Terry Heames Book Report:
When Larry asked me about this weekend a few weeks ago I was all set to do the book the "Da Vinci Code". Because I found it to be a well written "Who Done It" with some false ideas about Christ in a few chapters. But then I heard that Hank Hannegraf, the Bible answer man, had an article out on the problems with the book, so I promptly ordered one but the publisher has run out of copies but promised to send one to me, and I received it Friday (a little late for this class, but...). As some of you know, Larry is also planning on being gone over the fourth and in late July and early August. So perhaps I can get organized by then.
Hank Hannegraf also has a book on the 100 questions he gets asked in his programs. The answers are generally short, a page or three, and I thought we could also cover a few them in the late July time frame. Perhaps, if we found a particularly fertile area we could get Larry to give it some in depth coverage.
What I plan on covering today is part of a book by Charles Stanley on "How To Listen To God". Dr Stanley is out of First Baptist in Atlanta Georgia and has twice been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
One of the most valuable lessons we can learn is how to listen to God. In the midst of our hectic lives nothing is more rewarding than listening to God. But the clamor of other voices obscures our hearing leaving us with a lesser relationship with God. God wants to communicate with us, wants to have an adventurous life, and wants that personal relationship growing.
Why does God speak today?
(1) Because He loves us now as much as He loved the people of the Bible.
(2) Because we need direction for our lives and He is the source of accurate information.
(3) Because He knows we need comfort and assurance just as much as those in Bible days. We have failures and defeats just as they did, He knows our need for His confidence.
(4) Because He wants us to know Him as He really is. I have been reading a book [Cloud and Townsend "How People Grow"] on Grace versus the Law, and the author comments that one of the significant differences is that when we are under the Law, God is viewed as someone to be appeased, but when we are under Grace, God is viewed as a helpful friend that uses your circumstances to help you. He wants that personal relationship with you. Or as Erik said "He wants to reward us"
How he spoke to the biblical personalities:
In the Old and New Testament God spoke to the faithful in a variety of ways:
(1) By direct revelation, as in He spoke to the spirit of Abraham telling him to leave the land of now southern Iraq and go to a place God would show him, Israel.
(2) Through dreams, as in Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the empires following his time (Persian, Greek, and Roman). This method is full of difficulty as we all have strange dreams and determining meanings is a problem. In addition, the Bible makes no mention of visions being a good technique for listening to God. But God uses circumstances.
(3) By written and spoken words, as in He gave Moses the Ten Commandments and He asked Saul why he was persecuting Him.
(4) Through the prophets, as in "Thus saith the Lord" at the end of so many Old Testament books.
(5) Through circumstances as in when Gideon insisted upon seeing a wet fleece on dry ground one morning and a dry fleece on wet ground the next morning before his fear of the enemy (Baal and the Midianites, Judges 6) was conquered.
(6) Through angels, as with Mary and Joseph.
(7) Through the Holy Spirit, as when Paul wanted to go to Asia but the Holy Spirit forbade him and he went toward Europe instead.
How He speaks today:
(1) Through His Word. I read a part of a chapter each morning with accompanying commentary. Many times the notes indicate a related verse in another part of the Bible and depending on my mood I will go and look it up. I always find it interesting the number of times the verse or the commentary seem to guide my thoughts concerning situations I am facing, or will face in the days ahead. Dr. Stanley writes about turning to the same verse several times in a week. Karen talks about hearing the same point being made by different lecturers in the course of a few days. Most of you have had similar experiences where I Bible verse helped, if you think about it.
(2) Through the Holy Spirit. In this case Dr Stanley talks about God's will being impressed into your mind and hearing Him in ones inner being. This is more difficult for me to give an easy example, perhaps when one feels compelled to keep quiet or give a non-committal type answer when asked a question and you find out a different agenda as the conversation continues. In my own life I have found this happens frequently when answering the phone for the Billy Graham Telethon. Many of the callers ask one question, but when you are able to draw them out there is more. The point is that it is only a feeling that this caller has more to say, a Spirit driven feeling.
(3) Through other people. Normally this comes from one of the people we ought to be listening to anyway, a spouse, a parent, or a close friend. Those who already love us and pray for us. I am sure you have all had someone say something that changed your life. One of my favorite stories concerns my cute wife. I had been divorced awhile and wanted to get involved with some charitable group. I eventually went down to the United Way office and picked up their list of 400 organizations that need volunteers. It was overwhelming and I didn't have a clue where to go so I tried a few groups, but nothing hit. Then I showed the list to Karen one day at lunch and as she was perusing it she said, "I met this person at a woman's luncheon and she is just great, call her". So I did and became involved with "Friends In Time" and the Billy Graham group because of the "friend" I am still with. Eventually Karen and the head of the organization were at the same event, they didn't know each other, they had never met. A God thing, I figure using people to lead me.
(4) Through circumstances. My "friend" Chuck who led me to the Billy Graham group can no longer do the phone answering so he has become a prayer warrior. However, for years he lived in New Jersey and worked the phones. He believes that the Holy Spirit runs the computer that unites caller with answerer. I get many callers that want to talk about divorce or the Catholic Church, Chuck didn't. Chuck used to receive a lot of calls about theological concepts and overcoming health problems, I rarely get those. Chuck has had Multiple Sclerosis for over 25 years and had almost finished his divinity degree when the MS made it impossible to continue. God is a helpful friend that uses the circumstances (like the switchboard) to help you.
How to Listen:
(1) Expectantly. We need to anticipate that He will speak, if you come to Him with doubts you will have trouble listening. God is reliable, He has talked to others and He talks to you.
(2) Quietly. Ps 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God." Too often I spend too much time talking (requesting) and not enough clearing my mind of the distractions around me. This common problem is why many have sought seclusion away from civilization, to reduce the competition. But one can attain this quietness late at night and in the early morning, even at home.
(3) Patiently. God does not tell us some things instantaneously, sometimes we need to wait a season of time. Most times it is that we are not ready, we may need our faith stretched. I think of Abraham and Sarah awaiting the birth of Isaac until he was 100 and she over 90.
(4) Actively. Not only must we be patient but we must also actively meditate on the scripture and apply it to our lives. His instructions are precise, not always what we want to hear but what is essential in our walk with Him. We must be open to His instructions. We have this human tendency to hear only what we want to hear, what some call a mental spiritual sifter.
(5) Dependently. We are dependent upon him to help us. It can be difficult, but we need to maintain Him on the throne and not ourselves. His way, not man's way. After all, He created everything, we didn't, so let Him be in charge and we be in awe. Our last hymn today says it all, "Its All About You". Lack of dependency is probably the primary reason why we do not hear Him. We are not surrendered. Remember when Christ came to the Garden of Gethsemane, He was committed to the Fathers will but he struggled to determine if there was another way to accomplish it. He submitted.
(6) Gratefully. We should have a grateful attitude. He loves us enough to have sent His son. He is interested in us, in spite of our shortcomings. He desires the Grace relationship that Wayne talks of. He speaks to us individually, not to everyone simultaneously like TV does. That individual interplay alone should invoke a grateful attitude.
How do you know if it is God speaking, or if it is Satan?
Am I just talking to myself, listening to my own conscience, or is God trying to get through?
Well, because not all of us have enough experience in listening to God and can discern the differences, Dr. Stanley offers some Scriptural guidelines:
(1) God voice will never tell us to engage in an activity or relationship that is inconsistent with scripture. Many feel condemned when they are praying and have difficulty asking for anything. Scripture says that if our sins are confessed that there is "no condemnation in Christ Jesus" Romans 8:1. Hence, if you are feeling guilty, the voices you are hearing are not from God. Dr. Stanley says, if you are in the process of making a decision about finances, see what the word of God says about finances. If it is about a relationship, she what the word of God says about relationships. Whatever your need, the scripture has something to say about it. If what you hear is different than what you read in the scriptures, it is not from God.
(2) Usually when God requires something of you, it will clash with what you consider to be natural or reasonable. I prefer to think in terms of something extraordinary, like Abraham sacrificing his son, or perhaps turning the other cheek when struck on one side. But, I think what is really meant is as simple as getting out of your safety zone, helping others grow.
(3) God will never tell you to do something that gratifies the flesh.
(4) God is always challenging our faith, testing us, helping us grow. Dr Stanley recommends that when petitioning God, ask if the decision will challenge our faith or result in spiritual growth. Will it require courage? After some time the "sense of peace which surpasses all understanding" arrives that eliminates the anxiety and worry that comes with change. This is almost a sure sign of hearing God.
(5) God is concerned with the witness we have on other people. He talks about yieldness, surrender, and our loving our brother. If there is a harshness toward others in what we hear, it is not of God.
(6) Nowhere in scripture does God tell anyone to rush into a decision. Satan, on the other hand, always encourages us to act immediately. If we feel an overwhelming urge to act spontaneously, we need to pull back. God is interested in having the details in their proper places and knowing what the consequences will be. Remember in 1 Samuel 13, Saul was told to wait 7 days until Samuel would come and show him what to do. But on the 7th day Saul decided to take matters into his own hands and make a sacrifice, Samuel arrived shortly after he finished and Saul lost the throne for his sons. Remember, God is not only the God of today but also the God of tomorrow.
You hear the word and are transported to 60's and Transcendental Meditation and Eastern Mysticism, maybe even Shirley McClaine and multiple lives. This is unfortunate because to David, a man after God's own heart, and many others meditation is:
"the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is top clear one's mental and spiritual vision of God and let His truth make its full and proper impact on one's mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God's power and grace. Its effect is to ever humble us as we contemplate God's greatness and glory, and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed by Jesus Christ" [J I Packer in Knowing God].
Dr. Stanley has four principles that may help and guide you into meaningful meditation:
(1) Reviewing the past is an excellent way to start. We should focus on how God has operated in our lives in the past and look for his hand in the present. Being of feeble mind I find it helpful to keep a few pages set aside for requests and answered prayers, to help me with this step. Remember how in the past some answers were yes, some not now or even no. But it was for your benefit.
(2) Reflecting upon God's greatness, His grace, and His goodness. His greatness helps us to put our troubles in perspective, God can and has done it all before. Surely One who created the universe should not be underestimated. Honor God.
(3) Remember God's promises of peace, provision, and protection.
(4) Request actions that will elevate Him.
Enhancing the time:
Dr. Stanley summarizes the requirements to enhance the closeness and draw near:
(1) A season of time. If you are in deep distress you need to set aside more than the 5 minutes that may be needed to be quiet with the Lord.
(2) Seclusion. Christ often rose before daylight and went to a solitary place and prayed. Everyone needs to be alone sometimes.
(3) Silence. Don't do all the talking. Clear your head of work, relationships, and surroundings. It is difficult to fix your thoughts on God when barreling down the freeway or even during a morning walk. If you are having problems, read a psalm. Then think about His greatness.
(4) Have a willing and submissive heart. "Humble yourself in the way of the Lord, and He will lift you up." James 4:10. As Larry mentioned last week, those who are humble don't think less of themselves, but rather think of themselves less.
When we meditate we see things from a different perspective, we gain intimacy with God, peace, and a positive attitude. When we listen we see what is best and those around us profit.