Read an Excerpt
DISCERNING the Voice of GODHow to Recognize When God Speaks
By Priscilla Shirer
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2007 Priscilla Shirer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneExpect to Hear
"Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord." -Psalm 27:14 (AMP)
I sat on the set of a live television broadcast at the CBS affiliate in Dallas. Fresh out of college, I was anxious and nervous about the demands this new job would require. I had never hosted a live show before. Without the safety net that taping provides, I was concerned I would not be able to smoothly conduct an entire show. What if I lost my train of thought or didn't know what I was supposed to do next? Seeing my apprehension, the producer emerged from the sound booth, walked over, and fitted me with a small device that tucked comfortably around my ear. She explained that this tiny piece of equipment, affectionately known in media circles its "the ear," would keep me connected to her throughout the show. At any time during the program, she could speak to me, providing direction and guidance. Although I was unaware of all the nuances of live television, she was a pro and knew exactly what information to give me at each stage of the broadcast.
When you became a Christian, you were fitted with "the ear." The Holy Spirit has been given to you, so that you are continually connected to the One who can give you clear and consistent guidance for your life. If you are expecting to hear Him, He can cairn your anxieties as you trust Him for specific direction.
Yet as I've looked back on my own experience and have spoken with Christians from all walks of life, I've discovered that many of us don't really believe God will speak to us about the details of our lives. We claim to believe it, but secretly we're discouraged because we can't discern God's voice. We don't doubt that God can speak; we just doubt that He will speak to us.
A couple of years ago, I needed a very specific healing. As I searched for a solution, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I was seeking help from everyone except the Lord. I hadn't even asked Him to speak to me about it. I had asked for advice and medication from doctors and sought guidance from Internet sites and books, but I hadn't laid my request before God. As I searched my heart as to why l hadn't prayed about it, I quickly discovered two reasons.
First, I didn't truly expect the Lord to speak to me. I didn't anticipate that He would enter my world with a practical, personal, life-changing word. Second, I didn't expect the Lord to heal me. Based on the miracles described in the New Testament, my mind knew that the Lord is able to heal. I had even seen and heard of Him healing modern-day believers. But in the deep recesses of my heart, I didn't really believe that He would heal me.
Fortunately, my Bible study took me to the book of Habakkuk. God used that little book to teach me an important lesson: God's voice is responsive. And discerning it begins when we listen in anticipation, expecting to hear from Him.
A SAINT SPEAKS: "If we come to Him doubting His ability
to speak, we will have a difficult time listening. So we must
Habakkuk was a man in great despair, desperate to hear from God. He was appalled at the sinful behavior of the people of Judah and couldn't understand why God wasn't doing something about it. He had prayed and prayed, but God didn't seem to be listening. If He was, He wasn't answering. So Habakkuk cried, "How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, 'Violence!' Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness?" (Habakkuk 1:2-3 NASB).
Although the discouraged prophet expected God to answer him, he had two fundamental questions: "How long?" and "Why?" These two questions probably sound very familiar. When the circumstances of life seem to be closing in on us and we see no end in sight, we want to know how long we will have to continue calling out to God and why He doesn't do something about our situation.
We don't know how long Habakkuk had been calling out to God, but he had most likely been at it for quite a while, because by then he was pointing an accusatory finger at God. Finally, God answered the prophet with these words: "Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days" (v. 5 NASB).
Instead of responding directly, to Habakkuk's complaint, God encouraged him to look around and see what was happening. God basically said, "I am speaking and I am doing something You've been looking through the wrong lenses so you just don't hear or see it."
God's reply to Habakkuk was intended to restore the prophet's confidence in Him. He wanted Habakkuk to recognize His activity so that he would continue to expect Him to come through for him, despite what he was facing. While the prophet was waiting for God to answer, God was already answering! Habakkuk just needed to be fitted with spiritual vision in order to become aware of it. God is always speaking and moving, even when He seems silent.
At the time I studied this passage, I was making the transition to motherhood. I must admit that it has been one of the most difficult challenges in my life so far. Like most moms, I have been brought to tears and very often to my knees before the Lord. In those moments, God's reply to Habakkuk encouraged me.
As I have taken to heart God's command to look and watch, I have begun to see God's hand where I hadn't before. With spiritual vision, I now can see that God is using my children to produce the fruit of the Spirit in me, something for which I have fervently prayed. I can see how the Lord is using them to temper me and make me more fully into the woman He wants me to be. Seeing what God is up to has restored my confidence that He is speaking and working in my situation.
If you have been asking God for help, but feel that tie hasn't been responding, pray that He will help you see the things you might be missing that He is already doing in your life. This will encourage you to anticipate His word to you.
To discern God's voice and see Him working, we must approach Him expectantly and confidently He isn't idle or insensitive to our requests, and He will respond.
A SAINT SPEAKS: "Risk being honest, and expect His
insight in return. Take time to be still before Him. Decide to
seek the Lord until you find Him."
Come as You Are
When God spoke to Habakkuk He told the prophet what He was up to: He was preparing the Babylonians to discipline Judah for its sin. Why do you think God waited so long to have this conversation with Habakkuk? Perhaps the answer is found at the end of verse 5 (NASB)-because "you would not believe if you were told." God knew that Habakkuk would find His message hard to believe.
Sure enough, Habakkuk couldn't believe what God was planning to do. Maybe he hadn't heard Him right, or maybe God hadn't even spoken at all! How could the God he knew be planning to use the vilest nation on earth to punish His own people?
Habakkuk continued his conversation with God by questioning the wisdom of His divine plan: "Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor," he said. "Why," then, "do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?" (v.13 NASB).
Before we come down too hard on Habakkuk for questioning God, we need to remember that Job did this as well. So did Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:25) and Jonah (Jonah 4:2). So have I and probably so have you.
HE SPEAKS: "My thoughts are completely different from
yours," says the Lord. "And my ways are far beyond
anything you could imagine."
Some people think that believers should never question God. But it's clear from Scripture and our own experience that we do-and that it doesn't keep God from speaking to us. He always responds in His own timing. Even when we have great thoughts about God, we cannot always understand His ways. Despite that, He still desires to make Himself known to the seeking heart.
Sometimes God doesn't answer us right away for the same reason He didn't answer Habakkuk right away He knows that His message will be hard for us to believe, because it won't match our expectations. We aren't going to want to believe what He says, and we will use what we know about His character to convince ourselves that He can't really mean it.
God is gracious, and when we want to speak to Him, He invites us to come as we are-questioning, complaining, and confused. When we approach Him, praising Him for what we already know about Him, He will use our questions to reveal more about Himself and enlarge our understanding Since our relationship is meant to be reciprocal, we must also allow Him to come as He is-wiser than we can comprehend.
A SAINT SPEAKS: "If you want to hear God's voice clearly
and you are uncertain, then remain in His presence until He
changes this uncertainty. Often much can happen during this
waiting on the Lord. Sometimes He changes pride into
humility; doubt into faith and peace; sometimes lust into
purity. The Lord can and will do it."
-Corrie Ten Boom
Come Determined to Wait
Once Habakkuk's confidence was restored, he still had questions, but now he was prepared to wait for the answers. As he finished speaking, he had an uneasy feeling that God was going to rebuke him for questioning Him, but he was still determined to hear what God had to say. "I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint" (Habakkuk 2:1 NIV).
The Hebrew words for stand and station are military terms. Habakkuk's use of them reminds me of the guards outside England's Buckingham Palace. Those guys refuse to move no matter what happens. Tourists (like me) have been known to make faces at them and do all sorts of things to try to distract them, but they don't bat an eye. They don't move a muscle. They know what they've been assigned to do, and they won't allow themselves to be distracted.
Habakkuk's posture was militant; his stance strong; his resolve sure. He was on the lookout. He expected God to answer and was determined to wait until He did.
HE SPEAKS: "Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each
morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly."
We will always wait for things that are important to us. We'll stay by our phone waiting for a call about a job opportunity or a report from a doctor's office. We'll wait in line for groceries or a roller-coaster ride. We are willing to wait for the excitement-filled days and weeks before our wedding and the nine long months for a baby to arrive. The value we place on something is in direct proportion to the amount of time we're willing to wait for it.
Hearing God's voice was such a priority in Habakkuk's life that he was willing to be patient. Because he truly expected God to speak, he was able to confidently wait for His word. If we value hearing from God as much as he did, and if we are equally as certain that we will hear His voice, we will be determined to wait patiently for God to speak. There is a direct correlation between your level of anticipation to hear from God and your willingness to wait.
I must admit that waiting to hear from God is difficult for me. But I've begun to see that the process of waiting for a message from God is often just as important as the message itself. As I wait, my faith grows. The waiting prepares me to receive the message that's coming and to respond in obedience. In some cases, the intimacy that I develop with God while waiting is the message.
My friend and mentor Anne Graham Lotz once said to me, "I never make a major decision, especially one that will affect another person, before I have received direction from God." She said that for every major decision she has made, there's a specific Scripture verse she can point to as the one God used to personally direct it. Anne so anticipates an answer from God that she is resolved to wait on Him for guidance before coming to a final decision on any matter. What sound advice from a godly woman!
A SAINT SPEAKS: "Conversing with the Father is colored
by the needs of the day. Let your prayer be something
definite, arising either out of the Word which you have read,
or out of the real soul needs which you long to be satisfied.
Let your prayer be so definite that you can say as you go
out, 'I know what I have asked from my Father, and I expect
I wish that I had been prepared to wait for the Lord to speak before I made one decision recently, but I was far too impatient. My friend Rachel had just come to my home to show me a Bible study she was working on to help women make their home a sanctuary. The Lord has gifted her as an interior decorator and given her a passion to share with others the beauty of the home. Rachel showed me the cover she had designed for what would be a twelve-week Bible study, video series, journal, and gift booklet. I looked on in growing excitement at what she had already accomplished, and when she asked me to be her coauthor for the project, I jumped at the chance. I didn't even ask God what He thought. Right then and there, I told her I was in. She could count on me.
But after I had written the introductory chapters and sent them to the publisher, the Lord began to clearly impress upon me through my personal Bible study that I had made a mistake. He had another project I was to be working on at that time. He wanted me to share a message with women about hearing His voice, but my, impulsive behavior had put His will on the back burner.
I was so ashamed to have to call Rachel after a couple months of hard work to tell her that I couldn't partner with her on her Bible study. I would have saved myself that embarrassment if I would have simply sought the Lord's guidance and waited on His response before I committed to the project.
Maybe you have been in a similar situation. Perhaps you impulsively got involved in something before you asked for God's opinion and waited for a clear answer. I know many women who get married, move to a different state, or make a career change or important financial decision before they hear from God, only to find out that they would have been much better off if they had just been patient and waited for the Lord to speak.
If you have trouble waiting to hear God, ask yourself, "Do I really believe He will speak to the practical personal issues of my life?"
When Habakkuk questioned the wisdom of God's plan, he expected not just an answer but a reprimand. Instead God continued the dialogue with the prophet by reassuring him. Although He would use the wicked Babylonians to punish Judah, He would someday judge them for their sins as well. Habakkuk didn't need to worry. God would see to it that justice was done. Babylon's time was coming.
HE SPEAKS: "The word they heard did not profit them,
because it was not united by faith in those who heard."
-Hebrews 4:2 (NASB)
As long as Habakkuk's approach to God was doubtful or accusatory, God had to build the prophet's faith by showing him that He was indeed up to something and then convince him that it was something good. You might say that God had to make a believer out of him. And He did.
God told Habakkuk that his part in the divine plan was to "run with it" (2:2 NIV) and "live by his faith" (2:4 NIV). Faith is the catalyst that allows us to experience God in our everyday lives. Believers who go to God expecting to hear His voice won't hesitate to move forward in obedience when He speaks. That's because they know that the results will always be so astounding that they will be hard to believe.
Excerpted from DISCERNING the Voice of GOD by Priscilla Shirer Copyright © 2007 by Priscilla Shirer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.