The Holy Spirit: Listening to God’s Voice

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human – I’m one of the pastors here at Journey.  And it’s a joy to speak with you today.

Today we are going to learn that it is God’s desire to communicate with each of us on a personal level.    Do you know that it is God’s desire to speak with you directly and personally?  Today we are going to learn about how God communicates with us each personally and directly.

Can I ask you – Is there anything inside of you right now that’s like, “Hold on, man”  that feels weird.  Are you telling me that God wants to communicate with me?

Yes he does.  And that shouldn’t feel weird to us.  We are, after all, in a relationship – a friendship with God.  He is with us – walking alongside us.  How is it possible to be in a relationship with someone who never talks back to you?  Who never initiates the conversation?

Does prayer seem weird?  No – everyone knows that a follower of Jesus will be a praying person.  But what is prayer?  Talking to God about matters of mutual concern.  But – why then should we think that it’s weird to imagine that God will talk back to us?

God is far more than a divine benefactor – some distant God who did something nice for us.  No!  The Bible uses the most intimate of terms to describe the relationship between God and us – his people.  The Bible likens the church and Jesus to a bride and groom.  That’s as close a relationship as possible – at least as close as a parent and child – which the bible also uses o describe God and us.

It’s  Jesus who in John 15:15 tells us – listen – this relationship between us – it’s not servant/master relationship – no – I have come to call you my friend.

So the Bible covers all of our closest relationship ties – parent – spouse – friend – and in each of those it makes pains to tell us that’s how personally God treats us.

So – how can there be anything personal about our walk with God if he doesn’t treat us with enough dignity to even speak with us?   Friends talk to one another.  Parents talk to their children.  What’s Kyle and Rachel saying to their little daughter right now?  Goo Goo Gaa gaa.  I love you so much.

Of course God wants to communicate with us – personally and directly.  Of course.

We’re in a series here about the Holy Spirit – This week I searched through all the references of the Holy Spirit in the NT – and let me tell you what I learned about the Holy Spirit – we learn about him by learning what it is he does.

Sends. (Mark 1:12, Acts 13:4)

Leads (Matt 4:1, Lk 4:13)

Speaks (Mt 10:20, Mk 13:11, 12:26, Acts 10:19)

Encourages (Acts 9:31)             

Teaches (Lk 12:12)

Reminds us of Jesus’ word. (John 14:26)

He also Reveals (Lk 2:26), Moves (L 2:27)  Empowers (Lk 4:14)  Emboldens (Acts 4:71) Fills people with Joy (Lk 10:21)  Calls people into ministry (Acts 13:2) He tells us to GO – Acts 15:28   Sometimes he tells us NO – Acts 16:7

He pours God’s love into our hearts – Romans 5  – Governs our minds – (Romans 8:6) Helps us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26) Loves us (Romans 15:30)

This is – by the way – a small sampling of the work that the Holy Spirit does in our day to day life.  And so – the question is – how is the Holy Spirit of God going to do any of those let alone all of them – unless he is communicating to us.

Would you allow yourself for a moment to believe that followers of Jesus are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God – where not only are we granted the privilege of speaking to God – but we are also given the honor of being spoken to.

This morning we are going to answer three questions.

  1. What does the Holy Spirit talk to us about?
  2. How does the Holy Spirit talk to us?
  3. What can we develop a heart that hears?

Now – I read an interesting statement this week – the author of the book stated that in his study about hearing God speak – many followers of Jesus have at least one story in their life about a time when they know that God spoke to them.

However – he claims – most people are reluctant to talk about it – why?   Because people are afraid that they will not be taken seriously.  That somehow they would not be believed – and to them – that time God spoke to them is too precious a thing to be risked being treated dismissively.

I wonder if that’s not true for you.  Are you able to identify a time in your life when you know that God spoke to you?  Well, this morning I want to encourage and convince you that hearing God doesn’t need to be a once in a lifetime type thing.

God is relational and enjoys speaking with us and to us.  So let’s talk specifically about how the Holy Spirit speaks to us.  And what we can do to help learn how to hear Him when he speaks.

But first – the caveats.   The prerequisites – so to speak.  Two primary issues in order to hear God speak.

First – Being able to hear God speak to us on a regular basis comes after we make the call to place our faith in Jesus.

Now this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak to people who are not yet believers – he certainly does and can.  You certainly can hear from God but what you will be hearing is God telling you to place your faith in Jesus and what he has done for you on the cross.

In fact right now there are startling reports of Jesus appearing to Muslims in their dreams inviting them to come and follow him.

And maybe you are here this morning because you too – have sensed God wooing you to himself.  It might not have been a dream – but something inside of you is responding to a call from God who is always at work in everyone we see – and who extends to each of us an invitation – come and find Jesus – come and find life.

In other words – the day to day living with God by my side aspect that we will be talking to – as a father speaks to his child – belongs to those who have in fact been adopted into His family – how?  Through faith in Jesus – By thinking highly enough of Jesus to trust Him with every aspect of our life.

And some of you might even right now as I’m speaking be sensing in your heart that what I am saying is right and you can sense God calling you to himself.  That’s real.  That’s not emotion. That’s not wishful thinking.

That feeling you have is God wooing you to Himself.  Extending you an invitation – come weary one.  Find rest in the one who will never leave your side by placing your faith in Jesus.

Secondly – it’s very important we understand that the Bible is God’s primary way of speaking to us.  And therefore it is imperative we read it.  We memorize it.  We allow God’s word to instruct and teach us.

If the Holy Spirit is sent to remind us of Jesus’ words- how is that going to happen unless we crack open Jesus teaching and learn it?

The Holy Spirit always has a Bible in His hands – so to speak – and primary way the Holy Spirit communicates to us is to whisper an encouragement from it into our soul.

Furthermore – nothing you ever hear from God will contradict Scripture.  In fact – it’s important that we know God’s word well enough that we can measure whatever we feel God speaking to us against it.

God will never tell you to do something that is forbidden in this book.  We always measure what we believe God is speaking to us about – with – does it line up with Scripture.

So those are the two major pre-requisites for hearing from God.  Now let’s talk about the two most common areas of discussion.   What does God speak to us about?

And the answer is – God speaks to us about what we are doing together.  Prayer is always speaking to God about areas of mutual concern.  And when God speaks to us – he is always talking about what he and I are doing together.

In two specific areas.  What we are doing together about our personal transformation.   What we are doing with Him to become the new kind of human that Jesus describes us becoming.  He speaks to me and about what he and I are going to do together to become like Jesus.  This is an internal thing.  My personal transformation.  God working ON me.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to be who Jesus said we can be.  And so will frequently led and direct us – and often convict and correct us – to keep us on the path towards personal transformation.

The second area we can expect God to lead and direct us in is about What we are doing together to be agents of love and grace in this kind of world.  What we are up to, together – he and I – to be salt and light in the world.   God working Through me.

It is the job of the Holy Spirit to give us the power to do what God directs us to do – which is to be the salt and light – to be agents of love in this kind of world.

These are the two spheres that God will speak to us about.  What he and I am doing together to be changed from the inside out.  And what God and I are doing together about changing this world we live in – and being agents of love and life – Salt and Light –

The Holy Spirit gives me the power to BE who God says I can be – and the power to DO what Jesus teaches me I can do.

Okay – now let’s talk about the how.  How does the Holy Spirit speak to us?

Allow me to show you from Scripture six ways that God speaks to people.  this list is not exhaustive, but it covers a lot of the basics.

  1. Through our Conscience: Romans 9:1 With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. 

In John 16, Jesus tells us that one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of our sin.  And so – there is a natural interaction between the Spirit of God and a healthy conscience.

Now a word of warning here – the conscience is not an infallible guide.

The Bible talks quite a bit in fact about even believers who have weak consciences.  So a conscience can be broken – seared by continual exposure to sin.

There are people who are so evil – they do so many bad things – people ay – how can you sleep at night?  They sleep like babies – because their conscience is seared and feels nothing.

Others have overactive consciences that make them feel guilty when they are not – and part of the Job of the Holy Spirit is to confirm to our spirits that all is well – no need to feel guilty – your conscience is broken the other way.

That said – a healthy conscience will feel something when they head down a wrong path – and often the Holy Spirit can use our conscience to get us back on track – or it can compel us to do the right thing.

  1. An inner knowledge: Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

And in most translations it says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit.  What does that mean?  It means that God will often speak to us at the gut level.

You know in your gut.  Now again – this is not an infallible guide – but there comes times in your life when you just know that you know and you can’t explain it.

I remember before I was married I lived with a bunch of singe guys – and they all had their problems.  And one day I went into my room and noticed that some money I had left on my desk had disappeared – and although there were four of us in the house – I knew which one it was.  And when I approached him – he denied it and denied it and even went so far as to start crying – Phil I thought you trusted me – I don’t know how you could think I did this…  But I knew.  And I didn’t budge.  And I told him that money re-appears by the end of the day or I’m kicking him out.

It was $20, by the way.  You don’t want to come between me and twenty dollars.

About an hour later I went upstairs and noticed that in the crease of some pants on my dresser was a $20 bill.  Concealed from view – and so I went to the guy and said – thank you for returning my money.  And he said – I didn’t put that – did you find it?

And you know what – I knew as sure as if you spoke to me out loud that he had stolen it and put it back.  Anyway – he left a few months later only to return one night about a year later – when he rang my doorbell – and said – I did steal your money.  And I said, Dude.  I knew.  No kidding.

  1. A Lightbulb comes on. an Illumination

1 Cor 2:10  10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 

Have you ever been reading something from the bible and you say to yourself – Hold on!  Since when was THAT in there?  I don’t ever remember reading THAT before!  Many of you have testimonies that go something like this – I grew up in a church where I heard about Jesus – but one day I went and it sounded like something I had never heard before.  I got it!  I understood for the first time!

That is the Holy Spirit speaking with you.  Illuminating something – clicking on the light bulb for the first time!  It’s the job of the Holy Spirit to click on the lightbulb – for us to get it.

I have to admit there have been too many to count times in my life when after a service someone sends me a note or a message to say – I really appreciated the message today – God spoke to me so much about my pride and how I needed to humble myself and ask for forgiveness.  I’ll never forget this sermon on forgiveness – and I read that and say praise the Lord.  Especially because the sermon was about Moses and the burning bush.  I don’t even think I said the word forgiveness in the whole sermon.  That’s okay – it’s the Holy Spirit directing – illuminating.

  1. A nudge: 11 “Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles.

The Holy Spirit is a nudger.  This is especially true when it comes to how we are working together to be salt and light in the world.  Ever have someone come to mind for no good reason- there they are – and you think – I should call them, or you feel a nudge to do something for them and you don’t know why?

Welcome to the nudge.  Last week my wife Jody said – you know who has been on my heart a lot recently?  And she told me about someone from the church who has been in the hospital of late – and Jody said – I feel like we should visit him.  Let’s swing by the hospital on my way home from teaching school – we can meet here and visit him.

And so I’m like – okay.  It’s not registering as anything other than a good idea – but here’s the deal.  We visit the guy and at one point his eyes welled up and he said – it’s weird that you came to visit me today – I was just talking to God about how I needed to know that He was still on God’s radar – and so he said, I thought it would be nice to see you – and here you are the same day.

And inside I was puddled up – and I looked at Jody and afterward said thank you for listening to the nudge of God.  Who placed a burden – a whisper – and you responded.

Sometimes it’s a nudge, othertimes we feel compelled – our spirit says – this must happen.

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.

That’s an interesting verse – he felt compelled even though he knew of the hardship that awaited.  And I can’t help but think of all of the young followers of Jesus who got on boats to sail ll around the world to bring the good news of Jesus – most of whom knew that they were never coming back.  That sickness and disease and death had claimed many before them – and yet – knowing the hardship – felt compelled to go.

  1. A check in your spirit

Acts 16:6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time.

If a nudge is a feeling that we should do something – the check is something inside of us that says – wait.  Don’t do it.  And often there isn’t a clear cut reason – but as we grow in our faith and learn to trust His leading – we hear his NO and clearly as we hear his GO.

  1. Vision and Dreams Acts :16:That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

Now this one is a little different – but some people are tuned into this frequency where they see visions, prophecies – dreams.

  1. The Still small voice.

I Kings 1912 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 

We often want God to speak to us in thunder – but He often speaks to us in a gentle whisper.  Lauren Wells has a song out now called God whispers because he’s close.

Now these are seven ways – and there are others – you can do your own study – and what you will see though is how normal – not crazy – normal it was for people to hear God speak to them through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lastly – How?  How are we to hear God’s voice speak to us?  What can we do to cultivate a heart that hears God?

Here’s a couple of things.  I think we must give God the opportunity and create the space for God to do it.  Create the Space for God to speak – give him regular opportunities to speak to us.  And secondly – we want to cultivate spiritual habits – disciplines that will help us hear better.

I recently was talking to a young woman who said that she has been drawn toward including times of silence into her day.  She said – honestly – I listen to music – I have my headphones on – when I get in the car the music is pumping – I’ve got noise in my ears from morning until night time – and she said – I’ve noticed that at night – when I try to go to bed – my mind starts racing.

And – she said – I think I’ve come to realize my soul likes silence.  So I’m starting to try to include times of scheduled silence in my life.

That’s creating space – if you are jamming your head full of sound all day long – good luck hearing a whisper.

And I think that’s great.  Now some of you – that idea of silence scares you.  But I will tell you that the single most transformative change in my life I’ve made over the past five years?  I turned off the radio in my car and drive in silence.  And my soul loves it.  And when I do turn on the radio internally I cringe.

Now I get it – that worship is important – songs are important – but silence is a necessary ingredient if we are going to learn to hear God speak to us.

Secondly – we need cultivate habits into our times of prayer – a chance for God to respond.

Here are two spiritual habits you can do right now.  And one of them is a slight tweak to what you might already be doing.

Read – Reflect – Respond in prayer – and many of you are doing just this already – we often call this doing devotionals.  Quiet time with God.  But many of us can add one more step to our devotional life that will help us learn to hear him better…  and that is to – Rest.  Just be quiet – listen for his response.

Ask God what he wants to talk about.  Listen.

Secondly –  Last week we handed out books we made up to encourage us to participate in a new spiritual exercise aimed at helping us hear from God on a regular basis.  It’s called the Examen – and here is how it works…

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