At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued a series on the spiritual realm. The Scriptures tell us our prayers can move the spiritual realm, and forces in the spiritual realm can move us – for better or worse.
You can watch the entire series at www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.
Each week, there are Next Steps to help us apply the message to our lives.
Here is the message John Burke shared:
“Prayer is actually pretty common but highly misunderstood. Newsweek Magazine noted an interesting paradox several years ago: more Americans will pray in a given week than exercise or have sex. Even 20% of atheists and agnostics surveyed said they pray.
So we do a lot of talking, but do we know how to listen? Do we ever get quiet enough to learn to listen?
A skeptical friend asked, “If God really wants a relationship, why doesn’t he just email? I can’t have a relationship with someone who won’t communicate.” I challenged him to consider something: what if God is communicating, but we haven’t learned to listen? If I told you there’s a whole realm of imagination, adventure, and learning available in books, but first you must do the hard work to learn to read.” If you said, “I don’t hear them, so they must not speak.” I’d say, “well—it doesn’t work that way. First you learn to read, then books will speak to you.”
God often speaks in ways we may want, expect, or demand, but if we will learn to listen, we will hear his quiet, gentle whisper guiding us along. (For more, see I Kings 19:11-13).
So what does that mean? I want to give you 4 principles I’ve learned about hearing God’s whisper: You must…
Principle #1: Learn to listen for prompting thoughts.
“But God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams…He whispers in their ear.” – Job 33:14-16
God says through Jeremiah: “To whom can I give warning? Who will listen when I speak? Their ears are closed, and they cannot hear. They scorn the word of the Lord. They don’t want to listen at all.” – Jeremiah 6:10
We must learn to have spiritual ears that hear and spiritual eyes that see, or we will not hear, not see. Jesus often said:
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” – Mark 4:9
“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” – Mark 8:18
What God clearly revealed to those willing to seek Him is that He does speak, He does guide, but we must learn to listen with spiritual ears that hear. But what does that mean?
God doesn’t force us to seek Him or make Him a priority, or learn to listen . What He wants most is our hearts which requires our attention. Booming commands don’t get us to listen, but a whisper does. A whisper makes us lean in and pay attention.
Communication is just me trying to get my thoughts into your mind. I’m a finite, limited human, so I have to use my voice, a microphone, speakers, your ears, I bet less than ½ of this thought reaches your mind. I wish I could just put all my thoughts directly in your mind. That would be more direct. You might mistake my thoughts for your thoughts, or you could ignore my thoughts but you’d have them.
I can’t directly put my thoughts in your thoughts—but God can! That’s God’s whisper. No one ever explained to me God’s whisper, but I started to learn by paying attention to thoughts I’m having which is why scripture says:
We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
Learn to listen for God’s thoughts then act in faith.
Principle #2: The more you respond, the clearer you hear.
The way God’s spiritual realm operates is on the principle of love and freedom. We were created to love God by freely choosing to submit our wills to him: to seek God, trust God, and love God by obeying his will. In fact, you can’t actually give anything to God that He hasn’t already given you. Your money, your career, your spouse or kids are all gifts from Him. The only thing you can give God is your love which is demonstrated in willingly doing what You think He wants.
Jesus explained this idea on his last night on earth:
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.” – John 15:9-14
The way we love God is by responding obediently to what we think He wants us to do. It’s usually going to be something about loving and serving others, even if it costs us something (it cost Jesus his whole life). What I’ve found is that you don’t usually know it’s God’s whisper in your thoughts unless you’re willing to obey Him.
Principle #3: You never know until you go.
If you never obey, you never see and never hear. Spiritually hearing is a heart matter which grows with a willingness to obey.
What I’ve found is the more willing you are to act in obedience to promptings, the more you’ll learn which thoughts are God’s thoughts and which are not. Do I sometimes make mistakes, or get it wrong? Of course! Which leads to a concern I’ve had that you may be having: “isn’t that dangerous? I mean, people do whacked, demonic things thinking ‘God told me so.’ Absolutely, so don’t miss this next principle because I never act on a prompting thought without testing it.
Principle #4: Test every prompting thought.
We can easily be deceived, so we don’t just listen to every voice, every random thought. We need to test the thoughts. We will talk more about this when we talk about evil and how it works because deceptive thoughts can play to our self-interest and deceive us.
Test 1: Is this prompt self-centered or God and other-centered?
I’ve had people claim God’s prompting them to quit their job and trust God to provide, yet it’s killing their spouse and kids who see a pattern of irresponsibility and using “God language” as an excuse. If it affects others, and they’re not hearing from God, you’d better slow way down and test it to make sure this is a God-prompt and not a selfish prompt.
James says: “You do not get things because you do not ask for them. Or if you do ask, you do not receive because your reasons for asking are wrong. You want these things only to please yourselves.” James 4:2-3
Before you act on a prompt—test your motives—is this me-centered, or God-centered and other-centered?
Test 2: Is this in line with Scripture?
God will never prompt you to do something that contradicts what He’s revealed about His will and character in the scriptures. I’ve had people claim, “God’s prompting me to leave my spouse and kids for true love, I met the love of my life, God’s leading me.” To which I say, “You’re getting a leading alright, but that’s a below the belt leading, not a God leading. How do I know that? Because God said, “Do not commit adultery—be faithful to the wife of your youth.”
Peter, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples says this: “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention…for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” – 1 Peter 1:16-21
This is Peter. He saw Jesus’ miracles and had amazing spiritual experiences, yet he says “God’s word is more sure. You can count on it to check out everything else.” That’s why we need to know His word.
In fact, I sometimes hear people say “I’ve never heard any whisper from God.” As I plow beneath the surface with a few questions I usually find several things.
- First, they’re never quiet with their thoughts.
- Second, they want God to speak to them about one thing, but they’re unwilling to listen to him in another–about their sexuality, or their finances, or how they’re treating their spouse.
Here’s the thing: unwillingness in an area where you already know God’s will is like sticking your fingers in your ears and blaming me for not speaking. If you’re not willing to listen where God’s will is clear, you’re not going to hear him in the less clear areas of life.
We need to know God’s Word because He uses it to clarify His whispers to us. Consider the Soul Revolution 60-60 experiment. There’s a free App you can download and every hour it will remind you with a scripture and song or beep to stay connected, listening and responding to God.
God always prompts in line with His love and in line with Scripture.
Test 3: What does wise counsel say?
I’m sad to say that I’ve watched people who really do love God, make some horribly unwise decisions saying it was God’s prompting, but refusing to listen to others warning them.
Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory. Proverbs 11:14
Especially if you’re making big decisions, or hearing God’s whispers about big life changing events, or things affecting others, but even as you’re learning how to hear: find your own Spiritual Board of Directors (2-3 trusted, spiritually wise people to run it by).
- Is it self-centered or God-centered?
- Is it consistent with God’s will in Scripture?
- What does wise counsel say?
You’ll learn to hear with spiritually discerning ears. And God will lead you on the adventure of a lifetime as you listen and follow.”