Vision of God’s Longing to Commune with Man
Baptism Message No. 9
Eric H.H. Chang
Montreal, January 6, 1985
The loss of God’s presence
I once woke up in the middle of the night and suddenly, for a few minutes, it seemed as if God’s presence had left me. It was like a spiritual blackout that had switched off the lights. In those moments of darkness, there was a frightening sense of emptiness and of being forsaken by God.
It was a whole new experience for me. It lasted only a few minutes, yet it drove home forcefully, as never before, the fact that if God should ever withdraw His presence from us or we lose fellowship with Him, life would lose all meaning.
Of course if I had never experienced God’s sweet presence, I would not have noticed the difference. But in those few moments when His presence seemed to have left me, I woke up and exclaimed, “Where is the Lord? What is happening to my line of communication?” Emptiness and meaninglessness seized my heart.
God undoubtedly gave me this experience partly for your sake because I had been meditating on today’s subject for some time. Without this experience I wouldn’t be able to give this sermon with the level of conviction as I now have.
It reminds me of a childhood incident when I was four years old. My father was playing hide and seek with me. He hid from me so well that I was searching for him in vain and began to feel abandoned. Yet all the while he was stalking behind me. But his movements were so fast and agile that I, as a small boy, could not turn around fast enough to see him. When he saw that I was becoming despondent, he came up to me with a smile: “Look, I’ve been with you all the time.”
That nightmarish experience of being forsaken by God (cf. Psalm 22:1) left me with a deeper appreciation of God’s presence and care. He was showing me that His presence is vital to my life. It is something that is easily taken for granted until you lose it.
Experiencing the Lord
Brothers and sisters, nothing is as vital to our Christian lives as communion with God. It is inconceivable that anyone can live the Christian life meaningfully without communing with Him.
How then is your communion with God? Would it make any difference to your life if you are not getting through to Him?
When I share about my experiences of God—telling others of how God spoke to me or did something through me—the usual reaction is one of amazement as if these things no longer happen. Many Christians are astonished that miracles still happen today and that God still speaks to people.
I was wondering if I was a spiritual oddity, a relic or throwback from the distant past. But shouldn’t these experiences be the norm in the Christian life? Why do we suppose that miracles and communication with God do not happen today? Few people echo with me when I share about my experiences of God.
When I was a young Christian, I sought God’s will for my life. What does He want me to do? Where does He want me to go? One time, as I knelt before God in prayer, He said to me in a clear and distinct voice, “I will take you out of China”. The voice was so clear that it startled me. It came from behind me, so I turned around to see who was speaking. Yet I was all alone in the room. I was a young believer then, and it was the first time He spoke to me.
Isaiah 30:21 says, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” If the Old Testament saints could have direct communication with God, how much more shall we in the New Testament age? It is an age in which the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh, accompanied by prophecies, visions, dreams, and communication with God (Acts 2:16-18).
In my walk with God, He speaks to me in one way or another. He seldom does it in an audible voice but more often through an inner communication. This kind of communication is common in the Bible, so could it be that we Christians are not living as we ought to? In my reading of Scripture, I see nothing unique or special about my relationship with God. Similar things are recorded in Scripture, beginning with Adam in the book of Genesis and going right up to John in Revelation. Without a communications link with God, I don’t see how you can survive as a Christian or experience joy in the Christian life.
God communicates with man
To crystallize the matter, let us ask a fundamental question: Why did God create us in the first place? The answer is found in the Bible: Right from the beginning, in Genesis 3, God already talks with man. Why would God walk in the Garden of Eden if not to fellowship with Adam and Eve? Why would He create man if not to commune with him?
We were created in God’s image so that God may communicate with us. Deep communion with God is possible becase we share a common image with Him. We cannot have deep communication with a dog because a dog is made not in man’s image. But God made us in His image so that He may communicate with us at the deepest level. Scripture often reveals a God who wants to communicate with us, in fact more so than we want to communicate with Him. Few know the longing in His heart to fellowship with us.
In fact we can know God better than we know anyone else in the world, for God reveals Himself in every page of Scripture. The Bible has over a thousand pages, each of which reveals something about Him. You can write more about God than about your wife in terms of her biographical details.
All through Scripture we see God communing with man. Genesis 3:9ff gives the first recorded conversation between God and man (not counting Gen.2:16-17 in which God speaks to Adam but not in a two-way dialogue). At that point, man had sinned and lost the privilege of intimate communion with God. But the word “lost” must be qualified because the lost communication can be restored through repentance. In the Old Testament age, God continued to communicate with many of His people. If He communicated with people in the old covenant, how much more in the new covenant?
God wants us to be with Him
God has made Himself known to us through His son Jesus Christ who functions as His visible representative; hence Paul speaks of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6). Hence “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1Jn.1:3).
Paul offers a glimpse into Jesus’ heart: “He died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him” (1Th.5:10). But how can we live with him without communicating with him?
Jesus died for us so that we may live “with him” and not merely for him. He died for us, not only that we may receive the forgiveness of sin but much more to remove the barrier between God and man. Indeed the “man Christ Jesus” is the mediator between God and man (1Tim.2:5).
The words “live with him” are significant. Jesus chose his disciples “so that they might be with him” (Mk.3:14). But as we just saw in 1Th.5:10 (“we might live with him”), this applies to us too. Jesus died for us having in view that we might live with him.
In the Greek, there is a difference between the two verses just quoted. In Mark 3:14, the Twelve were chosen to be “with” (Greek meta) him in the sense of physical presence. 1Thessalonians 5:10, on the other hand, has the tiny but powerful word syn (“together with”) which expresses union and communion. The twelve disciples were with Jesus physically but one of them, Judas, was not with him spiritually. Judas was with (meta) Jesus physically but not spiritually (syn). Initially the other disciples were likewise not with Jesus in a deep spiritual way, and this carried on until Pentecost.
Here syn expresses spiritual togetherness, a communion that is deeper than physical presence. Jesus invites everyone to “come to me” (Mt.11:28). In this invitation do we feel his longing to be with us? He lamented man’s unwillingness to be with him in these painful words, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling” (Mt.23:37). Do we feel the yearning of his heart to fellowship with us?
Lukewarmness: A barrier to communion with God
Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev.3:20)
This precious verse is often quoted by evangelists as if it were addressed to non-Christians. In fact it is addressed to Christians and specifically to the church at Laodicea which had been pervaded by a dangerous lukewarmness.
Lukewarmness is the reason that few Christians are in communion with God today. We want to gain eternal life but are unwilling to accept the cost of following Him. We commune with Him but only at our convenience or when we need Him; but when we don’t need Him, we don’t talk to Him. But God doesn’t function on those terms, and is not there to be exploited. He communes with those who seek after Him with all their heart: “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jer.29:13).
No lukewarm person can commune with God. If we dabble with religion and with God while pursuing after the world, we cannot hope to get through to Him. I wonder if the fatal disease of the church today is a lack of seriousness in the things which are eternal.
Christians who claim to be committed to God may discover, when met with temptation or difficult situations, that they are not committed after all. There is a big place in their hearts for the world, the flesh, money, position and academic status. If anything other than God is dear to you, it will stop you from communing with Him.
Hearing the Lord’s voice
Revelation 3:20 reveals the depth of Jesus’ longing to commune with us, and mirrors God’s longing, for God lives “in Christ” (2Cor.5:19). He will dine with us and we with him. The communication is bilateral or bidirectional, not one-way.
This involves two stages. First, we hear his voice calling to us outside the door. This is the first and preliminary stage, and is not, as we tend to think, the highest stage. Hearing his voice is only the preparation for opening the door.
The next step, after you hear his voice and invite him in, is a blessed dinner fellowship. The dinner is a relaxed and intimate fellowship with the Lord, and enriches our inner being just as a good meal gives physical nourishment and satisfaction.
The sweet communion unites our will with the Lord’s will, and helps us understand what Jesus meant when he said “my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (Jn.4:34). The Father’s will is our food too if we commune with God.
The word “voice” occurs frequently in John’s gospel and is a key word in Revelation. The Greek word phōnē (“voice, sound, utterance”) occurs 139 times in the New Testament, and 55 times in Revelation alone, accounting for 40% of the New Testament occurrences. The book of Acts is a distant second with 27 occurrences.
Revelation begins and ends with a great voice. In chapter one, John says, “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (1:10). Near the end of Revelation, he says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne” (21:3).
In both cases, a voice delivers a supremely important message. In the first case, the Lord instructs John to write to seven churches. In the latter case, the Lord gives John a grand revelation of New Jerusalem. Hence Revelation begins and ends with a great voice that speaks great things.
The Lord’s voice is mentioned four times in John chapter 10, e.g., “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (v.27). It is ultimately the Father who speaks through Jesus: “For I do not speak of my own accord but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (Jn.12:49)
God’s voice saved me from death
God spoke to me when I was a young Christian, and continues to speak to me to this day, as in a recent incident that took place at an intersection near my home. In Canada, when a car reaches a four-way stop sign, it must come to a full halt. Whoever stops first has the right to cross first. I stopped at such an intersection, and was about to accelerate when God clearly said to me, “Stop, don’t step on the accelerator!” So I stopped. Then a bus tore across the intersection. The bus driver failed to stop not only at the stop sign but also for the bus stop just before the intersection.
Had I gone on ahead, the bus would have smashed into the right side of my car. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what would have happened if my car had been struck by a large bus running at 50 kms per hour. After the bus tore across the intersection, the driver slammed on the brakes. I sat in the car taking in the whole scene in astonishment. Hearing the voice of God can be a matter of life and death.
In Scripture, there is nothing unusual about this kind of experience. The voice of the Lord is part of the normal Christian life. If we hear his voice and open the door of our heart to him, he will come in to fellowship with us. “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1Jn.1:3).
The first way God speaks: publicly to a multitude
Many Christians think that God keeps silent, but the fact is that He is more eager to speak to us than we are to listen to Him. He speaks to people in various ways. In fact there are five ways in which God speaks so that we may hear His voice. He speaks not just to “elite” Christians but also to “ordinary” folk.
The first way in which God speaks is publicly to a multitude. The gospels record three occasions in which He spoke publicly. On two of the occasions, He spoke straight from heaven to a gathered multitude such that they heard His voice speaking directly to them.
At Jesus’ baptism, God spoke audibly from heaven to the multitudes, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt.3:17).
The second case took place at the transfiguration of Jesus when God’s voice spoke from a bright cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt.17:5). This time God spoke to a smaller audience, namely, three of Jesus’ disciples.
Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, God spoke again to a gathered multitude. Jesus was facing the imminent reality of the cross, and was about to lay down his life. In this hour of decision, Jesus said to his Father, “Glorify Your name” (Jn.12:28). Suddenly God’s voice answered from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The multitudes heard the voice from heaven and even debated over it, with some concluding, “An angel has spoken to him” (v.29). Then Jesus said to them, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine” (v.30).
There is a striking pattern: God spoke publicly to the nation of Israel at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, then to three disciples in the middle of his ministry, then again to the nation at the end of his ministry.
In the Old Testament, at the giving of the Ten Commandments, God’s voice spoke directly to the Israelites who were gathered at Sinai (Exodus 20). They were so terrified that they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die” (v.19).
God’s voice is not some mysterious thing. When necessary for the occasion, God will speak directly from heaven to a multitude.
Second way: God speaks through His word
But God does not usually speak audibly to a multitude but only in special or momentous events in history. The second way in which God speaks to us is far more common: We hear His voice through the word of God—usually the Scriptures—delivered to us. To understand this, we first note the close link between “voice” and “word”.
When Moses was addressing the nation of Israel, he recounted to them the incident (which I just cited) of the Israelites being frightened by God’s voice:
“Then Yahweh spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to keep, that is, the ten commandments …” (Dt.4:12-13).
Here Moses speaks of “words” and “voice” (see the underlined), indicating a close link between the two. Likewise Jesus’ voice speaks to us through his words recorded in the gospels. Those who have ears to hear will discern his voice and words.
Yet there is a distinction between voice and word. The voice delivers the word but not only the word. Through variables such as speed, volume, and intonation, the voice convey things that words alone cannot. The voice expresses more than the literal word, for the way something is said and the feelings behind it can affect the hearer.
The spoken word and the printed word have different effects on a person even if the words are identical. This explains the Israelites’ frightened reaction to God’s voice when they heard His words accompanied by thunder and lightning—and a trumpet—and with the mountain blazing with fire and smoke (Ex.20:18; Dt.5:4, 22-27; Heb.12:18-21). But when we read these verses in a Bible, the words do not have the awe-inspiring effect they had on the Israelites when they heard it with their own ears.
While there is common ground between voice and word, there is also a distinction. In any case, it is the voice that delivers the word, and the word that contains the message.
Many want to hear God’s voice but they ignore what He has already said in His word. We must follow the example of the Psalmist and meditate on God’s word day and night (Psalm 1:2; Joshua 1:8), feeding on it as food until our ears are attuned to His voice. Before long you will become familiar with His style of speaking and the substance of His words, so if He should ever speak to you audibly one day, you will be able to discern it by its substance.
This is also true on the human level. If you are familiar with what I say and teach, and if someone should come along and tell you that I had said this and that, you can say, “I know what he teaches, and he would never say such a thing.” If someone tells you that your friend has made such and such a remark, you can say, “That’s impossible. My friend would never say things like that.” You can discern a voice by the substance of the message.
It is important, therefore, to be familiar with God’s word so that when He does speak to us directly, we can discern His voice. The same is true of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. If we know Jesus’ voice, we won’t be tricked by an imposter’s voice even if it sounds convincing. Jesus says that his sheep “know his voice” (John 10:4); “they will never follow a stranger but will run away from him for they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (v.5). “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (v.27).
Third way: God speaks to us through His servants
The third way in which we hear God’s voice is through His servants. In 1 Samuel 15:19, Samuel rebukes Saul for disobeying God: “Why then did you not obey the voice of Yahweh?” Interestingly, Samuel uses the word “voice” even though God’s command to Saul was not spoken directly to Saul but indirectly through Samuel (vv.1-3). This is just one of many examples in Scripture where God’s voice is uttered through His servants.
Similarly, the nation of Israel heard God’s voice through Moses. There are too many examples of this to list here. For example, Moses said to Israel, “If you obey the voice of Yahweh your God, keeping all His commandments which I command you today…” (Dt.13:18). Moses was God’s voice to Israel but also God’s voice to Pharaoh:
Then Yahweh said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh; and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you; and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the sons of Israel go out of his land.” (Exodus 7:1-2)
Whenever Pharaoh heard Moses speaking, he was hearing the voice of God. If Pharaoh rejects Moses’ word, he is rejecting the voice of God. That is why Yahweh said to Moses, “I make you as God to Pharaoh”.
The Old Testament prophets were God’s voice to Israel and ultimately to the world. The prophets lived so fully under God’s control and were in such deep communion with Him that they could declare, “Thus says the Lord” (literally, “Thus says Yahweh”). This phrase occurs about 418 times in the Old Testament.
A similar principle is found in the New Testament. Referring to the preaching of the gospel, Jesus says, “He who receives you receives me” (Mt. 10:40), “He who listens to you listens to me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me” (Lk.10:16). Many Christians are unaware of the principle that only the voice of a faithful servant of God can represent the voice of God. Jesus is stating what he expects of every true disciple.
Fourth way: Hearing God’s voice in a vision
Scripture mentions a fourth way in which we hear the voice of God: hearing His voice in a vision. Such experiences are regarded today as being out of this world, yet they are common in the book of Acts as well as Revelation and the Old Testament. Ezekiel 1:25-28, for example, describes a glorious vision in which the voice of Yahweh spoke and was heard.
The Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision (Acts 9:10), instructing him to render spiritual assistance to Saul, later called Paul. He was instructed to restore Saul’s eyesight through the laying on of hands, through which Saul will be filled with the Spirit (v.17).
A vision can be in the form of a dream. In fact a dream is sometimes called a “vision of the night” (Job 20:8; 33:15; Isa.29:7). In a vision of the night, the Lord said to Paul, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent” (Acts 18:9). In a different kind of vision, the Lord communicated with Paul in a “trance” or “ecstasy” (Greek ekstasis, Acts 22:17ff; used of Peter in Acts 10:10), a state in which one loses awareness of one’s immediate surroundings.
Fifth way: Hearing God’s voice through the Spirit
The fifth way of hearing the voice of God is far more common: hearing God’s voice through the Holy Spirit, namely, the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Yahweh. At Antioch the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). God’s voice was speaking through His own Spirit to those gathered for prayer and fasting.
God speaks to us through the Spirit even in the matter of assurance: “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). We have no genuine assurance unless the Spirit of God tells us that we are the children of God.
Many Christians are so out of touch with God that they want to base the assurance of salvation on doctrine or dogma rather than on a living relationship with God. In their feeble spiritual condition, they dare not base their assurance on something that they regard as unreliable, namely, communication with God. Instead they base assurance on dogma so that it would not depend on a living relationship with God. Unfortunately for them, Scripture provides no basis for true assurance apart from the witness of the Holy Spirit, as is stated in Romans 8:16 with indisputable clarity.
We either have a living relationship with God in which He speaks to us and gives us assurance through His Spirit, or we don’t have assurance at all. Without a living relationship with God, no amount of doctrine can provide the right kind of assurance. Nothing is as dangerous as a false assurance that lulls you into a false sense of security. You hear “peace, peace” when there is no peace, for true peace is a fruit of the Spirit that comes from from a living connection with God. To base our assurance on something else is to follow a blind guide who falls into the pit.
Many Christians feel insecure about basing assurance on a living relationship with God but what is so insecure about it? Are we afraid that we may have communion with Him today but not tomorrow? And would that be God’s fault in the first place? Is God so fickle as to speak today and hide Himself tomorrow?
Beware of basing our assurance on a false foundation. We must walk with the Lord and remain with him. “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). If we do this, we will bear much fruit—the fruit of the Spirit—and receive true assurance. But if we do not abide in Christ, how can we have the assurance that comes from the Spirit of God? Those who put their trust in a false security will end up in disaster.
God gives us His spirit—the Holy Spirit—so that we may have a deep and secure relationship with Him. Whenever our communion with God is weakening, why not repent immediately? All it takes is repentance to restore the fellowship. Or are we betting our security on something other than repentance?
Here is another passage that depicts the Holy Spirit as the voice of God:
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own initiative, but whatever he hears, he will speak; and he will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 16:13)
Note the word “speak” (underlined). The Spirit does not speak on his own authority but speaks what he hears, and will reveal to us the truth, including the things that are to come. The purpose of this is not to satisfy our curiosity but that we may know how to walk with God.
Some Christians engage in wild speculations about future events such as the exact date of Jesus’ coming. When we hear these speculations, we can discern that they are not from the Spirit. It is true that Jesus is coming soon and that we ought to discern the times, but let us not sensationalize it into a guessing game of the exact date and time and place. The Spirit reveals things to us for our sanctification so that we may avoid the dangers of error and falsehood.
Jesus further describes how the Holy Spirit speaks to us:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26, ESV)
The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God—reminds us of what Jesus had taught. This is in line with John 16:13 which we quoted regarding the Spirit of truth; but now, more specifically, the Spirit speaks to us by bringing to our remembrance the words of Jesus. The Spirit brings to our minds a particular Bible verse that speaks to us so powerfully that we underline it in our Bibles or write it down on paper. That is a common experience for me. A particular verse speaks powerfully to me and remains with me until the matter is concluded. Then the Spirit of God brings to my remembrance another verse which becomes a guiding light in the next phase of my walk with God. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Ps.119:105)
Hearing God’s voice: An example
Two centuries ago, a woman was, by God’s grace, leading a women’s Bible study group with great effect and success. But the church leaders, instead of rejoicing over this, were upset that a woman was leading Bible studies; this they believed was the exclusive right of the clergy. When she was confronted about it, she said she had often heard God’s voice in her deep fellowship with Him, and that the voice had guided her to lead the Bible studies. They asked her how she knew it was God’s voice. Meekly she said to the panel of clergy, “Can you tell me how Abraham knew it was the voice of God that told him to offer up Isaac?”
God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, in whom is the fulfillment of God’s promises, is utterly contrary to human reasoning. God demanded from Abraham what was most dear to him—more dear than his own life—yet all this was for the purpose of blessing him and through him all humanity. It was absolutely crucial, especially in a matter that could lead to killing one’s own son, that Abraham was absolutely certain that it was God who spoke to him. Would Abraham have offered Isaac if he had the slightest doubt that it was God who spoke to him? God speaks in every generation to those who, like Abraham, have “the obedience of faith”.
How do we hear God’s voice? Seven principles
1. Purity of heart
The first principle we must grasp, if we are to hear God’s voice, is purity of heart. If our hearts are not pure, we won’t be able to discern His voice.
When I was serving as the pastor of a church in Liverpool, England, there was a woman in the church who, for a time, was prophesying in the name of the Lord in a trance, in a state of ecstasy. She prophesied with such power that it frightened those who were listening to her. In a state of ecstasy, she would say, “Thus says the Lord…” In her ecstatic state, she would quote whole passages of Scripture which she, in her normal state of mind, could not remember or didn’t even know were in the Bible. In fact this dear woman could hardly read, for she never had an opportunity to receive even elementary school education. But after waking up from her trance, she would not remember what she had said.
This went on in the church for several weeks, so I sought God’s face to discern whether this prophesying was from Him. In this particular case, one could not tell from the substance of her prophecies. Nothing in her proclamations gave any clear indication one way or the other.
But one day, as I waited before the Lord, He made it clear to me that the prophesying was not from Him. So I went to this woman and said to her, “Sister, the prophecies you have been proclaiming in the name of the Lord are not from Him.” At this she fell off her seat and onto her face —literally with her face on the ground. With tears flowing, she asked, “If this is not from the Lord, why have I been prophesying like this?” I said, “Dear sister, Satan has been able to use you because there is sin hidden in your heart. Search your heart before God, and tell me the sin you have committed.”
She thought about it for a moment, but couldn’t come up with anything. She said, “In all honesty, I can’t think of any sin I have committed that I have not repented of.” I looked to God for discernment, and He revealed the exact sin to me. I said to her, “In that case, I will tell what it is. There is impurity in your heart because deep down you hate your husband.”
This woke her up from sleep, as it were, and she confessed that she hated her husband because he had abused her and treated her as a slave. Deep in her heart, she hated him because he humiliated her, degraded her, and treated her as an object rather than as a human being. She knew that hatred is wrong, but instead of dealing with it, she buried it deeper and deeper into her heart until she was no longer conscious of it. Yet all along, the root of hatred was poisoning her whole person. Bitterness, hatred, and sin, when hidden in the depth of one’s being such that one ceases to be aware of them, are like a toxin that seeps out and poisons one’s life.
She repented and drew upon God’s grace to forgive her husband and to live a new life in Christ. Within two years, her husband, who had been a nominal Christian, became a changed person.
If we wish to hear the voice of God and not confuse it with the voice of Satan, we must have a pure heart. The blood of Jesus must cleanse us of every sin, especially the hidden ones. We need the Spirit of God to reveal the sins to us, because sin, known or unknown, cuts off our communion with the holy and righteous God.
Many Christians think that repentance is only for non-Christians, but that is a serious error. Even the verse we are looking at, Revelation 3:20, is preceded by a call to repentance: “be zealous and repent” (v.19). It is not addressed to unbelievers but to the Christians in Laodicea. Repentance is not a one-time act. We have not graduated from the Christian life to the point that we no longer need to repent. Repentance and contrition are required for approaching a holy God who delights in a contrite heart:
For this is what the high and lofty One says—He who lives forever, whose Name is Holy, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa.57:15, NIV)
“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isa.66:2, NIV)
We must not allow our sins to drive us away from God. On the contrary, the realization of our sinfulness ought to draw us closer to God. In our spiritual neediness and destitution, to whom can we turn but the One who alone can help and rescue us? When we come into His presence with a humble and contrite heart, we can stay in His presence even if we feel ourselves to be unclean.
If I may dare say so, and with very cautious qualification, our sinfulness can be a blessing if it drives us to genuine contrition: “O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. Grant me to come into Your presence so that You may cleanse me from my impurity and transform me into a new person.” Our sinfulness then becomes the reason for coming to Him and not fleeing from Him. We will understand why Jesus, Son of God, is called a “friend of sinners” (Mt.11:19; Lk.7:34).
2. Absolute commitment to the truth
The second thing we must have, if we are to hear God’s voice, is absolute commitment to the truth. Here “truth” refers to the truth of God’s word, not our pet doctrines or theologies. Several times in my Christian life, I have had the painful experience of discovering that the doctrines which I held to be true did not conform to God’s word. I would discover to my shock that the doctrine is not supported or corroborated by the word of God as a whole but only by verses taken out of context. When further investigation reveals the unscriptural nature of the doctrine, I have no choice but to abandon it because of my commitment to the truth.
Jesus says to Pilate, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37). Those who are wholly committed to the truth will hear God’s voice and will be delivered out of darkness.
3. Singleness of heart
Thirdly, we need to have singleness of heart. Many Christians cannot commune with the Lord because their hearts are divided by many things which clamor for attention, and they are caught in a whirlpool of busyness. We recall what Jesus said to one such frenetic person: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.” (Luke 10:41-42, NIV). What distracted Martha were not bad things but good and legitimate activities. But her sister Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (v.39).
Many Christians are so busy with good things that the good has become the enemy of the best. They cannot hear God’s voice because their ears are deafened by the din of the activity.
Similarly, a lack of faith—or simply unbelief—results in a divided and impure heart, as well as the incapacity to make up one’s mind about spiritual things. That is what James describes as being “double-minded”. In this condition we cannot commune with God or receive anything from Him:
But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind; let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6-8)
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (4:8)
4. Inward quietness
Fourthly, we need to have inward quietness. In this fast-track, high-tech age, few people know how to be quiet. Inward quietness is important because God does not shout at us but speaks to us in a quiet voice, and we need to be quiet to hear the soft voice.
Yahweh told Elijah to stand on a mountain, and to wait for Him to pass by. A violent wind tore through the mountains, but Yahweh was not in the wind. A powerful earthquake shook the earth, but Yahweh was not in the earthquake. A consuming fire scorched the place, but Yahweh was not in the fire. Finally a quiet voice—the voice of Yahweh—said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
If we cannot sit still, or if we allow the noise and the commotion of the world to invade the privacy of our inner being, we won’t be able to hear His voice. What we need is a deep inner quietness. When we approach a man of God, we can sense an inner quietness about him. It is second nature to him because it is his means of hearing God’s voice. As Elijah found out, God does not speak in the tumult of a whirlwind, an earthquake or a fire, but in the quiet voice of the Spirit.
5. No fear of death
Fifthly, and perhaps surprisingly, we must be free from the fear of death. Hebrews 2:15 says that Satan keeps people in lifelong slavery through the fear of death. It is this fear that causes people to cling to the world. But the one who has let go of the world is not afraid to die. The fear of death is a sure sign that one has not let go of the world. It was the fear of death that compelled the Israelites to say to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19).
From the mountain blazing with fire, God spoke to the nation of Israel. But the people pleaded with Moses not to let God speak to them. It was because they were afraid to die.
Are you running away from God’s voice because you are afraid that it may cost you your life in this world? You are pulled in two directions: You want to hear His voice, yet are afraid that God may call you to something that will cost you your place in the world.
“Do not let God speak to us, lest we die,” they cried. But why should they fear death? Isn’t hearing God’s voice a privilege worth dying for? Does God’s voice bring death or does it bring life to those who receive it? The Israelites were afraid to die and so they fled from His voice. Yet ironically this is what they later said to Moses:
“Behold, Yahweh our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.” (Dt.5:24)
They acknowledged that they did not die after hearing God’s voice! Yet in the next verse they make an incomprehensible statement:
“Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Yahweh our God any longer, we will die.” (v.25)
Their reason for refusing to “hear the voice of Yahweh our God” is given in the next verse:
“For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?” (v.26)
The strange logic behind their reasoning goes something like this: “Yes, we heard Yahweh’s voice yet we survived. But if we should hear it again we will die! It was wonderful to hear God’s voice speaking to us, but we won’t risk our lives in having Him speak to us again! Yahweh’s aggrieved response to this was:
“If only they had such a heart to fear Me and keep all My commands always, so that they and their children will prosper forever. (v.29, HCSB)
This indicates that they did not love and reverence God, as confirmed by other accounts of their behavior. Then Yahweh, through Moses, dismissed them from His presence: “Return to your tents” (v.30). But He said to faithful Moses, “As for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you” (v.31).
Many people are afraid to die to the world. But if our baptism had any meaning, we would have already died with Christ at baptism. Baptism is not a rite in which we play possum (play dead). It is dangerous to play games with the spiritual life. Either we have died with Christ to sin and the world, or we have robbed our baptism of meaning. But if we have died with Christ and have eternal life in him, why should we fear death?
6. Engaged in His service
Sixthly, we must be fully engaged in the Lord’s service. This applies to every Christian, not just those in full-time service. We belong to God because we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, the staggering price by which we were purchased. We are now God’s slaves and servants. There are no part-time slaves, so we must live full-time for Him irrespective of our occupation in the world.
If you are not living for God, how will you ever hear His voice? In all our examples cited from Acts, we saw that it is always His servants fully engaged in His service to whom God speaks. He does not speak to satisfy our curiosity but to instruct and encourage us in the work of building up His church.
7. Faithful unto death
Seventhly, God speaks to those who are willing to be faithful unto death. The statement, “He who endures to the end will be saved,” occurs twice in Matthew (10:22; 24:13). The Lord is looking for people who are willing to follow Him unto death. Many today claim to be Christians, but how many will remain faithful in the face of death?
Of course, even in our sincerest intentions, it is still possible to falter in the final minute. But God’s grace is sufficient to help us stand! At the very least, we must have the genuine desire to be faithful unto death. But many don’t even have that desire. God looks into our hearts and knows whether our intention is genuine or not. If He sees in your heart a genuine desire to be faithful unto death, He will speak to you.
Abraham was faithful not only unto death but also the death of someone far more precious to him than himself: his beloved son. Moses, too, was faithful unto death when he prayed, “Please forgive their sin. But if not, please blot me out of your book [of life] which you have written” (Ex.32:32).
Elijah, too, was faithful unto death. He was frightened when he found himself in a dangerous life-threatening situation, yet by God’s grace he overcame his fear and confronted Ahab at great risk to his own life (1Ki.19:3; 21:20ff). Elijah was ready to die for Yahweh but he was eventually raptured (2 Kings 2:11).
The prophets were faithful unto death and were recognized as such by Jesus who spoke of the blood of the prophets (Mt.23:30; Lk.11:50). In Acts 7:52, Stephen said to the Jews, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” The prophets sealed their testimony with their blood, as did the apostles. It is this kind of people—who are faithful unto death—to whom God speaks.
Stephen, in his final moments when an angry mob was about to stone him, remained faithful and continued to commune with the Lord (Acts 7:54-60). As they were raging about in their fury, Stephen gazed heavenward and said, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (v.56). While he was being stoned, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”. As he was dying, he interceded for his adversaries, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Stephen’s heart was not clouded by fear or death; he reached the end of his earthly sojourn in intimate communion with his Lord.
“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me.” Supping with the Lord is a sweet communion that needs no words. This peaceful non-verbal intimacy is the highest level of communion with the Lord.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church