(Based on the “Seven Realities of Experiencing God” from Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God.)
Have you ever said: If only I could have lived when Jesus was on earth and been able to talk with him? If only God would speak to me as He did Abraham, Moses, prophets, etc. Another reality of experiencing God is that God has never stopped speaking to people! He may use different methods, but He still speaks. I can attest to that personally, whether in his call to devote my life to him, my call into ministry, or his re-direction in ministry and to various churches. In the most crucial decisions of my life, God spoke and I have no doubt. Using Abraham’s life, we are going to look at how God spoke and how He speaks today:
“God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways”(Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God Reality #4)
The Bible tells us God speaks to His people and never said He’d stop. Jesus: “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:47). A critical point in understanding and experiencing God is to know clearly when He’s speaking. So let’s ask some questions about how we know.
WHO: God’s Intimate Voice
Unlike Moses, Abraham never asked: who are you? He seemed to know it was God speaking: how? Through a certain method? No; God spoke to Abraham in a lot of ways: voice, vision, appearance, as a man, circumstances, others. The more Abraham grew in relationship with God, the easier it was to hear His voice.
“If I can’t see you for some reason but can only hear you, you don’t exist for me in space, which is where seeing happens, but in time, which is where hearing happens… I experience you more the way I experience the beating of my own heart or the flow of my own thoughts…. But something extraordinary is going on. I am taking you more fully into myself than I can any other way. Hearing you speak brings me by the most direct of all routes something of the innermost secret of who you are.
“It is no surprise that the Bible uses hearing, not seeing, as the predominant image for the way human beings know God. They can’t walk around him and take him in like a cathedral or an artichoke. They can only listen to time for the sound of him— to the good times and bad times of their own lives for the words which out of his innermost secrets he is addressing to, of all people, them.” – Frederick Buechner
That’s also true for us. It’s not about a specific formula or method. In the Bible, when God spoke, it was usually unique to that person, he knew it was God and what He was saying. We have to remember that God wants us to know worse than we want to know! Most importantly, an intimate love relationship with God is the key to knowing His voice, hearing when He speaks. Just like we instantly know the voice of our spouse, parent, or child, so we should know shepherd’s voice (John 10).
OUR ROLE: grow in relationship so we know His voice, able to hear
WHY: God’s Redemptive Purpose
God didn’t come to Abraham just to announce a baby was coming. God was redeeming His people, building a nation (of Abraham’s family) to do so. Every time God came to Abraham, it was in the context of furthering His redemptive plans.
When God speaks to you, it is with a purpose. It’s not just to inspire you, help you feel good or be more knowledgeable. He’s calling us to be part of His redemptive plan. So when God speaks through a sermon, Bible, book, person, etc., He has a purpose for you!
OUR ROLE: to immediately respond with openness and readiness
WHEN: God’s Perfect Timing
Abraham might have asked: why now at 75? Why a baby finally at 100!? Why not in my 20’s? We don’t know for sure, but it is likely that God wanted to make it clear who was doing this. And perhaps Abraham needed 25 years to grow into right kind of father or covenant partner, realizing he can’t do it himself.
The point is that God has perfect timing. God speaks to you the moment He wants you to respond. When you gave Him your life, you gave Him the right to interrupt it. He may not bring the full assignment immediately, so we have to continually be open and responsive.
I have to confess that over the past couple of years, I had gotten very impatient with God. I was ready to move closer to family and was waiting impatiently for God to give me my next assignment. I’d interviewed with a number of churches, often being in the top two or three candidates—but always the bridesmaid, never the bride. In fact, this church was one of those. You were no longer on my radar anymore, and I was just barely on yours—until your initial candidate turned you down. Out of the blue, the day after returning from preaching at one church in Michigan, suddenly I was contacted by you. And the assignment gradually became very clear. Why did God delay? Why wasn’t I the first to be invited out? I don’t know the answers to those questions. But again, the point is that God has perfect timing. God speaks to you the moment He wants you to respond. When you gave Him your life, you gave Him the right to interrupt it. He may not bring the full assignment immediately, so we have to continually be open and responsive.
OUR ROLE: to respond immediately and adjust our lives to His plan
WHAT: God’s Specific Directions
Abraham started out in the dark, but God got very specific, whether about the future of his descendants 400 years later (Gen. 15), the covenant going through Isaac, no one else (Gen. 17), the birth of his son the next year (Gen. 18), or even haggling with Abraham over the number of righteous in Sodom.
Some say God just calls and we have to figure out details, but that’s not true: He gave Noah specifications for the Ark; He told Moses what to speak to Pharaoh and how to bring the plagues. He may not spell it out all at once, but God doesn’t leave us to figure it out on our own.
OUR ROLE: adjust lives to Him and wait for details
HOW: God’s Developing of Character
Abraham asked: how is God going to use me? He gave him a pretty big vision: a great nation and name, a blessing to the world! But through pitfalls in Egypt and with Hagar/Ishmael, Abraham came to a personal understanding that he couldn’t do it himself. God develops him through a growing partnership: calling him into a covenant relationship (Gen. 12, 15), eventually giving him more responsibility (Gen. 17), and finally asking: shall I hide my plans from Abraham? (Gen. 18) as His full covenant partner. Abraham couldn’t do it himself, but God was developing his character. Notice that God had said: I will make your name great (Gen. 12:2).
When God calls, we may have similar questions; I know I did! But God develops our character to match His assignment for us. Don’t rule out things that don’t seem to fit your current lifestyle, even your spiritual gifts; we need to trust what God is doing.
OUR ROLE: allow Him time to develop your character
God Speaks Through…
How God speaks is not nearly as important as that He does. Today, God speaks by the Holy Spirit through …
The Spirit reveals appropriate and timely truth. Some Scripture jumps out at you at certain time, which is likely part of God calling you, developing you, revealing His purposes or specific directions to you. Come to the Bible with an open heart/ears/eyes.
is a two-way fellowship, communication with God. It should be not just you speaking but God as well. Sometime God even causes you to pray (as with Abraham in vv. 20-21). In prayer, we listen to God, respond back to His will, and adjust to what we learn. Abraham learned much about God in his wrestling with Him over Sodom, though it may not have been what he expected.
Franklin Roosevelt, when President, reportedly grew tired of standing in endless reception lines, smiling, shaking hands and making trivial small talk. Out of boredom one evening, at a big White House reception, to every person he shook hands with, he smiled a great big smile and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” And everyone said, “Wonderful” and “Keep up the good work” and “We’re all behind you, Mr. President.” Only one person heard what he said. It was an ambassador, who leaned forward and whispered, “I’m sure she must have deserved it.”
If we are not occasionally shocked by the things God says and does, we’re not listening. Abraham listened and was shocked. Was God violating his justice, allowing the righteous to perish along with the wicked? God wanted him to struggle with it, pray about it. What things does God want us to struggle with? Abraham learned much about God’s grace and love in his wrestling with Him over Sodom. We must come to prayer with open ears not just an open mouth.
Abraham learned in some of the circumstances of his life, whether Pharaoh’s disease (Gen 12:17ff), another king’s blessing (Gen 14:18-20), being caught in lie, etc. Don’t try to figure out God during the circumstances but ask God for His perspective on them.
Through other people and especially through the church’s call to ministry, God also speaks. The church giving you an opportunity to do something (leadership, teaching, serving) may be a way that God wants to equip you for His purposes for you.
God Speaks to Reveal…
When God speaks, what does He reveal?
Who He is, most importantly. The love relationship is the main thing!
What His plans are for you, for His world, for people.
How He tends to operate
From experience I can tell you that when God speaks, if you are open and in a love relationship with Him, you will know it and know what He wants. Regardless of how inconvenient or impossible it might seem, adjust your life to His plans, open yourself to be developed by Him, align yourself with His redemptive plan, and you’ll stand amazed, humbled and blessed at how God can use you!
Closing Prayer – God, you continue to speak to me. Give me ears to hear, a heart to trust, and hands to act. Take away the temptation to carry out my plans and leave yours until later. Help me to get on with your assignment thee minute you give it. You know who I am better than I do myself. You know the adjustments I must make to you to carry out your assignment. Work in my life through your Holy Spirit. Create the image of Christ in me so that I have the character to fulfill your assignment. I want to hear your voice and obey your will. Amen.
-presented to Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church