Listening to the right voices

Key points

  • We need to tune our hearts to listen to what God is saying to us
  • Accountability to trusted people is a gift God has given us to help keep us journeying well on the road

“Listen in silence because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God. But when you have listened to the voice of God in the stillness of your heart, then your heart is filled with God.”

Mother Theresa

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
 
Jesus Christ: John 10 v 14-16 (NIV)

With the proliferation of media providing the means of getting a voice/message/propaganda/fake news heard, it’s very easy to listen to voices. Voices are all around us, and seem to be getting louder. Some voices are good, some are evil and are easier to identify, some are helpful and some – perhaps many – are not. With busy lives it takes discipline by us to target those voices that we want to hear. That raises the first question: who’s voice is it that you want to give pre-eminence to? Which voice gives you life to the full? As a disciple of Jesus, surely, we have to say God’s! But voices and their promotion can be subtle.

It’s important to realise that the devil is not a creator – he does not have the God-given authority to create – but he is an effective and sophisticated liar.

The devil’s voice most often plays on our past experiences that have harmed us in some way. Many of these came in our childhood (e.g. bullying, rejection, lack of love shown by parents/guardians who held a special place in our hearts, exploitation by others, being controlled by others… the list could go on), but we can be wounded emotionally at any time in our lives. There are some great tools and courses to expose and help to heal these wounds (e.g. Bethel Sozo, prayer ministry, Freedom in Christ) but even when we are healed up the devil has a way of trying to reopen them. It’s important to realise that he is not a creator – he does not have the God-given authority to create – but he is an effective and sophisticated liar. Scripture calls him the father of lies – the most skillful of twisters of truth to create lies to serve his own ends, with no equal. Jesus said that he seeks to steal, kill and destroy. That’s why it’s so important in maintaining a healthy relationship with God and with other people that we listen to the right voices, and God’s voice specifically.

Gardening is one of the leisure activities that I enjoy. I live in an area with a heavy clay soil which makes for heavy digging and the need to add organic material to the soil to grow good plants and vegetables. Treating the soil in this way is not a one off activity but needs to be done every year. The older that I get the harder it becomes! The parable of the sower is about the condition of the ‘soil’ of our hearts (Luke 4v1 – 20). The word that God speaks to us is the conditioner. His heart is that we become healed up and fruitful. Jesus makes it clear that we need to hear God’s word and accept it so that we are fruitful. 

Just before I expand on this, I want to make one quick observation. We need to have learnt that he is entirely trustworthy, his word is a faithful representation of his nature, and that we are able to trust him. Proverbs 3 v5 – 6 is a favourite Scripture of mine.

“Trust in the Lord completely, and do not rely on your own understanding (can be translated opinions). With all your heart rely on him to guide you, and he will lead you in every decision you make. Become intimate with him in whatever you do, and he will lead you wherever you go.” TPT

Hearing God’s word

We need to be able to hear God’s voice by turning our hearts to listen

I think that there are five usual ways in which God speaks to us. God created us for relationship with him and with each other. It should come as no surprise that in relationship with him we talk to God and he talks to us! There needs to be two way communication in a relationship for it to be healthy and intimate! So, how does he talk to us?

  • through his written word (the Bible)
  • with a picture or vision
  • by an experience
  • in our hearts
  • through other people.

All of these need us to be able to hear. This is not automatic. It takes training of our senses. When someone speaks to us, we can hear the words spoken but not hear the message. We can be distracted by thoughts or events that compete in our listening self with the message being spoken. I’ve found it necessary to realise that if I haven’t listened to what a person says to me, even though I’ve heard them speak, then I have to ask them to ‘can you say that again’ so that I can focus on what the message is that they want me to hear. We can treat God speaking to us in the same manner. We have to learn to tune our hearts to listen.

Hearing what God is saying can include hearing his still small voice in our spirits, or hearing an audible voice, or receiving a Spirit-filled ‘thought’ which ‘sounds’ like a voice. Seeing what God is saying can come in the form of pictures, or internal visions, in your mind, or in the ‘eyes’ of your heart. I know of a few people who see in the form of an external vision which is like watching a ‘cinema screen’ in front of you. Feeling what God is saying can come through feeling pain or discomfort in a part of your body (most commonly to show something about God wanting to heal or minister to someone else), or it can be ‘feeling’ or ‘knowing’ something in your spirit.

God most frequently speaks to me through my reading or listening to Scripture/preaching and teaching, or through a picture, but I have learned to tune my heart and affections towards him and then realise how much he speaks to me in my heart. Doing this in a church meeting or conference is one thing, doing it in the workplace I found to take more practice!

How God speaks to us

1. Directional words and prophecies

When someone gives you a directional word or when you receive a picture or vision etc, and this is not something that God has said to you before, I have found it helpful to:

  • seek confirmation from Scripture
  • seek confirmation from one or two others who know you well and whom you trust to speak into your life
  • acknowledge that you will have a witness in your own heart, even if it’s scary!

I encourage you to do the same:

My experience has been that if, or when, it gets tough on the journey you have the confirmation of God’s word to fall back on and not merely a prophecy or picture that someone gave to you. This is not downplaying prophecy, which is a beautiful gift to his people. However, I have found that the word in partnership with prophecy (after all they come from the same God – three in one) gives the comfort in praying that you can say to God “you spoke to me from your word, which does not fail, is forever settled in heaven, and which does not return to you empty but accomplishes what it says, that …..”. I find that it also gives me the added weight of being able to speak to obstacles in my path to hinder me or slow me down to move out of the way!

I’d like to give you an example of receiving a clear directional word from God. My wife and I had responded in 1985 to a directional word that the Lord had given us which meant relocating to Northampton, England, and we moved the following year. In 1988 this meant find finding a new job. I was working in a very niche area, and I couldn’t find a job despite making applications in associated fields. We knew God’s call and so we were confident that he would supply our needs. When no job offers came along we came to the conclusion that I should go self-employed. I can’t say that I felt called to this, more of a necessity in order to enable our calling. The first two to three years were difficult financially, but in 1992 the level of activity increased.

In 1993 I was beginning to get invitations to speak at conferences and professional events. By and large I accepted these. I remember having an invitation to speak at an event which did not seem particularly significant to me, but I thought that the exposure would be helpful. I remember making what I thought to be a good presentation! A couple of weeks after the event I had a phone call from a manager in London Underground who had attended the event asking me if we would be able to help them with a programme of work. A few months earlier I had taken a ‘leap of faith’ and recruited a Principal Consultant to help me develop the business. In the December of that year I learned that we had been awarded not just one, but two substantial contracts by London Underground, and we began to win other contracts on top of that. I remember a Sunday in October of that year, some eight weeks before we knew we had won the contracts, when I was in a time of worship in church.  I had been thinking and praying about whether I should take on other employees. The main debate internally was whether to directly employ consultants or to subcontract the work. At that time managing sub-contractors was something of which we had very little experience and the value of the contracts would have not made it realistically practicable to employ a contracts manager. On the other hand, employing people carried with it the obvious risks of finding long term work for them. The situation was compounded by the fact that in the economy at the time few people were enticed by fixed term or short term contracts, instead preferring job security. 

God spoke to me very clearly in that time of worship from Isaiah 61 v 5 – 6:

“Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.” NIV

This was wild and crazy! I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the internal voice in my spirit was way too loud for me to be imagining it or making it up out of some psychological need. I had learned over the previous years to discern the way that God speaks – more trial and error than inspiration – be this was inspiring! It was one of those defining moments when God spoke to me so clearly that it became a foundational word for me in running the business from this point forward. I realised that he wanted me to employee people in the business and that it was fine for me to recruit people who were not ‘following Jesus’. There was peace in my heart about doing this and the final confirmation came when we had suitable applicants respond to an advertisement. Within two months I had recruited two relatively young graduates to work on these projects. 

Sometimes we become aware of his direction through a growing awareness in our hearts of where he wants us to go. This is then confirmed my circumstances coming together to support it. Again, I think it is right that we say to God, “God, I believe that you are saying…… therefore please bring everything together for me that I need for me to be able to do it.”

2. Non-directional words and prophecies

There have been so many times that God has shown me how much he loves me, encourages me, challenges me to keep on the path, and bless me.

Non-directional words are often to do with God’s encouragement, building us up and cheering us along on the path. They provide strength and reassurance. They help to build ourselves up, guard the affections of our heart and keep us in the love of God. Most of the time God speaks to us in this way – whether directly to us or through others. He is a loving daddy who is constantly wanting to encourage us and bless us. I can count on my two hands the number of times that God has given me a directional word in my 45 years of following him. There have been so many times that God has shown me how much he loves me, encourages me, challenges me to keep on the path, and blesses me! His presence with me at all times is a constant source of delight as I walk with him on the route mapped out for me!

Safeguards

We need to test everything (1 John 4 v 1-6) and hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5v21). When God speaks it is loving, encouraging, edifying, and comforting (1 Cor 14v3). We should also ask the question “Does this word/thought/picture bring ‘life’ or ‘death?’ “

Holy Spirit will always bring peace or maintain peace in us when we receive a word – whether directional or non-directional – if it is from him. He will not contradict himself! If you have any sense of unease then do not receive it but pray about it, seek wise Godly counsel, and see what happens to your peace. It will either settle or increase. That way we control our own spirits. We are meant to have mastery of our spirits, souls and body, and not to abdicate our God given rule to others. Make sure you are not someone described by the writer of Proverb 25:

“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls”(v28) NKJV

Making ourselves accountable

Accountability is a vital gift that God gives us. It is not something to be feared, but something to embrace with joy. He gives us men and women with expertise and wisdom who can mentor, coach and challenge us, and prophesy to us. Accountability isn’t handing over the keys to your life or making yourself subject to them; it’s sharing your heart, your vision, your issues and problems, and letting them speak into your life and your business to help you be successful. It provides you with another voice that God gives you to listen to, rather like a counterpoint to his own.

I had two primary people to whom I made myself accountable. One was the senior pastor of the church in which I was an elder, and the other was our accountant whom had journeyed with me from the very beginning of going self-employed. To my knowledge this man was not a follower of Jesus, but he certainly spoke into my life. I learned another truth, that God provides professional advisers with Godly-wisdom (whether they realise it or not), and whether they are Godly people or not! There are two instances which spring to mind most vividly.

In 1995 I had an approach from a large Insurance Company in the US interested in buying the business. I went to meet them in London where I was ‘wined and dined’ at their expense! I came back having listened to them and discussed the approach with him. He clearly laid out the facts in a way that I had not been able to discern. What made my decision easy was realising that the Company wanted to buy me and my expertise and contacts, and that the freedom I enjoyed on my faith adventures with Jesus could change markedly if I was to sell to them. I later learned that a main competitor at the time was also approached by the same insurance company, who had also turned them down. They did buy some businesses in allied disciplines, but I noted that within a few years these had all disappeared, albeit that they may have been bought out themselves by another larger organisation.

I strongly encourage you to seek out one or two people to whom you can make yourself accountable. They need to people you can trust.

It was shortly after this that the Principal Consultant that I had employed decided to move on to a different job. This left a significant hole in the development and management of the business, and really put time demands on me. I had been considering incorporating the business and bringing in one or two other directors with me as Managing Director. I was hesitating because I wasn’t sure whether offering to reduce our (me and my wife’s) shareholding in an incorporated business was right when considering the Scripture that God had spoken to me two year’s earlier. I discussed this with my accountant (as well as a very few others close to me or the business). I recall vividly his comment; ‘it’s better to own 50% of a business worth £300,000 than 100% of a business worth nothing!” This was the comment that I needed to stop my prevaricating! He clearly spoke to my spirit. Over the next few months I had approached a couple of people known to me about joining me and shortly after I had agreed terms with one of these. He was a great help to me personally but also in developing the business. When I retired, he continued as Managing Director and continues to lead the business.

I strongly encourage you to seek out one or two people to whom you can make yourself accountable. They may be business people or not. They need to people you can trust. I recommend that at least one of them you know is walking close to God and can help you to weigh up with your decisions that you need to make. Someone to ask the right questions of you is a great help!