As a charismatic Christian, I’ve always been intrigued about hearing God’s voice. Charismatic Christianity has been a big part of my Christian life since I became a Christian about 13 or so years ago. I’ve attended charismatic churches, been to charismatic conferences and read lots of charismatic books and articles. I’ve seen before my eyes all things charismatic – healings, miracles and words of knowledge (or prophetic words or whatever you call it!) that have come true. And I speak in tongues everyday.
On the other hand, I’ve also immersed myself in a lot of non-charismatic Christianity. I was once (not now) very into Reformed/Calvinistic theology which gave me an excellent foundation in the Word of God. So besides hanging around charismatics, I also had many good non-charismatic friends. And I know how non-charismatics think of charismatics and their practices. And also vice-versa.
Unfortunately, a lot of the criticisms non-charismatics have of charismatics are true. There have been a lot of excesses – especially in healing, prosperity teachings, prophecies and taking the Word of God lightly. On the other hand, I think there have been so many wonderful healings, miracles and true prophetic words that have blessed many lives. I’m a charismatic because I believe in all these. I believe God still works through all these. I have no doubt it’s God because I see lives transformed for His glory. I don’t understand non-charismatics who throw out everything charismatic. Because, anyone who does his research would know that there have been genuine healings, miracles and prophetic words. Now, it’s either that they’re of the devil, or they’re true and for today. There’s no way they can be of the devil for me because the fruits of these miracles and healing and all are that Jesus is glorified. The devil doesn’t do miracles to glorify Jesus. He can perform the miraculous, yes. But definitely not to bring glory to Jesus. Definitely not to make the recipients of these miracles more in love with Jesus! As Jesus said, a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
Anyway, back to hearing God’s voice. Whenever I see Christians calling out a word of knowledge for healing or speaking a word to another person which blessed the other person greatly (I’m talking about a specific word that they could only have gotten from God, not some general encouragement), I do stand in awe. Just as I stand in awe of the miraculous occurring – after all, the purpose of the miraculous is not only to bless the recipient, but also to bring glory to God as we stand in awe of his mighty works. Of course, I do realize that we should not crazily pursue signs and wonders. But there is nothing wrong with a healthy pursuit of these gifts from God, not forgetting that these are to bless people and bring glory to God, not to bring glory to oneself!
About 2-3 years ago, I attended a prophetic workshop at Trinity Christian Centre, a Pentecostal church in Singapore. The pastors talked about how we all can hear God’s voice and we needed to practice it (through trial and error) to improve our discernment of what’s truly of God and what’s not. And we had a whole lot of practice during those workshops! To say the least, it was quite scary for me. We were often grouped into pairs and told to pray for each other specifically. We didn’t know the other person so we had to try to hear what God was asking us to pray for the other person. Of course, a lot of us got a lot of it wrong and were embarrassed naturally! But that was to be expected. The idea was to practice and learn through trial and error.
I wasn’t too comfortable with it all, but I went along with it anyway because I do think it forced us to really start practicing and discerning God’s voice. Since that time, I guess I haven’t really practiced actively hearing God’s voice. Although, everytime I do see pastors accurately speaking a word from God to someone (for healing or whatever) that they could never have known without God speaking to them, it stirs up a desire in me to have a more intimate relationship with God like they have. I think that’s something missing in my walk with God, yet I didn’t know how to start. I guess I had also put off working on this desire because I’ve seen so many abuses. I have often wondered how different charismatics can hear from God, yet have such opposing theologies. For example, the two biggest churches in Singapore have quite opposing theologies regarding the grace of God, yet I know both are great churches blessed mightily by God and having senior pastors who truly love God and have a close relationship with Him. If God really speaks to them, why such different theologies? I still haven’t figured that out yet. But I think it just goes to show that we are still fallible and that we don’t hear God perfectly but are still influenced by our (theological) biases and filter God’s voice through our biases.
On Sunday, I bought a book entitled “Can’t You Talk Louder God? – Secrets to Hearing the Voice of God” by Steve Shultz at the excellent Heidi Baker event I attended. I finally decided to take that step to work on this desire of mine to hear God’s voice by reading up more about it. It was a simple book and I finished it in a few hours. Having finished the book, here are some of my thoughts:
1) God is always speaking to us, but we just don’t recognize it as God’s voice. When we have an impression to do something, this could be God speaking. When we feel peace about something, this could be God telling us something – e.g. this is the right decision. When we read the Bible and are struck by some verses, this could be God speaking to us. Of course, besides the above ways, God can speak audibly and through dreams and so on.
2) God speaks in our language and often into our thoughts. It’s not as though God speaks word-for-word and therefore if we don’t hear word-for-word, it’s not Him. I think I kind of always thought this (because of how some pastors portrayed it) and thus never thought that I could have such a word-for-word revelation in my life. But rather, most of the time he speaks into or through our thoughts – i.e we think those thoughts are ours but they are actually God. Of course, this means we need to discern what is of God and what isn’t of God.
A lot of times I hear people say something like:
Yesterday, God spoke to me. He said, “Keep having faith and you will receive what you ask for in the end.”
When I hear this, I think, “Wow, you mean God actually said word-for-word, ‘Keep having faith and you will receive…”. But now I know that it’s not God actually saying that word-for-word but rather it’s the impression and thoughts that came to the person’s mind that are from God. The actual words are words used by them based on the impressions and thoughts they have received from God. So if that same impression came to me, I may have worded it differently. Perhaps like,
Yesterday, God spoke to me. He said, “Continue to have faith. You will get it in the end.”
And a person during the King James English era who heard God speak the same thing would word it differently also. Again, it’s not that God speaks word-for-word, but through impressions and his thoughts put into our minds.
Andrew Wommack writes:
…communication with God is Spirit to spirit, not brain to brain or mouth to ear, the way we communicate in the physical realm. The Lord speaks to our spirits, not in words, but in thoughts and impressions. Then our spirits speak to us in words like, “I think the Lord wants me to do this or that.” The Lord doesn’t typically say “You do this or that,” but He will impress your spirit to do something, and then your spirit says, “I think I should do . . .” Therefore, we often miss the leading of the Lord, thinking it’s our own thoughts.
I kind of knew this already but I guess it was enforced to me once again as I read the book. Knowing that God has always been speaking and it’s not as though he speaks only word-for-word encourages me. Because I think I’ve heard God before. It’s just that I didn’t know it! So it’s time for me to be more discerning of His voice!
3) As mentioned already, most of the time, God speaks through impressions. Steve wrote:
Sometimes, I do mini-seminars on learning to hear the voice of God. I can boil an all-day seminars on learning to hear God’s voice into just three simple words. And here they are: “Follow your impressions!”
Of course he speaks through other ways too. But He probably speaks mostly through impressions to most people. God speaking through an audible voice is rare.
4) It takes a lot of practice and trial and error to improve one’s discernment of God’s voice. Practice makes perfect. From now on, I do hope to be more aware that God speaks through impressions. I think I have to dare to step out in faith too. We will not always be 100% certain that it’s God speaking but unless we step out in faith, we’ll never improve in our discernment. Stepping out in faith may lead to embarrassment. Sometimes, God may ask us to say something to somebody and we’re afraid because we’re not sure it’s God. But I think unless we’re willing to do the ridiculous, the miraculous won’t happen.
The paradoxical thing is that as we focus on hearing God’s voice and not our own, that’s when we have all sorts of thoughts coming into our minds which are from us! It’s also hard to keep quiet and listen to God. During prayer, it’s easy to talk and talk. But I think I need to spend more time just listening to God.
5) We hear God through our own filters. I mentioned this above already. But I think it’s important to state this again. Since we don’t receive words from God word-for-word, we actually interpret it through our own filters or lenses. Such may be theological or whatever. So God may speak to us about something but a Calvinist and Arminian may word it differently and because of their theological systems interpret the word according to their own system.
This is important to note because then we can understand why people of differing and opposing theological systems still claim to hear God’s voice. Surely, if they can discern God’s voice so clearly and easily, they would get their theology right and perfect and Christians who hear God’s voice would be one in all they believe! But God has specific purposes in speaking to us. It may not always be what we want Him to speak to us about. Or if He has spoken to us about our theology, our theological lenses and biases are so strong that it blocks His voice out. I think it just goes to show that we’re imperfect and fallible.
By the way, what I write in this point is my insight and what I think through my many years in both charismatic and non-charismatic churches, not what I learnt from the book.
6) Always be humble. If we’re imperfect and fallible in discerning God’s voice, we need to be very humble. There’s no place for going around telling people that “God said to me…” or “Thus saitheth the Lord”. Because, we can never be 100% sure. It’s better to say, “I think God’s told me…” or “I feel God telling me…”, etc.
I cringe whenever I hear leaders using the “God told me…” line. However, I also know that it’s a bit inconvenient to always put a qualifier on every word they feel is from God. Perhaps, to them it’s understood that this is what they feel and they’re not claiming 100% certainty. But I would rather them qualify their statements. If not, the result is that they may become too proud and people think that they’re so holy as they always get such clear words from God!
So anyway, I hope to spend 2008 seeking to improve in this area of my spiritual life. If anyone wants to share any of their thoughts, please do!