You are here

29. Communion With God

Chapter 29

Communion With God

1. Living With Him to Do His Will

In the previous chapter we considered a matter that is central to the Christian life, namely, doing God’s will. But this necessarily raises an issue that is inseparably related to it: communion with God. For it is obvious that in order to do God’s will we need to know what His will is; and how can we know His will unless we are in touch with Him in such a way that He can communicate His will to us?

Moreover, the Christian life is not a matter of doing God’s will occasionally, but doing it constantly, uninterruptedly, day by day and mo­ment by moment. His will is the life-sustaining food on which we live, the spiritual air we breathe. This being the case, we cannot just communicate with God from time to time. We need to commun­icate with Him continuously, we need His abiding presence. Now we can understand why Jesus reassured us with the words, “I am with you always” (Mt.28.20); for we need to live with Christ if we are truly to do his will.

2. The Loss of God’s Presence

I once woke up in the middle of the night and suddenly, for a few moments, it seemed as if God’s presence had gone from me. It was like a spiritual blackout that had turned off all 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. Although it lasted only a few minutes, it drove home forcefully, as never before, the fact that if God should ever withdraw His presence from us or if we should ever 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 gone, I woke up and exclaimed, “Where is the Lord? What has happened to my line of communi­cation?” Suddenly a sense of utter emptiness and mean­inglessness seized my heart.

The Lord gave me this experience at least partly for your sake, because though I had been meditating on the subject of this chapter for quite some time, without this experience I wouldn’t have been able to present this message with the same level of conviction as I now have.

This reminds me of a childhood incident (I was about four years old at the time) when my father was playing hide and seek with me. So well did he hide himself from me that I searched for him in vain and began to feel that he had abandoned me. All the while he was stalking somewhere close 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 realized that I was becoming despond­ent, he came to me with a comforting smile: “Look, I’ve been with you all the time.”

That nightmarish experience of being forsaken by the Lord (cf. Psalm 22.1) afterwards gave me a deeper appreciation of God’s presence and of His care. He was showing me how vital His presence is to my life. It is easy to take something for granted until you lose it. I may have carelessly taken God’s presence, and communing with Him, for granted.

3. Experiencing the Lord

Brothers and sisters, nothing is as vital to our Christian life as communion with God. It is inconceivable how anyone could live the Christian life in any meaningful sense without communing with Him.

How 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, or how He speaks to me or does something for me or through me, people are usually amazed as if these things are unusual. It makes me feel as if I were a spiritual oddity, a strange creature that has come out of some spiritual zoo. Many Christians are surprised that miracles do happen today, and that God still speaks to people directly.

I was wondering if I was a spiritual oddity, a relic or throwback from the spiritual past. Shouldn’t these experiences be normal in the Christian life? Why are miracles, or communication with God, regarded as unusual today? I find that few people echo with me when I share about my experiences of God.

When I had newly become a Christian, I sought God’s will for my life. Now that I belonged to Him, what did He want me to do? Where did He want me to go? As I knelt before Him in prayer, the Lord said to me in a clear and distinct voice, “I am going to take you out of China”. The voice was so clear that it startled me and, since it appeared to come from behind me, I turned around to see who was speaking to me but I was alone in the room. I was a very young believer at that time, and that 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 experience this sort of thing, how much more should we in the New Test­ament age? It is an age in which the Holy Spirit has been poured forth upon all flesh, an age of outpourings of prophecies, visions, dreams and communication with the Lord (Acts 2.16-18).

In my walk with God, He speaks to me in one way or another, more rarely in an audible voice, and more often through an inner communi­cation. This is not uncommon in the Bible.

If these are not unusual experiences in Scripture, could it be that we Christians are not living as we ought to? In my reading of Script­ure, I see nothing unique about my relationship with God. Similar things are seen in Script­ure, beginning with Adam at the beginning of Genesis and right through to John in the Revelation. I don’t even know how you could survive as a Christian, or experience joy in the Christian life, unless you have a communica­tions link with God.

4. God Communicates With Man

We can crystallize the matter in the form of a more fundamental question: Why did God create us in the first place? The answer is right there in the Scriptures. Right from the beginning, in Genesis 3, God 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 in order that God may commun­icate with us. Deep communication is possible only if we share a common image. We cannot communicate with a dog very deeply because a dog is not in man’s image. But God has made us in His image so that He may commun­icate with us at the deepest level. All of Scripture reveals a God who wants to commun­icate with us—in fact, more so than we want to communicate with Him; few indeed are those who know the longing in His heart to fellowship with us.

In the last chapter we came to the startling conclusion that we can know God better than anyone else in the world. The Bible has over a thousand pages, and each page reveals something about Him. You can write more about God than you can write about your wife’s biographical details. God reveals Himself in every page of Scripture. We can know Him, and ought to know Him, better than anyone else in the world.

All through Scripture we see God communing with man. Genesis 3.9ff has the first recorded conversation between God and man (not counting Genesis 2.16-17, where God speaks to Adam, but not in a two-way dialogue). Unfor­tunately, man sinned and lost the privilege of intimate communion with God. But the word “lost” needs to be qualified because the lost communication can be regained through repentance. In fact, God continued to communicate with many of His people in Israel throughout the Old Testament age.

5. Living with Jesus

If God communicated with man in the Old Testament, how much more should this be the case under the New Covenant? 1Thessalonians 5.10 offers a glimpse into Jesus’ heart: “He died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him.” How do we live with him without communicating with him?

Jesus died for us so that we might live with him, not merely for him. If we do live for him, do we also live with him? He died for you and for me, not only that we may receive forgiveness for our sins but, much more, to remove the communication barrier between God and man, so that we may live with Him and have fellowship with Him.

As for the Lord Jesus, the statement “live with him” is significant. Jesus chose twelve disciples “that they might be with him” (Mk.3.14). As we just saw in 1Thessa­lonians 5.10, this applies to us too, for the Lord died for us having in view that we might live with him.

The Greek has a difference between the two verses just quoted. In Mark 3.14, the Twelve were chosen to be “with” (Greek meta, μετά, “with”) him, primarily in the sense of being physically present[88] with him. 1Thessalonians 5.10, however, has the powerful little word “syn” (σύν, “together with”) which expresses union and com­munion with him. The twelve disciples were with him physically, but one of them, Judas, was not with him spiritually. Judas was with (meta) Christ physically but not spiritually (syn). In the beginning, the other disciples, too, were not spiritually with him in any deep way, and this situation carried on until Pentecost.

The word “syn” here expresses a spiritual together­ness, a communion that runs deeper than mere physical presence. The Lord invites everyone to “come to me” (Mt.11.28). Do we see the nature of this invitation, and of his longing for us? He bemoaned man’s lack of willingness in these pain-filled words, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Mt.23.37). Do we hear the yearning of his heart? Do we feel his desire to fellowship with us? Or do we imagine that he enjoys hiding from us?

6. Lukewarmness: A Barrier to Communion with God

Jesus says in Revelation 3.20

“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 will dine with him, and he with me.”

This is a most precious verse, but it is often quoted by evangelists as if it were addressed to non-Christians. On the contrary, it is addressed to Christians, not to non-Christians; it is add­ressed specifically to the church at Laodicea, which had become pervaded by a dangerous lukewarmness.

Brothers and sisters, lukewarm­ness is undoubtedly the reason why so few Christians are in commun­ion with God. We want eternal life, but are unwilling to accept the cost. We want to commune with Him, but only at our conven­ience, or when we need Him; when we don’t need Him, we don’t talk to Him. Well, God doesn’t communicate on those terms; He 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 ever commune with God. One cannot play around with the concept of God while playing with the world, or dabble in religion and hope to get through to God in this way. I wonder if this is the disease afflicting so many in the churches today: a fatal lack of seriousness in regard to the things which are eternal.

Even Christians who claim to be committed to God often discover, when confronted with temptations or challenging situations, that they are not committed after all. There is a big place in their heart for the world, the flesh, money, position and academic status. If anything other than God is dear to you, it will prevent you from communing with Him.

7. Hearing the Lord’s Voice

Revelation 3.20 reveals the Lord’s deep longing to commune with us. In this lovely picture, he dines with us, and we with him. The communication is bilateral or bidirectional, not one-way.

Two stages are involved here. Firstly, we hear his voice calling to us outside the door. This is the first and preliminary stage, and not, as we tend to think, the highest stage. Hearing his voice is but the preparation for opening the door.

Next, if you hear his voice and invite him in, there will be a blessed dinner fellowship. The dinner represents a sweet, relaxed fellowship with Christ, which enriches our innermost being, just as a good meal gives physical nourishment and satisfaction.

The sweet communion, which comes from a union of our will with the Lord’s will, enables us to understand what Jesus meant when he said “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work” (Jo.4.34). The Father’s will is Jesus’ food, and it will be ours too when we dine with Jesus. But first we must hear Jesus’ voice and open our lives to him. When he comes in, there will be sweetness of fellowship.

The word “voice” occurs frequently in John’s gospel and is a key word in the book of Revelation. The Greek word for “voice” (phōnē, φωνή, “voice, sound, utterance”) occurs 139 times in the New Testament, and 55 times in Revela­tion alone. Revelation therefore accounts 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. Right in the first chapter, John says, “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (1.10). Later on, towards the end of Revelation, John says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne” (21.3).

In each case, the voice delivers a supremely important message. In the first case, the Lord instructs John to write to the seven churches. In the second case, the Lord gives John a grand revelation of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. Hence Revelation begins with a great voice, and ends with a great voice. Jesus’ final words are, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” (22.20).

The voice of the Lord is mentioned four times in John chapter 10 alone. For example, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (v.27). If you don’t hear the of voice of Jesus, Son of God, are you his sheep?

God spoke to me when I was a young Christian, and He continues to speak today. As an example, I can relate an incident that took place not long ago at an intersection near my home. In Canada, when a car reaches a four-way stop sign, it must come to a halt. Whoever stops first has the right to cross first. After stopping, I was about to accelerate when God clearly said to me, “Stop, don’t step on the accelerator!” So I stopped. The next moment, a bus tore across the intersection. The bus driver had, for some strange reason, failed to stop for both the bus stop just before the intersection and the stop sign itself. Had I gone forward, the bus would have smashed into the right side of the car I was driving.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see what would have happened if my car had been struck by a full-sized bus moving at some 50 kph. Immediately after having gone through the inter­section without stop­ping, the bus driver realized his mistake and slammed on his brakes. I sat there 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” (1Jo.1.3).

The First Way: God Speaks Publicly

God speaks to people in many ways. There are five ways in which God speaks so that we may hear His voice.

Firstly, God is pleased to speak not just to so-called “elite” Christians but also to ordinary folk, and even publicly to a multitude of people. Many Christians think that God likes to keep silent, but the fact is that He is more eager to speak to us than we are to listen to Him.

The gospels tell us that God spoke publicly on three occasions. On two of these occasions, He spoke straight from heaven to a gat­hered multitude, so they heard His voice speaking directly to them.

At the baptism of Jesus, God’s voice pro­claimed audibly from heaven to the multitudes: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt.3.17).

In a second incident, at the Transfiguration which took place in the middle of Jesus’ ministry, the voice of God 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 publicly to a smaller audience, namely, three of Jesus’ disciples.

Towards the end of Jesus’ min­istry, God spoke again to a gathered multitude. This time Jesus was facing the reality of the cross, and was about to lay down his life. In the hour of decision, he said to his Father, “Glorify Your name.” Suddenly the voice of God answered from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (Jo.12.28). The multitudes heard the proclamation, and they debated among themselves about this voice from heaven, with some concluding, “An angel has spoken to him”. Then Jesus said to them, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine” (v.30).

It is significant that God spoke publicly to the nation 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 gathered at Sinai (Exodus 20). The people 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).

The voice of God is not an unheard of mystery. When warranted by the occasion, God will even speak directly from heaven to multitudes of people.

Second Way: God Speaks Through His Word

It is somewhat uncommon, however, for God to speak audibly to multitudes of people. He did so only on very special occasions in history. The second way in which God speaks to us is far more com­mon: We hear God’s voice through the word of God delivered to us.

Once when Moses was speaking to the nation of Israel, he re­counted the incident that I just cited of God’s speaking to a frightened Israel:

“Then the Lord 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 perform, that is, the ten com­mandments…” (Deut.4.12-13).

Here we see the reference to “voice” and “words,” indicating a close link between the two. Likewise, the voice of Jesus speaks to us through the words he has spoken in the gospels. Those who have ears to hear will discern his voice and his words.

There is, on the other hand, a distinction be­tween voice and word. The voice delivers the word, but it is more than the word alone. Through variables such as speed, volume and intonation, the voice can convey things that words alone cannot. The voice ex­presses more than the literal word, for the way something is said and the feelings which color it can also affect the hearer.

So the spoken word and the printed word can be different in their effects even if the words are identical. When we understand this fact we can appreciate the Israelites’ fearful response to God’s voice, for they heard His words accompanied by the awesome sounds of thunder and lightning—and a trumpet[89]—and saw the mountain, from which He spoke, blazing with fire and pouring forth smoke (Ex.20.18; Dt.5.4,22-27; Heb.12.18-21). But when those same words are read in print in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 they do not have the same awe-inspiring effect that they had upon the Israelites when they heard it with their own ears.

Therefore, while there is commonality 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.

Today we hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us in his teaching. If you wish to commune with him, start by listening attentively to his word. Many people want to hear his voice but they ignore what he has already said. Follow the example of the Psalmist by med­itating on God’s word day and night (Ps.1.2; Jos.1.8), feeding on it like food, until your ear is attuned to His voice. Before long you will become familiar with His style of speaking and the sub­stance of His words, so that if He does speak to you audibly one day, you may be able to discern it by its substance.

This applies too on the human level. If you are familiar with what I teach, and if someone should come along and tell you that I had said this and said that, you can say, “I know what he teaches, and he would never say anything like that.” Or if someone should tell you that your friend has made such and such a remark, you can say, “That’s impossible. My friend doesn’t say things like that.” You discern the voice by the substance of the message.

It is important, therefore, to be familiar with God’s word as He taught it, so that when He does speak to us directly, we can correctly discern His voice. Likewise with Jesus Christ, Son of God. If we know the Lord’s voice, we won’t be tricked by an imposter’s voice, even if it sounds convincing. The Lord says that his sheep “know his voice” (John 10.4); and “they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (v.5). “My sheep listen to 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 conveyed directly to Saul himself, but through Samuel (vv.1-3). This is just one of the many examples in Scripture where God’s voice is uttered through His servants.

Similarly, the nation of Israel heard the voice of God through Moses. There are too many examples of this to list here. For example, Moses said to Israel, “If you obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all His commandments which I command you today…” (Dt.13.18). Moses was God’s voice to Israel. He was 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 speak to Pharaoh that he 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 he rejected Moses’ word, he was rejecting the voice of God. That is why the Lord said to Moses, “I make you as God to Phar­aoh”.

Likewise, the prophets of the Old Testament were the voice of God to Israel and ultimately also to the world. They lived so fully under God’s control and were so deeply in communion with Him that they could declare, “Thus says the Lord” (literally “Thus says Yahweh”). Remark­ably, this phrase occurs as many as 418 times in the Old Testament.

A similar principle is found in the New Testa­ment. Alluding 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” (Lk.10.16). When Christians are in a spiri­tually mediocre state, they dare not think in those terms. Only the voice of a faithful servant of God can represent the voice of God. Yet Jesus’ words show that that is exactly what he expects of every true disciple.

Fourth Way: Hearing His 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 today regarded as out of this world, yet they are not uncommon in the book of Acts, not to mention the book of Revelation, and also in the Old Testament. For example, Ezekiel 1.25-28 describes a vision in which the voice of the Almighty spoke.

In another example, God spoke to Ananias in a vision (Acts 9.10), instructing him to give Saul—later Paul—the spiritual help he needed. Ananias was also told to restore Saul’s eyesight through the laying on of hands, that Saul may receive the Holy Spirit.

A vision can be in the form of a dream. That is why 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 slightly different kind of vision, in Acts 22.17-22, the Lord communicated with Paul in a “trance” or “ecstasy” (Greek ekstasis, ἔκστασις, also Acts 10.10, of Peter), a state in which one loses awareness of one’s immediate surroundings.

Fifth Way: Hearing His Voice through the Holy Spirit

The fifth way of hearing the voice of God is far more common: hearing the voice of God through the Holy Spirit, who is 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 spoken through His Spirit to those gathered in prayer and fasting.

God’s voice speaks to each one of us through the Spirit in the matter of assurance. Specifically, “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8.16). We can­not have any genuine assurance unless the Spirit of God himself tells us that we are God’s children.

Many Christians today are so out of touch with God that they want to base assurance on dogma or doctrine rather than on a living relationship with God. Given their weak spiritual condition, they are afraid to base their assurance on some­thing which they regard as remote and therefore unreliable, namely, communication with God. Instead they base assurance on dogma so that it need not depend on a living relationship with God. Unfortunately for them, in Scripture there is simply no basis for true assurance apart from that which comes from the witness of the Holy Spirit, as is stated with indisputable clarity in Romans 8.16.

Either we have a living relationship with God in which God 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 produced through a living connection with God. To base one’s assurance on anything else, is to follow a blind guide 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? But would that be God’s fault? Is God so fickle that He wants to speak today, and hide Himself tomorrow?

Let us beware of basing our assurance on false grounds; we must learn to walk closely with the Lord and remain (“abide”) 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 we will receive the assurance that comes from him. But if we do not abide in Christ, how can we have the assur­ance that comes from the Spirit of God? Those who depend on false security will end up in disaster.

God gives us the Holy Spirit so that we may have a deep, secure relationship with him. If we sense that 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 which describes 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”. The Holy Spirit does not speak on his own authority but speaks what he hears. He tells us what we need to know about the truth, including the things that are to come. He doesn’t do this to satisfy our curiosity, but that we may know how to walk with God.

Some Christians indulge in wild speculations about future events, such as the precise date of the Lord’s coming. When we hear them speak, we can discern that what is being said is not from the Holy Spirit. Indeed Jesus is coming soon, and we may discern the times, but let us not sensationalize it into a wild guessing game of the date and time. The Spirit reveals things for our sanct­ification, so that we may avoid the hidden pitfalls and lurking dan­gers of falsehood and error.

The Lord 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)

The Holy Spirit reminds us of what Jesus has spoken. This is in line with John 16.13; but now, more specifically, the Spirit speaks to us by bringing to our remembrance the words of Jesus. He often brings to our minds a particular Bible verse that speaks so power­fully to us that we want to underline it or write it on a piece of paper. That is a common exper­ience for me. A particular verse speaks powerfully to me at a particular time, and it remains with me until that situation 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, by God’s grace, a woman was leading a women’s Bible study group with great effect and success. Strangely enough, the church leaders, instead of rejoicing over this, were upset that a woman should be leading Bible studies. This, they thought, was the exclusive right of the clergy. When she was confronted about this, she said she had often heard the Lord’s voice in her deep fellowship with Him, and that His voice had guided her to lead the Bible studies. They asked her how she knew it was the Lord’s voice. Meekly she said to the panel of clergy, “Can you tell me how Abra­ham knew that it was the voice of God that told him to offer up Isaac?”

The command to sacrifice his son Isaac, in whom the promises were to be fulfilled, was utterly contrary to all human reasoning. God demanded from Abraham what was most dear to him—more dear than even his own life—yet it was for the purpose of blessing him and the whole of humanity through him. But wasn’t it essential, especially in a matter which involved his son’s death, that Abraham was absolutely certain that it was God who spoke to him? Would Abraham have proceeded to offer 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 total “obedience of faith” to Him.

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 pastor of a church in Liverpool, England, there was a time when a woman in the church 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 did not know were in the Bible. In fact, this dear woman could hardly read, not having had the opportunity to receive even elementary education. And after coming out of her trance, she would not know what she had said.

This went on in the church for several weeks, so I sought the face of God to discern whether this prophesying was from Him. In this particular case it was not possible to tell from the substance of her prophecies. Nothing in her proclamations gave any obvious indication one way or the other. But one day, as I waited before the Lord, He made it clear to me that this was not from Him.

So I went to this woman and said to her, “Sister, I have something to tell you. The prophecies which you have been proclaim­ing in the name of the Lord are not from Him.” At these words 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 was able to use you because there is sin hidden in your heart. Search your heart before God, and tell me what sin you have com­mitted.”

She thought about it, but could not 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 sin to me. I therefore said to her, “In that case, let me tell you. There is impurity in your heart because deep down you hate your hus­band.”

This woke her up from sleep, as it were, and she admitted that she hated her husband because he had abused her and had treated her as a slave. Deep down in her heart, she hated him because he humiliated her, degraded her, and often treated her as an object rather than as a human being. She knew that hatred is wrong, but instead of dealing with the hatred, she buried it deeper and deeper into her heart until she ceased to be conscious of it. All along, however, the root of hatred was poisoning her whole person. Bitter­ness, hatred, and sin hidden in the depth of one’s being, even when one ceases to be aware of them, are like toxins seeping out slowly and poisoning one’s life.

She repented, and drew upon the Lord’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 away every sin in us, especially the hidden ones. We need the Spirit of God to reveal them to us, because sin, known or un­known, cuts off our com­munion with the righteous and holy God.

Most Christians think that repentance is for non-Christians, but that is a serious mistake. Even the verse that we are looking at, Revelation 3.20, is preceded by a call to repentance: “So be zealous and repent” (v.19). These words are addressed to the Christians in Laodicea, not to unbelievers. Repen­tance is not a one-time event. We have not graduated from the Christian life to the point where we don’t need to repent anymore. Ongoing repentance is vital, because 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)

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 to the One who alone can help and rescue us? We come into His presence with a humble and contrite heart. With that attitude, we can stay in His presence even if we feel ourselves to be unclean.

If I dare say so, and with careful 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, that You may cleanse me from my impurity and transform me into a new person.” Our sinful­ness thus becomes the reason for coming to Him, not for fleeing from Him; and because of contrition we will find our­selves welcome to remain in His presence. Then we will better understand why Jesus, the Son of God, was 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 to our theologies or pet doctrines. Several times in my own 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. This would usually happen when I discovered, to my surprise, that the doctrine was not supported or corroborated by the word of God as a whole but only by verses or statements taken out of context. When further investigation confirmed the unscriptural character of that doctrine, I had no other choice but to abandon it because of 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 the Lord’s voice and will be delivered out of darkness through hear­ing it.

(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 the multitude of things in life which clamor for attention. They are sucked into the whirlpool of busyness. We do well to remember 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). Martha was distracted not by bad things, but by good and legitimate activities; but her sister Mary, for her part, “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (v.39).

Many Christ­ians, too, are so busy with good things that the good has become the enemy of the best. As a result they cannot hear God’s voice because their ears are deafened by the din generated by the multiplicity of activities.

Lack of faith or unbelief also results in a divided and impure heart, and the incapacity to make up one’s mind about spiritual things; this is what James describes as being “double-minded”. In this condition it is not possible to commune with the Lord or receive anything from Him as James makes clear:

“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” (Jas.1.6-8). Therefore, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas.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. He speaks in a quiet voice, and we need to be quiet to hear it.

Yahweh God told Elijah to stand on a mountain, and to wait for Him to pass by. A violent wind ripped through the mountains, but Yahweh was not in the whistling wind. A great earthquake caused the earth to tremble, but Yahweh was not in the rumbling earth­quake. A consuming fire scorched the place, but Yahweh was not in the crackling fire. Finally a quiet voice—the soft 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 commotion of the world around us to invade the privacy of our inner being, we will be unable 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 the voice of God. Elijah learned that God speaks not in the tumult of whirlwind, earthquake or 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 has kept people in lifelong bondage through the fear of death. It is a 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 indication that one has not let go of the world. It was the fear of death that drove 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 burning with fire, God spoke to the nation of Israel. But the people pleaded with Moses not to let God speak to them. Why were they afraid to hear His voice? 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 you 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? Is not hearing God’s voice a privilege that is worth dying for? Moreover, does the voice of the Lord bring death or does it not in fact bring life to those willing to receive it? Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (Jo.5.25).

The Israelites were afraid to die, and they fled from His voice. Consider what they 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. (Deut.5.24)

Notice that they acknowledged the fact that they did not die as a result of hearing God’s voice. Yet in the very next verse we hear them saying, “Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Yahweh our God any longer, then we shall die.” (v.25)

The reason for their refusing to “hear the voice of Yahweh our God any longer” is that “…we will die. 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)

What is the logic of their reasoning? It seems to be this: Yes, we heard Yahweh’s voice once and survived; but if we hear His voice again we will not survive the next time! It was a wonderful exper­ience to hear the voice of God speaking to us, but we are not prepared to risk our lives for Him to speak to us again! Yahweh God’s aggrieved response to this was,

“Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (v.29).

These words imply that they did not have a heart which reverenced and loved the Lord, as all the other accounts of their behavior confirmed.

Then Yahweh sent them away with these words to Moses, “Go, say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’” But to faithful Moses He said, “As for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you…” (vv.30,31).

Many people are afraid to die to the world. But we died with Christ at baptism—if our baptism had any meaning. 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 truly died with Christ to sin and the world, or we have robbed our baptism of its meaning. But if we have died with Christ and have eternal life in him, why should we still fear death?

(6) Engaged in His Service

Sixthly, we must be fully engaged in the Lord’s service. This applies to every Christian. We all belong to God because we have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood; we were purchased by him at this staggering price. We are 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 the examples that were earlier cited from Acts, we saw that it was always to His servants who were fully engaged in His service that God spoke. God did not speak to satisfy their curiosity, but to instruct and encourage them in some work for the building up of 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 and 24.13). The Lord is looking for people who are willing to follow him unto death. There are many today who claim to be Christians, but I wonder how many will remain faithful in the face of death.

Of course, even in our sincerest intentions, it is still possible to falter at the last minute. But the Lord’s grace is sufficient to enable us to 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 even unto the death of someone far more precious to him than himself: his beloved son.

Moses, too, was faithful unto death when he prayed, “Lord, please forgive their sin. But if not, then blot me out of the book of life” (Ex.32.32).

Elijah, too, was faithful unto death. On one tense occasion he was frightened by a life-threatening situation. But by God’s grace, he soon overcame his fear and confronted Ahab at great risk to his own life (1 Kings 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. Jesus 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 to this kind of people—people faithful unto death—that the Lord speaks.

Stephen (Acts 7.54-60), in his final moments, when an angry mob was about to stone him, remained unswervingly faithful, and continued steadfastly communing with the Lord. As they vented their fury upon him, his gaze was heavenward, as he exclaimed, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”. Amidst the stoning he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”. Then he went on, in his final words, to intercede for his adversaries, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (NIV). No fear of death clouded Stephen’s heart; he abided to the end of his earthly sojourn under the light of intimate communion with his Lord.

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.” Supping with the Lord is a sweet communion that needs no words. This peaceful, often non-verbal intimacy is the highest level of communion with the Lord.

[88] In John, μετά is used of God’s presence with Christ, 3.2; 8.29; 16.32, and of the Holy Spirit’s presence with Jesus’ disciples, 14.16.

[89] On the trumpet, see also Ex.19.16,19; Mt.24.31; 1Cor.15.52; Rev.1.10.


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church