Monday, November 28, 2005

Back to Basics: How to Hear God Speak

[Number six in a series]

Up to this point it is important that you read the series in order. The first six have been on the ministry of the Holy Spirit (primarily) and now the voice of God as we attempt to love God with our all and love our neighbor as ourselves (The Great Commandment). After this message, there is a change of direction (no spoilers)

Has God ever spoken to you through a song? Carl was sitting on the front row listening to the song before the sermon (I do not know which one) when he remembered again an amazing fact: The greatest Person in the Universe loves him – and us. Did you think of that this last week: The most wonderful being in the Universe – the One that made it all – loves you. God knows and loves YOU. That was free: it was not part of the sermon.

“How to Hear God Speak”
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; John 10:27; October 23, 2005

As Carl grew up he cannot remember a time when he wasn’t in church: Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. It got to be he knew the church better than his own house. It was a good church and it had so many strengths - and so many things Carl realized that he wasted because of his youth. One of those strengths was a focus on the Bible. His church deeply believed that Bible is the word of God and our guide for life.

Of course, along with the strengths were some weaknesses. Carl realizes now some of those weaknesses and how his upbringing harmed him in developing a full life with Christ. Along with the focus on the Bible was the loud and clear message that while God speaks through the Bible He now speaks ONLY through the Bible. Another weakness was what he would now call a minimizing of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They never learned about the Holy Spirit – they never talked about Him. Very seldom did they say that the Holy Spirit is the one that inspired the Bible or that it was the Holy Spirit that enables you to understand the Bible. So it was stressed that he must be very careful not to add any other “experiences” to the word of God. One of the things Carl appreciates about the church of his youth is that they really concentrated on the fundamentals; and so he was truly converted and gave his life to Christ. Then, he went astray because he didn’t know how to live as a Christian. The church taught him how to come to Christ; but he wasn’t taught, or didn’t respond to, how to follow Jesus. Following Jesus day-to-day is all about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said
John 8:47 "He who is of God hears the words of God . . ."
Carl pointed out there is not way to cover the whole topic of how God speaks to us today. This is a brief, short course: not only is God so huge, and the way He speaks so huge; but also Carl really has no clue about the whole thing. He is still learning, and in fact unlearning some of the weaknesses of his past. So, today he is going to try to briefly answer three questions:
  1. Does God speak today, and to us?;
  2. how can I hear God’s voice in my life; and
  3. how does God speak today?
We must answer these questions accurately, because if we answer them wrongly we could get into all kinds of deception and be really confused. If we can answer them correctly and rightly, then this could be one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to us - if we go deeper into what God wants to do to help you hear Him speak.

Does God speak today; and does He speak to us?

You cannot read the Bible without realizing that it gives a clear and consistent pattern for how God has spoken to people since the very beginning to the very end. We think of these people as great saints, but in very many ways they were just ordinary people – and God speaks to them. Many of you have read Henry Blackaby’s book ”Experiencing God”. Blackaby did a study of how God spoke in the Bible and wrote them down. In the Old Testament He spoke through:
creation, angels, prophets, dreams, visions, casting lots, the strange thing called the urim and the thummin, a gentle voice, fire, a burning bush, preaching, judgments, symbolic actions, signs, miracles, writing on a wall, a donkey, trumpets, thunder and lightning, smoke and storms, a fleece, sound of marching in the treetops, sometimes face to face, in personal guidance, plus various unspecified ways.
In the New Testament He spoke through:
Jesus, the Risen Christ, nature, angels, dreams, visions, prayer, prophets, signs and wonders, preachers, scripture, an unbeliever, the church, sometimes a direct word from God, the Holy Spirit, plus various unspecified ways
The only point of that is to say that God did not speak in one simple way in the Old Testament or the New.

The church Carl grew up in would have said: “Yeah, but that was a special time – that was then and this is now”. This was taught because they believed that the Bible was finished. God’s purpose was to get all of His will down in scripture, Old and New, and now He does not need to speak that way anymore. So, what you do is focus on the Bible. They would also warn him, especially in Bible college, that if you think God speaks to you, personally, then you are opening yourself up to all sorts of strange things. Someone, especially in a pulpit, says that God spoke to them and of course you have to agree: who are you to argue. Deceivers say this. Then they would say: “How can you protect yourself from strange doctrine, and protect the authority of scripture, if you think God speaks today?” The revelation that God has said to you would take authority over the word of God, and then you would be in big trouble: right? Yes. There are some serious warnings here; and Carl is very concerned as he says the things to come that you do see the danger here.

What happened to Carl is that as he elevated scripture from primary to only way God would speak to him, he didn’t expect God to speak any other way. That inevitably led to a life centered on a book rather than a life centered on a Person. God wants us to have a life centered on a Person, and not a Book. Now, this is being said in Cedar Mill Bible Church. Do we believe in the Bible? Absolutely! The Bible is the primary revelation of God’s will for us. The Book is designed to help us love God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our mind, and all of our strength – and not be the object of that love (as much as we do love the Bible). We cannot always be in the word of God; and God surely speaks to us when we are not reading His book.

Another thing that happened was that he was inevitably led to focusing his life around a set of doctrine – a set of rules. Carl tended to a life of legalism because it was all about what was written. Carl looked at the Bible and it said too many things he couldn’t do; and he couldn’t live like that. He didn’t have that kind of power, or ability; and he was never taught how to live in Christ in his weakness. He was never taught how to look at the life of Jesus and not have the life of Jesus discourage him. We have to let Jesus fill us with His own power and enable you to live the life He wants you to live. You cannot live life in a set of doctrine or rules – you must live life in Jesus.

Over the years Carl realized a few things. First, in the Bible God never said He was going to stop speaking. He also realized that the Holy Spirit, who inspired the scripture, is the one that enables us to understand it. So He is speaking to us as we read it; and it is pretty clear in the Bible that we cannot read the Bible and understand it in our own ability: the Bible says the truth of the Bible is “spiritually discerned”. That is why someone else can read the same scripture as us and come to completely different conclusions. One of the amazing things is that a child with Christ in the hearts can read the Bible and understand it; and we can read it our whole life and never plumb its depths. Please love the Bible (do not misunderstand Carl); but the normal Christian life is to hear God speak. Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice and they follow me”.

How can I hear God’s voice in my life?

You must believe God is great; and not silent. Our unbelief does not make God silent – our unbelief makes us deaf. Have you ever looked back in your life and now you can see how God turned things, and changed things – but while you can see it now you couldn’t see it then? We realize when that happens the God intervened in our lives and we didn’t get it while it was happening. We must listen better.

Carl got to the place in his life when he was a teenager when he hated the words “personal relationship with Christ” because he didn’t know what they meant. The personal relationships he wanted were the ones where someone speaks and he could hear them. After all, a relationship is really all about communication. This is the first thing the church talks about in classes for people planning to get married – communication. Does God have a good relationship with us? If He does then He must communicate. We do not pray to a book. We do not pray to a religion. We pray to a person – a person who is quite capable of speaking, and speaks. Again, the Bible is one of the primary places, if not the primary place, you will hear the voice of God – but it is God you are listening for. Consider what Jesus said to the Pharisees here:
John 5:39 "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”
These verses changed Carl’s life when he actually began to meditate on what these verses meant. You can read and study the Bible diligently and not hear from, or go to, Jesus. Carl did it for years. Carl wasn’t a Pharisee – he wasn’t that good – but he still missed it somehow. Jesus wasn’t talking to them about a one-time salvation experience; but about life – an active day-by-day personal communication with God. He was talking about a confidence in, dependence on, and intimacy with God. The purpose of God and the Bible is for us to go to Jesus; not the Bible.

You must ask Him to speak - to you personally; and actively seek His will. The same way your spouse will say “Let’s talk”, or “talk to me” – you must say to the Lord: “Talk to me”. People say the want the will of God; but the will of God is something you must actively seek.

You must expect Him to speak; and listen! Here is where you do an analysis of your life schedule: do you have any listening time for God? Is there any time set aside in your life for your relationship with God?

You must test every message – by the written Scripture. God never ever says anything to us personally that is in conflict with the written word of God. That is why the Bible is there – as a record to test what we hear from God against. God does not do things that conflict with Himself. Scripture is our greatest defense against deception as we listen for God’s voice in our lives.

You must obey what you have already heard.

How does God speak today?

God is invisible – we do not see Him. Do we hear His voice audibly? Carl doesn’t; but you might. Over the years Carl has had a number of people (increasing BTW) that come up to him and say: “I do not hear God’s voice audibly but I had this one experience . . .” Just this week someone on the staff told him a story about asking God to lead him in some way (Carl thinks it was painting); and though he was alone he had to turn around because he heard a voice speak clearly to him as if He was in the same room. While Carl has heard this again and again, he has personally never heard the voice of God audibly. However, he has heard some things so loudly in his mind and spirit that he was sure God was speaking to him then. Carl leaves this to us because this is about us figuring out our “personal relationship with God”

Even though God does many things the same His relationship with each of us is unique. There is no formula for how God speaks to us – even though Carl is going to give us five ways He speaks to us. We just love formulas and processes. If Moses was living today he would have a seminar on “Hearing God in a Burning Bush”. Balaam’s wonderful book, “How to Hear God Through Your Donkey”, would be a best seller. We want formulas – those “three easy steps”; but this is about a relationship with God and it is huge. God can speak however He wants whenever He wants to whomever He wants in whatever method He wants. Why? He is God and we are not. So we say “God I submit to you” and even in those things we think are certain we say “Lord I submit to you”.

God speaks to us by His Spirit enabling us to understand and personally apply His word (the Bible). Consider:
1 Corinthians 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
We need the Spirit of God to understand the word of God – it is not done in our own power. Not only do we understand the Bible by the Spirit; but we apply it to our lives by the Spirit. Jesus said:
John 16:13 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
When you take the Bible in your hands and give yourself to it, the author of the Book is present to help you understand it, receive it, and apply it. That is what makes the difference between running through three chapters in the morning (because you “have to finish your devotional”); and sitting down with the author and asking Him to speak to you and guide you to what you need to understand from it. What Carl asks is this:
”Lord speak to me in this time. Lord, help me to understand. Lord, give me something that I know is from You to me so that I will be able to understand Your word, and do what You ask me to do.
When Carl prays like that God does it every single time. Sometimes He does not tell Carl what Carl wanted to hear and sometimes it is no where near as exciting as Carl wished. Sometimes it is repetitious stuff He has told Carl before and he is still not doing.

God speaks to us by His Spirit putting His thoughts into our minds - especially as we pray. Prayer is a great privilege God has given you; and He will put His thoughts in your mind while you pray. A caution here: Everything you think God has put into your mind must be checked against the word of God. That is our protection and guardian against deceit and error.

Prayer is not a one way communication: God will speak to us during prayer. So again, do you have any quiet time with God? So many times God speaks through a “still quiet voice” and we are so busy and our lives so “noisy” that we have Him drowned out. We are busy rushing here and there and wonder: “Why don’t I know what God wants?” Carl tells you to test God on this one: Find a half of hour of quiet time in God’s word, and ask Him to speak to you, and then come back and tell Carl He didn’t speak. Carl has yet to have a man or woman come back and say that God didn’t speak to them. So:
1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing”
God speaks to us through circumstances. Again, we have to be careful here – sometimes the message is unclear. You have to ask God what He is saying in this circumstance. Sometimes it is difficult to discern this. Many times people have come up to Carl and said: “This is happening in my life and it just stinks. It has been going on for a long time and it just hurts”. Then the question that almost always comes: “What is God trying to say to me Pastor; because if you can tell me what He is trying to say I will learn the lesson AND HE WILL TAKE IT AWAY”. Is that your experience? First of all, we do not even know what the lesson is while it is going on; and sometimes it is seemingly unrelated to the circumstances. Then, when it dawns on us what He is trying to say and we begin to learn it – He doesn’t take it away. Have you noticed? What is it about this God?

God is deeply concerned about your character more than He is with your comfort. The very difficult circumstances in life are the ones that shape our character; and our faith. Almost every single time what God is saying to you is “believe in Me now”. In cancer, divorce, death: Believe in Me now. He is simply saying “Trust Me”. So many times when you ask “why” He will not answer that. That is one of the frustrating things about God: He doesn’t tell us why. He does tell us Who – Who to trust. Sometimes it isn’t until years later that we can look back and see what God was trying to teach us; and even then it isn’t always clear.

God speaks to us through people. You have to be cautious here too; but if God can speak through a donkey He can speak through us. God will speak through your children; the person you married; close friends; small groups; and the church. This is why God gave us spiritual leaders, pastors, shepherds, and elders. You should not be able to walk into your worship service and not have God speak to you through someone. You should ask Him to speak; and every time you ask Him to He will. God will speak into your life through people in ways you will not even get from (although it will agree with) the Bible.

God speaks to us in our obedience to His ways. He may speak to us in our disobedience. Many have heard that – He yells. However, the longer we are disobedient the deafer we become. We cover up and block Him out. This is a pattern that you must break: when you agree with God and obey Him you will hear His voice more clearly; and when we disobey Him we will become more and deafer.
1 Samuel 3:19 Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fail. [NIV=”fall to the ground”]


  1. Allen co-creator of "Hear God Speak" the DVD12/18/2009 11:41 PM

    I am a good example of hearing God speak...
    have just completed a lifetime assignment that God had me in training and working and growing into since I was 10 years old. 

    I am so blessed that I wanted to ask if you could please help us get the word out on this project because I think it is a good example of what God is revealing and doing in the last days. 

    Please visit:

    God Bless and keep up the good work -- Allen

  2. Thank you for posting this! The Lord used this to speak to me and it was very helpfull. :)

  3. My experience with Baptist/evangelical theology can best be described as a wild Roller Coaster ride: a lot of great psychological, emotional, and spiritual highs and a lot of deep psychological, emotional, and spiritual lows. Why?

    In Baptist theology, your Justification and your Sanctification---your essence as a follower of Christ...if you boil it all really dependent on you and your feelings.

    Do I feel saved? Do I feel I really repented in my born again experience? Do I feel that I truly had faith when I made a decision for Christ; when I prayed a version of the Sinner's Prayer? If I am really saved, why do I feel at times that my faith is so weak? Maybe I need to do the born again experience again; maybe I need to pray the Sinner's Prayer again, just to be 100% sure that I am saved. I want to know without any doubt that I am saved, and if I do not feel saved, I begin to doubt my salvation.

    Baptist/evangelical theology tells me that I will always feel Christ's presence and strength inside me, if I am a true believer. But what if I don't feel him there sometimes? If it is true that I should always be able to hear God speak to me, in an inner voice or feel his inner presence move me/lead me to do his will, what is going on when I don't hear anything or feel anything? Have I committed some unknown sin and he is refusing to hear me? Or is the reason that I don't hear or feel him present within me... is because I'm not really saved!

    I was so incredibly happy to find orthodox (confessional) Lutheranism and find out that my feelings have nothing to do with my Justification, my salvation, nor with my Sanctification, my walk with my Savior and Lord! My salvation was accomplished 100% by God.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly