend, isn’t there an exchange, a give-and-take? After you’ve said something, the other person will usually have something to say in response. And so should your prayers be. When you’ve asked the Lord a question, or presented a petition, shouldn’t you listen for an answer?

After all, you’re talking to the most intelligent Person in the universe. Shouldn’t you let Him do most of the talking?

But how, you may ask, do you hear from Him?

It really isn’t complicated, except by experiences and cultural training. It may take a bit of practice, though.

You must quiet your mind, and still your emotions as best you can, and – after you’ve said your piece – listen for that still, small voice.

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. (I Kings 19:11-12, The Message)

He’s a God of diversity, so the answer may not come the same way each time. In fact, it probably won’t. The point is that God doesn’t need huge, overt displays to speak to His children – or to anyone who earnestly seeks Him.

He just needs us to listen.


Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Thanks Reverend. I had a somewhat similar upbringing to your father: staunchly mainline Episcopalian and Lutheran, with not a great deal of discussion on how God responded to us. I have very charismatic friends that God seems to speak to a great deal (and knowing their lives, I tend to believe them).

There is a gamut of experiences, I think, all equally valid. That I am aware of, God has never spoken to me directly but He has spoken to people about me directly. I am not sure why one and not the other. I seem to be much more of the "Aha" moment when reading a passage, realizing an insight where none had been before and understanding that was God speaking to me.

Rev. Paul said...

TB, I understand what you say; my experience has been different, but that's not to say that yours is less valid. God, being so diverse, may speak to each of us in a different way. As long as you're getting the message, then it's all good. :)