From time to time in our Sunday gathering we take a moment to answer questions from the congregation. This last week we had many questions come in that we were unable to respond to in the service due to time constraints. I wanted to follow up with a bit more detail on this question in particular because it is a question I receive often as a pastor.
I want to know more of Jesus. How can I discern God’s voice versus what my mind is telling me?Question from Congregant
I love this question! At the heart of this question is someone who is taking Jesus up on His statement when he said in John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
For many of us we are unfamiliar with the nuances of the shepherding metaphor used by Jesus. Good shepherds develop powerful and unique relationships with the sheep of their flock. In a crowded field there may be many sheepfolds mingled together eating of the green pastures. To an outside observer it would seem impossible to separate which sheep belong to which shepherd. Each shepherd however has a unique call. When a shepherd makes his call and commands his sheep to come follow him, his sheep are able to recognize the distinct features of their shepherd’s voice. They will leave the larger pack and follow the one whom they know.
As Christians we must learn to know our Master’s voice. I confess I write this post this week as someone who is on this journey with everyone who reads this. I too am continually learning to sharpen my ability to separate God’s voice from my own. I too am learning how to open myself up fully to the Holy Spirit and whatever God wants to say to me or do through me on any given day. It is perhaps important to begin by saying that the journey of knowing God’s voice and being able to sort His voice out from the many different voices is one that for most does not happen overnight. Our relationship with God takes time to mature. Just like other relationships there are things we do that allow communication to flow well, and there are other things we do that hinder our ability to hear from God effectively (what the Bible calls “Quenching the Spirit” 1 Thess. 5:19).
While it might sound overly simple, the simplest way to be able to know God’s voice is by listening to God’s Word. This is not to say that the only way God speaks to us is through the Bible. But it is to say that without a life discipline of studying and devoting ourselves to the God’s Word it will be very difficult for us to know the voice of God. It is through the Bible that we learn His ways, His character, the way He corrects and rebukes, the way He has spoken to others in the past, the promises He has made to us, and much more. God will never say anything to you that remotely contradicts His Word as revealed in the Bible. The daily discipline of sitting devotionally before and under His Word is much more than an exercise in academia, it is a practice of humbly posturing ourselves before God and saying, “Speak to me God, I am listening.”
The Christian then engages in conversation with God which we call prayer. One of the practices I have developed that has been so beneficial for me is practicing Verse-saturated Meditation before God. I intentionally qualified “meditation” as “Verse-saturated Meditation” because it is very important for Christians to recognize that we do not practice Eastern forms of meditation with the aim to clear our mind from all content. Rather we fill our minds with the Word of God and ask God to fill our minds with His thoughts. For me this looks like getting on my knees and prayerfully meditating on a verse or two that has been meaningful to me while presenting myself before God as one who is listening. I find in these times of prayer that though I have the best intentions with this time, in my hurriedness I tend to allow my mind to jump from thought to thought. This is where repeated practice and discipline come in. Nobody is able to Biblically meditate well on their first attempt, or their second attempt, or their third attempt. It is a lifetime of sitting and learning to enjoy God. But what I have found is that over time I have learned to hear my shepherd’s voice with greater clarity. Sometimes he speaks and prompts me to pray for individuals. Sometimes I’m laying a prayer request before Him and He shows a new way forward. Other times, perhaps most of the time, I admit I feel like my time of silence goes by without anything special happening. Yet I know that the Lord is pleased with my sitting at His feet, and that the time spent is not wasted for it will form a great sensitivity to the Spirit throughout the rest of my day and week.
Lastly, it must be said here that habitual sin, or unrepentant sin in our lives will deeply hinder our ability to accurately hear the Shepherd’s voice. We are told in Galatians 5:17 that:
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.Galatians 5:17
These disciplines alone are not the be all end all of how to hear from the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is far more supernatural than any of us give Him credit for. He will speak in ways, if you are listening, that we might never suspect. That’s what He did all through the New Testament, and that is what I see Him continuing to do in the life of our Church. Learn to listen. He has much to say to His sheep.