Sermon Series: Sermon Title: Sermon Text: Big Idea: Welcome Venues Introduction The Holy Spirit: Coming Alive to his practical work in our lives.

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1 1 Sermon Series: The Holy Spirit: Coming Alive to his practical work in your life Sermon Title: Discerning the Spirit s voice in your life Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 Big Idea: Recognizing the Spirit s voice requires practice, listening and discernment. Welcome Venues Introduction Welcome to week five of our series I m calling The Holy Spirit: Coming Alive to his practical work in our lives. Today I want to talk about how we can discern when the Holy Spirit is speaking to us. We ve been examining the ministries of the Holy Spirit and we know that he is in us and he is leading, teaching and guiding us. We are called to live by the Spirit and stay in step with the Spirit and that requires the ability to discern when he is speaking and what he is saying. It s not easy to sort out when the Spirit is whispering or prompting verses when our own desires or self-talk or ingrained messages or scripts from the past are pushing through wanting to be heard. This aspect of the practical work of the Spirit in our lives is often one of the most elusive aspects to grasp. Because it has subjective elements to it, it is often misunderstood and abused and used to manipulate. But it doesn t have to be this way. Tuning into the Holy Spirit and learning to recognize his voice and discerning his promptings is one of the greatest blessings for the Christian. There s nothing like it. Nothing enables the believer to experience a personal, intimate connection and vibrant walk with Jesus like tuning into the Spirit s still small voice. [Transition] To get us started, I want to show you a story in the Old Testament that I believe has some important lessons for us regarding the elements involved in discerning the voice and message of the Spirit when he speaks to us. Turn in your Bibles to 1 Samuel 3:1-10 The first thing I want you to see is that Recognizing the Spirit s voice requires practice. We mistakenly think that if God spoke to us we would automatically recognize it as God s voice but that s not true. We must learn to discern and recognize the voice the Spirit of God within us. It only comes with experience. In Samuel s case, the text says God had not been doing that much speaking in those days. And verse 7 indicates that Samuel had not yet had a personal encounter with the Lord or heard the Spirit s voice before. So, he was a

2 2 novice and when God first spoke to him, he didn t recognize his voice. The story reveals that Samuel had to learn to recognize what the voice of God sounded like. Now, let me say at this point that when we talk about the voice of the Spirit most of the time it is not an audible voice that you hear. It s tough to really know what Samuel heard. Apparently Eli didn t hear it. Was it a whisper to Samuel s spirit so clear and distinct that Samuel thought it was Eli? Typically the voice of the Spirit comes in the form of a thought, an impression, a sense or a prompting (Willard, Hearing God, IVP, 1999). And just like in Samuel s experience, learning to recognize them as from the Spirit is a learned skill. It takes time and some of missed opportunities, which teach us. Dallas Willard in his book Hearing God Developing a conversational Relationship with God, suggests that just as there are characteristics associated with people s voices that enable us to learn to recognize them immediately; so, too with the Spirit. For example: Characteristics of the Spirit s voice When the Spirit speaks, he does so with the weight of authority. In the same way Jesus spoke with a unique but distinguishable authority (Matt. 7:29) the voice of the Spirit tends to have a certain steady and calm force that impacts our soul or inmost being. When it comes to distinguishing between the voice of God and our own subconscious, E. Stanley Jones says, Perhaps the rough distinction is this: The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks, and it is self-authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within it. (Jones, A Song of Ascents, p. 190) [Illustration] One person on our staff shared that they had sense a leading into the ministry but when they continued searching trying to go in different directions, they heard a very clear and authoritative voice say, You can stop running now! Willard also suggests that the voice of the Spirit has a certain tone. It has a peaceful, confidence and reasonableness to it. The Apostle James gives us some idea of the tone of the Spirit s voice when he writes, But the wisdom

3 3 from above is first, pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy (James 3:17). A third Characteristic of the Spirit s voice is it rings true to the content of the Bible. This isn t to say that the Spirit will always speak in Bible verses or use King James language. Instead, the content of a whisper or prompting that is truly from God will always conform to and be consistent with the truths about God s nature and kingdom. The voice of the Spirit is going to sound like God meaning it s going to align with God s speech revealed in the Bible. [Transition] - Notice what Eli tells Samuel to do when it finally dawns on him that God might be speaking to Samuel. Verse 9 records Eli s instructions, Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. There are some people who claim to have never heard the promptings or whispers of God. Not even once. Most of the time this is because their lives are so full of noise that they can t possibly hear the Holy Spirit when he speaks. Cell phone Bluetooth always in their ear, boisterous restaurant gatherings with friends, a houseful of excitable toddlers or countless hours of reality TV provide a constant roar of distraction that drowns out any whisper that might be sent their way. Recognizing the Spirit s voice requires listening Time and again, the Scriptures tell us to be still. Psalm 46:10 encourages us to Be still, and know that I am God In other words, you have to reduce your speed. Stop multitasking. Lower the ambient noise of your life and then listen for God to speak. Jesus modeled this for us during his ministry here on earth. Jesus wove into the fabric of his everyday life the disciplines of prayer, solitude, reflection, fasting and worship. He had favorite places to be alone with his Father and favorite places to pray in private. When he faced major decisions, his pattern was to withdraw from the crowds around him and to devote time to solitude and prayer. Not surprisingly, the net effect of a lifestyle like that was the increasing likelihood of hearing from his Father. This is the same level of devotion and action you and I must build into our lives in order to be able to hear the Spirit s voice. There is a God who

4 4 loves you and who would gladly whisper to you words of encouragement or direction, wisdom or well-timed warning, if only you would carve out the space to hear from heaven throughout the course of your day. IN his book entitled, God tells the man who cares; A. W Tozer argues that God tends to speak to people who want to hear from him. He tends to offer divine direction to those who are willing to order their daily lives around receiving input from him. If you are not in the habit of practicing times of silence and solitude then start with the Five Minute Challenge I ve been issuing to you throughout this series. In the morning before the frenetic pace of your day starts: 1. Get by yourself with a note pad. 2. Read and reflect on one of the passages we have been focusing on which speak about the truths of the Spirit. 3. When distracting thoughts flow into your head, register them on the pad so you can go back to reflection on the Spirit 4. Before you get up from your time, ask the Holy Spirit to fill you for the challenges that he knows you ll face in the day. And ask him to help you hear him, recognize him, trust him and obey him. [Transition] For the young Samuel and for us, recognizing the voice of God requires practice, listening and finally discernment. The rest of the story tells us that after hearing the word from the Lord, he went back to be (I wonder if he slept at all) because he recognized the grave implications of what he had heard. Having shared it with Eli, God honored him and the people recognized him as a prophet of the Lord. Recognizing the Spirit s voice requires discernment As I researched the writings of several different seasoned followers of God who write about how to discern the voice of the Spirit, there emerged some helpful guiding principles for how to test and discern if something is from the Spirit verses some other source. Pastor and author Bill Hybels calls these guiding principles, filters can help you and me test every whisper we receive. If a whisper fails to make it through one of these filters, caution should be exercised as to whether the whisper is really from God. At other times, a whisper makes it through these filters with no problem. In this case, no matter how confusing, challenging or unsettling a prompting may be, we should attempt to obey it.

5 5 Dallas Willard cautions; these are filters, NOT a formula. This is not scientific. They all interplay with one another and it involves our own judgment of what they all mean. So here they are: FILTER #1: Does this prompting ring true to what I know about God? Whenever you receive a prompting whether from God directly, or through the lips of another be sure to test it. Take whatever time is necessary to ask, God, is this message from you? Think through Does this square with who I know God to be? Is it consistent with God s character? Is it aligned with God s attributes? Is this you trying to convey something to me, or are there other voices getting into my head? Before taking a single step to obey the whisper you ve received, be sure you assess if it rings true to who God is. FILTER #2: Is It Scriptural? I shared with you last week that over the years in ministry, people have come to me and told me that God told them to do something that is really absurd. God told me to cheat on my wife. God told me to drop out of school with one semester left. God told me to quit my job, even though I have four kids to support and no other source of income. Scripture is replete with examples of how God or godly people would behave in any given life situation. Whenever you sense a prompting from God, ask yourself if you could imagine Abraham, Joseph, David, Jesus, Paul or Peter taking whatever action I am considering taking. If I can t envision them following suit, maybe your wires have gotten crossed with that. If you need a straightforward starting point in this regard, remember the list we looked at in week one of our series from Galatians 5:16-26, which says: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If the prompting or whisper you think you got leads you into any of those sinful nature acts or leads you away from any of these fruits, then it s not from the Spirit of God.

6 6 [Illustration] Years ago I worked with a older couple where the man was addicted to Pornography but was seeking help from me to get free of the addiction. His wife was aware and also praying for him and trying to help him. In the early stages of recovery, he d still try and hide some things around his house. But, the Spirit would Whisper the exact location of the stash to his wife and she d find it every time. Man, God loved that guy. FILTER #3: Is It Wise? Jesus was fond of telling his followers to be wise at all times. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, he says in Matthew 10:16. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 2 The entire book of Proverbs is devoted to dissecting wisdom and all her attributes. For example, the wise one loves knowledge, while the fool hates it; the wise one practices gentle speech, while the fool uses harsh, incendiary words; the wise one lives blamelessly, while the fool is utterly corrupt; the wise one follows a straight path, while the fool rejoices in the perverseness of evil; the wise one inherits honor, while the fool is held up to shame. Scripture is relentless in exhorting us to be wise in all our dealings, to be wise in all our ways. [Transition] - If God is indeed in the plan, it will likely not involve blatantly unwise action. God s direction rarely violates the wisdom test. FILTER #4: Is It in Tune with Your Own Character? In other words does the direction you think the Spirit is taking you align with how you are wired? Does it make sense given your education, your expertise and your experience in life thus far. It s not that God can t endorse a dramatic 180-degree turn. However, when he does do that, it is usually affirmed in a variety of ways. [Illustration] I ve told the story a number of times about how I never really imagined that I d ever serve the cause of Christ in the world by being a senior pastor. I always saw myself in more of a support role or a more private role of therapeutic or counseling ministries. But, when God called us to Church of the Foothills, it was astounding how all the various streams of data that came into us as we tried to discern God s direction all lined up. We literally felt as though God made it impossible to say no. He was in this and it was obvious.

7 7 FILTER #5: What Do the People You Most Trust Think about It? This filter is based on Proverbs 11:14 which says in the Message, Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances. This is the godly counsel test. The idea here is that whenever you sense that God is speaking to you, find two or three veteran Christ-followers preferably people who know you well and who are further down the spiritual path than you are and take some time to describe the situation to them in detail. Humbly ask them, Do you think God really did speak to me? Is this the voice of God I m hearing, or in your estimation did I get my wires crossed? Should I give it more time to discover more clarity? Final Thoughts Importance of HUMILITY with all these principles and with all the experience in the world and years of successful discernment of God s voice and walking with Jesus you never become infallible! You can still be wrong. God does not intend to make us infallible through the illuminating work of the Spirit. Our walk with the Lord does not exempt us from the possibility of error, even in our experienced discernment of what his voice is saying. We MUST remain humble and remember our discernment is NOT perfect! And if you are deeply desiring to hear from God on a particular issue and you carve time out and you get by yourself and pray but you don t hear anything. Don t automatically assume God is displeased with you. For sure we need to examine our lives and see if there are any sinful ways we are refusing to disclose to him. But, don t automatically assume God is punishing you with silence when you don t get super clear direction from him on a matter. Sometimes a clear word or whisper doesn t come because God has given us free will and sound mind to understand his Word, let it develop our character and serve as a point of reference for our decisions. Sometimes his will for us is to decide on our own. Sometimes he wants us to choose in accordance with his already revealed will in the Bible without a specific whisper from him. Like a parent, who trains and instructs their child. In time, that parent expects the child to learn how to make decisions on their own in accordance with the values and virtues nurtured in the child over time. They don t

8 8 expect that child to come back to them for specific instructions on every move they make in life. The voice of the Spirit doesn t always direct you away from suffering and failure. He doesn t always lead us into health, wealth and success. [Illustration] One of our staff shared that one evening during a rough season of ministry, the Spirit whispered to him that the next morning he was going to be let go from his job. Acting on the whisper, he went into the office the next day and asked his boss, Are you going to fire me today? His boss looked at him very strange and said, We need to talk. And that was the end. My point is this: Don t ever buy into the idea that everything God prompts his followers to do will be easy, uncomplicated or low- cost. Sometimes he calls us into tough challenges all for our good his glory and the advancement of his purposes in the world. IN LIVE AND VENUES: I want us to quiet ourselves before the Lord again today let s take a couple minutes and ask the Spirit to minister to us and whisper to us whatever he needs to. Key Resources Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard, Intervarsity: Downers Grove,1999 The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond (Kindle Locations ). Zondervan. Kind God Tells the Man Who Cares By A. W. Tozer

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