Today I’ll be continuing our series called Dialogue: Recovering the Lost Art of Communicating with God. Now to begin, I want to tell you a story about a recent conversation I had at Caribou Coffee earlier this week.
I went to Caribou on Tuesday to start my day with time reading and praying. I wanted to get a start on this message and just start my day off on the right foot. I got my coffee, sat down in one of the big leather chairs, and was posting to my youth Instagram account when the guy next to me, a strange-looking, older gentleman, started eyeing me up.
Finally, after continually glancing over at me he said, “You know texting is why I’m still here.” I answered, “Why’s that?” And without getting into the details, an hour and 15 minutes later, he had told me all about his mom’s death, her genealogy, the history of Quakers in America, a detailed description of German grand pianos, and that the neighbors behind his house had probably cut down his cherry trees while he was gone. As you can imagine, this conversation was a bit one-sided.
Occasionally, I might ask a question or try to connect his story with something about me, but he just kept talking, not really interested in anything I had to say. And I’ll be honest, after all, my time to read and pray had been wasted listening to this stranger, I was a bit irritated, I felt ignored, and I wondered how he could be so unaware of social cues and the ability to have a back-and-forth conversation.
But I tell you this story because, realistically, this is a lot like our prayer lives.
- When we pray, we tend to do all the talking, filling all the empty space with words
- Plus, we only pray on our time, on our schedule, when we can fit it in – never thinking maybe God wants to say something to us at a moment we haven’t arranged an hour of quiet time at Caribou coffee.
So far in this series, we have been talking about how to approach God with your requests. We have told you to keep it simple, not worry about getting the formula right, and to just humbly and boldly ask God for what you need, knowing prayer changes things.
But our series is called Dialogue – and today’s message focuses not on what we say to God, but on what He is saying to us!
I know many of us forget, but if prayer is a dialogue, then it’s a back-and-forth conversation. Sometimes we do the talking and sometimes we do the listening while God talks. That’s how every other relationship in our lives works, anyway.
Can you imagine what life would be like with your kids or our spouse if you were never allowed to say a word to them until they first approached you to tell you something? And then when they did tell you whatever they had to say, they told you more, and then changed the subject, never coming up for air or giving you a chance to respond, or even say what you wanted to say?
I know my wife can vividly imagine that as there are times I’ll ramble on and on about my day and our plans for the night, never slowing down to ask her anything about her day or her thoughts. And then, not so patiently, she eventually interrupts me with a “Do you even care about what I have to say?”
I’m sure there are times God feels like interrupting our prayers with that same line – “Do you even care what I have to say?” And I wonder, why do we do that? Why do we so often think of prayer as a one-sided monologue from us to God and never give him a chance to speak back to us?
Do we believe that God actually WILL speak back to us? Do we know how to recognize his voice if he did? I’m sure, if you’re like me, at least on one occasion you have wished you lived in Biblical times when God made his speaking really obvious to people.
- Adam didn’t wonder if he was talking to God as he spoke with God as they hung out in the garden together
- Moses heard God’s audible voice coming from a burning bush
- A donkey spoke God’s words to Balaam
- The Apostle Paul was blinded by a bright light and then heard God’s clear voice
But we wonder, does God still speak to us today? And if so, how?
God Speaks in Scripture
We’re not the first people to ask that question. When you look back at the disciples of Jesus, they were used to having Jesus be the one who taught them, challenged them, and basically was God’s voice to them. But then they encountered the same question I’m asking today after Jesus ascended into Heaven. How were they supposed to hear from God now?
In Acts 1 we find a simple story where the disciples decided they needed to choose a new disciple to replace Judas who had betrayed Jesus and then killed himself. And without Jesus to instruct them or knowing how to hear from God, they prayed and say, “God, show us who to pick.” And then they cast lots to determine the new disciple.
It would be like the next time Ashworth Road needs a new pastor – you just pick two people who are qualified, pray for God to show you your next pastor, and then ask them each to pick a number 1-10, and whoever is closest is God’s person for the job! That seems a bit crazy to us, but they didn’t know how else to hear from God on the matter.
But then if you keep reading in Acts, you immediately come to Acts 2. And it’s in Acts 2 where we read of how God changed everything about how he communicates with His people. You see in Acts 2, we read about how on the day of Pentecost – the Old Testament festival that always came 7 weeks after Passover – for the first time, God sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
Then we have this story where something that looked like flaming tongues of fire descended over each of the disciples and then they began speaking in other languages. And I understand, this part of the Bible has caused a lot of division between Christians today. We have people who think everybody should speak in other languages, and we call them Pentecostals because of when this happened. And we have other people who say that none of the supernatural gifts described in the Bible are for us today and they all stopped with the disciples. But today I want to bypass that debate and point us to something we should all agree on. When God sent the Holy Spirit, he changed how He communicated with His people.
- In the Old Testament, God spoke directly to a few people, mostly he spoke to Prophets who spoke to people. And so most Hebrews never heard God and never had any direct experience with him.
- But after the Day of Pentecost, we read about how God is going to pour out his Spirit on all believers. And this means every person who is a follower of Jesus has direct access to hear from God through the Holy Spirit.
We read numerous stories throughout the rest of the book of Acts that shows God’s new method for communicating with his people. I’ll just run through a few quickly:
- In Acts 8:29 we read about Philip, one of the apostles, walking down the road, and it says:
The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
- In Acts 13:2-3 we see another place where the Spirit talks to people.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
- In Acts 16:6 we see the Holy Spirit directing Paul’s travels.
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asi
- In Acts 20:22-23 Paul speaks directly about how the Spirit leads and speaks to him.
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me
Now the reason I showed you those verses was to demonstrate how one of the normal functions of the Holy Spirit is to guide, direct, and speak to us on God’s behalf. And I know, some of you may still be thinking – these are special cases. These are the Apostles. This was back then but isn’t for us anymore. But that simply isn’t true.
Pauls tells us in Romans 8:14 that “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” So if we are children of God, we should be led by the Holy Spirit. We should be able to hear the Spirit when He speaks to us. That is the second half of the two-way conversation with God. It is God speaking to us through his Holy Spirit.
Often I think we forget or take for granted this amazing opportunity we have. People before Jesus didn’t really have the chance for prayer to be a two-way dialogue like we have, because they didn’t have the Holy Spirit. But we do. It’s unfortunate, however, that we squander this opportunity to hear from God because we aren’t comfortable with the idea of the Holy Spirit “speaking” to us or we don’t think we are spiritual enough to have that experience.
But here’s the amazing thing: I think most of us have had an experience (or many) where the Holy Spirit has spoken to us and we dismissed it or just didn’t think it came from the Holy Spirit. You see, for Christians, it’s a normal experience for the Holy Spirit to speak to you. Sometimes this happens during your times of prayer and other times randomly through the day (like when God wants to speak to you and can’t wait for you to come to him in prayer).
I imagine some of you can recall a time when you simply felt compelled to check in on somebody to see how they were doing. Or maybe you just had a feeling like you should give generously to a cause. Maybe you prayed to find your lost keys and sure enough, then immediately remembered where you left them.
All of those situations are examples of the Holy Spirit leading you, compelling you, and speaking to you in various ways and situations. They aren’t miraculous like speaking another language, but they are just as supernatural – GOD IS SPEAKING TO YOU. Don’t miss this – God Still Speaks through His Holy Spirit.
For some of you, this may be a really strange idea, but it’s true. Prayer is a dialogue and God has things he wants to tell you. You just need to know how to identify His voice and what to do when you think you hear Him. And so with that in mind, I’m going to give you a few thoughts about how to communicate with God.
But first, I have to say that hearing the voice of the Spirit isn’t as mechanical as this list I’m about to give makes it seem. Listening for His voice is sort of like riding a bike. Somebody can try to tell you what to do, but then you simply have to try to do it and learn as you go. And each time you ride your bike you get more comfortable, and in the same way, the more you learn to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, the easier it will become and the more normal it will be.
When God Speaks
a. God can be shouting at us, but if our lives are so full of busyness and noise, we may never notice. We have to make time to listen to the Holy Spirit.
- When you pray, spend some time sitting quietly listening
- Make a habit of spending time reading the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says the Bible is “Alive and active.” That doesn’t mean the words dance on the page, but it does mean the Holy Spirit illuminates or springs words into your mind that He wants to speak to you.
- Take time to unplug. Drive without the radio on. Relax at home without technology. Just sit outside, enjoying God’s creation.
b. Be sensitive to any proddings, random thoughts, or strong feelings you have
- Sometimes we miss God’s voice because we simply don’t recognize it. We misdiagnose the cause of those feelings and fail to realize it’s actually a word from God.
- We must recognize that sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks to us through what other Christians tell us. If they have the same Spirit inside them, God can use them as a mouthpiece to get our attention. Be sensitive.
- We need to start attributing these small nudges to God.
c. For example – most of my best ideas for ministry don’t come to me while I’m working diligently in my office. No – they come randomly during my prayer time while I’m just sitting quietly thinking about all of you. It’s when I stop trying to do, that God says, “Thanks for asking, Here’s what I would do.” And while I could take credit for these ideas, I give credit where credit is due, and recognize these ideas that spring to my mind are the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Speaking of giving credit to God for these things. There is a place to examine and verify what we think the Holy Spirit is speaking to us.
Bible – everything the Holy Spirit says to us WILL line up with God’s truth
Other Believers – God put us into community and each of us has the same Spirit. So if I feel like the Holy Spirit is telling me to do something and those I share that with tell me they don’t feel good about that, perhaps I’m the one who is not hearing correctly.
The reason this step of examination is important is that some people like to attribute to God the things that they selfishly feel strongly about. And when others question them, they just say, “God told me so.”
So just be careful. Don’t be afraid of following big dreams the Holy Spirit gives you, but test those dreams first against the Bible and the wisdom of others.
While God graciously chooses to use us for his work in this world, he will never force us to do anything. So every time the Holy Spirit asks us to do something, we have a choice in how we respond. Will we trust that we are accurately hearing the Spirit’s voice and obey? Or will we doubt ourselves or choose not to obey?
Additionally, if God speaks to you, asks you to do something, and then you ignore that, then what is the value in hearing the Holy Spirit? And quite frankly, if you make a habit of not responding, then why would God keep talking with you? If you keep asking somebody for help and they keep ignoring you, you’re probably going to stop asking them anymore, aren’t you?
That’s why it’s important for our dialogue with God to be more than just talking. When we ask God for something, we don’t just want to know he heard us. We hope he responds… that he acts. And in the same way, God asks us for things, and he hopes we will respond to him.
So the next time somebody randomly pops into your mind and you don’t know why – stop what you are doing and pray for that person and then give them a call later. Or when you are talking with a stranger who is telling you about a difficult situation and you feel like God wants you to pray with that person – do it, right then and there. Or when you hear about a ministry need and feel compelled to help – don’t wait for us to contact you, recognize that feeling as the Holy Spirit nudging you and respond.
To tie this all together, during my conversation at Caribou this past week, I could have gotten really frustrated that this man was “wasting my time” and tried to get back to my business at hand, but while this guy was telling me about German pianos, I felt like God was telling me, “Listen to this guy and try to tell him about Me.”
I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I did feel compelled. I wasn’t praying when I heard this voice, God was just interrupting my day to let me know he had an assignment for me. But I heard it, I knew it was from God because selfish Ryan would never think this thought, and I responded.
When he began talking about Quakers I asked him about his own faith and I kept trying to steer him back to Jesus. Did I accomplish anything dramatic? I don’t think so, but got to hear from God and faithfully respond!
And each one of us has this opportunity every day. We have the Holy Spirit inside us and so we have the opportunity to hear from God through the Holy Spirit at any moment. Will we be listening? Will we respond? So far in this series, we have talked about taking a step of faith by bringing all of your requests to God. We have challenged you to boldly come to God’s throne with your needs and wants.
Today I challenge you to take yet another step, from doing all the talking to allowing prayer to be a back-and-forth exchange with God. It may feel weird, and you may be thinking you have no idea where to start. But all you need to do is be still.
Again, there is no magic formula for how to prepare yourself for the Holy Spirit to speak to you. Just give him time and space to speak – a moment when you aren’t speaking. If you do that, I trust that you will be amazed at all the things God communicates to you. He will show you things in your own life; He will guide you through decisions you need to make. And he will ask you to do some things for him – things that bring his kingdom to this earth. Like listening to an old man talk about pianos and Quakers for an hour so that I could make a simple statement that really, all of faith is about Jesus.
So I encourage you, be listening. You don’t know what you’re missing on this Christian journey until you begin to regularly hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in your everyday life.