Discerning what you “hear from God”

I had a friend from outside church who was always hearing from God. It seemed like he had a direct hotline to God, while all I had were smoke signals and myopia. Sometimes I envied the simplicity and  immediacy of his fellowship with the Lord, but most times I was cautious and doubtful. My reservations had to do with the content of what he claimed to have heard:  often messages of judgment on the world, or Singapore, or the Church, and what the church should do. Most times I listened patiently and occasionally I felt perturbed, and even irritated.

It is wonderful for anyone to have an interactive fellowship with the Lord, and for one to have experiences of dialogue and conversation with God. He can even share his personal experience, “The Lord said to me….”. But when he starts saying, The Lord says this about you, about the church, about the world, and this is what must be done, it is a different thing.  He has moved from the sphere of private experience to the public domain where his words can have implications and bind the conscience of others. Such claims to have heard from God need to be discerned (1 Thessalonians 5: 19-22). Discerning the voice of the Lord is important for otherwise it can hurt people,  the church, or bring the name of the Lord into disrepute.

Mexico HijackingSuch was the case with Jose Flores Pereiras, a Bolivian ex-drug addict pastor, who hijacked Aero Mexico’s flight 576. He threatened to bomb it unless he got the ears of President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. Jose Flores had “heard from God” that a great earthquake is about to strike Mexico City. It was an earthquake “like none there has ever been”.  Having tried for six months to contact the President without success, he had in desperation, resorted to a liquid laden receptacle with lights on it.  It took a pilot to persuade the pastor to release the 107 passengers unharmed. When the SWAT team arrested him, a few other passengers were mistakenly taken into custody too because Jose said there were three persons working with him. It later turned out  that Jose was referring to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit working with him on this unholy venture. And why did he chose 9/9/09 to hijack the plane? Because 999 turned upside down is the Satanic 666! By God’s mercy, he was not hurt. This story underlines the importance of discernment of God’s voice and the interpretation of apocalyptic scriptures.

The best people to discern the Lord are those who continually experience the unconditional love of God. I was meditating on the Gospel of John chapter 21. Jesus had called out from the shore in the early but dark hours of dawn, “Have you caught any fish?” And Peter and the disciples who had fished all night without success replied, “None.” Then Jesus said, “Throw your nets to the right side of your boat.” Which they did and they caught so much it shocked them!

Peter and the other disciples were too caught up in work to notice who was the one on the shore. But John alone perceived that the stranger who spoke was Jesus. Tellingly the text described John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. The inference I draw from this is that those best equipped to discern the Lord’s voice are those who have matured from having tasted and felt the length and breadth, and height and depth of the love of God over and over again. Children of the heavenly Father who have drunk deeply from the fount of God’s grace and love are most able to distinguish the voice of love. Like nets in the hands of hardworking fishermen, they have been mended and made whole by divine love. It is love and grace that distinguishes God’s voice from Satan’s and from ours.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us in our thoughts. These thoughts are so natural we think they are ours, but later on reflection learn to recognize that it is an inspiration from the Lord. He also speaks to us as we meditate or reflect on the scripture or experiences of the day as Peter found out: “while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him….” (Acts 10). Such precious illuminations or ideas need to be journalled in a notebook or smart phone or e-journal to see if they persist and are of the quality of love we are familiar with. This way we learn more and more his gentle whispers.

Another principle of discernment is that it is best done together with the Christian community. “It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit….” were the opening words of the final decision made by James and the elders of the Jerusalem Chrisitian community(Acts 15). The many scripture injunctions to be humble, teachable and submissive to one another, and to the leaders God has appointed over the church provide a healthy environment for hearing God. Collective spiritual intelligence is better than the lone judgment call. God has placed us in a body that grows and thrives because the members are inter-dependent for real growth to happen. Such  spiritual environment is where spiritual discernment can best be practiced as a corporate discipline.

Having mentors and spiritual friendships with others we can confide in and receive mature input and feedback is an important part of discernment. I have spiritual friends who have been immensely helpful in discerning with me what God is doing in my life. In addition, during prayer retreats I have had spiritual directors and found them to be insightful guides. The Roman Catholic function of spiritual direction has in recent decades regained some acceptance in the life of the evangelical church and this augurs well for future.

When I read the report about Jose Flores Perairas, I thought, “Oh no another Pentecostal-Charismatic wreckage….another horror story where “hearing from God” is put in a scary light”. More fodder for the mocking secular press. The report only served up another example of why it is better to stay in the boat rather than try to hear and obey a living Lord. Why risk being like Peter who almost ended up being known as the apostle who drowned?  Yet Jesus is the one who, in the midst of our stormy seas, lovingly coaxes and invites us to ride the storm, which is why hearing from God is an essential despite the attendant risks. Just do it with the discernment of one who is deeply loved and highly favoured, and discern God’s voice with the spiritually intelligent.

10 thoughts on “Discerning what you “hear from God””

  1. Hi BlogPastor!

    Well said!

    Truely, I agree with your words below:
    “It is love and grace that distinguishes God’s voice from Satan’s and from ours.

    The Holy Spirit speaks to us in our thoughts. These thoughts are so natural we think they are ours, but later on reflection learn to recognize that it is an inspiration from the Lord”

    Indeed, the Holy Spirit speaks in tones of love and peace. You cannot help but agree that you are hearing your Shepherd simply because your inner man senses the Shalom Peace. After all, “Perfect Love cast out fear”. Any word spoken in doom and gloom that incites fear need to be seriously guarded against.

    Then there are times when what God is speaking to us is meant ONLY for us. In other words, He does not mean for us to self-appoint ourselves as His spokesmen. Under the New Testament, after Christ has come and justified us through His Righteousness, everyone will know the LORD.

    Hebrews 8:11:
    “No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
    or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
    because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.”

    Let me try to illustrate my point.

    I remember a recent episode in March when I thought I was to tell a friend undergoing a medical treatment for a 4th stage cancer. God has spoken through two verses on healing through my reading of the Bible.

    1) Psalm 23:4
    “Even though I walk through (she will come out of the situation and be alright) the valley of the shadow of death”

    2) 1 John 5:4-5
    “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (She believes Jesus is the Son of God so she will overcome the illness and this verse is God’s promise to her)

    I had really thought that “ME, I” was to pass the message to her. Can you possibly picture that scene I was engaging in— interceding in long prayers with tearful eyes? (It was really the “I” or self at work.)

    As it turned out on the following day while I was sitting under my Pastor’s live sermon, the Holy Spirit through my Ps’ actual words told me that those 2 verses He gave was to tell me (and not my friend) to stop worrying about my friend anymore as she is in His Good Hands. And He ask me: what makes you think your friend is not able to hear My Promise to her to heal her?

    Then I could see and laugh about my own idiocyncracy! I realised what Abba God was trying to get through to the ridiculous “me”, who was pleading and praying HARD to Him the day before.

    By thinking that we HAVE TO tell others what we are hearing from God, we may actually be pursuing our own desire to gratify our pride. We may be assuming wrongly that the receipient of the word cannot hear God at all, and thus self-elevate ourselves to be OT prophets.

    Seriously, we need to examine ourselves to see if we are in error of acting on our flesh.

  2. I hope you will receive, this offer of biblical correction. When the Bible urges the readers of scripture to “prove all things” it certainly was not suggesting that they should look to the hearsay of men as their standard of truth but, rather, in accord with Ps. 118:8 they should look to scripture and trust the authority of God’s word — and not the traditions of men which may be added to that word.

    In you piece above you wrote: “Peter and the other disciples were too caught up in work to notice who was the one on the shore. But John alone perceived that the stranger who spoke was Jesus. Tellingly the text described John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. The inference I draw from this is…” but prior to drawing inferences about this passage one first needs to stick with the plain reading of the text — which does NOT say what you say it says.

    While the designation “the disciple whom Jesus loved” does depict the one-of-kind-relationship that the author had with Jesus, it is also true that neither this passage nor any other passage of scripture ever “described John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.”. The fact is that there is not a single verse that would justify teaching the idea that John was the unnamed “other disciple, whom Jesus loved” and yet people continue to make unbiblical claims (as you did here) and use non-Bible hearsay and circular logic to convince themselves that the unbiblical man-made John tradition can be made to fit with scripture.

    However the facts stated in the plain text of scripture can prove that WHOEVER the unnamed “other disciple, whom Jesus loved” was he could not have been John — because that idea forces the Bible to contradict itself, which the truth cannot do. And this is why repetition of hearsay from non-Bible sources must be used to sell the John tradition. One can pick and choose their favorite non-Bible source to cite as a reason why they believe the idea that the unnamed “other disciple whom Jesus loved” was John. But what no one has ever done is cite a single verse that would justify teaching that this person was John — not those who originated this unbiblical teaching and not those who repeat their error to this day.

    Of course, those who want to avoid the light of scripture on this topic (because it proves the John tradition is false) will quick rush to change the subject – raising this-or-that objection to divert attention from what the word of God actually has to say on this topic. But those who love the truth and who would care to see a presentation of the a presentation of the Bible evidence on this topic (just scripture, no hearsay from non-Bible sources) should check out a free eBook at TheGospelofJohn.com that uses the legal evidence method to show beyond a reasonable doubt that this unnamed disciple could not have been John.

    1. Hi Jim,

      The identity of “the disciple whom Jesus loved”does not detract from the inference that discernment is best done by one who is a continual recipient of God’s healing love.

      My views on the authorship of John’s Gospel is still traditional and similar to what is expressed in this link: http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm

      I also feel on this matter it is okay for Christians and even scholars to agree to disagree.

  3. I agree with Jim’s assessment that John is not the ‘beloved disciple.’ Not changing the subject but doing back to the point of this post, I strongly believe that leaders should teach their congregations the art of discernment.This is especially important in traditions that ‘move strongly in the Spirit.’ If I may, I want to draw attention to one of my blog post Spiritual Discernment and Decision Making. Without discernment, often we do not know who is speaking to us, for our hearts are deceitful.

    1. I read the link and cannot but agree that sometimes people already decided what they want and then seek counsellors and Scripture to agree with what they already want. Mature friends, spouses and spiritual directors, and plain self-awareness and honesty are a real hedge from this danger.

  4. Hi Pastor Kenny,

    Thank you for your enlightening post. I especially like your advice at the end : “Just do it with the discernment of one who is deeply loved and highly favoured, and discern God’s voice with the spiritually intelligent.”

    I would also like to say that I disagree with Jim’s and Alex’s views that John was not “the disciple whom Jesus loved” because from the context of the passages, it can be discerned that John is indeed that disciple.

    I also disagree that a believer’s heart is deceitful “for by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.
    And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,
    “This is the new covenant I will make
    with my people on that day,says the Lord:
    I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.” (Heb 10:14-16)

    If the believer’s heart is deceitful, how then can he “boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place”? (Heb 10:19) In fact, “By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:20-22)

  5. Is it not a “human want(need?)” to be associated with a mighty and significant enterprise?

    The associated public acclamation when one’s “improbable prophesy” comes to past is beneficial to ones ego and social status??

    These desires are not unlike economists who bask im talk show limelight as they seemed to have “predicted” a highly improbable event, like the current credit crunch and toxic CDOs.

    I would personally be very worried medically for any of my friends if they claimed to hear God’s voice regularly.

    Agree that discernment is a very precious gift.

    CS Lewis remarked in his writings that “Jesus is either a certifiable lunatic or HE is really who he claims to be -the Son of God.”

    We have a choice to make!

    C’est la vie

  6. I’ve been experiencing a new season in my life, that the more i read and listen to His word and understand the love of God for me and acknowledging His presence in my life, the more sensitive I am to the Holy Spirit. And like you mentioned, sometimes I brush it off as my own thoughts until the Lord shows me yet another time, as a confirmation.

    Some of the things that the Lord has spoken to me have been repeated so many times, in books, in sermons, in the bible, that I knew I could not ignore them. I knew that He was trying to tell me something, that’s how I learn to listen to His “voice”.

    I think it’s really amazing because though I am intrigued by His words, I am never really big on theological stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s His intentions and His heart that we need to understand, not so much on the words or the sentence structures that He uses (that’s what I personally feel). And to understand “correctly” what He intends for us, we need to diligently seek His word and somehow, the spirit of discernment will come and automatically “filter” off “incorrect” teachings. That’s when we will grow in wisdom 🙂

  7. You said, “…..at the end of the day, it’s His intentions and His heart that we need to understand, not so much on the words or the sentence structures that He uses (that’s what I personally feel). And to understand “correctly” what He intends for us, we need to diligently seek His word…”

    I say, “This is a trustworthy saying!”

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