True Freedom- wk 7 - Tuning In
Last week we talked about being spiritually minded. We asked ourselves, “what thoughts and motives are in my mind?” We looked at some practical tips and advice from Pastor John Piper that would help us to be more spiritually minded. James wrote to other Christ followers telling them that they should see themselves the way God sees them by looking into our spiritual mirror, which is God’s word, and retain that word by, not just being a hearer of it, but also a doer of God’s word.
In that passage, James spends more time talking about “doing” than “listening.” In fact, the only thing he really tells us to do here is to be quick to listen. That kinda makes me wonder if people were just better listeners in his day. Today it seems like getting people to listen is one of the most difficult tasks we face daily.
For example, after I install fireplaces I will always show the owner how to operate and maintain them. “This pellet stove is going to build up ash, so you need to clean out the ashes or it will stop working.” Then we will get a call a year or two later when the homeowner thinks it’s broken. So we will go clean it and they will ask what was wrong with it. “It was just dirty and needed to be cleaned.” I can’t even begin to tell you how many times people will respond by saying, “It needs that? Nobody ever told me I needed to do that.”
I am sure we have all experienced this to some degree. This has become a pretty common joke, but how many of you remember sitting in the back seat as a kid trying to get your mom’s attention? “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mommy. Mamma. Ma. Ma. MAH!” Or as parents trying to get your kids to listen to you.
When Macayla was at home Amy and I were super mean to her and would actually give her chores! Can you believe it? The good thing was that she would do what we told her. The bad thing was that she wouldn’t listen. She was a doer, but not a listener. On an almost daily basis I would hear, “Macayla, I told you to do it this way! Spraying it with water doesn’t clean it.” Or something to that effect.
Certainly in today’s world, listening is definitely a problem. Hearing God can definitely be difficult. Have you ever felt like you can’t hear God when He speaks? Or like He is probably not talking to you at all? As we study this topic today, it is important to recognize that even though you may have felt this way, those thoughts do NOT reflect God’s truth. God IS speaking to you, He LOVES to speak to you, and He loves it when we fully rely on His Word.
When Jesus was walking the earth performing miracle after miracle, teaching the people about God, telling them that He was here to bring them eternal life, there were plenty of people who had a listening problem. They were thinking, “if this is the savior when is He going to tell us?” At one point Jesus was in the Temple during Hanukkah when some people surrounded Him and said, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
“God, just tell me plainly, what am I supposed to do? What should I say to this person? Which job offer should I take? Why won’t you speak to me?” Jesus responded to them by saying, “I’ve already told you and you don’t believe me.” God is already speaking to them, they just aren’t listening. They don’t believe what He is saying and doing, but His people listen and believe. He calls His people His sheep...
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
In this passage, Jesus is telling the people that they are not His sheep and that is why they don’t believe Him. Sometimes when we feel like we can’t hear God speaking to us we look at this verse and feel a little bit threatened. “Uh oh… am I not His sheep? Why can’t I hear Him?” I don’t think that is what Jesus intended at all. Even baby sheep do not respond to their shepherd right away. They have to learn the shepherd’s voice and get familiar with hearing it.
To me, this imagery of sheep hearing their shepherd’s voice is more of a promise than a threat. A promise on the part of the shepherd. That He will call to us and take care of us, we need only get familiar with His work and His voice. Historically, shepherd’s would gather their flocks into one place at night and build a stone wall or some other boundary around them for protection. That way, all of his sheep could rest in safety while he watched over them. In the morning, he would make his call and only his sheep would get up to follow him.
Sheep still do this today. I want to show you a video where you can see this exact thing happening. Several people try to imitate the shepherd’s call but the sheep don’t even look up from grazing. Watch what happens the second the shepherd begins to call...
Psalm 40:6 says that God doesn’t delight in sacrifice and offerings, but He has given the ability to hear. The Hebrew translates more closely to “You have dug out my ears.” There is a pretty good lesson on hearing just in that thought. Packed with plenty of gross illustrations! But I will not be tempted. But if you don’t know what God’s voice sounds like, it might be time to let Him dig out your ears.
Today I want to talk about tuning in to God. Before we do that, let’s take just a second to think about God’s voice. His words. Think about how powerful His words are. At His word, radical changes occur. When He spoke darkness became light, dry land appeared from the water, this chaotic wilderness we call earth was suddenly brimming with life and color. Things that didn’t exist were spoken into existence by the power in God’s Word.
When God made people, He made them in His image. No other creature was made this way. No other creature was given the ability to speak. When you speak, your words have power too. When you speak God’s words in your situation, you will see your life transformed. Proverbs teaches us that the tongue has the power of life and death.
What this tells me is that, first of all, God’s Words are very important. God’s Word brings life. Second, my mouth can both build up and destroy. Therefore it is very important for me to HEAR God’s voice before I open my mouth. He is speaking to you. He will give you His words. We just need to listen.
Jeremiah had to learn this same lesson. God called him to be a prophet when he was young and he understood the importance of speaking God’s word to others. His response to God was, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” Then God said…
Jeremiah 1:9b–10 (NLT)
9 … “Look, I have put my words in your mouth! 10 Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.”
So, if God is always speaking to me, how do I get better at listening? How do I tune in to what He is saying? How can I grow in my ability to hear His voice so that I am less like that baby sheep who isn’t as familiar with His voice and more like the sheep that pops up it’s head the second the Shepherd begins to speak? Let’s talk about 5 things we can do to improve our hearing...
1. PRACTICE HIS PRESENCE
1. PRACTICE HIS PRESENCE
Getting better at anything comes with practice. At work BBQ grills show up in a box. When I first started working for Michael it took me 30-45 minutes to put together a Yoder pellet grill. Last year I would work on 2 at a time and could finish them both in around 15 minutes. The more I worked with them, the more familiar I got with everything about them.
Listening to God works the same way. If you want to get better at hearing Him, spend more time with Him. Spend some intentional time walking with Him. James chapter 4 says to “come close to God and He will come close to you.” The more time you spend with God, the more you will realize that you can’t live without Him.
Think about the last time you left the house and half way to work you realized that you forgot to grab your cell phone. The last time I did that I thought about it pretty often. I felt a little helpless without it. Knowing I couldn’t just call someone if I needed to was a big change for the day. When I needed to look at a map, it wasn’t there. When I wanted to look up something, like a store’s hours, I had no way to do it. If I needed to add something to my calendar, it would have to wait. If I needed to make a note, I would have to find some ancient technology like an ink pen and a very thin and flat sheet of wood.
Even if you try to avoid cell phones, the fact that they have dramatically impacted the way we live. It all started with a little practice. The first time you got a cell phone you learned how to use it, practiced with it some, and it has become a completely new way of life.
When we apply the same thought process to God, we can see how our capacity to hear Him speak to us can increase. Like the phone, He is always with us. He offers us security. He is our Helper. He is available at any moment. He speaks, directs, and gives us counsel. His wisdom is unfailing and readily available. All that is necessary is for us to engage with Him. Just like we engage with the phone. More and more practice. Having a constant dialogue with Him, applying His truth in the way we live, being more mindful of His presence.
When it comes to tuning in to God, the first thing we should do is practice. Practice, practice, practice. Next, it is important to be aware of the things that can sever that connection to His voice…
2. RECOGNIZE HINDRANCES
2. RECOGNIZE HINDRANCES
Keeping with the cell phone illustration, it is important to know what can cause interference. On my way home from work there is one spot where my signal can get so low that I might drop a phone call. In that same way, there are things that can cause us to have more difficulty in hearing God speak. That “poor connection” is never on God’s side. We know that He never leaves us, forsakes us, or changes. If we are experiencing a poor connection, it is definitely time to diagnose the problem.
Here are some things that block signal:
The more pride we have, the more we put walls up between us and God. We get hard-hearted, closed-minded, and unteachable. Pride is us telling God that we know better than Him. It is God speaking to us on the phone and telling us something we don’t want to hear, so we go, “I think you’re cutting out. kkrr-shh chhrrrkkk… I ca… you. Can y… me?”
There are many examples of this in scripture. Jonah didn’t want God to have mercy on Nineveh. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but he didn’t like that idea at all. So instead, Jonah did what he thought would be best, he ran the other way. His pride kept him from hearing what God was saying.
Distractions can hinder our hearing. Have you ever laid down at night to go to sleep and you had so many thoughts racing through your brain that you couldn’t sleep? Being busy can keep us from more than sleep, it can steal our focus from God as well. Mary and Martha experienced this when Jesus came to visit them. Mary sat and listened, while Martha was distracted with all of the busy-ness.
39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
One of the most common terms you will hear, when it comes to communing with God, is “quiet time.” There is a reason that when Jesus went to spend time with God He would go somewhere quiet by Himself rather than going to the Temple or the market. Who would grab their bible and walk out to the median on I-40 to spend “alone” time with God? Or lean up against a fence at a construction site?
A noisy environment can cause poor reception. Even other people who we love and bring great joy to our lives can create energy and clatter that causes static on the line. Even though Jesus was here loving, healing, and ministering to people, He spent much of His time in a quiet place with the Father. After He fed the 5,000 people He sent them all home and then He went to find a quiet place…
23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
God said that David was a man after His heart. Even though God viewed David this way, he wasn’t without faults. In fact, David did some pretty messed up stuff. Even so, he was real in the way that he related to God. He was continually asking God to reveal any wickedness in him so that his heart could be made clean.
Ask God to reveal sin in your life. Ask Him to test your heart and point out anything that is offensive to Him. Sin causes our signal to cut out and be full of static. It makes us want to hide in darkness rather than walking in God’s light. It captures us and holds us in bondage while attempting to steal the freedom that God provides. Though it can’t take what God has given, it convinces us that it is already gone. To have a clear line of communication, we need to be walking in the light...
6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
On my phone I have an app called a network analyzer. It allows me to see the signal strength of any of my wireless connections. I can open that app and walk all around my house looking for weak spots and strong spots so that I can choose to improve the connection in the weak spots or just avoid them all together.
I would encourage anyone to spend some time analyzing your signal. Where do you get good reception? Get rid of anything harming your signal and causing you to drop calls and spend more time in the strong zones. Do more of what brings you a strong signal. 1: Practice, practice, practice. 2: Recognize Hindrances. Third…
3. LET THE HOLY SPIRIT TAKE THE LEAD
3. LET THE HOLY SPIRIT TAKE THE LEAD
When I was watching videos of sheep and their shepherds online, one thing that stood out to me was the different responses of the young sheep. Most of them would look at the shepherd then look at their mother. Their mother was like their leader. Whatever their mother would do, they would do the same.
To me, this is how the Holy Spirit works. Just like the young sheep look to a leader to know how to respond to the shepherd, when our Shepherd calls we need to look to the Holy Spirit as our leader to learn how to respond. When Jesus walked the earth He taught and lead. When the Holy Spirit came, Jesus’ leadership and ministry was replicated and reproduced an innumerable amount of times.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.
The Hebrew word used is “allos.” It means another of the same kind. Different, but the same. Whatever Jesus would teach if He were physically present, we hear the Helper teach by faith. Whatever Jesus would say, the Helper says. Whatever Jesus would ask of us, the Helper asks.
To get better at hearing God’s voice, we need to practice. Learn by doing. We need to avoid hindrances. We need to follow the leader, the Holy Spirit. One of the things the Holy Spirit will lead us to do is…
4. PRAY LIKE JESUS PRAYED
4. PRAY LIKE JESUS PRAYED
Prayer was a HUGE part of Jesus’ life. He prayed a lot, and He taught a lot about prayer. As we read earlier, Jesus would go to a quiet place to pray alone. He would spend a long time praying. He would pray on mountains. In scripture, mountains are places where the people would go to be close to God. So to put this into perspective, Jesus would go somewhere private that He could be close to God and He would spend a lot of time with Him.
12 One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.
Jesus prayed for His disciples, prayed for God’s will to be done, prayed for those who could be considered His enemy, He even prayed for you and me. In the same way, we should pray for others as well. As the Holy Spirit leads you, pray for people who pop into your heart and mind. Jesus was always praying, always spending intimate time with the Father. We need to open up clear lines of communication and pray like Jesus prayed.
The 5th thing to remember when tuning in to God is that God always speaks in line with His Word…
5. GOD IS CONSISTENT
5. GOD IS CONSISTENT
He doesn’t change His mind. He doesn’t have sudden realizations and decide to make you act differently than He has always taught humanity they should act. God is consistent. For example, God isn’t going to tell you that it is okay to cheat on your taxes this year for one reason or another. It doesn’t matter how different this year is from the last, God is not different. In both the Old and New Testament, God teaches that we are to give taxes to whom taxes are due.
If we want to test what we think God is telling us to see if it is true, all we need to do is open up our bible and look. His words are always evidenced by the fruit of the Holy Spirit. What are the fruits of the Holy Spirit? You can find them listed in Galatians 5...
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
I am not saying that God’s instructions will always make sense. Sometimes He will give us a word that we need to ponder and study, but it will always be consistent with the fruit He produces and it will resonate a sense of peace in your spirit.
15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
God will speak to us in prompts. He gives us a divine compulsion to do something. He often prompted Jesus to stop in a specific town or take a specific route. The Holy Spirit directed Philip to walk near someones vehicle. When he did, he overheard the man reading scripture and it started a conversation that allowed Philip to share the Good News of Christ with him.
God may speak to us in dreams and give us visions. God will speak to us as we observe the world around us. He told Jeremiah, “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” And as Jeremiah watched the potter work, God spoke a message to Him. What the man was doing became the illustration for the message.
You might be driving down the road during a drought and notice that your vehicle is dirty and desperately needs to be cleaned. Before you get that chance, a rain cloud you weren’t expecting comes out of nowhere and washes off your car. Then God puts a message in your heart that He is the one who washes clean.
I like illustrations and God knows it because it is probably the most common way that He speaks to me. Simple little small messages that catch me off guard and remind me that He is in control.
Do these 5 things and you will start to notice that God has always been speaking to you, you were just in a bad area and weren’t getting good reception.