Listening to God

I Corinthians 2:1-16

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg


I Corinthians 2

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:

"No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him"—
10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:

16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

This morning the young people asked me to focus on the question -

"How do we listen to God's voice?" Or
"How do we discern that it is God speaking to us?"

In a culture which hungers to receive spiritual guidance, I very much appreciate your question. In answering that question, there are a few fundamental things we must realize.

First - God is speaking everywhere. God is not dead and he is not silent. He speaks to us through all creation. Listen to what the Psalmist says

Psalm 19

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

There is nowhere where we can flee from his presence. There is no spot on, below or above where he does not speak.

But secondly, we must also recognize that we live in a world where there are also many many different voices. We live with minds that have the voices of our own history, our own upbringing, we work with the voices of reason and emotion. We have in our world the voices of culture, expectations, taboos, music, commercials, entertainment. We live in a spiritual world where our spirits, whether we recognize it or not, hear the spirits of this age coming to us on many different levels. And somewhere in this mix is God speaking.

The first and foremost mistake that our culture is making in this post Christian era is that they mistake any spiritual voice for God speaking. Timothy warned us (I Timothy 4:1) he says "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." Again and again, our culture is listening for any voice that sounds spiritual.  Little do they know that they are often listening to voices that sound good but those voices are leading them down the path of the lie.

Something like Oli in this old Norwegian Oli and Lena Joke.

Oli went ice fishing. He pulled out his ice auger, and was slowly turning it round and round cutting a nice round hole in the ice. Then he heard a voice

"Oli."

Oli stopped, look around in the early morning mist, saw no one, thought to himself that he was just hearing things. He kept on cutting with his auger. A minute later, he heard the voice again

"Oli"

Oli stopped again.  "It must be..." he thought and so he responded

"Yes Lord?"

The reply came

"No it's the rink manager."

Oli simply heard a voice and he assumed that it must be God, when it was not.

So if there are many different voice, many of them not coming from God, how do we hear and recognize God's voice?

This morning some basic answers from the scriptures

Hearing God's voice and recognizing his voice starts with knowing God. This is true in our relationship with God, and it is true in life. Let me start with life.

Over the past number of months, those of us who have come to know me a little in conversation over coffee, my speech patterns both helpful and unhelpful, have come to recognize my voice which tends to be scratchy and quite distinctive. When I call you on the telephone, and I say "Hi John!" and just by my voice the person on the other end says "Oh Hi Pastor Bill." Because they know me, they know my voice.

As people have really gotten to know me, I have found that even goes one step further. Pastors have to watch what they say because they are often quoted. But what I have found helpful is that those who know me have been able to recognize the misquotes. If someone misquotes me, or places a quote in the wrong context - my friends will say "That doesn't sound like something Pastor Bill would say." Or "That sounds just like pastor Bill because he said the same thing to me - it's probably his quote number 423 or something." (I tend to repeat myself a lot!)

We recognize a voice, even if it comes second hand, because we know the character of the person who is speaking. And so if we want to hear God and recognize his voice, we need to start by coming to know God.

John writes in John chapter 10:

"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

John is very clear!  The first step to hearing and recognizing God's voice is by coming to know him.

But that pushes us to a very logical question:  How can I get to know God? If there are so many voices in our heads and in this world there are so many spiritual and religious voices, how can I get to know him?

The answer to that has to do with focus.  We need to tune into God where we are sure that his voice is heard.

That's where the scriptures come in.

The bible reveals to us the voice of God

When we read the bible, we might not understand everything it says, and we might not understand all the contexts in which things were written.  That takes time to grow into!  But in reading it, we come to know the voice of God, we come to understand the themes of God's love, we taste of the character of God. These words are Spirit, they are God breathed and they are life because they reveal to us the very character of God. The Spirit is at work through these words, giving us revelation, helping us understand the mind of Christ so that we may know him better. And as we come to know him, as we come to know his character, we start being able to discern God's voice in the myriad of voices that we hear in life. Hearing God's voice has less to do with exactly how it sounds and a lot more to do with the character of what the words reveal, his truth that never changes, his faithfulness that is flawless, his promises that are forever true. Those who do not know God, who have not discovered his character from the scriptures often just don't get it, don't understand when God is correcting them, when God is working in their lives to get them to turn away from sin, they think conviction is just another yucky negative experience and they forget that God disciplines those whom he loves. Tuning into what we are sure is God's voice through his word, will enable us to tune into what is really God's voice in the myriad of voices we will hear in our lives.

Again a quick illustration. Over the years I have repaired a few cars and wrecked a few knuckles on wrenches that slipped off. In the process, I have become aware of how different parts of a car work. One of the things that I have learned to do is listen very carefully to what a car is saying to me. (Yes, Cars speak to me!  And right about now you may be wondering about my sanity!)   I know some good friends who have never taken a wrench under their car hood.  They ask my advice and never listen to it! Some time ago, they were visiting, and a friend complained that her car had been making a strange clunking sound lately.  But that was just the way her car sounded, she foolishly thought little of it. Just another pointless noise to her. But to me I could recognize very quickly that her transmission was on its deathbed because that strange loud clunking noise happened every time the car shifted into second gear!   Having spent focused time with cars, learning the character of how different parts work, I am able to tune in and understand what these different noises mean.

So to, when we focus on discovering the character of God through the Spirit breathed scriptures, we will learn to discern his voice, not only in the scriptures but in the many other ways he speaks to us in life, be it by spiritual gifts, dreams, visions, circumstance, advice, or creation.  We come to know his voice when we have focused on it from the reliable source of scripture.

Third:  We must expect to hear from God.

Expectation is the ear of faith that listens for the voice of God. Expectation is the quiet prayer asking God to reveal his will. Expectation listens for what others don't listen for. It is that part of faith that is certain of things hoped for.

I am sure this has happened to many of us here. Have you ever notice how you do not hear what you do not expect to hear. My children can be involved in some project and oblivious to the world around them. We can call them and get no response. Or if they heard us, we get the "Ya, Ya" response, but it was an automatic meaningless response that never registered in their brain. But when our children think or expect that we are talking quietly about them... Wow!   No matter how many walls of separation there are, they can still tell exactly what we are saying!   Expectation is the key to hearing!  That's why mothers can be awoken by the tiniest squeak of a baby while fathers can sleep right through their screams - the mother expects it. When we start focusing our trust on Christ, when we start learning the character of God, scripture promises that we will start hearing God's voice in all kinds of ways. Look at these words from Isaiah 30

18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."

Throughout the scriptures, those who hungered for the voice of God, who expected the coming of the kingdom saw it and heard it.  Expectation, waiting for the consolation of Israel, was the key to seeing and hearing!  Those who faithlessly did not hunger for it, did not expect it, disregarded it, when it was right before their eyes, it was foolishness to them! They rejected him, crucified the voice of God, the Word of God, the most perfect intimate expression of the heart of God.

But today - he is not dead, he still speaks. And we can hear him, first by knowing God, tuning in to him through scripture, and expecting him to speak to us today.  And when we listen, we discover that he speaks to us in so many ways, and all creation speaks of his glory, trees clap their hands, mountains proclaim his majesty, hills skip for joy.

Let me know if you enjoyed this story


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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