Insights from John White on hearing God

John White talks a lot about listening to God.  A few days ago I briefly interviewed him to hear some his thoughts (and, to be strictly honest, to experiment with the technology.)  But what he shared is so good, I thought I would add it so you all can benefit.

John mentions Mark Virkler.  Many years ago I read his book, "Dialog with God."  It formed the foundation of my practice of hearing God personally.  Right up to the present, I still journal (write down what I think God is saying to me) on as near a daily basis as possible.

I'd also love to hear back from any of you on whether you like audio in a blog!

Other ways God speaks

The past few posts have described the different ways that God may speak to us as individuals and some of the criteria we have for evaluating what we have heard.

Other ways in which God may guide include our circumstances.  How often God speaks through the situation we may find ourselves in.  The apostle Paul ministered in Rome because he was in prison there.  An example: recently part of a small group interactive discussion that I was responsible for did not go that well.  What was my response to be?  I asked the Lord to teach me through what had happened, and He did, showing me how I might have better handled what went on. I could have just lamented the situation, but instead, God turned it into a learning opportunity for me.

God also speaks through His creation.  We can learn about His incredible attributes–His majesty, power and glory–through the things He has made (Romans 1:20)

Mountain and lake

God speaks to those who desire to hear Him.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear…  The question isn't, "Is God speaking?"  The question is, "Are we listening?" and are we open to the different ways He may choose to communicate with us.

In what other ways does God speak to you that have not yet been covered in these blog posts?  From here, we will also look at how God speaks to us corporately as His body.

When others advise us

Wisdom  Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there
is no counsel the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is
safety.” God often uses what other people say to us to speak to us.  Sometimes we will go to them to ask
their advice and we do well to seek the counsel of those who are wise in the
ways of God.  Sometimes the other
person has no idea that they are saying something that has the potential to
change our lives. 

        I remember a time when Tony and I
both sensed from the Lord that we were to sell the house we were living in and
to do something very specific with the money that was raised.  We told no one what we were considering.  The following Sunday, a brand new
Christian was speaking for the first time in a meeting.  During his brief talk, he twice used
the example, “It would be just like if the Lord told Tony and Felicity that
they were to sell their house and give the money to…” and went on to describe
exactly what we were thinking the Lord wanted us to do with the money.  We were astounded by how specific God
could be.        

    How often has someone said
something in passing that grabs our attention?  To the person speaking, he has said nothing unusual, but the
Lord uses it to change our thinking about a certain issue.
  For example, recently someone mentioned the word authority in the
context of discipleship.  It was a
throwaway sentence.  But the Lord
has used it to lead me into a study on the authority that we have as disciples
within the Kingdom.  How do we gain
the authority to heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse lepers, and raise the
dead (Matthew 10:8)?  It has the
potential to change the way I think about these things.

God communicates through spiritual gifts

Gift God also uses the other spiritual
gifts to communicate with us. 
Gifts such as words of knowledge or words of wisdom come to mind.  These occur when God drops a piece of
information or an idea into our minds that we would have no natural way of
knowing.

One example
comes from Tony’s days as a doctor in London.  One day, a patient who was the wife of a local pastor who had
just moved into the area came to see him. 
Since Christians were few and far between in that area of London, he was
very interested to meet her.  She
had come for a prescription, and so Tony had examined her and given her the
prescription, but as she stood up to leave, he noticed that she was looking a
bit depressed so he asked her if everything was OK.  She immediately brightened up.  “Everything’s fine, Doctor,” she said with a smile.  Before Tony could stop himself, he
responded. “Oh no it’s not.  You’ve
just had an abortion!”  If he had
time to think, he would never have said such a thing.  She dissolved into tears and the following story came out.  She had become pregnant just before she
and her husband married, and to avoid the embarrassment of admitting their sin
as they entered their first pastorate, they had succumbed to the “convenience”
of an abortion.  Tony was able to
minister forgiveness and healing to her.

Although this
is a more dramatic example than usual, we often find God speaks to us in these
ways.  For example, when we were
trying to make ends meet during our early time here in the States, we quite
often would pray from Deuteronomy 8:? which says, It is God who gives you the power to create wealth that He might
establish His covenant.” 
For
many months we prayed over this verse asking God to give us a creative idea
whereby we could support ourselves. 
One day, an idea just came to us that resulted in the business that now
provides for us and has freed us to spend time working more directly in the
Kingdom.  Was it just a natural
idea?  Maybe—but we are convinced
that God provided it through a word of wisdom.

 

What is prophecy?

 
Seeing the future

Prayer is when we speak to God;
prophecy is when God speaks to us. 
All of us are able to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:31), and the Word tells us to
desire to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:39).  Prophecy
occurs when a person speaks out words that they sense God is saying.  Prophetic words can be very powerful,
but they should be weighed and handled with care. 

1 Corinthians 14:3 describes the
safe parameters for prophecy.  It
is to be used to strengthen, encourage and comfort.  It is not
to be used to convict of sin, and if guidance occurs, it should confirm what
the Lord is already saying to a person. 

Prophecy does not have to be
spoken.  One of the most powerful
prophecies we have ever been given was in a meeting when we had a friend of
ours from England, Norman Barnes, with us.  Norman moves very powerfully in the gift of prophecy.  He had us sit on a sofa and covered us
completely with a large sheet.  As
his prophecy, he removed the sheet from us and told us that God had had us
hidden for a number of years but now was the time when we were going to be
revealed.  What was interesting was
the context of the prophecy.  Back
in the UK, we had been relatively well known.  When we came here to America, no one was interested in what
had happened back in England and we entered a ten year period of total
obscurity (very good for us!) We wondered if we were going to stay “on the
shelf” forever.  It was shortly
after this prophetic word that we helped to start House2House magazine which
has again thrust us more into the public eye.

The fact that God has used a person to prophesy does not make them a prophet.  The 5-fold ministry of the prophet as mentioned in Ephesians 4 occurs when a person is used to prophesy on a regular basis and over things that effect the course of the church.  It is usually a traveling ministry.  Along with apostles, prophets are part of the foundation (infrastructure) of the church.

What is the purpose of dreams and visions?

  
It is interesting to see how often the Lord used dreams and visions throughout the New Testament. 

  • Joseph is guided by a dream to take Mary as his wife despite
    her “unplanned” pregnancy.  A dream
    leads him to flee to Egypt when Herod tries to kill Jesus, and another lets him
    know when it is time to return.
  • Peter is on a rooftop when he sees a vision of
    all kinds of animals being let down on a sheet.  The Lord tells him to call nothing unclean.  The Lord uses this to show him that he,
    a Jew, is to go with the servants of Cornelius.  And as a result, the Gentiles are reached with the
    Gospel
  • Paul is guided by a dream to go to Macedonia and
    so Europe is evangelized.

We too have been guided by dreams
or visions on occasion.  For
example, one night I dreamed that we put a course that we used to run in our
home online so that it became available to a lot more people.  We have now done that and many churches
have started as a result.  Another
time I had a dream of a house being shifted on its foundations so that all the
rooms in it were skewed and out of shape. 
The Lord used that dream to cause us to re-examine some of the
foundations of the Kingdom work we were involved in.

In Acts 2, Peter, explains to the assembled
crowd what is going on when the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost.  He tells them, “Your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.”  Dreams and visions are to become the
norm. 

All over the world, God is
using dreams and visions to speak to people.  In some contexts that are hostile to the gospel, for example
in Muslim nations, it is becoming increasingly common for people to have a
vision or dream of a man dressed in white robes coming and speaking to them.  One of the ways of reaching out to the
lost in these nations is to ask people if they have had such a dream.  This then opens the door to explain
that the person they have seen is Jesus and to explain to them how to become
His follower.

One of the most common ways the Lord speaks to me is through a fleeting picture.  Is this a vision?  I'm not sure, but the impression, which is usually a picture in my mind that may last only a second or so, will open up a concept that the Lord uses.  An example:  in a time where a group of people were waiting on the Lord, just listening to what He wanted to say to us over a period of a couple of days, I had a brief picture of a key, but there was something about its design that meant it took a group of people to use it.  From that, the Lord showed us that there were certain situations we could only unlock corporately rather than individually.

If we are open to dreams and visions, the Lord will use them to speak to us.


What is our plumbline when we hear from God?

 

    Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light
to my path  (
Psalm 119)  Plumbline

 

God’s Word is
the yardstick by which all other revelation from God is measured.  In Hebrews it talks about becoming
skilled in the word because you use it (Hebrews 5:13-14)).  God’s word is living and active and
sharper than any two edged sword, and it works in our lives (Hebrews 4:12; 2
Timothy 3:16).  As we spend time in
the Word, letting it fill our minds and work in our hearts, all that goes on in
our lives will be influenced by it. 
It then becomes the standard by which we assess everything.

All of us have
probably experienced God speaking specifically to us through His Word, the
Bible.  It’s as though a verse
becomes highlighted as we read, almost as though it has been underlined.  It jumps out of the page at us. 

When Tony was
in medical school, one evening he attended a healing meeting where many people
were getting touched by God.  As he
watched what was going on, the healing evangelist suddenly joked, “Well, if
there are any doctors here, they will be looking for a new job.”  It was as though the Holy Spirit was
challenging Tony directly.  The
only thing that he had ever wanted to do was to be a doctor.   The Lord was facing him with the
fact that he had never actually asked God if He wanted him to be a doctor.  Then He had the thought, “You are to
leave medical school!”  Tony
returned to his room in turmoil. 
Did God really want him to leave the very prestigious medical school
that we both attended and give up the career that he had always longed for? 

Next morning in
his time with the Lord, Tony turned to his regular reading, Micah chapter 2.  He does not remember what the first few
verses said, but verse 10 says this. 
“Arise and go for this is no place for you to rest because of uncleanness…”  He could not mistake the meaning.  It took nine months, but eventually he
handed his resignation to the dean of the medical college.  He left the medical school and spent
two years at a Bible school, never dreaming that he would ever go back.  It was a total surprise when, at the
end of the two years, the Lord spoke equally clearly that he was to return.  And it was even more of a miracle that
the college accepted him back!

God often
speaks through the Scriptures. 
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus referring to the Old Testament to
explain what He was doing (e.g. Matthew 13:14-15; Luke 4:18-19).  The same is true for the disciples in
the Book of Acts (e.g. Acts 2:17-21). 
The scriptures are written for our instruction and guidance (2 Timothy
3:16) and we do well to have our lives guided and molded by them.

Even children can learn to hear God

John White wrote this very helpful comment on a post I wrote a few days ago.  It is worth repeating in the main blog.  It is another great example of what can happen when a group listens to God together.  There are many wonderful stories of what can happen when people listen to God on the blog he mentions at the end.

John writes:

"Rather than just talk about listening, we've found it transformational
to actually do this with people at every opportunity. Mary Geegh
describes this practice in her powerful little book "God Guides".
(Experiential learning vs theoretical learning) Then, we reinforce it
at every level. First, with our alone time with God each day. Then,
with our daily CO2s (churches of two which includes marriages). Then,
with our house churches. And, finally, with our regional leadership
teams (MRTs). In each situation we are seeking to follow in Jesus'
steps: "I do nothing on my own initiative. I only do what I see the
Father doing." (Jn. 5:19)

It's been especially fun to see how this works out in house churches.
We teach each church to simply ask the Lord one question each week:
"Jesus, what do you want to say to your church today." The group takes
20-30 minutes to listen and write what they hear in response to that
question. And, then, they come back together to share what they heard.
New Christians and children often are the best "hearers" in this
situation. What we are discovering is that Jesus is really quite good
at leading individual churches. (Who would have thought?!) As we listen
and obey, everything else seems to flow naturally – Bible study,
prayer, intimate fellowship, mission, etc. And, it makes starting new
churches quite simple.

Here's a short video on how one family is putting this into practice.
Very fun to see how the 7 and 10 year olds are "getting it"!
http://storiesfromtherevolution.blogspot.com/2010/02/c02-and-family.htm"

An example of what can happen when we listen to God together

Group praying

A few days ago I received an email that is a great example of what can happen when a group prays and listens to God corporately.  So this is a brief break from my thoughts on how to hear God.  The email is from Brenda Harkins.

"I am chiming in on this kind of late, but would like to share what happened at our gathering Saturday night.  We have been meeting for 15 months now and the first 10 months or so were very much like the passage you shared, David.  We prayed and listened and weren't afraid of silence and waited on the Lord to begin to orchestrate what He wanted to do during our time together.  I am not sure what happened, but somewhere we got out of step with that and the core team started having their own ideas about what we should "do" during our time together.  Everyone sensed a discontent and we all knew we weren't flowing in the Spirit as we had.  We kept saying, "We just need to make prayer the priority and not do anything until we pray."  But somehow we kept getting off track from even the simplicity of praying for guidance. Talk, talk, talk kept us from praying and seeking and listening. 

Well, Saturday night after our dinner and fellowship time we gathered in the living room and someone started to play some worship music, but our 14 yr. old daughter…who has been in on the conversations about our need to make prayer the priority…spoke up and said, "Can we just pray before we do anything else?"  So we prayed.  Boy, did we pray!  As we each began to just share our hearts with the Lord and ask for HIs guidance and pray as the Spirit was prompting us to pray, the Lord began to set the order for the night.  We were in and out of prayer for hours, being interrupted by a song someone would share, a tongue, an interpretation, prophetic words and specific prayer over individuals as the Lord led.  Then as one prayer was for the eyes of our heart to be enlightened, we turned to Ephesians and spent another hour…actually almost two hours…pulling treasures out from the first two chapters of Ephesians.  At midnight…six hours after we began…we started to feel the intensity of His presence lift, but a sweetness remained that kept us just talking and sharing in groups of 2 and 3 for awhile longer.  As the last person drove away Mike and I turned to each other and said, "Now THAT is what we've been missing!"  And it was all because of prayer.

 

It's not about our agendas or good ideas…whether agreed upon by all or not.  It's all about Jesus.  And if we can't get into agreement about seeking Him first before we do anything on our "list", then we will continue to settle for mediocre at best.  I have learned all over again the simplicity of prayer.  Why is it so easy to forget?  And even in saying this I know I am in danger of trying to replicate what happened Saturday night…and it's not about that either.  It's about seeking Him together…fervently…and not stopping until He begins to move.  What He does may, and probably will, look different every time.  But if we want HIM to be the orchestrator of our time together, I believe all over again that sincere, fervent, unified prayer is the key."

When we pray and listen to God together, He shows up!

How do we hear God?

God delights to communicate with
us.  He loves to answer our
questions.  He conveys His approval
and acceptance of us.  He guides us
when we do not know what to do.  He
brings light when something is bothering us.  There are no shadows in His goodness.  He loves us to seek Him and pursue Him,
and He delights even more to reveal Himself to us.

Puppy listening to music

There are many promises in the
Word of God that highlight God’s desire to speak to us.  The Scriptures say that He will guide
us, give us wisdom, communicate with us (Romans 8:14; James 1:5; 1 Corinthians
2:10-12).

So how does God communicate with
us today? 

  1. His sheep recognize His voice.

Most of the
time, as described above, God speaks to us through our own thoughts.  So how can we learn to recognize and
identify His voice?  I could be in
a room with a hundred people, all of them speaking out loud, and I would
instantly recognize the voice of my husband, Tony (and not just because he
would be the only one speaking with a British accent!)  What is the reason for this?  I love to spend time with Tony.  We spend hours enjoying each other’s
company.  In human terms, there is
no one else I would rather spend time with.  Over the thirty five years that we have been married, it has
come to the point where we regularly think the same thoughts simultaneously and
complete each other’s sentences. 

God longs for
an intimate relationship with us too. 
As we spend time with Him, we learn to recognize His voice.  As we read His word, we come to
understand His ways and His thoughts. 
There is no substitute for time spent in His presence, adoring Him,
loving Him, meditating on His Word and His character and listening to what He
has to say to us. 

I learned to
recognize how God speaks to me many years ago.  At that time I used to do a lot of counseling.  Several times a week people would come
to me with their problems.  In
order to cut down on the amount of time it took to get to the root of their
problem and to find a solution, I developed the habit of praying for them
before they came.  I would empty my
mind of my own thoughts by waiting on God, and I would pray for them, often in
tongues.  Then I would write down
the thoughts that came into my mind. 
Later, after the counseling session was over, I would go back to my
prayer journal and see if I had written anything relevant to their
situation.  Most of the time I
had.  Obviously not everything I
wrote was relevant, but usually, 85-90% of the time, a good portion of it
specifically addressed their problem. 
I would note this down.  As
this happened more and more frequently, I gained a confidence that God would
speak to me in that way.

[Oral Roberts
addresses this use of speaking in tongues in his book, A Daily Guide to Miracles. 
In a section entitled, “I speak to God; God speaks to me,” Roberts
describes that when we pray in tongues, we are speaking to God.  We can trust that the thoughts that we
have while this is going on are God speaking back to us.]

Mark Virkler
also talks about God speaking to us. 
Many years ago I read his book entitled Dialog with God.  In it
he describes a way of learning to listen to God.  One of the things he writes about is the art of
journaling.  If we deliberately
quiet our hearts before God, waiting in His presence, God will speak to
us.  When we have entered that place
of knowing we are in His presence, where our minds are not distracted by a
myriad of thoughts about the affairs of our day, then we write down the
thoughts that come into our minds without attempting to make any sense of them
until we have finished writing. 
When the stream of thoughts comes to an end, we then go over what we
have written.  Does it make
sense?  Is it in accord with
Scriptural principle? 

I use this
pattern frequently.  Usually I have
spent time in the Word and time worshipping God.  I will then quiet my mind by waiting on God, bringing every
thought captive to Him so that I am no longer working with my preconceived
ideas.  Then I will write down a
question.  It may be as simple as,
“Is there anything want to say to me today?”  Or maybe it will be more specific—“What do you want me to do
about this situation?”  Then I
start to write down the thoughts that come into my mind.  Usually I will write for several
minutes.  When the flow of writing
stops, I go over what I have written to see if it is relevant.

My experience
is that much of the time, what I write is in general good, but fairly
non-specific.  It is Scriptural, but
not life-changing.  But sometimes
it brings clear revelation from the Lord, often about the Scriptures I have
been meditating on.  And
occasionally it is a very specific word. 
For example, a few months ago, I wrote that it appeared as though He was
warning me that I was going to experience a very specific kind of spoken attack
that I would not be expecting and from someone that I thought was a
friend.  He also stated that it would
rebound to His glory.  Within three
days, the contents of a phone call absolutely shocked me.  But I was prepared.  It meant that I was able to deal with
the situation it represented in a more godly fashion.

Quite often God
speaks through a picture.  At a
personal level, I tend to be more auditory than visual.  I tend to think in words rather than
pictures.  But often I will catch a
glimpse of a picture as I am praying. 
As I think about what I have seen, concepts come into my mind and the
meaning becomes clear and relevant.

It does not
take long interacting with the Lord in this way before one becomes familiar
with the way the Holy Spirit speaks and learns to trust the quiet whisper in
the heart.