Along a highway, some time ago, I saw a billboard that raised my eyebrows. It said:
“Do you have the slightest idea where you are going?” – God
While that billboard may serve to cause unbelievers to think twice, it should also stir the heart of those who follow Christ, too. Do we really know the will of God? Do we really have the ability to know what we are doing is what GOD wants us to do, and not just some vague notion that we hope works out…and that we desperately pray God might bless? What better time to consider how to hear the voice of God than now?
In Acts 16, we see a powerful example of how the Apostle Paul eventually heard God’s clear directions to go to Macedonia to preach the gospel, and how hearing those directions made a dramatic impact in the kingdom of God on earth. In the first thirteen verses of Acts 16, three extremely important questions are given answers…
When is it time to hear the voice of God?
How do we hear the voice of God?
How should we respond to the voice of God?
“When is it time to hear the voice of God?” It is ALWAYS time to hear God’s voice!
Acts is a book filled with examples of God’s people hearing the voice of His Spirit and following that direction. While we are certainly not referring primarily to an audible voice, the spiritual promptings of God in the hearts of His servants make the entire book of Acts alive with the acts of God through His people! We often yearn for God to work like He did in those marvelous days, but we must be willing to listen! Often we simply don’t tune into what the Spirit of God is saying. We may be distracted by entertainment. We may be spiritually lazy. It may be that have gotten so out of touch with His leading that we don’t even listen for His voice anymore. Sadly, many don’t hear the voice of God because of spiritual pride. They already know all the answers. Yet, all of us must yearn for His fresh, daily leadership in our lives. Rest assured, God speaks to those who are listening! In the days of great spiritual barrenness in Israel, God spoke to a child named Samuel. Eli, the priest, who had ceased to hear God’s voice, gave a great word of advice that should all heed. He told Samuel to say to the Lord,“Speak, Lord, for Thy servant is listening.”(1 Sam. 3:9) We should be so inviting! God yearns to lead His people.
In the life of Paul as recorded in Acts 16, we see several indicators that God was about to speak, and that Paul needed to listen! They serve as principles for us today.
It is time to hear God’s voice when we come to a place of completion. Paul had just completed his previous ministry. He sensed his work was done and things were going well. Verse five sums up by saying, “So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.” A good time to rest? Maybe. But also a good time to realize that God had more for Paul – and He did! As Paul moved on, he discovered something else.
It is time to hear God’s voice when find a closed door, and need new direction. Verses six through eight show us that God was closing doors so that Paul might not enter certain cities. Paul was getting no clear direction, but was launching off into every door possible. Whether that was simply Paul’s persistence or whether it was His religious “flesh” at work, the outcome is the same…closed doors mean that God has yet to direct us clearly. If we wait, we’ll soon hear Him.
In verse 9 we read about a vision Paul had in the night. “A certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul immediately conferred with his companions to discern whether this indeed was God’s direction.
It is time to hear God’s voice when we sense God is beginning something new. Certainly, not every vision one sees is from God! But God has a way of placing a burden on our hearts that help us conclude it is Him. When we sense and see God working in new ways to do new things, building on previous foundations He has laid, as He did in Paul’s life, we can be confident He is speaking.
“How do we hear the voice of God?”
God speaks through closed doors. Paul was clearly being told by God NOT to go to either Asia, Mysia or Bithynia. Literally, verse 7 says, “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” Aren’t you so thrilled that we have the indwelling Spirit of God in our lives to show us what His will is? The wording suggests that there was simply no freedom for Paul to move in those directions. Since God is sovereign, His closed doors mean He is up to something. In our lives, as in Paul’s, God closes doors for several reasons: *To protect us. It may be God is saving us much grief or trouble by closing doors. *To open a greater door. God has a perfect sense of timing and knows the big picture. Often what we think is best is paltry compared to His best. *To position us to hear Him more clearly. Since closed doors disappoint us, we often run to God. When God closes doors, He wants us running back to Him saying, “Where are you, God?” *To delay us until the right time. Ron Dunn was fond of saying, “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” Closed doors can mean God is making preparation for the right time. By the way, Paul DID eventually go to all those places He found closed doors to in Acts 16. The result? Well, read the seven letters to the churches in Revelation and see for yourself! Those churches were established by Paul going at a later date! God IS sovereign.
God speaks through open doors. Verses 11-13 of Acts 16 can be summed up in two words: Smooth sailing. They rapidly and smoothly made their way to the cities of Macedonia. How? God was opening those doors, and nothing was hindering them from going. When God opens a door that stands out among closed doors, He is clearly speaking to us. Not every opened door is God’s opened door, but when a door is opened that fits with all that God has done and spoke in our lives, we can have confidence! The provision for smooth sailing in those days was clear provision for Paul to follow God’s voice.
God speaks through needs and burdens. Though a need or burden is not ALL we must have to insure God is speaking, it IS a call to prayer about how God would have us respond. Paul’s vision was one man calling to another with a burden. After praying and seeking counsel, he concluded God was speaking. When your prayer for a burden turns into a conviction that you are to do something – do it! Certainly, as we see needs around us, we should conclude God is calling us to pray and desire to hear Him concerning our involvement with that need. HE will guide us, even as He did Paul.
God speaks through the counsel of others. In verse 10, we have a word that speaks powerfully to how we can hear God’s voice together. It is the word “concluding.” “…concluding that God had called us..” It is a word that means to “commonly conclude” or to “arrive at the same exact conclusion.” As we ask others to pray about what we sense God is doing, they can help us discern His will. Many times, my wife and I have prayed about a matter and have “commonly concluded” what God is telling us. I have heard many testimonies of those who have given particular sums of money that God had given they and their spouses a “common conclusion” for what the offering amount was to be. Paul wasted no time after this verse. He knew by then, God had spoken!
God speaks through spiritual promptings. We don’t have to go far in Acts to find Peter hearing God, as well. In Acts 11:12, he reports, “And the Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings..” Beth Moore tells a memorable story of being prompted to brush an old man’s hair in an airport. Her response of faith enabled her to share Christ’s love with many. Often promptings seem strange, just as this one must have to Peter, but God has control of the big picture, and knows best. Many believers have learned over the years that there is a distinction between mere ideas, and spiritual promptings. Ideas are temorary and often are forgotten quickly, but spiritual promptings linger on, kept there by the Spirit of God until we act on them or reject them outright. God speaks by prompting and moving our hearts. In Exodus 35, the Scripture says the people had been stirred and moved in their hearts to give. Obviously, God had prompted them to give in a certain way, and they were able to give willingly.
God speaks through a sense of peace that we are in the will of God. In Acts 15:29, we find the phrase, “..it seems good to us and to the Holy Spirit…” This may be one of the simplest aspects of hearing God’s voice. When our thoughts are fitting to Scripture, to principles and truths we’ve walked in, to faith, and to the testimony of Christ Himself, we can be assured that what “seems” good to us is in the general counsel of God’s will. Even when what God has called us to do seems impossible, we can have the “peace that passes understanding…” when we know it is His will.
God speaks through Scriptures that come to us time and time again. Surely God uses His perfect and revealed Word above all else. This is mentioned last because it is an aspect of hearing God’s voice we have that neither Paul, nor Peter had in such completion as we have! When we are listening for the voice of God, He will speak through commands, principles, examples, and situations we find within the pages of the Bible. It is a limitless resource! When we are praying about hearing from God for specific issues that pertain to giving, relationships, vocations and general questions that may not be address directly, we may be sure that they are addressed in principle. John 16:13 tells us that the Spirit will “…guide you into all the truth..”
Finally, “How should we respond to the voice of God?”
One word is adequate to describe Paul’s response. Immediately. Paul and his companions “ran a straight course..” They wasted no time, because they were convinced God had spoken. When God’s people hear God’s voice, they waste no time in following, because we are merely joining God in what He is doing. Which brings us back to what we are doing in the first place.
We are listening to the voice of God because we simply want to join Him in what He is doing. As we pray, as we seek His will, as we evaluate His leadership for how we are to be involved financially and prayerfully in the life of His church, we must let nothing distract us from…Hearing God…Trusting God..Obeying God…
Thoughts from John Meador and insights from God's Word.