I don’t ever tire of this subject.
Can you hear God speak to you specifically or does He only speak in generalities?
Most people have responded to my video on Facebook with this answer: BOTH!
“I’ve had both…”
“I feel He does both…”
I agree, God does speak to us both specifically and generally. And because most of us have a pretty good grasp on how God speaks to us through His Word, through worship, and through other believers, let’s talk a bit more about how He speaks to us in His still small voice. I’m traveling in Israel as I write this and we just came down from Mt. Carmel where God spoke to Elijah the prophet and Elijah called down fire from heaven that consumed his offering even after he soaked it with water.
I’d say God spoke to Elijah specifically and Elijah was confident he’d heard God’s voice. I’d like to have a prayer life like Elijah’s! But what happens if you think you’ve heard God speak to you specifically but what you thought you heard doesn’t end up happening?
That happened to me in 2010. I prayed, and God “spoke” to me.
My 18-year-old daughter, Mikel, was pregnant and the baby was due in January. Our relationship was strained and I longed for her to move back home so that we could repair what had been broken and so that her baby might live safe and secure with us. And to be quite honest, I wanted more than anything, for my daughter to quickly get back to the plans that I had for her (Jeremama 29:11 kind of plans.).
As I prayed, I heard God tell me to build an “ark.” I built my “ark” by turning Mikel’s old bedroom into a baby nursery. As I put sheets on the crib and painted lady bugs on the canvases, I exercised faith that God would bring her home, great with child--by Thanksgiving.
Rather than go to the mountains, I made the rest of the family stay home, I cooked a traditional dinner and set her a place. But Mikel didn’t come home. And so I wrote the following blog post.
Boundaries and Barbed Wire
Sunday, December 5, 2010
If you've been reading my blog for the past several months you know that I'm praying through the darkest valley of my life (thus far). In this valley I've learned that the battle I'm fighting really has two fronts. One is the obvious one with the circumstances that are breaking my heart and the other is with God.
That's right...my spiritual warfare includes my own personal struggle in my relationship with God. I'm not struggling with loving Him. Nor do I struggle with serving Him. But I do struggle with His sovereignty in this situation.
Every step of the way I've defined the reasonable boundaries of the other battle front. For instance, I tell God what lines the Enemy must not be allowed to cross. I started doing this in June. But soon after I defined the boundary line, the Enemy crossed it. I was devastated. Then, last month I defined the boundary with a deadline. The Enemy blasted over that boundary too.
Today I'm tempted to define two more boundary lines. My struggle with God has been unnecessarily magnified by these boundary lines. Once I define the boundaries I decide that I know better than God how much is too much and how long is too long. When I do that I totally disregard God's Word in Isaiah 55:9
"As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
The boundaries I construct become like barbed wire. They hem me in when I pray. I camp out just this side of them and spend much of my energy begging God to keep them strong. Thus far, those boundaries have been blatantly disregarded by the Enemy and when he plows through them he drags me behind him. Often I'm left on the other side of that barbed wire bleeding and wounded wondering where God was when I just got taken further than I ever wanted to go into the depths of this valley.
But today, I've decided to stop marking off the territory. I'm finally ready to say to God--wherever You want to go; and whatever You want to do, take me there and do that. As the heavens are higher than the earth so are Your ways higher than mine and Your thoughts higher than my thoughts.
You know what You're up to and I trust you."
Was that the voice of God or the voice of you?
When Mikel didn’t come home that year, I assumed that I’d translated my own longing for a reasonable solution to my heartache to be the voice of God. In the name of faith, I gave God a deadline! I told Him when I expected Him to answer my prayer and predicted what His answer would look like.
Only I didn’t take into account that God will never overstep boundaries that He gave Himself; the boundaries set by our free will. God lets each of us make our own decisions. In other words, God knew better than me that it was not a good idea to make Mikel do anything. God never makes us obey Him, serve Him, follow Him or yield to Him. He offers us blessing, warns us of consequences and watches over us when we rebel against Him, but He never makes us do what He wants us to do.
That’s the thing…so many times my prayers center on getting someone else to make better decisions and God insists on being patient in His working with them. Because God is way more patient than I am, those prayers take way longer to answer than I would like for them to take.
The voice that assured me that Mikel would fill my “ark” by Thanksgiving was obviously the voice of my own heart’s longing. I never turned loose of the conviction that I’d heard God tell me to build that “ark,” and that He would fill it; but I did let go of the expectation that He would bring my girls home on my time table rather than His.
Which leads me to another thought related to hearing God speak specifically to you when you pray. Here is another blog I posted several years ago:
Wrestling with God vs. Tug of War
I don’t know how your elementary schools ended their field days but mine always culminated with a great big game of tug of war. We lined up on opposite sides of a mud pit, grabbed hold of that dirty rope and held on tight as we wrestled with the team on the other side. We strained against the pressure, heaved and hauled as hard as we could. Back and forth we’d go as the bystanders hollered and our faces turned purple. We grunted and groaned until we either fell on our backsides in victory or found ourselves face down in the mud pit of defeat.
That was fun.
Those tug of war games remind me of Jacob’s wrestling match with God, and what a wrestling match that was! Jacob, a mere man, afraid, vulnerable, and completely at the mercy of God, versus the Lord Almighty, the ultimate power of heaven.
Is it just me, or do you too find it interesting that, while Jacob was terrified of his brother, he didn’t hesitate to take on God?
I love that!
It speaks of the intimacy that had developed in Jacob’s relationship with God.
There are two different kinds of wrestling we enter with God. One is the kind that begs us to hold on tight until God gives His blessing (Jacob’s kind of wrestling), and the other is the kind that comes when we refuse to let go of our own agendas, our own solutions, and our own rights and ambitions.
That kind of wrestling becomes a tug-of-war with God.
Two things are going to happen when you play tug-o-war with God…He’s gonna win, and you might be dragged through the mud before it’s all said and done.
I have to confess that I have done some tug-of-war wrestling with God. It’s tricky! I think I’m wrestling like Jacob to hang on until God blesses me…but instead I’m wrestling with wanting God to do things my way. In order to wrestle with God like Jacob did, you have to let go of the details. You have to stop telling God how to bless you and simply insist that you will not turn loose of Him until He does.
All of this leads me to the most important part of this post.
A fool-proof way to be certain you are holding on to God for His blessing and not playing tug-of-war:
There are 3 things you can do to make sure you are holding on to God for His blessing and not playing tug-of-war. I’m going to list them here then discuss them one at a time:
1. Be certain that what you’ve heard is from God and not from you. (In other words, learn to discern the voice of God.)
2. Pray the prayer of relinquishment (as often as you need to).
3. Hold tight to God until your answer comes (and let God show you what He’s up to along the way).
Be certain that what you’ve heard is from God and not from you.
Put what you’ve heard God say to the test. You want to be absolutely certain that you’ve heard from God and not from your own heart’s desire. Those desires of our hearts are slippery things and even if we’ve “reasoned in our own hearts” that what we are asking from God is good, and that God has assured us that we are indeed going to get what we’re asking for, our own hearts can deceive us. (Jeremiah 17:9) Consider these four reliable tests for discerning whether or not that voice in your head belongs to God.
God will never say anything that goes against what He has written to us in His Word. (see Jeremiah 1:12)
You will need to read the Bible on a consistent basis to know what it says. Stay in the Word, invite God to speak to you from His Word, and look for Scripture that supports or contradicts what you think you’ve heard. God will speak to you through His Word.
God’s voice will often aggravate your flesh. (see Matthew 16:24)
We have a natural tendency to look out for ourselves and seek our own glory rather than God’s. When we want something desperately enough, we can even convince ourselves that we are living for the glory of God when we are really driven by the glory of self.
God often tells me where we’re going but He doesn’t tell me how long it’s going to take to get there. And often it takes much longer than I would prefer.
God’s voice will always lead toward better relationships with significant people in your life. His ways are always redemptive. (see Ephesians 4:32)
God is never going to tell you something that will drive a wedge between you and the people who love you most if they also are seeking God’s best. We demonstrate maturity when we willingly wait for resolution in our own lives in order to save or strengthen significant relationships in our lives. That kind of patience will be rewarded.
God’s voice will be doable.
We read in Genesis 1 that God spoke the word and all the world came into “order.” God brings order to chaos. Whatever word God speaks to you will be applicable to what you are going through. And, even though it might lead to supernatural experiences, your part will be doable.
There are great examples of this throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament God told His people to march, to camp, to light torches and blow trumpets, to dip in water, to cook, to gather, to be tossed into the sea. In the New Testament people were told to put mud on their eyes, to divide crowds into small groups, to find a lunch, to come close enough to touch, to step out of the boat, the list can go on and on.
God’s voice is doable!
Those are the 4 reliable tests for discerning the voice you are hearing. I’d be amiss if I didn’t warn you that Satan and his demons are very good at mimicking the voice of God. This is where your personal relationship with God is crucial to developing the ability to hear His voice. So let me give you 3 tips on how you can develop the ability to hear God’s voice:
Listen for Love.
Be still and quiet. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
My friend (and next door neighbor), Jennifer reminded us on Facebook of this, “…if I'm hearing (or thinking) something and there is a lot of related fear, anxiety, overwhelm, shame or confusion- that's NOT the Holy Spirit and not only do I not have to listen to it - I should FLEE from it.”
Jennifer is absolutely right! The devil will pretend to be the Holy Spirit and counterfeit the Spirit’s work of conviction. When the devil speaks, rather than experience holy repentance and resulting forgiveness of sin; you might experience shame, remorse and defeat. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin for the purpose of restoring us to Love. The devil guilts us with shame for the purpose of tearing us apart. Don’t let him do that to you.
Listen for Love.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15
If you don’t live in harmony with Jesus, you can’t trust the voice in your head. You cannot hear the voice of God and live under the rule and authority of self. If you are serving your own desires and living your life according to what you think is right in your own eyes, then the voice you are hearing is not God’s (unless it is the voice that is convicting you of your sin and inviting you into a personal, dynamic relationship with God.).
So many people today claim to know God when it is in their best interest to know Him. They pray and ask and feel assured they will get what they’ve asked for all the while paying no heed to anything He’s expecting of them. These people then grow disillusioned and discouraged when God doesn’t answer their prayers.
The goal of prayer is not getting what you want out of God but rather living your life in sync with God so that He can express Himself in and through you. You get to that place in prayer by obeying what God’s written in His Word.
This is a simple, practical exercise with the goal of freeing yourself to “hear” God’s voice. Write down what you think you hear Him say, and then watch to see if what you heard was from God. Go back periodically and review what you’ve written so that you can identify the pattern emerging in your prayers of listening, asking, waiting, answering.
Pray the prayer of relinquishment.
Richard Foster defines the prayer of relinquishment as “a grace filled releasing of our will and a flowing into the will of the Father.”
I talk a lot about this prayer in my book Spiritual Warfare for your Family. Here are 3 steps for praying the prayer of relinquishment:
Confess your worst fear then focus on God not you.
Fear is like a screen erected between us and God, so that his power cannot get through to us. If you find yourself dealing with fear, then you are squarely up against the Law of Relinquishment.
Was Jesus showing us how to use this law [of relinquishment] when he said, “Do not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39)? In God’s eyes, fear is evil because it’s an acting out of lack of trust in him.
Jesus is saying, admit the possibility of what you fear most. Force yourself to walk up to the fear, look it full in the face—never forgetting that God and his power are still the supreme reality—and the fear evaporates.
God worked in my life in a very specific way related to this “law of relinquishment.”
Accept what is with confidence that God is able to change it at any time.
Catharine Marshall wrote this in reference to Jesus’ prayer of relinquishment:
Dear Father, all things are possible to you. Please let me not have to drink this cup. Yet it is not what I want, but what you want.
In Catharine’s words, “The prayer was not answered as the human Jesus wished. Yet power has been flowing from his cross ever since.”
Once you face down your fear, accept the fact that at any moment, any moment at all, God can change your circumstances and wipe that fear away.
Acceptance never slams the door on hope. But it is equally never demanding of a holy, perfect and righteous heavenly Father.
Richard Foster wrote this,
“Release with Hope
The prayer of relinquishment is a bona fide letting go, but it is a release with hope. We have no fatalist resignation. We are buoyed up by a confident trust in the character of God. Even when all we see are the tangled threads on the backside of life’s tapestry, we know that God is good and is out to do us good always. That gives hope to believe that we are the winners, regardless of what we are being called upon to relinquish. God is inviting us deeper in and higher up. There is training in righteousness, transforming power, crucifying our wills, new joys, deeper intimacy. Sometimes the very thing we relinquish is given back to us. This does not always happen, of course. There are times when the release is permanent. At such times we are to trust in the wisdom of God and ask for the grace to rest in His peace. A settled peace, in fact, is the most frequent experience of those who have trod the path of relinquishment.”
3. Give up your will completely.
This is only possible when you consider your answers to these questions:
Why should I doubt the goodness of God?
Does God know best?
Can I trust Him?
How to know if you’ve prayed the prayer of relinquishment:
You will start thanking God for the answer rather than begging Him to bring it.
Your anxiety will be replaced by peace.
You will carry inside you an expectant spirit rather than a desperate one.
Here are a few verses I want you to underline in your copy of God’s Word: Romans 8:31, Psalm 46:1-3, Luke 1:37, and Nehemiah 8:10b
Hold Tight to God until His answer comes:
This is where your faith is tested and proven. When you know you know you’ve heard God speak…when God has given you a word that is yet to be realized, then hold on tight for the ride. The devil loves to jump in the backseat and heckle you along the way. Here are a few of my tried and true ways to shut him up.
1. Find some promises in God’s Word that support what you are convinced He’s said to you. Say these promises aloud as often as necessary. Print them on post-it notes and keep them where you can see them.
2. Share your conviction with friends who will believe with you. These friends are rare; they are the ones who trust God and who trust you and who will hang in there with you when the devil tries to discourage you.
3. Invite God to work in you while you are waiting for Him to do what He’s promised He will do. This is tricky, for when you invite God to do this,
· you will be determined to let God and His Word (the Bible) reveal truth to you not the circumstances surrounding you.
· You will yield to God’s working in you to make you more like Christ.
· You will learn to let God Himself be quite enough for you in the meantime.
Remember my Ark?
The other night I was rocking my granddaughter River. She’s Misty’s little sister. Misty was born on February 9, 2011 and while she did spend a lot of time in my little “ark” she still lived outside of it for several years. Her little sister River was born in 2014. The story of their young lives is more for my daughter to tell than it is for me. But when I was rocking River the other night, I was sitting in my “ark.” Both girls have been living in that “ark” for over a year now.
God did what He said He would do. I’d heard Him correctly, and He answered my prayer. I doubted Him, I wrestled with Him, I even played tug-of-war. But in spite of all of that, God spoke specifically to me more than 7 years ago, and reminded me the other night that He was faithful to fulfill His promises to me.
Those girls aren’t going to be living in my little “ark” forever. Their mother is an amazing woman and she’s most likely going to take them to live in another home soon. (I’m sure Noah was grateful that he didn’t have to live in his ark forever either.) But I will always remember that God answered me just like He promised He would.
If you think you’ve heard God speak specifically to you and you’ve not yet experienced Him answer your prayer—hang in there. Hold tight to God and just wait, you will see…if what you’ve heard is the voice of God, He will come through for you.
Share what you’ve heard God say. Tell us how He’s spoken to you and perhaps even what you are waiting for Him to do. We will pray with you.