Listening to God
Listening to God: Numbers 22 v21-38 Balaam and His Talking Donkey
The story is told of President Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines of people at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
I guess Roosevelt and God have a lot in common. Certainly they both have a sense of humour. God used a talking donkey long before one featured in the Shrek Movies, and I sure many people either don’t listen or pay attention to what He really says! Although time is brief to cover such an important discipline as Listening to God, I want to cover 3 main points: First how does God speak to us. Second how do we know it’s God speaking and Thirdly, how do we respond to the word of God.
Phil Yancey in his book Grace Moments reminds us that God spoke through various actions and words. The Thunder and lightning at Mount Sinai, the burning bush, in a more gentle way through Jesus and then through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Although I’m sure God still speaks through visual and tangible things, it seems He choices to use the last mentioned by Yancey in more abundant measure today. Certainly in the Gospels Jesus highlights the importance and power of the Holy Spirit. For example John 16 v7 Jesus tells his disciples whilst talking about his Crucifixion, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your own good that I’m going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you” then goes on to say in v12 15 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bare. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will only speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from me what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” I want us to really grasp this point. In a nut shell Jesus is saying take notice of what the Holy Spirit says because in is me and my father God speaking!
How sad over time the church has quenched the Spirit, churches have split and divided over His power and movement, even more so in than disputes about worship!
So how do we hear The Spirit of God’s voice? Through His word. I wonder how many of us when, reading the Bible start by asking God to reveal what he is trying to say to us in the passage.
So we have through the word, through meditation and prayer time. You see prayer is or should be two way communication, sadly some prayer meetings I’ve been to people are so busy vying to be heard, or repeating cliche’s, little time is left to let God get a word in edgeways! Although corporate prayer is important, maybe some of us should take on board what Jesus teaches about prayer in Matt 6 v 5-8 just before giving us the example of The Lord’s Prayer. Get alone with God and pray, thus avoiding distractions. God also speaks to us through word’s of knowledge, dreams and visions, although sadly many Christian denominations over the years dismissed their importance, even chastising the Charismatic Christians who were so open to the Spirit’s movement. I want to spend a little more time on this subject for several reasons. First I’ve experienced it’s use and power more than fasting and meditation, although closely linked. Secondly having seen lives transformed by these gifts I want to encourage us as a church to earnestly desire and to put into use all of the Spiritual Gifts . I think the more we open up to the gifts the more fruit we will see in our lives!
Some of you might remember the Late Great Canon David Watson. He was a pioneer in the Anglican Renewal Movement in the 60’s to 80’s. He was instrumental in bringing John Wimber the leader of The Vineyard Church to England a number of times in the 80’s which had a huge impact on such churches as HTB and David Pyches Church at Chorelywood, and lesser mortals such as me who benefited from his teaching and ministry. Many Christians were stunned by David Watson’s death of cancer 25 years ago, especially as one of the main emphasis of his ministry was about Power Healing by The Holy Spirt. However his spirit and teaching had and still has a large influence in the teaching of renewed churches and such organisations as New Wine & Soul Survivor. Shortly after his death Maggie & I were privileged to attend a seminar held at our then church, by his widow Ann. Although saddened by his death, and as she stated unsure why God chose to take David at the pinnacle of his ministry, she knowing the importance of the teaching and of the importance of church renewal carried on where he left off. The theme for the day was Listening to God! In the afternoon she gave an excellent talk on signs, visions and words of knowledge. One important tip she gave, which has been invaluable in my past and I hope future ministry is this. If God chooses to speak to us he wants us not only to hear but fully understand what he is saying. If we don’t understand, ask him to enlighten us! Guess work is dangerous! At the end of this seminar she spoke of the importance of asking God to be specific when giving words or visions and gave a demonstration, after listening to God. She said “There is someone here who has a tooth ache that God wants to heal but the person doesn’t believe God can do that” she then went on to say “it’s a tooth situated here” and pointed at one of her own back teeth. Immediately the Vicar’s wife rush out of the hall in fear and trepidation. Sadly even some vicar’s and their wives can be fearful and resistant of the Power and movement of The Holy Spirit.
A week later my church had been invited to take our healing team and worship group to lead another churches evening service as they were keen to follow our example of trying to move forward as a Spirit led church. Before going there Maggie & I meet at our church with other team members to pray and listen to God. During a listening time I had a picture in my mind of a cervical collar. You know the thing you put round neck if it’s injured to stop it moving! Now normally at conferences or seminars people share visions about waterfalls or another common one is a well filling up or butterflies. As I started to wonder if this vision was really from God, or something to do with my past days as an ambulance man, I remembered what Ann had said a week before. If unsure that a vision or word is from God ask him if it’s not from him, remove it from our mind or if it’s from him, make it clearer and explain what he is trying to say. God told me that there would be a person there either wearing such a collar or if not a person there should be wearing one. I reluctantly shared this with our prayer coordinator as did some other team members with more ordinary type visions and words of knowledge. Off we went to the other church. We had a great time. Our vicar preached an amazing anointed sermon, the worship group were great and at the end many of the words of knowledge were shared. Although our prayer coordinator didn’t know what word of knowledge an elderly women was responding too, Maggie & I were dispatched from the team to pray with her. No she wasn’t wearing a collar but she did have crutches! I asked her what she wanted God to do for her? To which she replied “It’s that word about the collar, I can’t believe how anybody knew, but I should wear one but it’s so uncomfortable I don’t”. As I prayed for her I felt God told me to stop praying for her neck and back problems and to pray for her broken heart. I ask her if that made sense to which she replied with a tearful voice “Yes my husband died six months ago and although I know he is with The Lord, this church hasn’t allowed me to mourn properly” We prayed for her broken heart and she released all the emotion she had bottled up for six months! You see if I stood in front of this church today and said someone here has a broken heart or tooth ache it would apply to half the church and maybe people wouldn’t respond, but the elderly woman felt she had no choice to respond to the preciseness and power of God. Forgive me if you have heard this story before, I tell it not to boast, after all none of us have any power, the power belongs to God alone. I tell it because I believe the same God, the God of perfection, power and preciseness wants to speak and work amoungst us here at St. Chad’s, if only we listen properly and submit and obey.
At this point I want to briefly look at Baalam.
Baalam was not a Jew. He was a foreigner from Mesopotamia. He wasn’t really a religious or righteous man. Many people in his day considered him a prophet, but he was not. At least not in the Biblical sense. He was a sorcerer. A sort of “witch doctor.” Someone called upon to place curses on people. Religion was his business, not his life-style. Belief in curses and blessings was common in OT times. Sorcerers were thought to have power with the gods. So the king of Moab wanted Baalam to use his powers with the God of Israel to place a curse on Israel – hoping that, by magic, God would turn against His own people. Balak king of Moab, didn’t want immigrants! Obviously, neither Baalam nor Balak had any idea who they were dealing with!
His story exposes the deception of maintaining an outward facade of spirituality over a corrupt inward life. Baalam was ready to obey God’s command as long as he could profit from doing so. Although he realized the awesome power of Israel’s God, his heart was occupied with the wealth he could gain in Moab. Reading this story by itself might lead us to believe he turned completely to God, but later passages in the Bible show that Balaam couldn’t resist the tempting pull of money and idolatry. This mixture of motives – obedience and profit – eventually led to Baalamâs death.
Do we know who we are dealing with? What a privilege when Almighty God speaks to us, especially if in a prophetic way, to think he wants us to be his voice! A real privilege but also what a tremendous responsibility! We must tell it as it is, not as we want it to be! Maggie & I have been used in various ministries, one was in prayer ministry for the healing of hurts and memories. I can remember 2 women who we thought were quiet spiritual people were involved in a dispute in a church. Both came to us on separate nights and both tried to tell us they were right as God had told them so! God is not a God of confusion, if he chooses to speak to us, he wants us to understand as I illustrated earlier. We have also witnessed members of PCC’ s try to win a decision by trying to convince the rest they were in tune with God when clearly not! We are told to test everything against scripture, and by the example of Christ. The Angel of The Lord told Baalam in v35 “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you”. In Revelations we are told one day we will meet God face to face and we will have to give an account of our deeds! We can offer no excuses that we didn’t hear or understand his will, even a donkey heard and had discernment!
However there may be times when we listen we don’t believe what we are told! About 18 years ago I was fed up when my numerous remote controls chose to go for a walk, often down the back of my chair, so I decided to buy one of those 5 in one remotes. In those days your computer if you had one, had about 32 meg ram if you were lucky and most of the gadgets we have now had not even been dreamnt of! I managed to set up my video, CD player and HiFi but my TV just wouldn’t respond. In the instructions there was a helpline phone number. To my amazement when I rang instead of a pre-recorded message “your call is important to us we will connect you as soon as possible as all our agents are busy” I got an instant reply. Even more amazingly the agent asked what tv I had and then informed me that because it was old the remote didn’t have the right codes. However he then said hold the phone to the back of the remote and he would download the right code into the machine. Bearing in mind this was years ago before most people had ever heard of modems, I thought he was taking the micky, at any moment I expected a Candid Camera team to bust through the door. But he said “ Honest trust me it will work” Reluctantly I did what I was told and followed his instructions, guess what, it worked! Listen and trust God even if what he says is strange or doesn’t tie in with you own understanding. You too may be amazed.
Finally having listened to God comes the hard part, being obedient to his will. How often on our own journey do we know we are not following God’s direction. Yet even if he puts preventative barriers in the way we try to knock them down thinking we know best. Often not listening or even abusing friends like Baalam’s Donkey when they try to prevent us from straying on the wrong path. I know I’ve been there, done it, got the tee shirt! Thankful now back on course those friends are still there for me as is God!
I’ll leave you with this final thought. Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough and quiet enough to hear. Yes, Jesus assures us that our heavenly Father always listens to us, but do we really listen to God? Do we follow the instructions of Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God”?