Lesson 4 - Ways We Can Hear God's Voice: - Part 2:
What is a prophet?
All Christians may prophesy, but a prophet is one God has made to be a gift to the church, to see and hear the things of God and pass them on to his people. A prophet is given authority to speak things which might be too hard coming from another Christian. Ordinarily, prophecy should always uplift and strengthen the hearers. A prophet, however, might also sometimes give hard warnings which, if not handled with special maturity and wisdom from God, could crush the person instead of helping them change, which is always God's purpose in giving the warning.
Some today equate prophecy with preaching, but this is a mistake. A preacher might sometimes prophesy, and a prophet will probably sometimes preach, and preaching can be prophetic, just as prophecy can teach and evangelise, but a prophet and a preacher are not the same thing.
What is an intercessor?
An intercessor is similar to a prophet, except the intercessor's primary task is to listen to the things God shares with them and to pray. Sometimes they might share something with others, perhaps a warning or an encouragement, but their primary task is to fight the spiritual battle - often in advance of the physical battle that is about to come. They may speak things into being as God gives them the words.
What is a burden-bearer?
A burden-bearer is one who has been gifted by God, usually as a natural gift they have from birth, to help transfer the emotional, physical and spiritual pain of others to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the supreme burden-bearer. Until such burden-bearers learn to function under the power of the Holy Spirit, the emotional, physical or spiritual pain they receive from others through this natural gift, which has a psychic basis, can cause them considerable difficulty.
Experimenting with hearing God's voice
Some people have never knowingly heard God speak to them. Some think they hear God, but don't know how to check if it really is God. Some hear God in some ways but would like to hear in different ways or more clearly. And some assume that what they are hearing is God's voice but in fact it might not be God at all.
Whichever category best fits you, here are some ideas from my own journey, and things I have learned from others, which might help you to get started or to hear with greater confidence.
First, don't be afraid to experiment. God doesn't mind - he wants you to learn to hear his voice. Just be aware that it is an experiment - a bit like a game, although it is an important game. So don't take what you hear too seriously before you have checked it out in ways we will look at soon.
Don't worry about being deceived; rather, ask God to guard your listening and then trust that he will in fact do so. There is a scripture that talks about the possibility of being deceived:
"For false Christ's and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect - if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time." (Mark 13:22,23)
This does not say that some of the elect will be deceived, only that this is the false prophets' intention. Those who will be deceived are those who do not recognise the Shepherd's voice and go off on their own way. Remember, his sheep do hear his voice, even if they are not always conscious of hearing it. God sometimes allows his sheep to make mistakes and wander away for a time, but he goes with us and when the time is right he is able to get through to us and give opportunity to return. It seems to be the only way we are willing or able to learn some difficult lessons.
One of the ways I found very helpful to get me started was to journal. Mark and Patti Virkler present journalling as a discipline by which you can transform prayer from simply talking to (or at) God, or even from actively listening to God, to a dialogue or conversation between God and you. I began to journal shortly before I discovered their book Dialogue With God, and was greatly encouraged to continue once I had read it.
Some people have labeled such techniques as 'stream of consciousness', and somehow make it out to be suspect, New Age, or even dangerous. This would be true if you do not believe in a transcendent God who wishes to talk to you, and are simply trying to either tune into your own unconscious thoughts, or worse still, attempting to access the 'collective consciousness of the universe'. But this is not our intention. What journalling does is give us a way of temporarily taking our focus off our overactive mind and allowing our spirit, and God's Spirit to commune together as God intended. We do not blank our minds, rather we allow our thoughts to flow, and write what we hear, and then use our mind to check it afterwards. If we try to do it first with our mind, then we will probably only hear our own thoughts.
Of course, such listening is very subjective. To a western mind, steeped in Greek dualism, 19th Century Common-Sense Realism, and 20th Century rationality, 'subjective' is a swear word. But in fact the objective and subjective are both essential parts of total reality. Once we get used to being in touch with the total reality, not just the material world, what we once thought of as subjective begins to take on a new concrete reality - they become objective. This is what Charles Kraft calls the capital "R" Reality. In fact, we begin to see things more as God does - we begin to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2: 6-16). This is exciting - a whole new universe opens up for us to explore beside our Father. Some of the 'concrete' things of the physical world even begin to reveal their true nature, they are not as 'solid' as we thought. Physicists are beginning to discover this as they divide matter into smaller and smaller particles and forces, and begin to wonder just what is real anymore.
Is journalling Biblical?
I believe so. In fact, I suspect that a significant amount of the Bible is actually the journalling of the human authors. For example, look at some of the Psalms. When you see the two and fro of ideas between David and the LORD, it is like a conversation, but David (or sometimes Asaph, Solomon, or one of the Sons of Korah) is doing the writing. In some Psalms David quotes the Lord directly in the course of his own prayer, using words given to him by the Lord, e.g. Psalm 12: 5.
Psalm 50 begins with the words of Asaph, declaring the glory and power of the LORD. Then from verse 7 to the end God responds. In Psalm 55 David begins in despair, but ends in praise, because along the way he has heard the LORD's reassurance. In Psalm 56 he similarly oscillates between despair and praise.
Asaph begins Psalm 81 with a call to the people to praise their God who had rescued them from Egypt (vv 1-5). Then he quotes the Lord saying he is the one who rescued them (vv 6-7). Then the Lord himself speaks words of disappointment at how they have rejected him (vv 8-16).
Look at a prophetic book, such as the book of Ezekiel. How did it come to be written? It is thought to have been written by the prophet Ezekiel himself, or dictated by him to a scribe, and describes the words and visions given to him by the LORD. It is hard to imagine that such a large body of text would be received first and then written out from memory. Rather, the visions and words would be written down at the time they were received from the LORD, and then the sections gathered together for the book. These sections can usually be identified by the frequent phrases like "Then the LORD said to me..." or "And the word of the LORD came to me."
Or consider the book of Revelation. John begins (vv 10-11):
On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
Being 'in the Spirit' does not necessarily mean John was unconscious or in a trance, but that he was communing with the Holy Spirit, and he had an awake vision. Either he must have been able to write, or he had a prodigious memory, otherwise we would not have the book.
How to journal
My journalling began by taking a passage of Scripture, asking God to speak to me, then reading the Scripture and writing down whatever thoughts came to me as I read. I did not worry about whether I was imagining the words myself, or where they came from; I just wrote them down. Sometimes I even imagined what God would say in answer to my questions or expressions of love, and wrote that down too. After about 15 minutes I would stop and look at what I had written. I would examine each sentence and try to decide whether I had thought it up myself, or whether it seemed to come from somewhere else.
After about two weeks of doing this daily, I began to find myself recognising which were my thoughts and which were God's. It developed into a definite conversation between God and myself. One beautiful morning I heard God say my name for the first time ever. This was very significant for me, because of my life journey up till that time. I began my time with him by saying, "Good morning, Lord. I love you!" Immediately the reply came, "Good morning, Mal. I love you too!" My heart just soared. Straight away I knew something very important - my name was written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Revelation 21:27). GOD KNOWS WHO I AM!
Sometimes I would write songs and poems which I believe God gave me. If I was reading a good book and something inspired me, I would write out the passage in my journal and then talk with God about it. I discovered over about three years of this that I was writing many things which I had never heard anyone else teach about, and when I told them to others they were helped by them also. I found that God was sharing his mysteries with me in person, and then confirming them by experiences which followed immediately afterwards in my life. I also began to be able to prophecy about then, but this also required a different learning experience which I will share later.
There came a time when I didn't need to journal to hear God's voice, and time pressures prevented me from continuing. But they were very precious years, during which I received much healing and learned so much. I'm sure I should find the time to begin again. Our exercise following this lesson will be based on journalling.
Recognising the source of a voice
(For your convenience these points are repeated in Resource Sheet 3 - Recognising the Source of a Voice.)
In normal circumstances an internal voice - one which appears in your mind as a thought - has one of four sources: from yourself, from another person, from the enemy, or from God. How can you know whether an internal voice is your own thoughts, the thoughts of another person, thoughts from an evil spirit, or God's voice? By being willing to experiment, under God's covering, I found a way which works for me. It is difficult to describe, as it is really a spirit thing, but I will try.
A. Sense the direction the voice is coming from - inside or outside.
When I hear a voice I first try to discern whether it came from inside of me or outside - whether from within my spirit or just my mind. This is the hard part to explain. It is like having a sixth sense for the direction a voice comes from. Journalling helped me to develop this.
- If it is outside, then it is not my own thought, nor is it the Holy Spirit. Why not the Holy Spirit? Because the Holy Spirit dwells within me. So it is either:
a) an evil spirit, or
b) some occult or psychic influence from another human person, or
The content of the voice will probably decide which it is. For example, those of you who are gifted as burden bearers will understand how another's thoughts or feelings can be received as if they were your own.
The Lord might speak with an audible voice or through an angel, but these will not then seem to be internal voices - you will hear them with your ears.
- If it seems to come from within me:
a) If it relates directly to something which I am currently thinking about then it is probably my own thought, although it might be the Lord giving me a new thought about that subject.
b) If it seems to come out of the blue - unrelated to my current thinking, or a distinct step beyond what I am thinking, then I will assume it is the Lord until I have reason to believe otherwise.
Journalling helps in this decision, because with experience you begin to recognise the difference between your own voice and the voice of the Shepherd.
B. Once we have decided on the direction, we apply the same standard tests for anything we hear or read at any time:
- Does it correspond with what you read in the Bible?
- Is it consistent with the character of Jesus?
- Will its application bring peace and encouragement, or will it produce strife?
- Does it sit well on my spirit?
- Do other people or circumstances confirm what you are hearing?
- Does it lead to life or death - in the widest sense of these terms?
- Does it cause me to feel the 'anointing' of the Spirit (a very subjective test, but useful with experience)?
Evaluate the thoughts you have in the same way. Be confident that Jesus will keep his promise to lead his sheep. If you want to do God's will you will be led by the Holy Spirit. "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." (John 7:17)
Resource Sheet 7 - Twelve Points to Remember About Hearing the Voice of God gives a useful outline of how to listen and how to check what you hear.