Hearing from God - Jon Fryer & Andrew Chipperfield
(This is a summary of a worship service based around the theme of communication - the congregation were encouraged to register their mobile phone numbers with us before the start of the service, and to leave their phones on. During the sermon random numbers were texted with txt-speak verses from the Bible, which the preacher interupted the sermon for so that they could be read out, and then wove the verses into the message on the fly. Any other text messages received - well they had to be read out too - not everything we hear is relevant or helpful of from God! The service was also a celebrarion of our own art, music and worship style - all of the song lyrics on the overhead were also converted into txt spelling!)
Ok, so one thing I hear from you guys time and time again is the words “God doesn’t talk to me”, or “I don’t hear from God”. The Bible says that God speaks to His people. The Bible says that God speaks to those who aren’t yet His people. The Bible says that there is nowhere that His voice can not be heard. The Bible says that if you call on His Name, He will answer.
“God doesn’t talk to me.” Why? What makes you so special? What, God speaks to every single person living on the great planet Earth, with the single exception of you? That’s a hell of a persecution complex you’ve got going there. Get over it. You’re not that special. God speaks to you. He wants to speak to you, and He does speak to you. Now whether you listen or not, that’s a different matter.
If you currently believe that God does not speak to you, or that you never hear from God, then one of two things is happening. Firstly, it may because the Devil is distracting you by throwing so much stuff at you, so much noise, that it drowns out the still small voice of God. God doesn’t shout – would you want to hang out with someone who was always shouting at you? No, God whispers to us in words of intimacy that our hearts understand, but just as an earthly intimate conversation is easily interrupted, so is the heavenly conversation. It requires concentration, perseverance, and deliberately making time for us to hear from God, just as does any close friendship here on earth.
More likely however, it may be because you don’t recognise Him when He speaks. You may have got out of the habit of talking to Him regularly. If you don’t make the effort to talk to Him, not only will He not talk to you quite as often (Well, would you make lots of effort to talk to someone who keeps ignoring you?), but you might not recognise His voice when he actually does. God speaks in many ways, but we can fail to recognise them, either because we got out of the habit of listening – we’ll come back to the different ways God speaks to us a bit later – or because we choose to ignore Him. Listen, a Christian man was once caught in a terrible flood, but he scrambled up onto his roof ahead of the rising water. A neighbour came by floating in a dinghy. “Jump in” he said, “I’m getting out of here, the water is rising”. “No” said the man on the roof, “It’s ok, God will save me.” The man in the dinghy tried to persuade him, but the Christian man remained firm, so his neighbour left. The water rose higher, up to his feet on the roof. The coast guard came to the mans house in their speed boat, for the water was now that deep. “Come on,” they Said, “jump in – we’ll get you out of here”. “No” said the man on the roof, “It’s ok, God will save me.” They pleaded with him, but the Christian remained adamant in his belief that God would rescue him. The water rose higher until he was up to his waist, clinging on to his chimney for dear life. The air-sea rescue helicopter flew down and dropped him a rope ladder. “Grab on”, they shouted, “and we’ll pull you out!” “No” shouted the man on the roof, “It’s ok, God will save me.” When he wouldn’t grab on, the helicopter left, because they had other people to save and could not wait. The man drowned. When he got to heaven he went storming into God’s throne room, and shouted at God “What happened to you? You promised to save me, and I waited and I waited and you just abandoned me!” And then God said to him “For crying out loud, I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What do you want from me, a miracle?”.
Ok, that’s an old story, but it makes the point that sometimes we don’t hear clearly from God simply because we are stubborn and pig headed and think we know what God should be saying and how He should be saying it, when God may be trying to get our attention with something slightly different. We need to be paying attention if we want to hear from God. Our attitude should be, in every situation, ok, what are using here? How do you want to talk today? What are you saying to me in this place, at this time, in this situation?
In order to have that attitude however, we need to believe that God wants to talk to us. Read your Bible. If you do, you will find that it says over and over that God will meet with and talk to those who are looking for Him, and He will not let anything get in the way. Lets face it, when sin got in the way, He came down here in person in the form of Jesus just to continue the conversation. I have a clip here from the film Amistad. These African ex-slaves are in prison for a crime they did not commit, and are facing the death penalty. The man who is to judge them is a Christian, but is being pressured by the government to execute them. The slaves have no knowledge at all of Christianity. They do not speak a word of English. A well meaning Christian has given them a Bible, in English, which they can’t read. But Jesus, whom they don’t yet know, wants to speak to them, so watch what happens.
When God wants to speak to you, he doesn’t let a silly thing like not speaking the language get in the way. Goodness knows what good the Christian thought an English Bible would do, but God took that gift and used it to speak, to offer comfort, to offer hope.
Just as the Bible was the primary means of God speaking in that clip, so too for us the Bible is the main way that God speaks to us. As J. John puts it ‘The Bible is the only reliable data we have about God’. The Bible is God’s word to all generations – the absolute minimum that we need to know about Him. It is the primary method that God has chosen to speak to us. If you want to hear from God, but aren’t reading your Bible, then you don’t really want to hear from God, because it is the first way He speaks. And don’t tell me its too complicated or difficult for you – if God can use the Bible to speak to two guys who don’t even speak English then I’m sure He can manage to use it to talk to you, however good or bad you are at reading – you don’t need to be clever, you need to faithful. You don’t need to be a mega brain, you just need to be obedient. Whatever you manage to read, God can use that to speak into your situation. Whatever you manage to read of His word, God can use that to show you more of what He is like, so your friendship grows closer. Whatever you understand from the book, that God can use to teach you to recognise His voice when He speaks in other ways.
But that’s a lot of work, I can hear some of you thinking. Yes it is. All friendships are a lot of work – that’s why they’re valuable. And its for our own good. Wouldn’t it be nice if God just spoke to us clearly, like the text messages we have been getting? Wouldn’t it be great if, in the middle of some dilemma, a ringtone just went off in your head and God dropped the answer into it? Or would it? I don’t know about you, but my head is a crazy place, full of strange ideas, half finished thoughts, random conversations, odd pictures, old memories, future dreams, half-baked temptations and lots of junk. How would I know what God really said? If God just spoke directly into my head and I didn’t have any way of checking what God really sounds like, how would I know. The way would be open for all kinds of misunderstandings.
What that sketch shows is that human beings are fundamentally thick. If God spoke to us directly without giving us something to check against we would be running around getting loads of stuff wrong. Fortunately God is really smart, and so He gave us the Bible. If you think God has spoken to you, and what He said contradicts the Bible in any way, then it wasn’t God. The Bible is the only reliable data we have about God. We always need to check any thing we might hear from God or about God against what it says in the book. And if you don’t know the book well enough to be sure, find someone you trust who does and ask them. However else God might speak to us, He does not ever contradict what He has already said in the Bible.
That’s not to say of course that God doesn’t speak to us directly. Not many of us will ever experience God speaking as a big booming voice from the sky, or speaking through big glowing angelic messengers, but many of us have or will hear from God speaking through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, through words of knowledge, visions, prophecy or tongues. Sometimes God chooses to speak to us directly by nudging our subconscious. Sometimes he speaks to us via our imaginations. If you have an idea, a picture, a thought, a word, that won’t go away, that seems really clear to you, that maybe you don’t understand, maybe that’s God trying to speak to you? Why not ask Him “Lord, are you saying something here?”. He may say yes. He may say no, but then go on to say something else, since you actually bothered to start a conversation with Him! The Lord is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. We ought to be looking and listening for signs of His presence, working to make time to have those chats with Him, actively asking Him to speak to us. Obviously we need to check these things that just drop into our head against the book, but that’s what the Bible is for – its our permanent record of what God sounds like so we can hear what new things he is saying today and tell His voice apart from any counterfeits or screwy ideas that just come from our own imaginations.
And there are still other ways that God speaks to us. Often He will speak by catching our eye with something in the world around us. For some reason, for me, God often talks with adverts, especially on the walls of the London Underground. Maybe that’s because I’m a big Simon & Garfunkel fan – the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, although I’m guessing that more than half of the people in the room have no idea what I’m talking about now. Anyway, here’s something God said to me:
This turned into the talk I gave at Easter about being fully alive – I refuse to be bored because I’m not boring. I refuse to die, because I’m not dying. I have come, said Jesus, so that you may have life and that you might live it to the max.
Here’s something else I saw as I wandered through London:
God said lots to me about what church is really about, what does it look like, how can the world tell. We had a big old chat about it.
This is a building near my office that they are demolishing from the ground up – it reminded me that God doesn’t always do things the way we expect, or speak the way we think he ought to. God can, and does, anything He likes and He refuses to be boxed in by how we think he should act. God can speak through the words of a child, the music of a ringtone, a link in a chain fence, a bottle of water, the lyrics of Madonna’s latest song, the lyrics of the Beatles oldest songs, an origami crane, the kindness of strangers, a no entry sign. God speaks, and the whole world reverberates in sympathy, casting shadows, echoes, ripples of His words. God spoke – Let there be – and everything you see came into being. He still speaks, and all that He has made can be used to carry His words to you. I have hundreds of pictures on my laptop that God has used to speak to me. I’d like to challenge you to open your eyes as you go about your lives. You nearly all have phones on your cameras. If God speaks to see you through something in the world around you, snap a picture of it so there is a permanent record of your conversation. And if it is not too personal, why not send it to us now, and you can share what God said to you with us. It doesn’t have to be long or deep – we’re just looking for real. If God spoke to you, maybe he’ll use the same thing to talk to the rest of us too. Has anyone actually got any snaps on their camera of things God has spoken through already?
One of the things I didn’t mention in that list is a fairly major one – God often talks to us through our friends. Our friends know us better than we do ourselves sometimes, and so God can tell them stuff which we ourselves are simply just missing or ignoring. They pray for us, and so God will talk to them about us. You can’t be a Christian on your own – you need to be plugged into a community where your friends will seek the voice of the Lord for you. And if you are in community, then don’t be a freeloader – you ought to be seeking God’s words for your friends too. We all hear better for each other, and if you love your friends then you ought to be seeking God for them, because He really does have their best interests at heart and knows what they need better then they do and better than you do!
Ok coming in to land now. God knows us all intimately. And He made us all unique. And so He speaks differently to each of us. Different words. Different tones. Different methods and times. Just ‘cos someone else hears in a different way to you doesn’t mean they are wrong – if what they hear matches up with the Bible then its all good, and its all God. For me, its everything around me in a big blur – music, art, architecture, nature, words, culture, stories. For others, its in silence and stillness. For others, its in movement and action, or in the act of creation. It’s all God. God speaks, and everything else is just commentary.
So what happens if we come to a time when we can’t hear? What happens when we desperately need to hear, and all we get is echoing silence? What we don’t do is say ‘God doesn’t speak to me’ and give up. Instead, we go back to what we know. God has spoken and we have a record of it we can check – we go back to the book. Its like he left us a voice mail or a text message we can go back to again and again to remind ourselves of what He said and what He sounds like. God speaks, and so we seek Him in the old familiar places where we know we often hear His voice. God will speak, we believe, ands so we call our friends and ask them to listen.
Don’t know about you, but for me, the big empty silence is usually when I need forgiveness. Don’t you find that? The time you most need a response from God is when you’ve blown it yet again, and yet it seems like your prayers just bounce off the ceiling and He does not answer. Well what do we do then? We trust, and we carry on believing that He does answer, and so we fire off our prayer in blind trust that He does answer even if we don’t hear Him. How many of you here tonight have done or though or said stuff this week, or even today, that you are ashamed of? I have. Have a think for a moment…
So how many of us here tonight need to say sorry to God for something? And how many of you, like me, worry that He doesn’t answer? Well, tell you what. The number on the screen XXXXXXX is a dead number we’ve set up – it doesn’t go anywhere. As a symbol of all the times we’ve needed an answer but have given up, and as a way of saying sorry to God even if it feels like no one answers, lets just text the word Sorry off into the void. Why not make the action of sending the text a prayer that says ‘God, I’m going to keep calling on you until you answer. I want to speak to you just as often as I call my mates’. If you want to, do it now.
(The number we set up actually went to txt response mailbox. On receipt of a text message containing the word 'sorry' it automatically responded with a text message saying "God says - Your sins are forgiven. When you call on my Name, I ALWAYS answer..." - digital absolution!)
...What do you know? Sometimes, just sometimes, God answers clearly. As clearly as a text message. As clearly as a friend.
God says – Your sins are forgiven. When you call on my Name, I ALWAYS answer.
God has spoken – by His prophets,
Spoken His unchanging word,
Each from age to age proclaiming
God the One, the Righteous Lord:
Amid the World’s despair and turmoil
One firm anchor still holds fast,
God is King, His throne eternal,
God the First and God the Last.
God has spoken – by Jesus Christ,
Christ the Everlasting Son,
Brightness of the Father’s Glory,
With the Father ever One;
Spoken by the Word Incarnate,
God of God, before time began,
Light of Light, to Earth descending,
Man, revealing God to man.
God still speaks – by His Spirit,
Speaking to the hearts of men,
In the age-long Word expounding
God’s own message, now as then:
Through the rise and fall of nations
One sure faith still stands fast,
God abides, His Word unchanging,
God the First and God the Last.
TEXT MESSAGES USED DURING SERMON:
God sez – I will neva leave u nor 4sake u.
God sez – Draw near 2 me & I will draw near 2 u.
God sez – When u call on my name I will answr.
God sez – Always rememba wot is riten in the bk. Study it day+night & b sure 2 obey evryfing.
God sez – Don’t just listen 2 da word. Do wot it sez.
God sez – I come 2 giv life 2 da max.
God sez – if u luv me u will obey my commands.
God sez – if u ask 4 anyfing in my name, I’ll do it.
God sez – I am wiv u 4ever 2 da end of da age.
God sez – luv 1 anuva as I hav luved u.
God sez – keep meetin 2geva + cheer each uva up wiv hope.
God sez – giv yur worries 2 me coz I care bout u.
God sez – I have gr8 plans 4 u – plans 2 do gud 4 u.
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed