Thus far in our series on prayer, we have been reminded that God’s heart is for us. He yearns for us to take all of our concerns to Him in prayer and He waits both willing and able to answer. We have been challenged to pray boldly and unashamedly with others at every opportunity. And last Sunday, we disussed the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer both in helping us to “pray as we ought” and in answering the prayers that we offer.
This morning we are going to talk about another important, yet often over-looked, aspect of prayer. We tend to have a rather one-sided view of prayer. Yet a proper definition of prayer is “communicating with God”. Good communication requires more than speaking, doesn’t it? Isn’t listening just as important in the process, if not more so? And when we do listen, how can we hear and understand what God is saying to us? Hearing, recognizing, and then understanding His voice are some of the most critical components of prayer.
Before we go any farther, let’s clarify what we mean when we say “God’s voice”. In the Bible, God speaks to his people in a variety of ways and through numerous different channels. Sometimes He speaks directly and audibly, and other times indirectly and silently. Most Christians I’ve met indicate that they’ve never heard God’s voice audibly speaking to them. Rather, they hear the silent impressions of the Holy Spirit directing their thoughts and ideas. These impressions can be sparked through listening to another person, or as a result of certain circumstances, or even sent from God directly. Thus, the voice of God is not limited to a specific manner of expression.
DVD TEACHING SEGMENT (No longer available online)
I. I CAN’T HEAR YOU! - HEARING GOD'S VOICE (1 Kings 19:8,11-12)
Perhaps God is speaking to you today, but His voice is being drowned-out by the deafening clatter of this world. Could it be that sometimes what we perceive to be the silence of God is not actually attributed to His lack of speaking, but rather to our inability to hear what He is saying?
The fact is, the world can be a very noisy place. It is often chaotic and overbearing. It seems at times that the world is screaming at us, trying to dictate the choices we make. In such a loud, blaring environment it can be hard to hear the voice of God. While He can certainly speak in whatever manner He desires, Scripture reveals that often God chooses to speak to us in a “still, small voice”. His gentle whisper often goes unheard, unless we make an intentional effort to hear it.
In order to hear God’s voice clearly, we must tune out the other noises that bombard our minds. This is why finding a quiet place to be alone with God in prayer is so important. It is in the silent stillness that we are able to hear the gentle voice of the LORD more clearly. The reason we practice private prayer is not to be secretive or to piously hide our prayer-life from others… rather it is to spend intimate time alone with God in a setting where we can listen to his voice apart from the sound of any other.
II. IS THAT YOU GOD? - RECOGNIZING GOD'S VOICE (John 4:1, Acts 17:10-11)
Perhaps God is speaking to you today, but you don’t recognize His voice among the many others that are ringing in your mind. Could it be that the problem we have hearing from God stems from the fact that we don’t know how to distinguish His voice from the many others that we hear?
The fact is, there are many voices that speak to us and try direct our steps, but only one of them belongs to God. He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. Many of the thoughts and impressions that we have are not of God at all - rather, they are the voices of false spirits who are not looking out for our best interests but trying to lead us down the pathway of sin and destruction.
Learning to recognize God’s voice is an essential part of our Christian life. There are many strategies to help us familiarize ourselves with His voice, but today I want to share just one - reading the Bible. You see, God’s spoken word to you will never contradict His written word. If you do not have any knowledge of the Bible, and the revealed principles contained within it, you have no means by which to evaluate the authenticity of the voice you are hearing. The more familiar you become with God’s word, the more familiar you will become with His voice.
III. WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? - UNDERSTANDING GOD'S VOICE (Proverbs 19:20-21)
Perhaps God is speaking to you today, but you don’t understand what He is saying. Could it be that our own inability to rightly discern and comprehend the LORD is prohibiting us for following His direction as we should?
The fact is, sometimes the things God tells us defy our understanding. For example, do you fully comprehend everything written in the Bible? I don’t, and I’m the pastor! Likewise, there have been times in my life where I have felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me but exactly He was saying remained unclear. In these moments, I needed help, an interpreter or translator so to speak, who could help me to understand what I was to do.
This is one reason why surrounding yourself with other Christians is important. Often times, other believers who are also sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit can help one another to clarify what it is He is saying. They can be a great source of godly counsel through whom the LORD might confirm or clear-up any misunderstanding. We shouldn’t rely on others in place of God, but mature Christians can help us to understand the voice of God when we are having trouble.
Prayer is more than talking… it is also listening. We must all seek to become better listeners and to intentionally include listening in our times of prayer. As my prayer-life matures and develops, I am increasingly praying in response to God's voice as opposed to praying to hear it. As the Spirit speaks to me, I am learning to pray more in tune with His will and way.
Imagine talking to someone who never responded to or even acknowledged your words. That would be pretty discouraging wouldn’t it? It might even get old after a while. Once it became obvious that they weren’t listening, you might begin to feel that you were wasting your voice. If it continued for an extended period of time, you might even stop talking to them altogether. What if God feels this way about us?
Of course, there is another possibility we've not mentioned. Perhaps you are hearing God’s voice, you are recognizing it to be His voice, and you are even understanding what it is that He is saying, but you are intentionally choosing ignore or disregard it. This is the most dangerous position of them all, because in this case you are consciously being disobedient to God.
Why should we expect God to listen to us if we refuse to listen to Him? If your prayer-life is ever to be vibrant and strong, it will require you to listen to God more than you speak. What He says to us is much more important than what we say to Him.