Reading the Bible sounds like a chore; it sounds mundane. But the strength and the maturity and the growth and the transformation – all those things have come as the Word of God has become part of who I am.
Is God Still Speaking?
Now, here … here is a question that these days, pretty much divides the church down the middle. Are you ready? Here it is: does God still speak today? Ooooh … the controversy; the division that that little question creates, is huge. There are some who contend that the only way that God speaks today; the single only way is through the Bible. Read the Bible; that’s God’s Word; that’s how He speaks.
Then at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you have Christians who claim to have seen signs and wonders; to have so called ‘words of knowledge’ and ‘prophesies’ over their lives. I even know one man whose pastor constantly claims to have visions of Jesus. WOW man, what do you do with that? How do you understand that?
And then there is little old you and me. If you are anything like me, deep inside there is a desire that burns for God – something that, well, it’s hard to explain – a hunger after God Himself; a yearning that won’t, that can’t be satisfied by some dry, academic, cerebral answer to this question: does God still speak today? It won’t be dismissed by shallow responses either. And nor will sensational claims quench the thirst after Christ Himself.
And so that’s why these coming weeks on the programme we are going to explore this question: does God still speak today? And if so, how? As I said, I ache to know God; to experience Him; to hear Him speak into my life. And I know that there are many, many more people on this earth who feel exactly the same. I want to live my life out completely for Him – everything I am, everything I have, all my hopes and all my dreams, to serve Him with the lot.
And it’s not because I’m some great guy – believe you me, I’m not. It’s because I have tasted the sweetness of His love – the many splendored love of Christ, as A.W. Tozer calls it. I have tasted His goodness and His joy and His peace and do you know what – I want more!
And so I want to hear Him speak because any relationship that means anything; that has any value to it is based on communication – and not one way communication, two way communication. A marriage is headed for divorce when there’s a stony silence between husband and wife. If all that they do is communicate on a transactional basis, about the mundane things of life and they no longer communicate heart to heart, then friend, unless they do something about that, their marriage is headed for divorce.
So the question is: does God still speak? In my experience, He does, in a variety of ways. But experience … experience isn’t the ‘be all and the end all.’ We have emotions – they go up, they go down – sometimes we are on the top of our game, other times, frankly, let’s be honest, we are off with the pixies. So whilst we may be experiencing God speaking through prophesy, through signs, through dreams … all sorts of different ways, I believe with all my heart, the truth, God’s chosen way of revealing Himself to us; providing us with a rock solid basis for understanding Him and understanding our experience, is His Word, this thing we call the Bible.
Inspired by Him, written through human beings, for sure – each of the sixty six books of the Bible, written in different times in history, under different circumstances, for specific purposes but together those sixty six books are the inspired Word of God – God speaking to the generations that have gone before us and to us and the generations that will come after us. And God never contradicts Himself. He never says one thing and does the other. God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
So if any one, whether it’s you or me, claims to have heard from God in a certain way, then the question is: does the Bible say that that is how God communicates with us? Because if it doesn’t, then friend, at the very, very least, I am very, very suspicious that this person has indeed heard from God. And secondly, if this person claims to have heard from God and acts on it or shares what God has allegedly said to him or to her, is the message consistent with the Word of God – the whole council of God? Because if God says one thing and some so called ‘prophet’ comes up with a so called ‘revelation’ that contradicts God’s Word, then forget it. It ain’t God talking! Does that make sense?
When we step into the realm of God speaking with us about specific things happening in our lives or in the lives of other people, then we are stepping into territory which is rich and fertile on the one hand – if God is indeed speaking. I for one would want to hear but on the other hand, it’s open to manipulation and to error.
This approach is summed up in this Biblical principle – it comes from First Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 19 to 22. Have a listen – it says:
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
In other words, don’t ignore God speaking through His Spirit. Don’t despise the words of prophets, but at the same time, sift it; test it – hold onto the good, ditch the evil. So, is God still speaking? Absolutely! This is what Jesus said: John chapter 10, beginning at verse 1:
“Truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and – listen to this – the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Again John 15:26:
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.”
And again, John 16:14:
“He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Is God in the business of still speaking to His people through His Spirit today? Absolutely! That’s exactly what Jesus promised would happen – over and over and over again. It’s promised in the Bible. But as we read back in First Thessalonians – whilst the Spirit is at work, speaking, declaring and we shouldn’t quench what He is doing. When people claim to be speaking on God’s behalf, then we had better test it to make sure that it’s from God. And I guess that’s at the very heart of what we are going to be talking about over the coming weeks – discovering how to hear God speak into our lives. It’s powerful stuff!
The Word of God
I remember when I first gave my life to Jesus – I had such an incredibly strong sense of God’s presence. He wrapped His arms around me during a particularly difficult and painful time in my life and yet I was full of the joy of the Lord. And a dear friend of mine, Phil, the pastor of the first church I attended sat me down over a coffee and he said to me, ‘You know Berni, it’s not always going to feel as good as this.’
And whilst in one sense, he was right, there was something inside me – well, it made me angry. I thought to myself and I said this to God, ‘If I can’t have a close, intimate relationship with my God, each day; if I can’t experience His joy and His peace, each day, then you know something, Lord, I don’t think I want You.’ It’s pretty radical stuff! And to be sure life has had its ups and downs. Sometimes circumstances are against us and sometimes everything is rosy. Sometimes our emotions are up and sometimes they are down.
In those early days of becoming a Christian, they told me; Phil told me that I should read my Bible every day. Can I tell you what a turn off that was? Can I tell you what a burden it was to think that I would have to open this old, stuffy Book; this huge Book; seven hundred and seventy five thousand words, thirty one thousand, one hundred and seventy three verses, one thousand, one hundred and eighty nine chapters in sixty six Books. Written in times and places and cultures that were completely unfamiliar to me.
Who or what, for instance, is Ephraim? And why was everyone sacrificing bulls and goats and doves and stuff? You get the drift! But Phil, my pastor, was a persuasive guy – real salt of the earth kind of guy and when I listened to him preaching on Sundays he made an enormous amount of sense to me.
So I did something back then – I established this pattern of getting up early in the morning; something I have been doing since I was a small child anyway, because I am an early riser – while everyone is still asleep – and spending some time in prayer and reading the Bible. I was surprised – God’s Word made a lot of sense. A lot of it was confronting – it was like shining a really bright light on my own immaturities and the things I was doing that weren’t pleasing God.
And day after day, month after month, year after year, here’s what has happened to me – it’s changed me. I open the Bible these days and it is God speaking to me. Now there aren’t fireworks and clashes of thunder and great amazing revelations each and every day – it’s not like that. Little by little, God’s Word has become part of who I am. I’m not good at memorising verses – some people are – I’m just not. But what I find amazing now is that when someone asks me to get up and speak about something or we are having a discussion amongst friends about this issue or that, the recall that God has given me over His Word, is amazing.
I can remember the things that God says – maybe no word for word, but pretty close – and where He says it and that makes all the difference. When someone is really bugging me and I want to tear them apart, all of a sudden the Holy Spirit says to me, “Turn the other cheek!” And wisdom from above is pure and peaceable and gentle and willing to yield and all of a sudden, God’s Word is guiding my behaviour. God’s Word is giving me what I need to live my life. The Holy Spirit speaks His Word right into my life when I need it.
And the other thing is: sounds really mundane reading the Bible every day and I guess it is. I tend to read an Old Testament Book followed by a New Testament Book – one of the Letters, from Romans to Revelation, followed by one of the four Gospels and Acts. It’s kind of how I cycle through the Bible. And I have pretty much read it all now, several times. The reason I cycle is that the different Books feed me in different ways.
Some of those Old Testament narratives – the Judges and Kings and Chronicle Books – they feed me with the power and the majesty of God’s faithfulness. And then the Letters in the New Testament – they teach me about real life and understanding life, in light of what Jesus has done. And then the Gospels and the Book of Acts – they take me back to the heart of my faith in Jesus. And then some of the wisdom Books in the Old Testament – Proverbs, Psalms, Lamentations – I sprinkle them throughout and it’s like adding salt to everything else.
And as I read through, bit by bit, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have found exactly what I need for today – the things I am going through or the things unbeknown to me that are going to confront me later on today. It’s amazing how many times God has given me what I need for today from those very next few verses, in the next chapter that I was due to read.
Reading the Bible sounds like a chore – it sounds mundane but the strength and the maturity and the growth and the transformation; the things that have so made my life better – I can’t begin to tell you. They have come from this wonderful habit that Phil taught me all those years ago – the ability to discern whether someone else is speaking for God or not – the wisdom to know how to handle tough situations – the maturity to lay down my life. That’s hard, boy, it’s hard some days. All those things have come as the Word of God has become part of who I am.
Genesis chapter 1, verse 26 tells us that we have been made in God’s image. Problem is, our rebellion; our sin has marred that image. And reading God’s Word most days, listening to what He has to say most days, is like being restored back into His original image. It’s a repair job here; a cleanup job there; a new bit here … and all of a sudden we become a different person.
It is knowing the truth that sets us free and the Bible is God’s way of speaking with us. If there is one thing … just one thing that I could point to as the smartest thing that I have ever done, after giving my life to Jesus, it’s opening up the Bible – that daily habit – and letting God speak His Word into my heart through His Spirit. And the tragedy is that so many people … the people who don’t do that are the very ones whose lives are all over the place because there is no foundation; there is no anchor into God’s truth.
The Time of Prayer
Earlier we saw that one of the main ways that God speaks to us … in fact, THE main way is through His Word, the Bible and it’s an awesome thing. And as I said back then, the simple habit of reading God’s Word, even if it is just a few verses, every day, has utterly changed my life.
But that’s only one side of the coin in my daily time with God – because the other side of the coin is prayer. There’s an amazing contradiction that so many people are living out in their lives – people who believe in Jesus. Here’s how it goes: on the one hand these people really would love to hear God’s voice; they would really like to know that He is there with them, that He has some practical words of wisdom for them, some guidance on the decisions they need to take – that’s on the one hand.
And yet these, so often, are the very same people who are too busy to sit down for twenty minutes, half an hour, maybe even forty five minutes or an hour, most days, to spend that time in prayer with God. Too busy, too busy, too busy! Well, fair enough, I know all about that! See, I’m one of these busy type ‘A’, action oriented people – we’re more focused on doing things and getting outcomes than on spending time on relationships. So anyone who says to me, ‘I’m just too busy to pray’, well, I really understand; I really relate to that.
But the problem that comes out of that is that we head off into our day and we confront all the issues and tensions and decisions and all that stuff – we are so immersed in it all – and then right in the middle of it, we think, ‘Ah, where’s God? Why is God talking to me? Why isn’t God guiding me? Why isn’t God comforting me?’ Well, I’ll tell you, friend! God was waiting for you this morning; He was waiting for you to get still before Him, to spend some time with Him reading His Word the Bible, listening to what He has to say and then chatting with Him in prayer. Have a listen to this Psalm – it is one of my absolute favourites – Psalm 46:
“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it will not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice and the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, he shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
Powerful truth in verse 1 is that God is our refuge and our strength in the middle of all this mess. You don’t have to be afraid – if the mountains are shaking, if they are falling into the sea, if there is calamity, there’s upheaval, there’s uproar – that’s the picture in the Psalm. The sorts of things that we go through in the rough and tumble of life – we don’t have to be afraid! Why? Because there’s a stream flowing right through the heart of our city that makes us glad. The nations may well be in an uproar but God is God above all and when He speaks the earth melts before Him.
Now, that’s a great theory but when we are in the middle of this calamitous uproar; when tensions are running high at work; when we are hard pressed on every side; when we are running through life at a hundred miles an hour, how are we meant to experience this river of joy from God? How are we meant to hear Him and know Him and not be afraid because of Him when all this stuff is flying through the air? Well, the answer comes to us in verse 10 of this Psalm:
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Isn’t that beautiful! Just … with all that stuff going on … just be still and know in your heart of hearts that your God is God; that your God is in control. I don’t care who the relationship is with, if we don’t take time away from the hustle and bustle, just to connect, just to spend time together, just to talk – whether it’s husband and wife or work colleagues or friends – if we don’t do that, then the hustle and bustle is going to distract us from the reality of the relationship with that other person.
We forget, in our experience, how wonderful the love of our husbands or wives is; we forget the joy of a friendship because our dominant reality; the thing we are focused on is the busyness and the battle of life. And friend, if we want to know that God is in control, we need to get still before Him and just KNOW! It’s as simple as that! That’s what prayer is – getting still before God.
Here’s how it so often works for me: I pray a bit and I ask God to speak with me. Then I open the Bible and I read the next bit I was going to read; the next chapter in Luke’s Gospel or whatever and in reading that, the Spirit of God speaks to me through God’s Word. I get this sense that God is up to something here but then I need to chew it over so I pray about it and I ask God, ‘What are You saying to me?’ I think about it, I get still, I listen and that’s the place where God so often speaks, with a word of reassurance, with some specific guidance or direction.
I had that happen this morning, in fact. I had a difficult situation; some difficult decisions to make and after spending time in God’s Word and thinking and praying and listening, well, the answer was as plain as the nose on my face. So often I’m confronted with a ‘to do’ list longer than my arm – I can’t possibly get it all done today. ‘God, what is Your priority? What do You want me to do today? And that’s where the most important things drop into my lap, so I go and I do those ones. It’s a gift from God.
Friend, so many people’ lives are in a mess. ‘I want to hear God speak!’ Well, let’s get still before God; let’s spend time with God. If we want to hear God speak right into the middle of the realities of our lives, we need to get still before Him.
Let’s get a revelation today! I know your life is busy – mine is too. But if we start spending fifteen minutes, twenty minutes a day, quietly, all the distractions gone, the doors closed, the Bible open – time in prayer; God shows up. He loves spending time with us. He loves it when we set time apart for Him. And frankly, if you are struggling to hear from God but you are not making time to spend with Him, this message today, is for you. Start spending time just with Him and little by little He will start speaking. Day by day, we will learn better how to recognise His voice. Little bit by little bit we will get guidance about things for today and things for tomorrow and things that we need to lay down.
Jesus said, “The shepherd speaks and the sheep hear His voice.” In my experience, sometimes in my prayer times over the years I have misheard God but the longer I spend at this, the more discerning I am and the more easily I am able to recognise the voice of my Shepherd.