Sunday 30th September 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Grow Sundays
Title: Discernment and Hearing the Voice of God
Bible Reading: Matthew 7:7-27
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
So … how are you in your relationship with God at the moment?
A month ago we explored for a few weeks how we can be intentional about our spiritual growth, how we can be proactive in making sure that we are connected with Jesus and growing in our faith. After those week I had a number of people say to me how helpful they were and that they wouldn’t mind doing a few more practical sermons on this. So … I have come up with the idea of GROW Sundays – a series of Sunday sermons scattered throughout the year – all designed to help you reconnect in your relationship with God and to nurture spiritual growth. Each of these grow Sunday’s will have a specific spiritual focus – with practical hints on how we might be able to all grow in this area. Today’s specific topic is how we make good and godly decisions…
And to warm us up for this… I have a bit of an interactive game where I we are going to make some choices…
Tough Choices Game [Explain plickers cards… Life is full of choices…]
What fruit juice do you prefer:
- Orange Juice
- Apple Juice
- Carrot, Beetroot & Lemon
- None – just give me water
What season of the year do you like the best:
Sometimes the choice might be of no interest.
Who are you going for in tonight’s rugby league grand final?
- Don’t know/don’t care
- What is this “rugby league” you talk about? We only know of the true rugby …
Sometimes the choices are between good things are bad things.
You really want your friend’s toy. Do you..
- Save up and buy one the same
- Steal it from them when they are not looking
Sometimes, the decisions are not quite as simple and you need to do some thinking about it.
Would you rather me to give:
- 1 chocolate bar to everyone here today
- Give nothing to the others but all the chocolate bars to you
When you grow up (or now) … Do you want to:
- Work long hours, earn lots of money but have no free time
- Work normal hours, earn normal money and have some free time
- Work less, have less money and more free time
- Don’t work, live at home with your parents & watch Netflix all day
Or another tricky one is from the bible – in our bible reading today:
Where would you like to build your house?
- On the rock where the foundations are strong but hard to build and long walk to the water
- On the beach where it is easy to build, near the water but dodgy foundations
But what about if the choice to be made is between all good things – how do you choose then???
If I offered your 2 hours of my time after church today to do one of 4 options … what would you choose (my shout):
- Lunch at a cafe
- Go to the movies together
- Play soccer/tennis/bushwalking together
- I come around to your home and clean your room/home
It is hard, isn’t it. Especially as we might want to do them all, but we can only choose one. And sometimes we need to choose something that we aren’t even sure of what the best choice is. For example
For Christmas, would you want
- One large present
- Three small presents
Life is full of choices. So … how do we make good choices?
What do you do when you need to make a tough choice?
- Write up a list of advantages & disadvantages
- Talk to a friend / parent about it
- All of the above
So how relevant is all of this at the moment. Let me ask you:
- Are you faced with some tough decision at the moment that you could really benefit from some divine guidance?
- Are you feeling a little lost at the moment in life and wondering if God might have another plan for you?
- Do you have the desire to honour God in all that you do and life faithfully the call that God has placed on your life … but just unsure of what God is calling you to do?
So the question is … How do we discern God’s will? Listen to the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 25:4-5
4 Show me the right path, O God;
point out the road for me to follow.
5 Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for every day I trust in you, My God and Saviour.
That’s what we want, isn’t it? To trust in God’s guidance daily. For God to show us the right path, point out the road for us to follow. I echo those thoughts. I don’t want to build my house on the sand because it makes sense to me when God is saying “Phil – build it on the rock. Much better choice”. Actually, I would love for my experience to be like Isaiah 30:21
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Wouldn’t that be great. Hearing God’s voice directing us every turn we take. I wish it was that simple but I suspect that for many of us here, this picture is not our experience. Discerning God’s path or will is something that we struggle with. Today I want to suggest some hints and tools on how we might be able to do this.
HINT: Be Still – slow down – seek God
Throughout scripture is this idea of being still to hear the voice of God. Whether it is Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God” or Jesus going off to a quiet place to pray (Luke 5:16) or the great story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 where he didn’t hear God in the activity and chaos of the fire or wind or earthquake but rather he heard God in the stillness. Sometimes if we wish to hear God’s guidance we need to stop for a moment and actually listen.
Our bible reading today started with the amazing promise that if we seek God, we will find God. (Matthew 7:7) but sometimes seeking means pressing pause on life for a moment and actually focus on listening. For someone like me who is always on the go, always thinking, always moving … this is hard. And yet, when I stop and pray for more than a few minutes I nearly always feel the presence of God. There is something in the stopping that helps me connect with God and be more open to hear God’s voice. I know that the modern society crams so much into our day and mind that it is hard to do – but as Romans 12:2 tells us that if we just slow down and offer ourselves to God, then God will renew our minds and we will know what God’s will is. So my hint is … slow down.
Ok .. so we have slowed down. Now how can God speak to us? After all, we are wanting God to show us the right path, so in some way we need to open to hearing/seeing/sensing that answer. So how does God do that? In lots of ways but I am going to zoom in on just a few of these ways
God speaks to us through the Bible
This is so obvious that I probably don’t even need to mention it but sometimes we forget. Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
If we are looking for the way to walk in, then Scripture definitely shines a light on that path. Isn’t that what we looked at for 6 weeks leading up to Easter – how the example of Jesus shown in the gospels is the way in which we are to follow. Or as the parable at the end of our reading told us … We are wise if we hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice (Matt 7:24).
The bible can actually give good guidance in many of the decisions or situations we are facing. If you are trying to work out God’s will, then I encourage you to pick up your bible. If you are not sure where to look – try Google. Seriously, google works. Type in “bible verses on ___________” and nearly always it comes back with an answer. And sometimes (not always) sometimes those verses are helpful.
But unfortunately, not all decisions are as easy as looking up a Bible verse. So how do we hear the voice of God other than the Bible?
God speaks to us in our minds, gut & spirit
It is my experience that very few people hear God speaking to them out loud (a voice from above). But for some people, we hear God as a voice in our head. So, when I pray, I often have another voice in my head that speaks back to me. Does anyone else have that, or am I just a bit weird. (Just wait … did I just confessed I have voices in my head). Well, I do. I say in my head, “I love you God” and the voice in my head says …
Sounds crazy doesn’t it – but over the years I have found this other voice in my head to be so helpful, so encouraging – that yes, I do think it is God speaking to me. It is not always perfect or correct and I usually test it with other people but I have grown to be attentive to this other voice in my head. Now, if you don’t have the voice in your head – can I ask whether your gut speaks to you? Have you felt in your gut that something was right or wrong? You can’t explain it, you just knew. Or have you ever felt something resonate in your spirit? Somebody says something, you see a picture, or hear an idea and it’s like your spirit starts soaring – like God is saying, there is something in this. If want to be open to God’s guidance in our lives, then we need to be open to God speaking to us in our minds or our gut or our spirit.
Let me see if this is correct. Are you brave enough to put up your hand on whether you have ever had an experience of God speaking in your mind, or that sense of hesitation in your gut or your spirit resonating?
Today we are trying to discern the will of God. We have seen that God can speak to us through the bible, our through our mind, gut or spirit. But let’s dwell on how do we know whether this is actually God speaking or not. In our bible reading it gave the advice to “Be careful of false prophets” or beware of the voice that deceive. (Matthew 7:15) So how do we know if the message we are hearing is from God or not? How can we be sure we are not being deceived?
HINT: Does it sound like God? Does it align with the biblical narrative/church teachings?
I remember when I was a teenager, I was very sceptical that this voice in my head could be God speaking to me. After all, it sounds the same as my thoughts, so how do I know it is really God or is it just me talking to myself. So I asked this nice lady I met one time about it and her reply was “Well, does it sound like God? Does it sound like something that God would say? If so, I would trust that it is God speaking to you”. I still remember that … does it sound like something God would say. Philip Yancey tells a story of his friend coming to him and saying, “God has told me to leave my wife and have a relationship with this other woman”. Philip had to say, “Sorry mate – God wouldn’t say that.” God very, very rarely tells us to do something that goes against the character of God or the Bible or church teachings. So if the voice in your head diverges from that, it is probably not God speaking. It is that simple.
I did say very, very rarely because there have been moments in history where God has brought a new revelation or insight which has changed the way the church thinks – like Peter’s vision in Acts 11 which undid 2000 years of Jews believing that God was not interested in Gentiles. Or Wilberforce challenging the church’s and society’s understanding of slavery. Or the recent developments of inclusion of diversity and women in ministry. So double check what you are hearing against scripture but don’t be totally closed to a new thing that God might be doing.
HINT: Seek out the voice of God in others
Another great hint is to seek out the voice of God speaking through the people that you trust. I do this all the time. Find someone who you can be honest with and say, “I am trying to work out God’s will in this situation and I am feeling like it might be this. What do you think?” Sometimes you need to give them time to think and pray, but I find that God will often confirm his will for me through other people. Which brings me to the next hint
HINT: God often speaks in repetition
I can’t remember who told me this advice but since I was a teenager this has been such an important truth for me. I was told that if God is trying to talk to me that God will use different people and modes to tell me the same message – so look for repetition. And it is true. Ask me later for my stories about seeing repetition – but I just encourage you, if you are trying to discern God’s purpose or will for you … look for repetition.
And the last HINT: God’s Will is often evidenced by fruit.
In our reading from Matthew, Jesus states the obvious – a good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit. (Matthew 7:17) Sometimes even after much prayer, conversations and struggling with a decision I still can’t get a clear answer from God. When my Dad was sensing a call into ministry he describes the experience of God saying once and once only, “I want you to be a minister in the rural areas” and then God went silent. My Dad tried to seek further confirmation, or hear the voice of God in others … but nothing. In the end, he just had to decide to follow that original prompt and if it was God’s will there would be fruit – his ministry would be fruitful. And let me tell you – my Dad’s ministry was fruitful. Sometimes we might be like my Dad and have a strong but not certain sense that this is the path to take. I suggest you take it and see if it is fruitful – because unless God is doing something special in your life, the good path usually produces Good Fruit.
Wow. Have I spoken to much? Was that helpful? I seem to cram a lot into these grow Sunday’s but my heart’s desire is for this to be helpful for you to reconnect with God and grow. So, I wonder if we can actually give this discernment a go right now. I am going to invite the band up to play a song, but as they are doing that I want you to think about a decision or situation or something that you are struggling with. And just for a moment, I want you to stop and pray and listen for the voice or prompting of God. Don’t rush it. Just listen. And when you are ready, stand and join in with the song.