“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.John 10:1-20
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?”
When someone says they heard from God, or “God spoke to me,” they will often get a reaction similar to the one Jesus got when teaching that he is the good shepherd, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” And yet, what is supposed to happen when we pray? Is prayer a one-way communications process in which we tell God our wish list and leave it at that? Or, is it a conversation between God and us? One where we not only speak to God, but we also listen to God as he speaks to us?
If you live in the world of one-way communication with God and only tell him all about your troubles, then you are missing out on the best part of prayer. The best part is hearing from God as he speaks directly to you. I know some of my friends will freak out over this statement and declare that I do not understand or believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. Their understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture says that there is no other way God communicates with us than Scripture. Scripture is all we need for everything in life and our walk with God. Let me be clear; Scripture is never to be contradicted by something we have “heard from God.” He does not contradict himself. However, there are things about which Scripture is silent, and we need to hear from God to walk in the Spirit.
When Paul was on his second missionary journey, Scripture didn’t tell him not to go to certain locations and go to Macedonia. Paul needed to hear from God directly to get that direction.
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”Acts 16:6-9
Jesus set the pattern in his teaching on the Good Shepherd. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” “…he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Jesus declared that he has an intimate relationship with his sheep and his sheep know his voice; they can hear him, know him, and obey him. This is not limited to Scripture but his actual voice.
As we read the book of Acts, we see the resurrected Lord communicating with his people and giving them direction. After all, he is the head of the church. The head gives directions, and his subordinates must hear directions to obey.
James also lays out a scenario that requires our ability to hear from God.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:5-8
God’s word through James promises wisdom to those who ask in faith. Notice it doesn’t say he will give wisdom to those who deeply study Scripture. However, we indeed gain much wisdom through the study of God’s word. In James’ letter, he is promising wisdom as a component of prayer. It is understood that if we ask, he will speak to us in one way or another. It may be an immediate impression in your spirit, or he may speak a Bible passage to you that answers your need for wisdom. It could come a little later through a dream. God uses all sorts of ways to communicate with us.
I was recently given a certain recommendation from a couple of people, both of whom I trust, but I was resistant to accept the advice for some reason. The night after the last of these conversations, I had an interesting dream that took me back to my high school days playing basketball. I woke from the dream about 3:30 AM and understood that I was to do what had been recommended to me, and the Lord showed me why I had been resistant to take the advice. None of this is directly addressed in Scripture but does fit in with Biblical principles and wisdom.
Many of us who believe that God speaks to us today have had wonderful direction from God, and it has been fruitful. Then we find we are in a time when we are not hearing from God, and we struggle with why not. Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission, has a great answer that I think is absolutely correct. He says that if you have a hard time hearing from God, go back to the last thing God told you to do and ask yourself if you have obeyed that thing. Think about it. Why should God tell you the next step when you haven’t done the last step he gave to you? This bit of advice has been helpful to me and got me to go back and do what I had already been told to do. Then, the communications opened up again.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.James 1:22-25
Those who hear the word and don’t do it are self-deceived. This applies both to Scripture and God’s voice of direction to us. It does no good to hear God speak to us if we don’t obey God. Why should God speak new direction to us if we have not obeyed what he has already spoken to us? So, if you feel stuck and not hearing God, ask yourself if you have obeyed the last thing God told you to do.
This is all today that God wants to speak to us in our prayer times more than he wants to hear our requests. After all, he knows what we need of before we ask. God’s desire is an intimate relationship with us, true fellowship in the Spirit. Examine all of the lives of the characters in the Bible. Practically every major Biblical character had personal conversations with God. Is that supposed to be unusual? I don’t think so. In fact, in the New Covenant, I believe it is to be normative.
Remember Jesus’s example of living in the Spirit in John 5. He says he only does what he sees the Father doing, and he only speaks what he hears the Father speaking. Due to the effects of sin, I understand that we do not and will not have the kind of intimacy that Jesus and the Father had. Maybe we will experience it in the New Creation. But not now. However, Jesus did set the example for us for what it looks like to walk in the Spirit, and we should pursue that model to the extent that we can.
This may sound a little sacrilegious, but this is fun. It is also walking on holy ground and should be taken seriously, but I don’t know a better way to describe what it is like to walk with God and hear from him. It is fun, simply fun. Walking with God is fun. Yes, it will also involve pain and persecution and all sorts of sacrifices, but they are worth it. And nothing is quite like having the Creator of the Universe talk to you personally. Call me crazy, but I love it, and yes, I think it is fun. It is also a tremendous responsibility, but it is fun.
Don’t let your prayer life be a bore. Don’t let your prayer life be all talk and no listen.