home > Pastor’s Desk / 2021 / June / Hearing The Will of God

HEARING THE WILL OF GOD

What I am about to say may shock some. I may even upset most of you who read this. But I hope that in reading this, you will hear my pastoral heart and not prejudge me before you’ve read it all — and prematurely assume that I am being unnecessarily pedantic or petty. I need to speak up about an issue that has been troubling me for some time. I have observed many people becoming disillusioned with their concept of Christianity and walking away from Christ as a result of this issue. It has split churches and even ended marriages and it’s time for someone to finally address it despite its popularity!

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
This is the way, walk in it,”
when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
Isaiah 30:21

 

FIRSTLY, UNDERSTAND THAT CHRISTIANITY IS SUPERNATURAL

Nearly all religions are ‘dead’ religions. While these religions are characterised by various traditions, rituals, and ceremonies, there is very little ongoing supernatural interaction or experience associated with them. Such religions stand in contradistinction with genuine Christianity which is a ‘living’ religion because such Christianity is characterised by its adherents enjoying a continual and personal interaction with the Holy Spirit. This is precisely what Jesus taught us — that the Holy Spirit would lead us, guide us, and instruct us.  

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
John 14:16-17

Becoming a Christian requires a miraculous spiritual transformation whereby an alienated soul (described in the Bible as being spiritually “dead”, Eph. 2:1-5) is reconciled to God by the Holy Spirit mediating the sacrificial work of Christ on our behalf.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son,
much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.
Romans 5:10

This “new life” opens up a Spirit-transformed believer to some amazing supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is why we reasonably describe genuine Christianity as supernatural.

 

PRAYER AS A DIALOGUE

Jesus praying.Most religions practice prayer — but Christianity views prayer uniquely. For Christians, prayer is not the merely the mindless reciting or chanting of religious phrases. Rather, prayer is talking from the heart to God. It’s not about saying certain words or phrases as if prayer required some kind of Hogwarts’ training! Rather, genuine prayer involves confessing, requesting, pleading, interceding, and worship. It is where the believer is invited by God to come close and to be transparent. Many Christians describe prayer is a dialogue with God. But this description can be misleading because the dialogue involved in genuine prayer is not necessarily, and in fact, is not usually, a matter of God talking back to the one praying in the same way as the one doing praying. (The Bible does not teach ‘listening prayer’ such as this.) Genuine prayer-dialogue is where the child of God prays, and then listens to what God says in His Word. In this way, your first aim in praying is not to hear a word from God, but to hear the Word of God! By treating prayer — and the Word of God — like this, you discover that when it comes to making important decisions in your life, the Word of God (the Bible) gives you wise counsel. This counsel instructs you to obey God’s general commands, to seek out wise counsel from trusted and proven advisors, to submit to those God has placed over you or alongside you, and to not be hasty.

 

LEARNING TO HEAR WHAT YOU DON’T NEED TO LEARN TO HEAR 

Over the years I have seen many people offer “How To Hear God” seminars and books. But nearly all of these (if not, all of these) ignore some blatantly obvious descriptions in the Bible about how God speaks to one of His children. When we search the Scriptures to study how God spoke to people we notice two outstanding things. Firstly, as CS Lewis depicted in the Chronicles of Narnia, it was very rare that God actually directly to an individual. Secondly, when God spoke, it was always clear and understandable. In the Old Testament God spoke to pagan rulers often through vivid dreams without any of them very having done a How To Hear God’s Voice Seminar! God also spoke His redemptive Word through just a handful of prophets. The Old Testament actually gave people some tests for determining whether any prophet who claimed to have heard from God was genuine or not. 

¶ “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Deuteronomy 13:1-3

When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
Deuteronomy 18:22

As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.”
Jeremiah 28:9

Based on these two important pieces of Biblical information you be assured of two important principles. Firstly, if God wants to speak to you directly, He will do so in an unmistakably clear way. Secondly, God rarely speaks directly with a person — yet He has given us His Word which is sufficient for us to know how to be reconciled to Him and to come to know Him and His will. (Anyone who claims to have had God speak directly with them yet openly and wilfully disobeys God’s written Word despite this encounter with God, is probably lying!) Knowing these two great Biblical principles should benefit any son or daughter of God who has felt that perhaps they have not been spiritual enough because they have not heard from God the way others claim to have; and, it should also cause the child of God to occasionally admit that they may have acted in presumption rather than on the basis of the Word of God’s instructions to seek wise counsel before presuming that “God told me to…” I have been guilty of such presumption.

Yet there have been several significant times in my journey with Christ when I have sensed that God has ‘spoken’ to me. As I have grown in my walk with Christ I have learned that God’s wisdom for the decisions I have to make often comes from my wife, my elders, and my trusted friends. Each Sunday before I stand to speak before the church I seek God for His word for our church and for Him to speak through me to those participating in our worship service. It is often in these moments that I sense the Holy Spirit impress upon me a word, words, or a thought, that I then convey as I minister on Sunday. I have learned, and am learning, to pay attention to the impressions that the Holy Spirit puts on my heart. But rarely will you ever me say, ”God spoke to me this morning and said…” or, “God has told me that we should…” It is when people make such expressions a part of their usual vocabulary in describing their relationship with God that they are in grave danger of committing presumption and arrogance. It has been my common experience with such people that their failure to admit their presumption and face up to the fact that God did not tell them to do something has resulted in them hurting and disillusioning other brothers and sisters in Christ. I have seen marriages end because of it. I have seen churches split because of it. I have seen friendships finish because of it. And sadly, I have seen vulnerable Christians walk away from church and Christ because of it.

If you feel God is speaking to you about something, or telling you to do something, rather than publicly declaring it as so, I would like to urge you to test it and follow the principles of wisdom from God’s Word first. 

  • God will never tell you to do something that His Word clearly forbids (such as committing sexual sin).
  • God does not always guarantee that you will succeed or prosper if you obey Him (think of the Prophet Jeremiah). In Scripture we see that God often let people ‘fail’ as they faithfully obeyed Him.
  • God rarely asks a person to do something without first preparing them for it (think of each of the disciples that Christ appointed as apostles). Which is more likely: God telling someone to immediately leave their job and begin tomorrow working as a brain surgeon; or, God speaking to someone who has spent the last 8 years of their life getting through medical school and training as a surgeon to now begin to focus their specialist training on becoming a brain surgeon?
  • God rarely directs a person to tell another person to do something that they weren’t expecting. This has sadly happened when someone has claimed that “God told me to tell you that you should marry me!” In every instance that I know of where this happened and the person complied, the marriage has ended quickly and sadly.

 

BEING A CHRISTIAN IS A RELATIONAL ADVENTURE

Christianity is a dynamic (always changing) journey with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit within us who works within us to desire to do and pursue the will of God (Phil. 2:13). It is the illumination of the Spirit that takes God’s Word as we read, study, and meditate on it, and makes it seem fresh and alive to us. And it is the Word of God, which He, the Holy Spirit, inspired men to write so that we could clearly discern the will of God for our lives. You don’t need a word from God to know what God’s will for your life is. You don’t need to attend a “Learn To Hear The Voice of God” seminar, or to read a book on the topic. Instead, you just need to dialogue with God in prayer through pouring out your heart to Him with your requests, petitions, confessions, and thanksgiving; and then, prayerfully read His Word as the light of the Holy Spirit illuminates it to your soul.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Second Corinthians 4:6 

Perhaps if more believers were led by the Spirit like this, less Christian marriages would end, less churches would be split, and less Christians would walk away from Christ and His Church after becoming frustrated by the false belief that since these presumptuous Christians have apparently mis-heard God so wildly, the reason must be that God doesn’t actually exist. This is one of the most pressing issues that needs to be confronted today — especially among those of us who identify as Spirit-filled Pentecostals. 

 

Your pastor,

_

5 INDISPENSABLE GUIDELINES FOR NEW PARENTS

This is not for everyone. If you are already a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my other more abstract Pastor’s Desk articles. If you are not a parent and have no intention of ever being a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my more weighty articles on FindingTruthMatters.org. If you are not yet a parent and one day hope to become a parent, this is for you. Find a quiet place, take the next six minutes thirteen seconds and use the reading of this article as an investment into your future parenting strategies. I did not invent these guidelines. Like many parents who have also discovered the value of these guidelines, once discovered, they seem obvious. These successful parents probably grew up with own parents who inculcated these guidelines almost intuitively. However, my suspicion is that this is becoming increasingly rarer. As with all true guidelines they are adaptable, flexible, and are not a guarantee of parental success — but if ignored they become the point in the mathematical problem solving where you can see you made an error in your working out. In other words, while these guidelines may not guarantee success, if ignored their neglect almost certainly leads to frustration and disappointment. Here are five indispensable guidelines for every prospective new parent.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR ATHEIST & MAGICIAN PENN JILLETTE TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN?

I’ve been praying for Penn Jillette for some time now. It began when I first heard him ridicule the Bible and Christianity. My fascination with Penn (and Teller), and other world-class magicians, has been due to my pursuit to develop my craft of preaching. There are a lot of similarities between preachers and magicians (just as there is also a lot similarities between solo musicians and preachers). I seek to learn from magicians about how to keep an audience’s attention, how to tell a story, and how to make a point by employing the element of surprise. But there are some significant differences between what magicians do and what preachers do though. A magician is deliberately deceptive. A preacher is striving to uphold truth in an honest way.

THINK ABOUT THIS

In Australia, it’s football finals time and the U.S. the last Grand Slam event for the year has just concluded. I find a lot of life lessons from observing elite athletes — including and especially those who play football and those who play tennis. Most people might consider football to be a team sport and tennis to be individual sport. But the distinction is not so clear these days. Often times footballers are individually coached by “position coaches” and a tennis player is often just who the public sees of a team of people responsible for the performance of that player. At the time of writing, there are remaining four Australian Rules Football (AFL) teams about to play off in the Preliminary Finals (including my beloved Geelong Cats). Last weekend, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain defeated Casper Ruud of Norway. Both players have intriguing stories which I will mention shortly. In the AFL, after a disastrous last season, the Collingwood Magpies appointed a new coach for this season, Craig McRae. Even though they got off to a slow start this season, under McRae’s oversight ended up having an 11-straight winning streak toward the end of the season and now look like genuine  Premiership contenders. What do Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, Craig McRae, and the Collingwood football team, all have in common? All the players at the elite level of their sport make an enormous commitment to train, practice, sleep, hydrate, and eat a regulated diet. Yet at the very highest levels in their respective sporting codes the difference between the elite and the extra-elite is no longer skill or fitness. In fact, the difference between them is so applicable to everyday life that it may be the most relevant and do-able thing you hear for a long time. So, think about this.

LOOKING BACK OVER THE PAST 200 YEARS

As Kim and I enjoyed our weekly coffee-date this morning at Stillwater, she looked out ruminatively across at all of the development that has taken place over the years where the North and South Esks merge to form the Tamar River.

“I wonder if the settlers who came here two hundred years ago” she asked, “could have imagined the silos would have been built over there and then turned into a luxury hotel, or that two bridges would have been built here, or that their tiny village would grow into a large city?”

“What’s more interesting” I responded, “is if anyone today can envision what it will all look like in another two hundred years!”

And my response then got me thinking. Could it be possible to imagine what Launceston will end up looking like in two hundred years—and, what about our church? What will our church will look like in two hundred years?

relevance-intact-the-place-of-the-church-in-tasmania

Tasmanian churches play a vital role in our state as a moral compass and social leader. Our moral compass was given to us 2,000 years ago by Christ  who then commissioned the Church to preach, teach, and care in His Name. The Church’s role as a social leader was instigated by Jesus who embraced the shunned, condemned oppressors of the vulnerable, and upheld the sacredness of every human life and taught His followers to do likewise. Two thousand years later, Tasmanian churches gather weekly and continue proclaim the good news that Jesus taught, care for the poor and homeless, feed the hungry, welcome refugees, and provide thousands of young Tasmanians with an education. This is why the former Examiner deputy editor recently described the Tasmanian Church as “the most fundamental pillar in society” but then described it as being led by “a pious clique of fancy robed hypocrites, with less and less relevance each year to the wider community” (28/8/2022). The basis for his sharp criticism is grounded in his assessment that the Tasmanian Church has not recalibrated its moral compass to align itself with culture’s progressive values. Here’s why I disagree with the esteemed former deputy editor.

THE GOOD SAMARITAN AND THE INN-KEEPER

WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR? The Jewish leaders had a very strict understanding of who God accepted and who God rejected. Obviously, they taught, God had accepted the Jews as His favourite – particularly Jewish men. Jewish women were sort of accepted, but only as second-class members of God’s people. This obviously also meant that unless a gentile (a non-Jew) converted to Judaism they could not be accepted by God. Therefore, God rejected all gentiles — and He especially rejected Roman gentiles — but He reserved His ultimate rejection for Samaritans! Jesus then tells the Temple-lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan.

THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.