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12. Communion with God

Chapter 12

Communion with God

Revelation 3:20
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 and despair, 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 in the first place, 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 has happened 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 have been 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 so well from me that I was searching for him in vain, and began to feel aban­doned. Yet all the while he was right 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 care and presence. 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.

God communicates with us

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 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 miraculous through me—the usual reaction is one of amazement as if these things no longer happen today. Many Christians are aston­ished that miracles still happen today and that God still speaks to people.

It made me wonder 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 in an audible voice.

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 by one means 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? 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.

To crystallize the matter, let us ask a fundamental question: Why did God create us in the first place? 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 because 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 reveals a God who wants to communicate with us, 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 typical 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 3:9f gives us the first recorded conversation between God and man (not counting Genesis 2:16-17 in which God speaks to Adam in a unidirectional manner rather than a two-way dialogue). By then 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, 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, His visible representative; hence Paul speaks of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6). “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1John 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” (1Thess.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 men (1Timothy 2:5).

The words “live with him” are significant. Jesus chose his disciples “so that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14). But as we just saw in 1Thessalonians 5:10 (“we might live with him”), this type of communion 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” (meta) Jesus at least 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. Initially the other disciples were 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 we feel his longing to be with us. He lamented how people were unwilling to be with him: “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 anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20, RSV)

This verse is often quoted at evangelistic rallies as if it were addressed to non-Christians. In fact it is addressed to Christ­ians and specifi­cally to the church at Laodicea which was languishing in a dangerous lukewarm­ness. Lukewarmness is the reason that few Christians are in communion with God. We want to gain eternal life but are unwilling to accept the cost of following Him. We commune with Him 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 Him with all their heart: “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

No lukewarm person can commune with God. If we dabble with relig­ion on the one hand and with God on the other, while pursuing 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, in the face of temptation or difficulties, 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, a longing that mirrors God’s own longing, for God lives “in Christ” (2Cor.5:19). Jesus will dine with us and we with him. The communication is bilateral and 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 with Jesus is expressed in discipleship, in taking up our cross daily, and following Jesus. Discipleship unites our will with the Lord’s by walking on the same path, and helps 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” (Jn.4:34). The Father’s will is our food too if we commune with God.

The word “voice” in Revelation 3:20 occurs frequently in John 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 occurrences in the New Testament. The book of Acts comes in at 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 the seven churches. In the latter, 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.” (John 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 which took place at an intersection near my home. In Canada, when a car reaches a four-way stop sign, it must come to a complete 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 rammed by a heavy bus running at 50 kms per hour. After the bus tore across the intersection, the driver slammed on the brakes. I sat in my car taking in the whole scene in astonishment.

So 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.

The first way God speaks: Publicly to a multitude

Many Christians think that God likes to keep silent, but the truth is that He is more eager to speak to us than we are to listen to Him.

God 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 so-called “elite” Christians but also to “ordinary” folk.

The first way in which God speaks is publicly to a multitude. The gospels record three occasions on which He spoke publicly.

The first occasion took place at Jesus’ baptism when 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.

Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, God spoke again to a gathered multitude. Jesus was facing the looming 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). Then God’s voice ans­wered from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The multitudes heard the voice 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).

We see a 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 Israel 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 do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (v.19).

God’s speaking to people is not something unusual. 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 except 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—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 recalled to them the incident 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, which he wrote on two tablets of stone. (Dt.4:12-13)

Here Moses refers to “voice” and “words,” indicating a close link between them. Likewise Jesus’ voice speaks to us through his words recorded in the gospels. Those who have ears to hear will discern his voice and his words.

Yet there is also a distinction between voice and word. The voice delivers the word but more than the word. Through attributes such as speed, volume, and intonation, the voice convey things that words alone cannot. The voice expresses more than the literal word because the manner in which some­thing is said and the feelings behind it can affect the hearer by communi­cating non-verbal cues.

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—at the mountain blazing with fire and smoke (Ex.20:18; Dt.5:23-27; Heb. 12:18-21). But when we read these verses in a print Bible, the words lack the same awe-inspiring effect they had on the Israelites when they heard it with their own ears.

While there is much in common 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 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 (Ps.1:2; Josh.1:8), feeding on it as food until our ears are attuned to His voice. Before long you will be familiar with His style of speaking and the substance of His words such that 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 a certain friend of yours has said such and such, you can say, “That’s impossible. My friend would never say some­thing 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 genuine to some people. 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 1Samuel 15:19, Samuel rebukes Saul for disobeying God: “Why then did you not obey the voice of Yahweh?” Interestingly, Samuel refers to God’s “voice” even though God’s command to Saul was indirect, being spoken to Samuel and not Saul himself (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 cite, but here is one example: Moses said to Israel, “If you obey the voice of Yahweh your God, keeping all His commandments that I am commanding you to­day …” (Dt.13:18). Moses is said to “command” Israel even though the commandments are ultimately God’s commandments.

Moses was God’s voice not only to Israel but also to Pharaoh:

Then Yahweh said to Moses, “See, I have made 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)

When Pharaoh hears Moses or Aaron speaking, he is hearing God’s voice. If Pharaoh rejects Moses’s word, he is rejecting God’s voice, for Yahweh has made Moses “as God to Pharaoh”.

The Old Testament prophets were God’s voice to Israel and ultimately to the world. They 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. Concerning the preaching of the gospel, Jesus says, “He who receives you receives me” (Mt.10:40), “He who listens to you listens to me, he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me” (Lk.10:16). Only the voice of a faithful ser­vant of God can represent the voice of God.

Fourth way: Hearing God’s voice in a vision

Scripture mentions a fourth way in which we hear God’s voice: in a vision. Many Christians regard this as being out of the world, yet it is common in Acts, Revelation, and the Old Testament. Ezekiel 1:25-28, for example, des­cribes a glorious vision in which Yahweh’s voice 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 come in the form of a dream. In fact a dream is also 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 vision, the Lord commun­icated with Paul by means of a “trance” or “ecstasy” (Greek ekstasis, Acts 22:17ff, used of Peter in Acts 10:10), which is a state of being that is unaware of one’s immed­iate surroundings.

Fifth way: Hearing God’s voice through the Spirit

The fifth way of hearing God’s voice is far more common: hearing God’s voice through the Holy Spirit (that 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 spoke through His 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” (Rom.8:16). We will not have 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 weak spiritual condition, they dare not base assurance on something that they regard as unrel­iable, namely, communi­cation with God. So they base assurance on dogma which they think exists independently of a living relationship with God. Unfortunately for them, Scripture provides no basis for true assurance apart from the wit­ness of the Holy Spirit which is mentioned in Romans 8:16 with absolute 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 true 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 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 have 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. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13, NIV)

Note the underlined word “speak”. The Spirit does not speak on his own authority but speaks what he hears, and reveals to us the truth, includ­ing the things that are to come. These are not necessarily eschatological events but events of a personal nature that guide us in our walk with God.

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 brings to our memory the things that 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 memory 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. I often experience this. A particular verse speaks power­fully to me and remains with me until the matter at hand is resolved. Then the Spirit brings to my remembrance yet another verse that becomes a guiding light in the next phase of my walk with God. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

Hearing God’s voice: An example

Two centuries ago, a woman was leading a women’s Bible study group to great effect and success by God’s grace. But the church leaders, instead of rejoicing over this, were unhappy that a woman was leading Bible studies which they felt was the exclusive right of the clergy. When confronted about it, she said she would often hear God’s voice in her deep fellowship with Him, and that the voice would guide her to lead the Bible studies. They asked her how she knew it was God’s voice. In a meek and gentle tone, 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 instruction to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, in whose seed is the fulfill­ment of God’s promises, is utterly contrary to human thinking. God required from Abraham what was most dear to him, even more than his own life, yet all this was for the purpose of blessing him and through him all humanity. It is absolutely cru­cial that in this situation—a scenario that may lead to the wrongful slaughter of one’s own son—Abraham was absolutely sure that it was God who had spoken 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” (Romans 1:5; 16:26).

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, 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 her listeners. In a state of ecstasy she would say, “Thus says the Lord …” and 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 had never had the 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.

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 to 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 minute, 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 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 our sins to us, because sin, known or un­known, cuts off our communion with the holy and righteous God.

Many Christians think that the message of repentance is only for non-Christians, but that is a grave error. Even the verse we are looking at, Revelation 3:20, is preceded by a call to repentance: “be zealous and repent” (v.19). This call 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 extent that we no longer need to repent. Repentance and contrition are required for approaching a holy God who delights in a contrite heart:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV)

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2, ESV)

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 destitution, to whom can we turn but the One who alone can 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 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 sins and transform me into a new person.” Our sinfulness then becomes the reason for coming to Him rather than 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 life, I have had the painful experience of discovering that the doctrines which I held to be true does not conform to God’s word. I would discover to my shock that the doctrine is not supported by the word of God as a whole, but only by a few verses taken out of context. When further study reveals the unscriptural nature of the doc­trine, I have no choice but to abandon it because of my commit­ment to the truth.

3. Singleness of heart

Third, we need to have singleness of heart. Many Christians cannot com­mune with God because their hearts are distracted by many things which clamor for their attention, so they are caught in a whirlwind of busyness. We recall what Jesus said to one such frenetic person: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good port­ion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk.10:41-42). What distracted Martha were not the bad things but good and legitimate activities. But her sister Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his word” (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 activity.

Similarly, a lack of faith—or plain unbelief—results in a divided and impure heart, and the incapacity to make up one’s mind about spirit­ual things. That is what James describes as double-mindedness. In this condition we cannot commune with God or receive anything from Him:

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6-8, NASB)

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

Fourth, we need to have inward quietness. In our fast-track high-tech era, few 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, 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 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 an 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 a whirlwind, an earthquake, or a fire, but in the quiet voice of the Spirit.

5. No fear of death

Fifth, we must be freed from the fear of death if we are to hear God’s voice. Hebrews 2:15 says that Satan keeps people in lifelong bond­age to the fear of death. It is this fear that causes people to cling to the security of the world. But the one who has let go of the world is not afraid to die.

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 blazing mount­ain, God spoke to the nation of Israel. The people pleaded with Moses not to let God speak to them, for 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,” the Israelites 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, so they fled from His voice. Yet ironically 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.” (Deuteronomy 5:24)

Interestingly, this time they acknowledged that they didn’t die after hearing God’s voice! Yet in the very next verse, they inexplicably returned to their fear of hearing God’s voice:

“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. 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?” (vv.25-26)

This is followed by Yahweh’s poignant response to their vacillation:

“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)

Ironically, God said that the Israelites did not fear Him. This is a strange statement to make because they did fear His voice. But their fear was the wrong kind of fear, a carnal and slavish fear, not the righteous and obedient fear that God had expected of them. So God 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).

6. Engaged in His service

Sixth, 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 enormous price by which we were purchased. We are now God’s slaves. There are no part-time slaves, for all slaves are full-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, God speaks to His servants who are fully engaged in His service. 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

Seventh, 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 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 at 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 Isaac. Moses, too, was faithful unto death when he prayed, “Please forgive their sin. But if not, please blot me out of your book which you have written” (Ex.32:32).

Elijah too was faithful unto death. He feared for his life when he found him­self in a dangerous situation, yet by God’s grace he over­came his fear and confronted Ahab at great risk to his own life (1Kings 19:3; 21:20f). Elijah was ready to die for God, but he was eventually taken up to heaven (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 to this kind of people—faithful unto death—whom God speaks.

Stephen, in his final moments when a mob was about to stone him, remained faithful and continued to commune with the Lord (Acts 7:54-60). As the mob was seething with 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 cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” As he was about to die, he interceded for his adversaries, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen’s heart was not swayed by fear or the reality of 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 will dine with him, and he with me.” Dining with the Lord is a sweet commun­ion that requires no words. This peaceful non-verbal intimacy is the highest level of communion with the Lord.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church