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How can I learn to listen and obey Godís voice?


How can I learn to listen and obey Godís voice? How can I distinguish between Godís voice and other voices?

Steve Answers:

A few years ago there was a fad called WWJD (What would Jesus do?). Remember that?

Actually, more than 100 years ago Charles Sheldon wrote a story called In His Steps. The book is about committing to doing nothing without first asking the question “What would Jesus do?” And then, when you identify what that is, do it no matter what the cost.

In Sheldon’s fictional story, individuals take this WWJD pledge and then begin to do things differently than other people expect them to do. Some church people tell them they are getting too fanatical and should be more normal. Some lose friends and finances. But they also seem to go deeper in their passion for Christ.

The reason the story is fictional is that no church has taken that pledge.

Or haven’t they?

Have you? It sounds as though you want to do this.

I tried it with a youth group one summer. The thing we found more difficult than following through with what Jesus would do was figuring out what Jesus would actually do. Like you, we found ourselves asking “How can I tell what God wants me to do?” or “How can I find out what Jesus would do in my situation?”

Remember the story of when the boy named Samuel first received a direct message from God? This was something he could hear. You can read about it in 1 Samuel 3. When Samuel heard his name called, he went to Eli, his grandfather figure and mentor at the tabernacle. Verse 7 reads, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before” (NLT).¹ After running to Eli three times, the old man, Eli, told Samuel that the next time he heard his name called, he should respond, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:9, KJV).

I love that story! But it has never happened to me. So while I believe it is true, I know it doesn’t happen to everyone, and it doesn’t happen all the time to some people who hear a voice once in a while.

In 1 Samuel 15 you can read the story of a message God gave to King Saul through Samuel. God had passed judgment on the Amalekite nation for what they did to God’s people in their wilderness wanderings. The instructions for King Saul were for him to destroy the Amalekites and all they had in the form of a sacrificial offering. But Saul only destroyed part of the Amalekite nation, leaving the best things to use for sacrifices to God later (or so he said).

When Samuel confronted Saul about disobeying what God had told him to do, Saul replied that he had obeyed God. For some strange reason Saul claimed that he had obeyed God when he obviously had not. And he made the claim twice! That makes me wonder how often I have claimed to be following God when I really was doing my own version of what God wanted me to do. Have you ever wondered about that in yourself?

Back to your two questions: How can I learn to listen and obey God’s voice? And how can I distinguish between God’s voice and other voices?

Let me give you two extremes.

Extreme 1: Make a fire with dried sycamore branches. Boil four gallons of water from the Jordan River. Put in one tenth of an ephah of salt from the Dead Sea. After the water boils, drop in three hairs from the mane of an Arabian horse. Then drink half a liter of the liquid, and you will know when God speaks to you.

Extreme 2: Wait until you hear an audible voice. Then go to your mentor three times. After that, the next time God speaks you will recognize it as the voice of God. Until this happens, just do what older religious people tell you to do.

The first extreme is a magical formula I made up to illustrate that some people are looking for something strange or unusual to tap into the supernatural. Witch doctors are known for this type of thing. I certainly don’t recommend this extreme!

The second extreme is also a formula, but this one is scientific rather than magical. In Western countries we are more likely to look for a scientific formula. If I just do these three logical things, then God will do His part 77.7 percent of the time. For example, if I read the Bible and pray every day, then God will give me the messages or at least the impressions I need.

But God isn’t a formula. And God doesn’t want a formulaic relationship with us. He wants to be friends. So neither of these extremes is the one to follow.

How do you get to know somebody? Usually by being around that person or finding out about that person from others. Nowadays you can get to know people you’ve never seen, thanks to social networking and technology.

The same is true with God. You can get to know Him by finding out for yourself and by finding out from others. Talk to others who are asking the same question and see what they have discovered. Talk to some who have asked this question years ago and find out what they say.

Here’s what I’d tell you if you asked me how I listen to God’s voice. For me, I find it primarily in the Bible. I read the Bible just about every day. Some days it seems as though the message comes directly from God to me. On other days it seems to be just a good message, but not necessarily for me for that moment. Some of my favorite parts of the Bible are Psalms, Proverbs, 1 John, Luke, Esther, Acts, Genesis, Matthew, Romans, Daniel, and the Gospel of John.

I know other people who get their messages from God when they pray. They talk, but they also wait quietly and patiently to get impressions from God, and they take that as the message God has for them. I haven’t been as certain when doing this as they seem to be. It works for them.

I’ve also received messages for my relationship with God by reading a small book called Steps to Christ, by Ellen White. That book influenced me so much that I wrote my own paraphrase of it, called Connection: How to Have a Relationship With God. Like all relationships, it takes investment, talking and listening, clarifying, being honest, changing, following through, asking for forgiveness, celebrating, and just hanging out together. It’s a relationship!

Here’s a popular Bible verse to answer your question: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV).2 In other words, you’ve got to be serious about it and really go for it. Many give up after merely a halfhearted attempt.

By the way, the context for that verse in Jeremiah 29 is God’s people in captivity in Babylon. Their prophets were telling them that God would quickly destroy Babylon and God’s people could immediately return to Jerusalem. But Jeremiah’s message was just the opposite, and he said the other prophets were speaking lies.

How is a person to know? Here’s a clue. We tend to be more open to hear what we want to hear or what is easy or what requires no change. So for us to listen to God’s voice requires that we have a willingness to give up our preconceived ideas and desires and be willing to follow God no matter where that takes us. When we’re willing to do that, and we start doing that, then we can look for God’s activity and put ourselves there. That’s a great way to start discerning God’s voice and to receive supernatural power to follow what God says.

1Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
2Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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