Tag Archives: hearing

My sheep hear my voice

Just a few days ago I met with a man who told me he wanted to know God better. I believe his cry for a closer relationship with God is not unique to him.

Before Adam chose the way of independence, he used to walk in the garden with God. Ever since, there has been a longing in the human heart to overcome the separation between us and God. That’s why Jesus came – so we could be reconciled to the God who made us and for whom our hearts yearn.

One of the most precious promises that Jesus gives to His people is the promise of intimacy. My sheep hear My voice, He affirmed.

But to hear His voice you have to know His voice. Sheep listen to the voice of a shepherd that they have come to know and trust. The sheep-shepherd metaphor speaks of safety, familiarity and trust. Jesus wants us to be so familiar with His voice that we have no trouble knowing when He has something to tell us.

I hear lots of Christians saying things like I wish I knew God’s will for my life or I wish I could hear God’s voice more clearly, or I think I missed God’s will and now I can’t get back on track.  I can identify with their frustration because it’s where I used to live.

But God never intended for us to be stuck in this dilemma. Jesus doesn’t want us to have to follow him from a distance, like on a road trip in a convoy, when you are trying desperately to stay in view of a set of distant tail-lights in heavy traffic on a dark, rainy night.

Some people’s expectation of God is a bit like a car rally where they have to decipher a set of mysterious clues, hoping they end up at the right destination. I was in a car rally like that once. It was an adventure and a bit of a guessing game.

Our life in Christ is an adventure, for sure, but it’s not supposed to be a guessing game. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus promised His little band of followers that He would send His Spirit to be their helper – a word that also means comforter, counsellor and advocate. He was not leaving them to figure it out on their own. He promised to come to them.

The same promises apply to us. We don’t have to figure out how to follow God on our own. My sheep hear My voice. In future posts I’ll have more to say about some of the keys to knowing God’s voice and hearing Him reliably. For today, I simply want to underline that a close walk with God is how we were meant to live.

In the darkness of this age, as we look for the Kingdom that is coming, many voices compete for our attention, and we have an enemy who seeks to run interference and keep us from our goal. Even so, the Father wants you to be confident that you have access to His throne, that He listens when you speak, that He has things to say to you and that you have an eternal inheritance in Him.

I am praying for everyone who reads this, that you will be richly blessed and greatly encouraged as you cultivate your God-given capacity to know Him and hear His voice.



The young man across the table from me was dead serious. “Tell me about your prayer life”, he asked me. “I want to know how you pray”.

Sam was a pastor’s son from a part of Africa that had seen much turmoil and suffering. He had come to Canada seeking opportunity. He was a young man with an excellent spirit – committed to excellence on the job and in his relationship with the Lord.

I had met Sam at church, and had discovered that we worked in the same building. I offered to have coffee with him thinking that I might be able to encourage him spiritually. I soon realized that although I had years of experience and had learned some valuable lessons, none of this made up for my young friend’s zeal and passion for a consistent, fruitful walk with God. He wanted to learn from a faithful model. He thought I was that model.

As I listened to my own response to Sam, it began to dawn on me that my prayer life at this point in time was in some respects not the best model to emulate. Oh, I still prayed. In fact, I prayed much of the time. I was in almost constant dialogue with God. This part, of course, was good. I also read the Bible several times each week. But I no longer followed a structured, consistent approach to Bible reading or prayer, and my prayer life was often lacking in depth, passion and focus as a result. My malaise went deeper than this, though. I didn’t have what Mike Bickle describes as a “bright spirit”, at least not consistently. I thought I loved God, but looking back, I see now that I needed to rediscover what loving God really meant.

As I described my spiritual condition to Sam, I offered a half-hearted explanation about having moved from legalism to freedom. It sounded lame even to me, and I hope he saw through it. Sam’s question had exposed my heart, and I didn’t really like what I saw.

Anyone who has been happily married for twenty years or more will tell you that a good marriage takes effort. If you really want to have a relationship of true intimacy (tenderness, faithfulness, trust), you won’t just fall into it. Yes, you can “fall in love” with the man or woman of your dreams, but that’s mostly about attraction and desire. The attractional aspect of love is not a bad thing, in fact it’s a gift of God and an important part of any marriage, but it can be quite self-focussed, and it won’t carry you through the days when you feel miserable and everything is difficult. To truly love that man or woman will require a lifetime of costly choices. It’s no different in our relationship with God. If anything, the stakes are even higher, the choices more costly. You can get into Jesus’ Kingdom for free, but if you want to be great in his Kingdom, it will cost you your life.

To be brutally honest, the Christianity that is common in our culture sets the bar very low when it comes to the effort required to cultivate a fruitful relationship with God. When you live in an environment that is mostly cold, dark and hard, your perception gets dulled until you think that this is normal. So, maybe I do have a more vital prayer life than many people around me. I don’t know, I can’t measure that. What I do know is that compared to Jesus, my prayer life has a long way to go. But the last couple of months, Marion and I have been sensing a call from God to go deeper with him, and having reapplied myself to a more diligent pursuit of God, I am already discovering the rewards. The Word of God is more alive to me, I can hear His voice in my spirit more easily, my heart is becoming softer, I am more thankful, more peaceful and more content – and I want more.

One of the ways I have been responding to this call is by following a Mike Bickle teaching series on the Sermon on the Mount. When you are being taught on prayer by someone who has been spending hours a day in prayer and the Word for over thirty years, you get challenged to go deeper. Mike’s teaching is not complicated. In fact, it’s remarkably simple, straightforward and uncluttered. It is also very honest and comes from a place of deep humility. That’s why I find it hard to argue with. Mike has not been talking down to me. He has been appealing to my heart, and my desire for God has been stirred up.

Jesus said that the first priority of our lives is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He also said that if our eyes are clearly in focus, our whole body will be full of light. I want my life to be bright with the light of God. When I stand before God on that Day, I want to give an account of wholeheartedness, not halfheartedness; single-mindedness, not double-mindedness. The One who gave his life for me is worthy of nothing less.

The world will soon be treated to the spectacle of the Olympics. World-class athletes have given years to the pursuit of an extremely high level of fitness and athletic skill. It’s a notable pursuit, one we can’t help but admire. Physical fitness does have some value, which is why I ride my bike several times a week. But that’s not the goal of my life. I have devoted my life to running a different race, one whose outcome has eternal value. I want to pursue the prize of knowing the Maker of the Universe. It is amazing to me that the One who hung the stars in place would be interested in having a relationship with someone as small as me. But since he says he loves me, and has invited me to be his friend through Jesus Christ, the only thing I can say is “Yes” – with my whole life – again, and again, and yet again.


Keep yourselves in the love of God

Yesterday I went for a walk after lunch.  While I was out walking, my thoughts turned to the previous evening’s church meeting.  The meeting had featured a thought-provoking presentation on how our church welcomes and integrates new people, and some changes that are underway to help us do this more effectively.  The presentation was followed by some Biblical reflections from Steve, who gives leadership to our elders’ team.

I am someone who tends to think analytically and theologically.  It’s part of how God has made me – I like to take time to reflect on what I hear, especially when it comes from leaders.  So, I found myself thinking in particular about some of Steve’s comments on the elders’ high-level vision for what our church is called to become.

As I was engaged in this process of reflection, I was also in dialogue with God, as I often am. I was asking God what He wanted to say to me about the things that had been shared the previous evening. It was all very positive stuff, and there were lots of good things to think about. Yet, I had questions about a couple of things that I had heard.

Suddenly I realized that I was being prompted to move from the mind to the spirit – to move from reflection to Spirit-led prayer. I began praying in tongues.  In doing this, I was intentionally shutting down the voice of rational thought and choosing to give priority to the Spirit.

Within five seconds, I heard the voice of the Lord in my spirit.  His words to me were simple, direct and to the point :  Do you love them?

Immediately I had a powerful, tangible sense of the presence of the Lord. I spent the next few minutes praying for our elders with a fresh awareness of how much God loves each of these precious men, their wives and their families, how He treasures them, how He wants them to experience an intimate relationship with Him.

Why share this experience in a blog post?  Because I was so powerfully struck by the impact on my own thought life of a simple decision to spend a few minutes praying in the Spirit.  It really was only a few minutes, yet the impact on my thought life was immediate and profound.  Almost right away, I began thinking about our elders in a different way.

It was not that my thoughts had been wrong before. But now, instead of thinking analytically about vision, decisions and man’s opinions, my thoughts became very simple. I found myself thinking of our elders as men who are loved by God and belong to Him eternally. I began sensing the deep love of the Father for them, and their constant dependency on His grace and mercy.

I realized again that the greatest need of all spiritual leaders – and the greatest protection for the church – is for leaders to be filled to overflowing with a powerful awareness of how much God loves them, as an anchor for their hearts.

I realized that love covers over a multitude of sins.  Even when we and our leaders make mistakes or get off track – which will probably happen at times – if we are rooted and grounded in love, His love will guard our hearts from being offended or damaged, and the sheep will be kept safe.  I realized that they, like me, were bought with a high price, are infinitely precious to the Father, and are destined for glory.

Of course, none of this was new – yet it was all new, in the sense that I saw it again as if for the first time.  With a humbled, quieted heart, I stood in awe of the goodness and mercy of God.

All this insight and shift in perspective from just a few moments spent praying in the Spirit.  I think I will do this more often.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 20-21)


Intimacy with God: some ways God speaks

So much could be said about this topic that I can only scratch the surface here.   For anyone who seriously wants to learn more about hearing the voice of God, I’d encourage you to pick up one of the following great books by Larry Kreider, who is a true spiritual father and reliable guide.   Hearing God 30 Different Ways (2005)  and Speak Lord, I’m Listening (2008) are both readable and practical resources to build your faith as you seek to hear God’s voice.

With that disclaimer, let’s jump in!

The Bible is full of examples of God speaking in extraordinary and powerful ways at special times in the history of His people.   Here are some familiar examples :

  • The Lord speaking to Moses out of a burning bush ( Exodus 3:1-6 )
  • The Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary when Jesus was conceived ( Luke 1:26-38 )
  • The voice from heaven at the time of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17)

But even though God can and does still speak in these extraordinary ways, far more commonly he speaks to us in less dramatic ways.

Here are some of the most common ways God speaks to His people today

  • Through the Bible
  • Through dreams and visions
  • Through thoughts, words or images that he places in our minds.
  • God can speak through various spiritual gifts such as words of prophecy, tongues, or interpretation.
  • God can speak through the advice of a friend or even a common everyday conversation
  • Intense emotions, especially when they aren’t related to any obvious external cause, may be a sign that God is getting our attention about something.
  • God can speak to us through His creation.
  • God may speak through a time of prayer and fasting.
  • Journalling can be a powerful tool to help us process what God is saying to us.
  • God can get our attention through “unspiritual” means such as media – billboards, radio, TV, internet, movies, books.  Obviously not everything we experience through the media is a word from God – the vast majority probably is not – yet God has the amazing ability to take a scene from a movie or a picture on a billboard and use it to communicate a powerful message to our hearts.

When God is speaking a personal word to us through any of these means, if we’re paying attention, we’ll sense an inner witness of the Holy Spirit speaking to our spirit.  This helps us recognize that God is trying to get our attention.   This is subtle and easy to miss at first, but with practice we can learn to recognize the inner voice of the Spirit of God.

Jesus says that for those who believe in Him, the Holy Spirit is like a spring of flowing water bubbling up from within us.   This is a very helpful word picture that can help us get used to listening for the voice of the Spirit.  Hearing God’s voice is very different from the process of consciously thinking about and trying to understand a problem or a concept.  The voice of the Spirit often comes as spontaneous thoughts, words or images that have a different “feel” to them than our normal thoughts.   This may happen when we are intentionally listening for God’s voice, but it can also happen when we are focussed on some routine task or activity and our minds are not busy with our own thoughts and agendas.

Many people are concerned that if they open themselves up to the possibility of God speaking to them, they may get deceived.   Yet the ability to hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us personally and intimately is part of our inheritance – it’s part of the promise of the New Covenant.  Here are some safeguards that can guard us from deception.

  • Get to know the written word – the Bible.  It is your plumbline to help distinguish truth from falsehood.
  • Humble yourself before the Lord.  Pride is a major obstacle to hearing from God.
  • Submit your will to God so that your motive is to obey Him no matter what He says.  Doublemindedness is a major cause of deception.  Jesus said that if our eye is single (single focus), our whole body will be full of light.
  • Let the peace of God guard your heart.  If you are hearing from God, there will be a peace – a “rightness” about the message.
  • Seek counsel from other believers whom you know and trust.

If you want to hear from God, the most important qualifications are faith, expectancy, humility and a yielded heart.  Be assured that God loves you and wants to speak to you.  Jesus says that it is normal for His sheep to hear and know His voice.   He says that those who have put their trust in Him are his friends.  So we can be confident that God desires to speak to us daily.   Turn to Jesus and ask Him to speak to you by His Spirit.   He won’t mind if you make a mistake – He is willing to teach you.  Ask others who are more experienced to help you interpret what you sense God saying to you.   God will be delighted that you are unwrapping His most precious gift – an intimate relationship with Him.


Intimacy with God: hearing his voice

Does God speak to individuals today?  If so, how does he speak?

It’s part of the promise of the New Covenant that ordinary believers can hear the voice of God.   Jeremiah prophesied that a time was coming when every Israelite would have an intimate knowledge of God (Jer. 31:33-34).   The New Testament states clearly that this promise was fulfilled in Jesus and applies to all who put their trust in Him (Heb. 10:16-17).   Jesus himself affirmed that his sheep – that is, his followers – can know and hear his voice (John 10:27).

Some keys to hearing God’s voice

It’s not complicated to hear God’s voice for yourself, but the idea that God can speak to you personally may take some getting used to.

The starting place is to surrender to Jesus Christ and ask Him to forgive your sins, take control of your life, and fill you with the Holy Spirit.   Until our hearts have been renewed by God’s grace and kindness we cannot have an intimate relationship with God.   It is the Holy Spirit living inside of believers that makes it possible for us to walk in intimacy with God.  For children of God, this intimacy is part our our inheritance and is meant to be a normal experience  (Romans 8:14-16).

Another key is to get to know God in his written word, the Bible.  This is the most important single way that God speaks to us.  The Bible is like a plumbline that helps us evaluate what we think we have heard from God in other ways.   If what we think we have heard from God doesn’t line up with Scripture, we need to listen again.   On the other hand, the better we know the Bible, the more we’ll find that the Holy Spirit will use it to speak spontaneous messages to our spirits – if we are tuned in to his promptings.

A third key is desire.  To hear from God regularly you have to want to hear from him – you have to desire intimacy with Him.  If you are content to live your own life by your own will, wits and wisdom, you will never develop intimacy with God even though you may call yourself a Christian.  The Holy Spirit responds to desire – if we want to hear his voice, we need to listen.

Another key is getting to know yourself.  This of course is a lifelong process.   Although hearing from God requires that we focus on Jesus and not on ourselves, a healthy self-knowledge is valuable in hearing the voice of God because it is a key to distinguishing God’s thoughts from our thoughts.  When I first realized that God was speaking to me, one of the ways I realized it was God is that it was different from the way my mind usually worked.

Recognizing the voice of the Spirit

Once we have these basics in place, we need to get used to recognizing the inner voice of the Spirit.  For me this required a major shift in thinking at first, but after many years of practice it has become second nature.  Listening to the inner voice of the Spirit is not difficult, and it’s not hard work, but it is totally different from the process of rational thought and analysis.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is like a spring of living water bubbling up within us (John 7:37-39).  What he speaks to us often comes as spontaneous thoughts, impressions, feelings or promptings.

God speaks to us in a surprising variety of ways.   Some people hear His audible voice, although this is rare.  Many people hear God speak by spontaneous thoughts that he places in their minds – thoughts that they know did not originate with them.  Some people “hear” God speaking to them in words, others in pictures or images.  God also speaks through dreams and visions.   Besides all these, he often speaks in ways that are not as obviously supernatural – like the advice of a friend, or a powerful emotion that doesn’t have any obvious cause,  or even something you see on a billboard or hear on the radio or TV.   Of course not everything you hear around you is a message from God.  There is a lot of interference – a lot of background noise out there.  But as we stay attentive to God we can learn to sift the wheat from the chaff and recognize when God is getting our attention – sometimes in surprising ways.

In my next few posts on this theme I’ll focus on some of the ways God speaks, and why developing intimacy with God is so important, especially in the last days before Jesus returns.


Learning to listen

The other day at work I was listening to a conversation at coffee break.   The conversation was about sentencing for people who do Internet kiddie porn.  One of my workmates made the comment that if someone is sick enough to do kiddie porn, they could probably never get better.

I wanted to say “That’s not true – Jesus can heal anyone”.  Instead, I just stayed silent and listened.  I listened to my workmates – but I forgot to listen to the Holy Spirit.

Why didn’t I say anything?  Because I couldn’t see a way to jump into the conversation with a faith perspective without sounding forced or unnatural.  I didn’t want to preach to them – I wanted to share with them.  After all, I have to work with these people.  My goal is to share my faith with them in a natural way that leaves doors open for future conversation.

This morning I woke up and realized what was wrong with this picture.   Very simple – I was relying on my own ability to say the right thing, rather than being led by the Holy Spirit.   At that particular moment, I was more conscious of my own inability than of God’s ability – so I said nothing.

In an atmosphere of skepticism such as we probably find in most Canadian workplaces, it is easy to lose sight of God’s presence and power.  This little event reminds me of how important it is for me to listen to the Holy Spirit every day, in every situation, then learn to do what He shows me.   I understand this but I still need to keep training myself to practise it every day.  I need to keep fresh in worship and prayer every day so that my faith is built up and I am able to hear from God and see His perspective – so that I have fresh bread to share with people who are hungry for hope.

God, give me another opportunity like this one – and help me to be led by Your Spirit in how I respond!