Beginning the Journey (for new Christians).
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Acts 1-12: The Early Church
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
Conquering Lamb of Revelation
David, Life of
Glorious Kingdom, The
Early Church: Acts1-12
Holy Spirit, Disciple's Guide
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Listening for God's Voice
Names of God
Names of Jesus
Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
Sermon on the Mount
Songs of Ascent (Ps 120-135)
Dr. Wilson's Books
5. Discerning God's Voice (Judges 6:36-40)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Gideon pointing to the fleece. Illustrated manuscript, German, Hildesheim, about 1170s, Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment, 11 1/8 x 7 7/16 in., MS. 64, FOL. 92. Getty Museum.
We've considered how God's words and nudges guided men and women in Bible days. And we've examined the importance of humility, obedience, and an active seeking to grow closer to God. Now we come to a question that many have: How do I discern whether God is speaking to me or not.
Yahweh Speaks to Gideon (Judges 6-8))
We begin with Gideon, who famously asks God for confirmation by giving him a sign -- two signs, in fact.
Of course, Gideon isn't the first to seek confirmation of God's word. God offers Moses a burning bush, a staff that turns to a snake, and short-lived leprosy to convince him (Exodus 3-4), plus meeting his brother Aaron in the middle of the vast desert (Exodus 4:27).
But Gideon's request for a sign takes on significance in the Christian jargon as "putting out a fleece," so it's worth spending some time considering it.
Gideon lives around 1100 BC during the period of the Judges. During this time, the Israelites are being oppressed by nomadic Midianite and Amalekite peoples, who move into Israel during harvest season and confiscate all the recently-harvested crops, then return to their traditional lands. After seven years of this, the Israelites are impoverished -- and demoralized, afraid to resist the overwhelming force of their enemies.
One day, as Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress to try to avoid being seen by the Midianites, Yahweh appears to him as an angel and encourages him:
"Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" (Judges 6:14)
Gideon demurs. My clan is the weakest of the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my family. But God won't take no for an answer: "I will be with you.""
Showing the appropriate hospitality to strangers that is characteristic of Semitic peoples. Gideon prepares a meal for the man. But the food is instantly consumed by fire when the angel touches it with his staff. Gideon is terrified, suddenly realizing that he has seen an angel of God Almighty.
Later that night, Yahweh (apparently not in the form of an angel this time) speaks to him and commands him to tear down the community's altar to Baal, the fertility god, and the Asherah pole, representing the fertility goddess, beside it. Gideon gets some servants and tears them down.
Now the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon and he blows a trumpet calling out his clan and tribe to rise up against the Midianites. Later, when he realizes what he has set in motion, Gideon is afraid. Was this really You speaking to me, God? What if I get it wrong? If so, I'm really in trouble now! So he asks God for a sign as a confirmation..
Gideon Asks for a Sign (Judges 6:36-38)
"36 Gideon said to God, 'If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised -- 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.' 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew -- a bowlful of water."
39 Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.' 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew." (Judges 6:36-40)
God confirms that he is speaking to Gideon, and Gideon and his famous band of 300 soldiers go on to defeat the combined armies of the Midianites and Amalekites, demonstrating that God keeps his promise to Gideon. Let's examine this account of the fleeces.
First, Gideon clarifies the question that he needs an answer to. He wants to make sure he has the message right -- that "You will save Israel by my hand as you have promised" (Judges 6:36). Gideon doesn't see himself as the savior. Rather God will save Israel. But Gideon will be the instrument -- "by my hand." This is a curious request for confirmation, since Gideon acknowledges at the outset that this is what he understands God's promise to be. Gideon just needs to be certain.
We can certainly empathize with Gideon. How often have we felt God's leading, but need assurance again -- and yet again. But God is gracious. Gideon has obeyed all of God's commands so far. He is serious about this request; he just needs assurance.
He sets up the test with a fleece -- the sheared pelt of wool from a sheep that has come off in a single piece. He places the fleece on dry, flat ground in the evening -- a "threshing floor."
Then Gideon retires for the evening to await the dew. May to October are the dry months when no rain falls. But in the evening, the temperature in Palestine drops dramatically. Moist west winds blow inland from the Mediterranean. The cold nights cause condensation of the moisture. The amount varies in different regions, but in Gaza, for example, there is dew 250 nights of the year.
When Gideon gets up in the morning the fleece is sopping wet and he is able to wring a bowlful of water from it, but the ground around the fleece is dry. God has confirmed his inquiry.
Gideon wonders, scientist that he is, if by some fluke the wool fleece just absorbed more water. Now he asks God to do the opposite the following night -- the fleece dry and the ground wet.
His request is humble and tentative -- though bold at the same time. He addresses God: "Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece" (Judges 6:39a). He pleads for God's indulgence.
He acknowledges that God has reason to be angry with him. After all God has allowed himself to be put to the test once already. Yet God graciously responds with a clear-cut result.
Tempting or Testing God
Gideon is rightly concerned that God might be angry at his second request for a "test." Why should the Almighty God, after all, have to submit to little exercises invented by mere men? The word "test" (NIV, ESV), "prove" (KJV), or "make trial" (NRSV) in Judges 6:39 is the Hebrew verb nāsâ, "test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof, put to the test." ]
A number of people have gotten in bad trouble by "putting God to the test," most famously by the Israelites who demand that God give them water and food in the desert (Exodus 17:2, 7; also Psalm 78:18, 41). Later God commands them:
"Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah." (Deuteronomy 6:16)
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the desert,
where your fathers tested and tried me,
though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, 'They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.'" (Psalm 95:7b-10)
Demanding for a sign, or that God prove himself to us, is equivalent to "putting the Lord to the test" (Isaiah 7:10-12).
In the Gospels, Jesus replies to Satan's taunting dares, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matthew 4:7). The Pharisees are constantly demanding that Jesus do miraculous signs.
"The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, 'Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.'" (Mark 8:11-12)
"Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, 'Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.' He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.'" (Matthew 12:38-39)
"Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him." (John 12:37)
"For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom...." (1 Corinthians 1:22)
Demanding that God do something, such as provide food and water in the wilderness, is evidence of a sinful, rebellious, unbelieving heart. Demanding that Jesus prove himself by doing miraculous signs -- when they already don't believe despite having seen amazing things -- is evidence of a mocking attitude of unbelief. Such demanding, unbelieving people get in trouble with God.
Humbly Asking for Confirmation
What's the difference between Gideon's fleece tests and "putting God to the test"? The testing of God we see in the Bible are attempts by unbelievers to demand things of God, or to manipulate God into somehow proving himself. Unless you do this, I won't believe!
But Gideon is asking for God to do a minor miracle to help Gideon anchor his full faith in the Lord. Gideon wants to believe. And he has stuck his neck way out by rallying the tribes to war. Gideon's request is in order to establish his faith so that he might lead God's people. Gideon's request is not an unbelieving testing to get God to do miracles or demands for him to meet Gideon's selfish needs.
Now if Gideon were asking God to repeat the fleece test later on, he would be unbelieving. But in this early stage of becoming sure of God's voice, Gideon rightly asks God to confirm what he thinks God has told him. Later, when he recognizes God's voice, Gideon has no trouble obeying God in cutting down the size of his army from 42,000 to 300 (Judges 7:1-7). Just before the battle, God invites Gideon to overhear a dream that encourages him further (Judges 7:9-15). Gideon doesn't demand further confirmation, but God gives it to him unbidden.
I believe that it is okay for us to ask God for confirmation the first time, or first few times, he speaks to us. But I don't recommend demanding a particular confirmation, like Gideon did. A lot of people have said on the spur of the moment, "If you do such-and-such, then I'll know you want me to do this." I don't recommend spontaneous tests of God because they are too often selfish manifestations of unbelief.
Rather, ask God to confirm his direction to you in any way He sees fit. God understands that you're just learning. And he is a good Parent, who isn't offended if you ask for help in learning. In this case, it is faith asking for confirmation, not unbelief demanding God to prove himself.
Q1. ((Judges 6:36-38; Psalm 95:7-10) Does Gideon ask
for a sign because of his unbelief? What is the difference between Gideon's
seeking confirmation, and "testing God" in a way that displeases God? Does
God mind if we ask for confirmation? When might God be upset with us for
asking for confirmation?
The Voices in Our Head
Our problem in needing confirmation is to sort out which voice in our head might be God speaking to us. Here are several possibilities -- though there may be more:
- God's voice -- the real thing.
- The World -- voices of others, peer pressure, worldly standards of success, etc.
- The Flesh -- our own desires and thoughts, many of which are selfish.
- The Devil -- demonic temptation and misdirection from Satan and his forces.
- The Conscience -- our moral sense of right and wrong that we obtain from our upbringing. Sometimes we are hindered by a skewed sense of justice or righteousness -- perhaps an extreme legalism, or perhaps an insensitivity to certain sins. Our conscience is strongly influenced by the culture we grow up in. However, the conscience can be educated by the Word of God as we seek his way.
Discerning the difference when we're getting started can be confusing.
A Learning Process Involves Mistakes
I hope this doesn't scare you to death, but don't be surprised if you make some mistakes in discerning whether it is God speaking to you. You fell down when you were learning to walk, but you didn't break any bones. In the same way, you learn to discern what is God's voice, and what isn't, by experience.
I can vividly remember thinking something was God's direction, but when I acted on it, it became obvious that God wasn't in it. I was embarrassed! But such mistakes are necessary to the process of learning to recognize God's true voice.
I wish there were some sure-fire way that doesn't entail misunderstandings and mistakes, but that's the way it is. There are ways to minimize mistakes, as I'll describe below, but not to avoid them completely. The writer of Hebrews describes the learning process:
"But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:14)
It does get better. We can mature in our sensitivity to and discernment of God's voice.
Q2. (Hebrews 5:14) Why will a person have to make
mistakes in the process of learning to discern God's voice? If mistakes are part
of the process, how can this be of God at all?
The Voices of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 2:15-17)
If you've spent your entire life in rebellion against God, then the world's voice and Satan's voice seem okay. That's what you've been used to. Paul writes:
"1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." (Ephesians 2:1-3)
By default we followed the ways of Satan, "the ruler of the kingdom of the air," and adopted the standards of morality and behavior held by the world around us, "following its thoughts and desires." But God has shown grace to us. Now we need to unlearn the ways of the world and our familiarity with its voice, and learn Jesus' voice instead. As we'll see in a moment, the Bible, God's written word, becomes indispensable to us to retrain us and help us discern the new way from the old.
The Apostle John characterizes "the world," that is, the fallen state of man, in this way.
"15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15-17)
Ponder these verses and they'll help you understand what "the world's voice" might sound like. I really like J.B. Phillips' paraphrase of verse 16:
"The whole world-system, based as it is on men's primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself." (1 John 2:16)
There is a strong pull in us to conform to the values and standards of the culture around us. When we hear those voices, we need to recognize that this is not God's voice. His is distinctly different.
The Renewal of Our Minds (Romans 12:2)
As we'll see in a moment, the Scriptures are necessary to help us discern God's voice from the voices of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Do not neglect daily reading of the Bible, since it is necessary for the "renewing of your mind."
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)
The Bible has a cleansing power to those who are "washed" by reading it (Ephesians 5:26; John 17:17). It is designed to train us in what true righteousness is, so that we can discern. Paul writes:
"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
If you neglect Bible reading, it's likely that your mind won't be fully renewed, and you'll get yourself in deep trouble by straying off Jesus' Way, and not even be aware of it!
Q3. (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 2:16). Give an example of
what the voice of the flesh -- our lusts and desires -- might sound like. Give an
example of what the voice of the world might sound like. Give an example of what
the voice of the devil might sound like. Why is a knowledge of the Scripture
necessary for discernment of these voices?
Learn the Scriptures
One of our fears might be that we'll become like one of those whacko serial killers who "hears voices." Perhaps the most important way to discern what we think God is saying to us is to judge it by what God's word says.
I know that people can "prove" anything they want to by quoting some Scripture. But I also know that as we humbly read the Bible and seek to know God through his Word, we'll get a pretty good idea of the kind of behavior that conforms to God, and the behavior that goes against God. This is all about a relationship with your heavenly Father. As you read the Bible, you learn what pleases him.
For example, if you think God is telling you to go kill someone, I encourage you to talk to your pastor before carrying this out. Your pastor will explain (while taking you for a psych evaluation), that we are commanded not to murder (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21; etc.)
If you feel God is telling you to divorce your wife and marry that beautiful young woman you are having an affair with, you can be sure it isn't God speaking to you, but rather the flesh and the devil! Paul writes:
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:19-23)
God is not going to tell you to do something that is contrary to what he says in his written Word! As you learn the Bible, you're able to discern the voices in your head.
There's a special bonus of regular reading of the Bible, however. Sometimes, God will "quicken" or make especially meaningful to you, a particular verse. This is a common way that God guides and speaks to us. It is wonderful to see the Holy Spirit shed brilliant light on a verse you had read 50 times before without really understanding!
Recognize and Surrender Your Desires
One of the strong voices in our head is our own desires, the voice of "the flesh." Desires aren't necessarily bad; they're a necessary part of what makes us humans. However, our desires are not necessarily aligned with God's desires.
Often, when we ask God about things, we have already developed our own personal preferences. It's a novice mistake to come to God with your pet project asking him to rubber stamp it for you with a "Yes." And that "Yes" is what we have preconditioned ourselves to hear.
Our problem is that we often have "selfish ambition" (James 3:17) that can cloud or interfere with us hearing God's voice accurately. The key is to deliberately humble ourselves before God, rather than be quick to assume that God agrees with us.
I've found it extremely helpful when I'm asking God about situations or requesting things from him, to explicitly clarify my own personal desires before him in prayer. I sometimes make this kind of statement to God:
"God what should I do about this situation? My own personal desire is to do such and such, but I really want what You want instead of what I want. So please help me get clarity on this. Show me what You want. Or if what You want is the same as what I want, please confirm that to me."
Of course, our example is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
"'Abba, Father,' he said, 'everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.'" (Mark 14:36)
For us to be able to discern God's voice, we must be willing to obey once we determine what he is saying, as we discussed in Lesson 4. Without a willingness to obey, we may never know whether or not we are hearing God.
Acknowledge your own desires up front and fully surrender them. If you do so, you'll be able to better distinguish God's voice from your own desires.
Confess and Repent of any Known Sin
To be able to discern God's voice clearly, we can't be harboring or nursing sin. It is true God can speak to sinners. A number of examples come to mind, such as Sampson and Jonah. Rather than blessing rebellious sinners, however, God promises blessings to those who obey him. God is repulsed by those who sin at the same time they are offering sacrifices before God, pretending to be pious (Matthew 5:22-24).
Too often, sinners can't discern the still small voice, only the loud shout needed to break through a calloused heart. Unconfessed sin injures our relationship with God and a sin-calloused heart is less able to hear his whispers, detect his nudges, and respond. When we hold onto our sin, it distorts what we might hear from God, because when we hold onto our sins we are prone to justify them -- even against God's clear Word.
For example, Peter warns husbands:
"Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (1 Peter 3:7)
However, don't wait until you're perfect to listen for God's voice -- you'll be waiting a long time! We make mistakes. We sin. We sometimes sin grievously. But we must not linger there.
"If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7-9)
As you're listening to God and discerning, confess any known sins. Keep short accounts with God. This way you'll both (1) want to hear him, and (2) be able to discern his nudges and promptings.
Q4. (Mark 14:36; 1 Peter 3:7) Why is it necessary to
recognize and then surrender our desires when we are seeking God's will. What
happens if we neglect to do this? How can holding on to sin distort what you
think you are hearing from God?
In the context of being members of one body, Paul encourages peace.
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in one body;
and be thankful" (Colossians 3:15).
"Peace" is used twice in the verse, as if to emphasize it. "Rule" is brabeuō, not the usual word for "rule." Originally it referred to the referee or umpire in the Greek games who would "award prizes in contests." Here it means by extension, "be in control of someone's activity by making a decision, be judge, decide, control, rule."
In our lives, peace is to "call the shots." This can apply to keeping unity within the body, but I think inner peace also helps us as an inner barometer that God is leading us. In the same way a lack of inner peace might signal that we got something wrong and need to go back to God to recalibrate.
When we don't have peace about a direction that we thought was from God, this can be an indicator that we need to come to God again for clarification. Of course, this is subjective, and because of that, Satan can counterfeit lack of peace. So use this as one of several diagnostic tools to make sure you're getting God's direction clearly.
Don't Be Rushed
In my experience, God's voice is gentle but firm. Satan's voice, on the other hand, can often be pushy, compulsive, in a hurry, demanding, nagging like someone you'd like to shut up. Satan's voice is often condemning, sarcastic, accusing, shaming, etc. As you begin to hear God's voice and promptings, you'll start to recognize his gentle voice. Don't be pushed to do something "right now!" God generally guides us with enough time to evaluate.
Having said that, when God speaks to us or nudges us, we shouldn't spend a lot of time deciding whether or not to obey. Some of God's nudges are time sensitive. If we don't act soon, it'll be too late.
For example, I can remember as a college junior being in downtown Los Angeles, returning to catch a bus back to college, when God prompted me to turn right on the next street -- not the way to the bus stop. I turned right, and had a wonderful adventure of seeing God work in a man's life. Sometimes God will nudge us to begin a conversation with a stranger -- or with someone we know. If we wait too long, we miss the opportunity.
Now let's step back while I qualify my previous statement about Satan's voice sometimes being demanding. I'm speaking in general terms. However, Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light to deceive you (2 Corinthians 11:14), so be wise! This could terrify us if we were spiritual babies. But as we trust the Lord and grow in Christ, we venture out without fear because "we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11).
In the same way, God's voice is gentle, even if he rebukes us at times. I don't remember anger in any of God's promptings to me, but sometimes disappointment.
I don't have a scriptural hook to hang all this on. I share these subjective, touchy-feely impressions from my personal experience of God's voice. If this doesn't make sense to you, that's okay.
Counsel with a Spiritual Brother or Sister
Being part of a healthy Christian community has a great many benefits. One of these is being able to talk to your pastor or to spiritual men or women in your congregation, to make sure you're on the right track. So find a spiritually mature person who seeks God, someone you feel you can trust, who might serve as a mentor.
"Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." (Proverbs 11:14, ESV)
When I was in college in Los Angeles, I had an opportunity to go to a conference in Texas, where churches in my fellowship would gather annually for worship and sharing. I prayed about it, but received no guidance. I hoped that someone would prophesy over me, "Go, thou, to the conference," but no one did. So I asked a mature brother. I'll never forget his counsel. He said something like, "The guidance system on a missile doesn't really begin guiding it until it lifts off the ground. Do what you think God is leading you to do and trust him to correct you if you're on the wrong path." That helped! I went to the conference and God dealt with me in several important ways. I knew later from the results in my life that God wanted me there.
Having said that, don't do something just because someone you trust tells you to. But seriously consider their advice before the Lord, as one of the ways he confirms his will to you.
Q5. (Proverbs 11:14) Why is it valuable to counsel with
spiritual people in the Christian community when we're learning to discern God's
voice? How is having a spiritual mentor helpful? What is the danger of always
going to another person to confirm God's word? Why is out-growing a mentor a
The Voice of the Spirit (John 10:3-5; Romans 8:16; 1 John 2:20, 27)
Jesus promises us in the Parable of the Good Shepherd that we'll be able to "know his voice".
"3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." (John 10:3-5)
Jesus and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to function as our internal teacher, as we learn to become sensitive to Him. John Wesley referred to this as the inner "witness of the Spirit" (Romans 8:16). The Apostle John speaks of the continuing teaching presence of the Spirit as "an anointing from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20), and "his anointing [that] teaches you about all things" (1 John 2:27).
As we walk with Jesus, we become attuned to his voice, the voice of the Spirit.
You Can Trust Your Shepherd
Don't be afraid of questioning what you think you are hearing from God. Your questioning and seeking to discern doesn't mean that you are an unbeliever, but rather that you care to hear God accurately. In a similar way, congregations are encouraged to test prophecy and evaluate it, only accepting that which seems like it is from God (1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 14:29).
Just like children learning to walk, or obey, or anything else, loving parents understand where the children are in their growth and make allowances for them. Your heavenly Father loves you. He is fully able to teach you. So long as your heart sincerely seeks him, he is pleased, even if you might fall down while learning to walk. Even if you make a mistake. You can trust him always, for he loves you!
Lessons for Disciples
We've discussed a number of guidelines to help us discern God's voice from the other voices vying for our attention.
- Asking God for confirmation, like Gideon. When we really desire to know his will and aren't yet sure of his voice, seeking confirmation pleases our Father (Judges 6:36-38).
- "Putting God to the test" springs from a heart of unbelief (and perhaps rebellion), that demands that God fulfill some sign before we believe in him. This is a heart difference, a motivational difference from asking God for confirmation.
- Our task is to discern God's true voice and promptings from the other voices in our head: the world, the flesh, the devil, and our conscience.
- We can't learn to discern God's voice without making mistakes; this is a learning process. However, we can learn to discern.
- We've been used to listening to the voice of the world and the devil. God's word helps us recognize the difference between their voices and God's way (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 2:15-17).
- When we explicitly recognize and then surrender our own ambitions and desires to God in prayer, we are better able to distinguish between them and God's will, as did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36).
- Getting to know the Scriptures by daily reading helps us discern God's voice from other voices, to distinguish the acts of the flesh from the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23), by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). If we neglect daily Bible reading, we can get in deep trouble without hardly being aware it.
- One bonus of reading the Bible is that the Holy Spirit sometimes "quickens" or makes certain verses alive to us that we've passed over before.
- To discern God's voice clearly, we must confess and repent of any known sin, which injures our relationship with God and makes our heart calloused, that is, less able to hear God's whispers and nudges, and respond to them (1 Peter 3:7; 1 John 1:7-9).
- The presence or absence of "inner peace" is another way to discern God's leading (Colossians 3:15).
- God's voice is gentle but firm; Satan's voice, on the other hand can sometimes be compulsive and pushy. Nevertheless, realize that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, so be wise.
- Being part of a Christian community provides safety to us, since we can find spiritual men and women who can counsel us and help us discern God's voice (Proverbs 11:14).
- The Holy Spirit provides an inner witness of our relationship to the Good Shepherd. "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit also teaches us and leads us into all truth (John 14-16; 1 John 2:20, 27).
- It's not wrong to seek to discern what you believe God is showing you, just as it is not wrong to test prophecy to make sure it is from God (1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 14:29).
- As you're learning all this, you can trust your Father, who understands that it takes children some time -- and some falls -- to learn to walk. God loves you!
Week 5 Assignment. Converse with God While Around Other People
So far you might assume that you can only hear God if there is stillness around you. Not so. Once you've begun to discern his voice in the quietness, you'll begin to recognize his voice when lots is going on around you.
As your communication system gets better established, God can use you as his agent any place, any time. That's where all this is going -- to be God's servants, disciples ready and willing to do the Master's bidding 24/7.
So your assignment this week is to talk to him during your day, especially when you're around other people. Pray quick prayers -- "God, bless Helen over there. She seems like she is having a hard day." You may find that God nudges you to engage Helen in a conversation and encourage her -- perhaps pray for her. Then share this with your mentor and spiritual partner. Even if you thought you should have engaged Helen, but were afraid to do so, share that. This is all a process of discerning God's voice and promptings, and then being willing to obey without questioning.
This is the last weekly assignment, but I encourage you to continue your conversations with your mentor and spiritual partner, so you can continue to learn and establish as a way of life, listening for God's voice and then obeying him.
Wrapping It Up
That's about it. Here's the journey we've been on.
- Listening as a Biblical Pattern (Mark 1:35; John 5:19)). In Lesson 1 we examined examples of Jesus' own dependence upon the Father, how he ministered in the power of the Spirit, how he promises that the Holy Spirit will come to us and help us (John 14-16). We also studied how the Spirit reveals to us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).
- Recognizing God's Voice (1 Kings 19). In Lesson 2 we explored how God speaks in words and sentences to guide and encourage his servants. We examined Elijah's "still small voice," plus words of encouragement to Paul and others.
- Nudges and No (Acts 8:26-40; 16:6-10). In Lesson 3 we discussed how many times God's voice is heard more in promptings or "no," rather than in articulate sentences. We examined Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), and how the apostles were seeking where to preach (and where not to preach) on Paul's Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:6-10). We saw the yeses and noes of David inquiring of the Lord, and discussed God's promptings as perhaps a kind of "word of knowledge" for ministry to people, alongside other everyday nudges.
- Heart Preparation for Listening to God (1 Samuel 3:1-10). In Lesson 4 we explored heart preparation for listening for God, beginning with the boy Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10), who prayed, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." We saw an emphasis on a willingness to be a "servant," to be willing to obey and follow instructions. We also examined the subtle dangers of pride, and the centrality of earnestly seeking an intimate relationship with God, rather than desiring the mere "novelty" of hearing God's voice.
- Discerning God's Voice (Judges 6:36-40). Finally, in Lesson 5 we studied Gideon's putting a fleece before the Lord. We examined ways to discern whether it is God speaking, rather than one of the other voices in our heads. We also talked about the safety of working with a spiritual partner or mentor within the Christian community, knowing the Scriptures, and clarifying and surrendering our own desires as we ask God for his guidance.
There are many more stories in the Bible of men and women hearing from God. But we've looked at the basic principles. I hope that you've been doing the weekly exercises. If so, you're well on your way to listening for God's voice.
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If you haven't been taking steps to put into practice what you've been learning, you're in serious spiritual danger. Is this just an intellectual exercise for you? Are you just a "hearer" of the word, but not a "doer," thus deceiving yourself? (James 1:22). I urge you, in Jesus' name, to diligently seek to know Jesus and to listen for his voice so that you may be a faithful and productive Jesus-disciple today!
Okay, friends. We've spent time together learning how to listen for and discern God's voice. Now it's up to you. Go out there and "give them heaven"!
Father, thank you that your Spirit will guide us into all truth. Please help us as we seek to recognize your voice. Help us be willing to venture -- and to fail -- as we learn to follow you, trusting you always that "you have our back," that you seek our best. We love you. Help us to listen for, hear, and then obey you when you speak to us. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
"Gideon said to God, 'If you will save Israel by my
hand as you have promised -- look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing
floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will
know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.' And that is what
happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out
the dew -- a bowlful of water."
Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.' That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew." (Judges 6:36-40, NIV)
"Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah." (Deuteronomy 6:16, NIV)
"It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matthew 4:7, NIV)
"For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom...." (1 Corinthians 1:22, NIV)
"But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:14, NIV)
"The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." (John 10:3-5, NIV)
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." (Ephesians 2:1-3, NIV)
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15-17, NIV)
"'Abba, Father,' he said, 'everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.'" (Mark 14:36, NIV )
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:19-23, NIV)
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2, NIV)
"Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (1 Peter 3:7, NIV)
"If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7-9, NIV)
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Colossians 3:15, NIV).
"Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." (Proverbs 11:14, ESV)
 "Promised" (NIV) or "said" (KJV) in verse 36 is the verb dābar, "to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn, threaten, sing, etc." (Earl S. Kalland, TWOT #399).
 "Fleece" is the Hebrew noun gizzâ, from the verb gāzaz, "to shear or mow" (Elmer B. Smick, TWOT #336b).
 "Threshing floor" (NIV) or "floor" is the Hebrew noun gōren, which refers specifically to "threshing floor, threshing place, the place where grain was threshed from the stalk and chaff" (Harold G. Stigers, TWOT #383a).
 Jack P. Lewis, ṭll, TWOT #807a. A.H. Joy, "Dew," ISBE 1:941.
 Marvin R. Wilson, nāsâ, TWOT #1373.
 Piel perfect of nāsâ.
 Qal perfect of bāḥan, "to examine, try, prove." "Nāsâ means 'to put to the test, tempt' (in the archaic sense), while ṣārap means "to smelt, refine." Bāḥan partakes of both of these in that it denotes examining to determine essential qualities, especially integrity" (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #230).
 "Demand" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "require" (KJV) is aiteō, "to ask for, with a claim on receipt of an answer, ask, ask for, demand" (BDAG 30).
 "Constant use" (NIV), "by practice" (NRSV), "by constant practice" (ESV), "by reason of use" (KJV) is the noun hexis, "a habit, whether of body or of mind, a power acquired by custom, practice, use," which produces "a state of maturity" (BDAG 350).
 The Greek word eritheia in verse 14 is translated as "selfish ambition" (NIV, NRSV, ESV, NASB). Before New Testament times eritheia is found only rarely, "where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means.... "For Paul and his followers ... the meaning 'strife, contentiousness' [KJV, as if the word were derived from eris, "strife, discord, contention"] cannot be excluded. But 'selfishness, selfish ambition' in all cases gives a sense that is just as good, and perhaps better" (BAGD 309).
 Brabeuō, BDAG 183.
 "Scheme" (NIV), "design" (NRSV), "device" (KJV) is noēma, "that which one has in mind as product of intellectual process," here "design, purpose, intention," from noeō, "to perceive with the mind, think upon, ponder" (BDAG 675, 1b; Thayer 426).
 "Listen" (NIV), "hear" (NRSV, KJV) is akouō, "hear," but here with the idea of "to give careful attention to, listen to, heed someone"(BDAG 38, 4).
 "Calls" is phōneō, "to produce a voiced sound/tone, frequently with reference to intensity of tone," here, "to call to oneself, summon" (BDAG 107, 3).
 "By name" (kat' onoma).
Copyright © 2023, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
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