One of the most common frustrations believers and church workers express to me is that they feel like they don’t hear from God. “It’s easy for you,” they say, “but God just doesn’t speak to me like that!”
It is understandable that an unsaved person might not hear from God, lacking a personal relationship with Him. Yet sincere, seeking Christians can also have trouble being confident in what they are hearing.
Hearing God is a skill we develop as we mature in our faith. The Bible tells us that all believers can hear from God. Despite what we may feel, each of us has an innate ability to recognize the voice of God. Jesus’ words in John 10:27 give us biblical confirmation of this truth:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
Yet in the uncomfortable absence of a word from God, how do we go about making good choices in our daily lives? Why is it so difficult to hear Him sometimes, even when we do seek Him?
We find the answer in the context of John 10. It would be easy for a sheep to follow a shepherd if there were no other variables in a sheep’s life. But even in the presence of a shepherd, sheep must still be wary of predators. They have enemies who seek to separate them from their place of closeness to the shepherd.
Spiritually, we have an enemy, Satan, whose desire for us not to hear is as great as God’s desire for us to hear. The devil uses any means available to separate and confuse us. It’s his job to distract us enough that we no longer stay in our place of safety and protection within the fold. The farther he pulls us away from our Shepherd, the less clearly we will hear.
If you’ve ever tried to talk to someone in a noisy, crowded room, you know how difficult it can be to focus on your conversation. Now add another person to the mix, someone who joins you and interrupts constantly, and you have a picture of how challenging that one dialogue can become.
This kind of situation forces us, in the natural, to sharpen our focus. We move in closer to the speaker. Perhaps we ask the the one who joined us to wait while the speaker finishes his thought. We might even step into another room to continue our conversation uninterrupted. Our goal becomes taking control of our environment by decreasing the background noise. Parents of toddlers know exactly what I’m talking about!
When the enemy tries to convince us that we don’t hear from God, our best move is always going to be to move closer, or sharpen our focus on Him. In fact, the Word of God says that when we draw near to God, He also draws near to us. (See James 4:8). Why? Because the One we want to hear is as interested in us hearing Him as we are!
5 Ways to Improve Your Hearing
So how do we sharpen our focus spiritually? Here are five keys:
1. Believe that God is always speaking and wants us to hear. Decide once and for all that you are created to hear Him and that He is constantly speaking to you! Read John 10, Psalm 50:1, James 1:5-8, and related scriptures to solidify your faith in this area. Speak the truth: I am able to hear God!
2. Be consistent. The only reason it’s “easier” for some people to hear God is because they have made a commitment to listen on a daily basis. Cultivate a friendship with God and make it easy for Him to join you in conversation, just as you would with a friend.
Bring a pen and paper with you into your conversations with God, expecting Him to speak. Write down the scriptures or subtle impressions He gives you as you read His Words. Soon, you will develop a history of hearing from Him. Your journal will help sharpen your focus, and reviewing it will be a source of encouragement to you in the times when you don’t feel as sharp in the Spirit.
3. Bind distractions. Realize that there will always be distractions to hearing. You have the authority in Christ to silence the enemy, just as parent tells a noisy child to be quiet. You must use your authority, or he will continue to interrupt you.
The enemy sends two types of noise to hinder us: internal and external.
The remedy for external distractions is to go to your “secret place” and close the door. (See Matthew 6:6). How interesting that Jesus says in John 10:2 that the Shepherd is the one who enters by the door. He is the only one to whom we should open our door in our quiet times. When we make time for Him, he responds in kind. When we step away from the external “noise” of life, we are better able to still ourselves and hear from God.
Sometimes the best way to deal with internal noise is to fill our minds and mouths with something else. Playing worship music you can sing along to is a powerful way to adjust our focus. When worry overshadows our Bible reading, it is time to start reading out loud, praying, or confessing scriptural truths instead. Try listening to biblical teachings on YouTube or the internet. It is almost impossible for our minds to dwell on anxious thoughts when our mouths are busy confessing positive ones!
4. Be committed to fellowship. The more you are involved with fellow believers, the more you will grow in hearing God. When we meet together in home groups and church services, we often begin to see “trends” in what God is saying to His people across the Body. I have heard of Sundays when several pastors in our area spoke (unbeknownst to the others) on the exact same topic. I have also seen God confirm private words from my quiet time in public settings like home groups. Being involved with others helps build our confidence that we are hearing correctly. There is a measure of safety in numbers.
5. Be Bold – Act on what you believe. When all else fails, and you still feel you have not been given a specific answer to your problem, move forward in faith, trusting that the God you serve is big enough to adjust your steps if necessary. Don’t allow the enemy to paralyze you with the fear of doing the wrong thing!
Many Christians find it helpful to “follow the path of peace,” since Philippians 4:7 says peace is our guardian. As a general rule, if you have serious or lingering concerns about something, that is not the time to step out.
I find it helpful to ask, “does this course of action line up with eternity’s values and beliefs?” God gives each of us unique desires as we serve Him. Making decisions that align with our God-given passions for building His kingdom can be a good place to start. Again, God is more than able to correct us or adjust our direction as needed.
The reason Jesus can so confidently say, “My sheep hear My voice” is not because of our ability. No, in fact, as animals go, sheep are pretty dense! But Jesus is confident in God’s ability to guide us, even if we do wander off like dumb sheep at times. We, too, need to have faith in God’s sovereignty - that His voice is able to project above all others to guide us.
If God can speak to a Muslim in a dream, He can speak to you. If He can make a donkey prophesy, He can speak to you. If He can convert known persecutors of the faith into committed believers, He can speak to you. Once and for all, renounce Satan’s lie that you don’t hear, and ask the Holy Spirit to turn up the volume on God’s voice!
Followers of Jesus have a unique dilemma. From the time of Christ’s resurrection until now, all we have to lead us are words. By words, I mean the words God has spoken to us, whether in Scripture, prophetically, or in the quiet places of our hearts. We follow Him on the basis of His Word, taken on faith, and this can be a challenging task.
After all, it is rare that God speaks in an audible voice. He is invisible to us, yet we see Him with the eyes of our hearts. He hosts no seminars and posts no YouTube videos, and yet we hear Him. When we are looking for detailed directions, His words to us might seem primitive or inadequate, too small to do us any real good in our complicated world. Why doesn’t He just tell us what to do, or how to get there?
Words are Seeds
The answer lies in a simple analogy, one that Jesus often used to help His disciples understand Him. Words are seeds. When we come to God seeking direction, He gives us what we could call a “packet" of seeds. On this packet is a picture of the finished product, with perhaps a simple description of how to plant the seeds and what the growing time might be for our location.
The seeds might represent a specific promise for our future, or a vision of the provision He intends to supply. They might be a picture of what our “promised land” will look like. It is rare that God gives us a finished garden in bloom in answer to our prayers. He’s much more likely to give us a seed starter pack and ask us to do the sowing (with Adam and Eve as the obvious exception!)
Our seed packet might come in the form of a strong desire of the heart that doesn’t go away over time, a specific scripture promise, or a prophecy. It might be a missionary call or a ministry focus. In most cases, others will confirm that they, too, can “see” the type of seeds God has given us. Biblically, it’s a good thing to ask God to confirm our gifts and callings through others. It helps us to stay focused on our personal harvest.
A seed will not take root until it is sown. How do we sow word-seeds? With our prayers and our confessions of faith. We agree that the word we have heard is good, and ask God to bring it to pass. We keep speaking in faith ("I'm growing tomatoes this year!") until we see our harvest appear.
This agricultural principle is easily understood, yet many of us feel silly "speaking faith" concerning spiritual things when we don't see immediate results. We misinterpret delay as failure, when all the while our seeds are secretly taking root underground. If we watered them faithfully instead, we would be much more productive! We must learn to apply the eternal law of sowing and reaping to our spiritual lives. (See Genesis 8:22 for confirmation).
As Bible believers, we have only seeds – or words – to go on. We are all called to be sowers, waterers, and harvesters of His Word at different times. But in all cases, we must act on what we’ve been given, and work as gardeners do to reap our harvest or cultivate our soil.
This is an obvious pattern in Scripture, and yet when it comes to our own lives, we struggle. When we see only the same dirt that was in front of us before, we abandon the garden in disgust and blame the seed for its imperfection. We lack the patience and shun the toil of the gardener.
Our Hearts are Soil
While the seed packet tells us what the seeds need, it doesn’t tell us anything about the condition of our soil. God gives us something to sow, and leaves the rest in our hands. He expects us to know the condition of our hearts, our circumstances, and all the environmental concerns unique to us. He expects us to fight off the diseases and pests that threaten to destroy our crops. He expects us to gather in the harvest instead of leaving it to wither on the vine.
Gardens, like people, require time and attention to flourish. When all we have are words from God, we must be careful not to despise the dirt that lies directly in front of us. It’s the “dirt” of our lives that must be dug up, weeded, and cultivated before the seeds can be sown to make that garden. Even a heart full of good soil requires constant amelioration through repentance, forgiveness, and healing. If we skip these steps and abandon the work, we will only end up admiring others’ gardens and never growing our own.
God may call us to till someone else’s garden for a time, to teach us how to garden ourselves. But it is my firm belief that God has unique promises for each one of us that cannot be realized until we tend to them ourselves. God gives us each the types of seeds we are capable of growing.
The Words (or seeds) God gives His people always work. They are heirloom seeds: uncontaminated and having unlimited reproductive potential. Some of us are called to grow fruit trees, others herbs, others still will grow vegetables. Each of us is unique in our Kingdom purpose. Whatever we invest in is for the nourishment of ourselves and those around us.
Once we take the steps of digging up our soil, sowing the seeds, and keeping our garden free of weeds, God shows us what to do next. Our seedlings grow, taking on visible shape and form. When we need it, God supplies us with divine “Miracle-Gro:” ™ fresh words of direction or instruction to care for the garden we are creating. Through patient work and renewed understanding, we inherit the promises we first saw on our seed packets.
I pray that when all you have are words, you’ll recognize the incredible gift you’ve been given by God. That you’ll see His words as precious, heirloom seeds with the ability to reproduce and bear fruit. Along with that gift, I pray you’ll take to heart the promise God gave Jeremiah: “You have seen well, for I am watching over My Word, to perform it.” (Jeremiah 1:12, NASB). If you accept the challenge of sowing God’s words into good soil, you’re guaranteed to reap a mighty harvest!
c. DeborahPerkins / His Inscriptions
"The Blessed Life." How eagerly we seek it, and how elusive it can seem! Rare are the times when we actually reach those "ideal moments" we long for in life: sipping a piῆa colada on a tropical beach, taking a year's sabbatical to pursue a passion, or enjoying the luxury of an overflowing bank account! Far more common is the struggle to overcome, the sense that we are barely keeping up.
The older I grow, the more I notice the storms. I am like a tree, whose increasing height causes its branches to tremble in greater gales. As an immature shrub I did not notice the weather as much, being close to the ground. As a more mature evergreen, I feel the wind rustle through every branch, shake every leaf, and chill me to the core. I see more, gain greater perspective, and face greater fears as I grow.
True intimacy is a function of time. If we want to know someone well, we must spend quality time with that person. There really is no substitute for time when we are building a relationship that is heart-to-heart.
A by-product of time spent together is trust. Our everyday experiences of life lived in proximity to others teach us who is trustworthy and who is not. We learn who keeps their word and who fails to deliver. In most cases, we choose our closest friends on the basis of their trustworthiness.
In the Bible, one Greek word for faith – pistis – is translated “trust,” or “full persuasion.” Jesus tells us in Luke 17:5 that faith (here, “pistis”) the size of a mustard seed can cause mountains to move. When sown, even a tiny seed of faith has great potential for miracles. Yet like all seeds, it must grow. It isn't the size of the seed that matters. It's the nurturing of the seed that's important.
How Does Faith Grow?
Our relationship with God works the same way. We seed our time into His Presence, He waters us with His Word, and our trust grows. When we magnify those “giants of the faith” in God who seem to produce such impressive results everywhere they go, we are really celebrating those who have developed great trust in God and His Word over time, creating what we call “great faith.”
In Christian circles, I think we sometimes complicate things that are actually quite simple. We look at the “faith giants” we know and think to ourselves, “I could never do that / be like that / believe God for that!” We forget that faith is simply trust, and trust is built over time.
Biblical giants like David and Elijah began their relationships with God in obscurity, too. Hidden in caves and tested in the wilderness they forged their trust with God in solitude and prayer. During one-on-one time with their Maker, they learned to hear Him, to trust Him, and to know Him. Jesus did the same.
A Divine Invitation
There are times when we seek God in peaceful contemplation. But there are also times when God seeks us, driving us to Him in times of dire need. Though we rarely consider them as such, our trials are somewhat like divine invitations to come more deeply into His Presence and get to know Him. What feels like “down” is actually “up.” What presents itself to us as need becomes our anointing – IF we accept the invitation.
When there is nothing left for us to hold on to except the Word, we find that we are conformed more closely to His Word. We dig deeper because we simply must find Him, must connect, must receive – or all seems lost.
Our Jacobean effort results in blessing. Despite our limp, we have met with God. We know Him. We have heard Him. Leaning on our Beloved, we emerge from our trial on fire: purified yet not consumed by the fire that threatened us. Powerful yet humbled. Radiant yet unaware of His glory streaming from us. We are confident now, sure of an aspect of God’s character we had not been certain of before. We believe we can trust Him - Aha! - we have faith!
Faith is not having the solutions to our problems. It is knowing and trusting the One who does. The power to live life and do great things comes to those who believe, trust, and know their God. (See Ephesians 1:17-21; Eph. 3:20-21; 2 Peter 1:3). If we need a miracle in our circumstances, we must spend enough quality time with the Miracle-worker to learn how He operates. There is no other way.
Good relationships take time. Perhaps this is one reason why God’s mercies are “new every morning.” It takes a lot of mornings for us to become the faith giants He has called us to be! In mercy, God issues daily invitations to come and get to know Him better. Have you responded to His R.S.V.P.? The only difference between you and a “faith giant” is that the giant plans to respond… every time.
Prayer: Lord, I do want to know You more. I choose to respond joyfully to Your personal invitation to come and be with You. Don’t let me put You off because of my busy schedule. I pray that I would turn to You in every need and trial I have, seeking to know You more. As I do so, help me to locate the power You are releasing to walk through these challenging times. I respond “YES” to Your invitation, every time! With all my heart, I look forward to being with You. Amen.
c. Deborah Perkins/His Inscriptions
Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you're fearless.
In fact, God tells us not to fear roughly 365 times in the Bible. That's once for every day of the year! Sure, there are some amazing examples of fearless faith out there, from the spies who entered the Promised Land to present-day martyrs facing ISIS. But most of us, even on a good day, battle fear in one form or another.
We know that fear is part of the curse (see Leviticus 26:36-37 for an example), and God gives us the ability to overcome our personal fears. But what of the larger-scale fears, the things that threaten to undo not just us, but our communities, our nation, and our world? These things are on the rise as Satan propels the battle between good and evil to a climax.
Luke records Jesus's words, saying that men's hearts will fail them "from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth." (Luke 21:26) Earthquakes, diseases, and famines will be the norm. He says the end times will be full of "fearful sights and great signs from heaven." (Luke 21:11).
Those words don't seem very comforting at first glance. Many Christians avoid the end-time prophecies in the Bible, not just because they don't understand them, but because they seem full of "doom and gloom" for a people who should be continually filled with joy and peace!
I believe that every word Jesus spoke is still relevant to us today. And as I began to study fear as it relates to current events, I realized that these end-time prophecies are a critical key for us as we overcome our fears about what lies ahead. The reason? A known enemy is easier to defeat than an unknown one.
The Genius of Jesus
Most of our fears are irrational, drawing their power from our emotions rather than the facts in front of us. Those of us who have been hurt in certain areas are predisposed to fears in the areas where we were wounded.
I once was horrified to find a drug addict hiding behind his shower curtain, in an apartment a realtor intended to rent to me. For a while after that incident, every time I opened a shower curtain, I did so with trepidation! Statistically, the likelihood of that ever happening again was extremely low. But the fears persisted until I dealt with them.
The genius of Jesus is that He prepares us ahead of time for what is to come. The power of the fear I had about the man in the shower came largely from the element of surprise. What you don't expect alarms you far more than what you can foresee. This is why we prepare a child, for instance, by telling him that the shot at the doctor's will hurt, but only for a minute. We want him to know how it will end and assure him that he will be safe.
In the same way, Jesus tells us that the end times are going to be difficult, but only for a while. He takes great pains to give us details about the tribulations and about what He expects from us as we face them. He gives us specific things to do that will help us feel more peaceful during a chaotic time. Click here for a free, printable download: "10 Things Jesus Wants You to Do in the End Times."
Perfect Love Drives Out Fear
Apart from the wisdom of God, we also have the love of God to help us overcome fear. 1 John 4:18 tells us that perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with torment, or punishment. In the end times, only those who are living apart from God's ways will face punishment. I know from experience that when we pray and ask God for more of His love, He is eager to comply!
So overcoming fear is a two-pronged approach. We need both the wisdom of God found in Scripture and the experiential knowledge of the love of God in our hearts. Isaiah clarifies this beautifully: "Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, and the strength of salvation." (Isaiah 33:6).
Your testimony of God's love, combined with the strategic wisdom He gives you through His Word, will cause you to overcome any fears you might have about the end times. It will keep you stable when the world is falling apart. Instead of running from Goliath, as the Israelites did, you'll stand and slay your Goliath like David did. You'll be fearless in the face of fear.
c. Deborah Perkins, His Inscriptions.com. All Bible references NKJV unless noted.
What is Jealousy?
Jealousy can manifest as at least three kinds of moles: covetousness, misplaced ambition, or mistrust. Let’s study each one so we’ll recognize them when they pop up unexpectedly.
1. Covetousness: The most obvious and widespread form of jealousy is covetousness, prohibited by God in the 10th commandment. (See Exodus 20). Coveting is wishing you had a prettier wife like your best friend. It’s resenting the large house your neighbor built next door – with a chef’s kitchen and custom details throughout. Covetousness lusts after the diamond engagement ring your best friend is flaunting shamelessly.
Covetousness is wanting “anything that is your neighbor’s,” according to God. With a definition that broad, covetousness hard to escape! All of us have admired something to the point that lust for that object has subtly taken over in our minds. This is why Jesus says that a man who is “just looking” at another man’s wife has already committed adultery with her in his heart. He is coveting. Covetousness leads to adultery and idolatry, and idolatry leads to death:
…One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin,
2. Misplaced ambition: The Bible makes a distinction between ambition and selfish ambition. Galatians 5:20 says selfish ambition is one of the “obvious works of the flesh, along with idolatry, witchcraft, and quarreling. Those who yield to these things do not inherit the kingdom of God. (See Galatians 5:20, NIV or HCSB). The trouble is that selfish ambition is not always as “obvious” as we think it is. Sometimes it is hidden, and God must expose it.
For example, one day I discovered that an old college friend had made it “big” in the business world, with all the books, awards, and positions to go with it. Instead of celebrating her success, my initial “wow” moment quickly morphed into self-pity. Our paths over the last 20 years were radically different. I chose to set my career aside for a time and raise a family. She had worked her way to the top of her industry, and is doing things I’d give my eye teeth to do.
In an instant, all the wonderful things I value: time at home with my children, time to pray and write, and a refreshing distance from the pressures of work & ministry, evaporated. Inferiority and regret surrounded me and I bemoaned the years I’d “wasted” as a wife and mother.
Sound ridiculous? It is! Once you get over yourself you see the eternal value of what you’ve accomplished by following God’s will for your life. Your walk with God is uniquely your own. My friend’s promotions came at cost, too – a price God might not have wanted me to pay. Until circumstances made this particular “mole” pop up, I didn’t even realize it was there, lurking just under the surface.
While selfish ambition is not a godly attribute, ambition for the things of God is something to be desired. The apostle Paul writes: “…we make it our aim (we have as our ambition) to please Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9, RSV). He says his ambition is to preach the Gospel where Christ is not known, so that he doesn’t build on someone else’s foundation (Romans 15:20). Paul also directs us to “eagerly desire” spiritual gifts such as prophecy; something we could not do without a measure of ambition (1 Corinthians 14).
1 Thessalonians 4 reads “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. Mind your own affairs and work with your hands so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thess. 4:11). Ambition isn’t wrong. But it needs the right focus.
3. Mistrust: At its heart, jealousy reveals a basic mistrust in the goodness of God. We doubt that God cares as much for us as He does for our neighbor, since our neighbor’s life seems so much better than ours! Doubt turns to unbelief, and unbelief is sin. If we fail to whack this mole immediately, it will only multiply and pop up in other areas of our spiritual lives.
The devil hopes to overrun your mind with moles of mistrust in order to keep you from hearing God. Every step you take on the road to jealousy is a step farther away from intimacy with God.
The Kingdom of God operates by faith. When our lives seem to lack the “substance” we desire, faith is the means of obtaining that substance. Jealousy covets. Selfish ambition forcefully takes what it desires. Mistrust fears it is not worthy of God’s blessings. These three things cause us to hide from God because we hurt inside, aching for things that have not manifested yet.
Faith, on the other hand, believes in the love of God to provide. Faith trusts in the equal concern of God for all His children. Faith accesses the redeeming power of forgiveness, which restores hope and trust.
How Can We Win the Battle Against Jealousy?
Within all of us, there is an innate human tendency towards envy and selfish ambition. Doubt and mistrust are seeds Satan planted at the fall of man. We long to be known, heard, and appreciated. Yet as believers we are called to know, hear, and appreciate God above all else. As in every area of our spiritual life, acknowledgement of sin is the first step towards healing.
Once we admit we are human and must fight jealousy just like everyone else, we can begin to be proactive about defeating it. God is a strategist. He’s an expert at revealing things hidden in darkness (Daniel 2:22). We can ask Him to expose jealousy’s moles and show us selfish ambition’s ambushes before we get there, so that they won’t get the upper hand.
The value of confronting jealousy is that it exposes areas of our lives where we have not yet died to self and embraced God. Instead of being jealous, we can be content to allow God to weave us into the fabric of His masterpiece when He sees fit, and in the places where our true colors will best be displayed. We can celebrate, not covet, the beautiful hues and patterns already knitted together, even when we feel like forgotten balls of yarn left in the basket. We can tame the ugly green monster. We can stop allowing jealousy to destroy our relationships and make it a catalyst for growth in God.
c. Deborah Perkins, His Inscriptions
Last week I was given a precious gift by a friend in Tennessee, a reader of this blog and one of my strongest supporters. She gave me the gift of time spent with a dear friend relaxing, worshiping, and working together on some projects. What she didn't realize she'd given me was equally important: the gift of perspective.
As a wife and mother, I don't travel nearly as much as I used to. Unlike my husband, I actually love the adventure of travel: visiting new places, interacting with different cultures, and experiencing the "flavors" of life lived in other places! So from the moment my plane began soaring above the clouds, my heart was rejuvenated as well. Here's what I discovered.
Tennessee, as a "Bible Belt" state, is still proclaiming the Word of God. Everywhere we went, from an inner-city high school graduation, to Walmart, to the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby store, what I noticed was the Word of God, expressed in amazing creativity.
The Word is literally "in your face" wherever you turn. Plaques and trendy chalkboard artwork with Bible verses line the shelves of even mainstream stores. A local family whose home I visited makes no effort to hide their faith; it is evident the moment you walk in the door. During a high school ceremony, I heard both ranking Tennessee politicians and local teachers and students pray and cite the Word as they spoke to the graduating class. The choral selection? A rendition of Numbers 6:24, which in case you haven't read lately, is the Aaronic blessing over Israel:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
It was beautiful. After several days of experiencing these constant public proclamations of the Word, I was feeling incredibly encouraged. How refreshing! It reminded me of Moses' instructions in Deuteronomy:
These words which I command you today shall be in your heart.
Comparing Tennessee to my home state, where a simple prayer by a student is outlawed and transgender bathrooms might soon become the norm, I almost didn't want to return home! New England suddenly seemed very dark to me. I had gained some perspective.
A Religious Spirit?
I did, of course, return home to my wonderful family, and know that I am called to New England for ministry purposes. As I shared my news of the trip with a fellow New Englander, however, their reaction was to say: "Oh, all that public display of Christ down South is just a religious spirit. It doesn't mean anything."
Well, apart from knocking the wind out of my sails and quickly deflating any joy I had experienced, this person missed a fundamental truth that Paul brings out in Philippians. Paul writes: "What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice." (Philippians 1:18; see also previous verses).
It is true that some proclaim Christ insincerely or from selfish ambition, while others proclaim Him out of love. It is not our job to decide who is sincere and who is not. Our job, according to Jesus in Matthew 28, is to simply make Him known, and to keep the Word prominent in our lives. The perspective I gained in the South encouraged me to proclaim Him even more loudly in the North.
A Southerner can just as easily say that New England is bound by an intellectual spirit which darkens the light of Christ in us. Rarely do I enter a New England home to find "PDA's" (Public Displays of Affection) for Christ! We are more likely to boast about our impressive array of educational institutions or big-city job opportunities than about our Christianity.
I became motivated to turn up the "dimmer switch" on my faith. Dial it up. Light up the room. Make a greater effort to inspire instead of retire. We sorely need more light here, lest the long, wintry days and spiritual darkness overwhelm us. As a local pastor often quips, "When you love something, it shows!"
The apostle Paul was also confined for a time, far from the sunny green pastures of Tennessee! Yet the letters written from his jail cell impacted more people than he ever dreamed of reaching in his freedom. The darkness of his situation did not hinder him from proclaiming Christ. His limitations became the source of his greatest ministry.
It may be easier to be a Christian down South, where everyone agrees with you. It's certainly sunnier and warmer, and maybe that's why many New Englanders can't wait to go South! The truth is, though, that the light of God already in you is warm enough and sunny enough to radiate a significant amount of heat, no matter where you live. I'm choosing to pursue an assignment to bring His light into what seems like a much darker place at the moment. What will you do?
Instead of being envious of others' situations, ask God to give you perspective on your situation. Are you hiding the light that is in you, for fear of offending someone? Has being "politically correct" become more of the norm for you than being "biblically correct?" Ask God to show you what you can do to put your love for Him on display! Will you be mocked or misinterpreted as "religious?" Maybe. But the wonderful thing is that you might just encourage somebody. I'll be praying for you, that your future shines more brightly than your past.
c. Deborah Perkins, 2015
Sometimes we go through a series of "unfortunate events," as Harry Potter fans would call them, which seem to suck the wind right out of our sails and leave us almost dead in the water. Our beautiful day of smooth sailing suddenly darkens, and we notice ominous storm clouds all around us. The reality of our situation hits us hard: here we are - fools! - in the middle of the sea, without any land in sight, and completely at the mercy of the storm. What were we thinking? How on earth are we going to get out of this?
Sound - the very idea of it - has always fascinated me. I grew up not knowing there were certain sounds, like the sound of birds, or machines, or the tick-tock of a clock. I heard only in part, because of deafness. Childhood nerve damage to my ears left me hearing only the loudest of noises, or those closest in proximity to me. I did not know that some sounds even existed until, in fourth grade, I was given hearing aids.
The shock of sound alarmed me beyond belief. The moment an audiologist turned up the volume for me, I screamed. Suddenly, there was sound, and a lot of it! An air conditioner outside the window, humming noisily, made me jump out of the chair I was sitting in. I remember thinking it was the hum of an aircraft invasion! Refrigerators make noise - did you know that? And birds, mice, all of God's creation has something to say - if you can hear it.
Heaven is like this, too. Not to alarm us, of course, but heaven is a noisy place! John gives us amazing descriptions of the sounds of heaven in Revelation. As one deeply intimate with the Lord, John was given access to sights and sounds that most humans will never see or hear. And it all started with sound.
Look at the first Pentecost. The disciples (including John) were gathered in an upper room, waiting for a promised encounter with God. Acts 2 says that "Suddenly, there came a SOUND from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting." (Acts 2:2). I am certain that the noise of this whirlwind made at least some of the disciples jump out of their seats, as I did when I could first hear! These believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak "as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:4) What a powerful initiation to hearing the sounds of heaven!
Sound Begets Speech
From the moment the Holy Spirit opened the ears of the disciples, He also inspired them to speak the gospel. The Holy Spirit, whose job it is to amplify the sounds of heaven in our ears, filled the first believers with language, not just hearing, so that thousands of others heard about God in their own languages and became believers themselves. The amplification of the sounds of heaven brought the multiplication of men into the Kingdom of God.
And so it still is with us today. If you are listening, you will also be speaking. And speaking - telling others the Good News of the Gospel - is the primary call and commission of every believer. (See Matthew 28:18).
But the reverse is also true: if we are NOT listening, we will not be hearing either. If we do not hear the Words of God, we will not be saved. If believers do not listen daily for the sounds of heaven, those specific and personal instructions He wants to give us, we will not be led by the Spirit. And if we don't know where we are supposed to be or what He wants us to be doing, we will not be living and sharing the testimonies He wants to give us, which will lead others to hear more about Him.
How then shall they believe in Him of whom
What does heaven sound like? John's experience with the incredible sounds and sights of heaven began with the sound of a trumpet: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying: I am the Alpha and the Omega...write what you see in a book and send it to the churches..." (Revelation 1:10-11) This would be the first of over 20 times John would hear loud voices, thunderings, earthquakes, music, loud cries of angels, harps, and worship.
In contrast, only once are we told (in Revelation 8) that "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." (Revelation 8:1). This coincided with the opening of the seventh seal. (Seven is the number biblically connected with rest and sabbaths).
The noises and voices John hears take him successively higher in the heavenly realm, until at last he is able to see the Bride of Christ and the New Jerusalem, the final destiny of all believers. Yet even in his first glimpse of the throne of God, John writes that "...from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings and voices." (Rev 4:5) The seven Spirits of God were burning like lamps before the throne. He also sees living creatures and elders worshiping day and night, speaking of the holiness of God. Their praise never ceases; they do not rest.
What can we gain from this? The knowledge that the closer we get to the throne of God, the more constant our speaking will be. The Spirit of God mysteriously abides both within us and near to the throne. What He hears, He speaks to us. What we hear, we then speak, preach, prophesy, and sing. As we draw as near to God as we can, we will be compelled, as these elders are, to speak of Him constantly, to worship Him 24/7, and to yield to the inspiration of the Spirit within us.
Jesus cried aloud when He gave up His Spirit and when He summoned Lazarus from the tomb. Angels cry loudly and trumpet the proclamations of God. Man cries out in his prayers of distress or decree. All are normal responses to the pneuma, or the breath, of the Spirit of God in us. Hearing from God compels us to speak. Sharing what we hear will cause others to hear Him also.
Hearing and speech are intricately linked in both the natural and spiritual realms. Don't let a deaf and dumb spirit silence you. Listen for the loud sounds of heaven, and then speak in such a way that you'll compel others to hear heaven, too.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,
and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes
Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
~ Isaiah 62:7
What makes one person thrive while another barely survives? Why do some people seem to live almost effortlessly, while others go through life hanging on by their fingernails? Even Christians are not exempt. We cling to the Gospel's wonderful hope of heaven. But is that all there is? What about the problems in this present life? What do I do between now and eternity?
I believe there is a key difference between survivors and those who thrive in life. Or for Christians, between the survivors and the revivers! It's not just a difference between rich and poor. It's actually a different state of mind.
To describe this, let's look at the law of the jungle.
There's a big lie that the devil has promoted among God's people since the beginning of time. It is so big, and so successful, that his strategy really has not changed much over the years. From Genesis to Revelation and right into the present day, Satan and his minions have invested untold amounts of time and energy into marketing this lie. Do you know what it is?
It is this: "Did God really say...?"
What is happening right now in Boston is amazingly prophetic. Just two days ago, I was writing about revival after visiting John Adams' rare books collection at the Boston Public Library. (To see that post, entitled "Step Into Your New World", click here). What I did not know was that the same day I was publishing my article, archivist Pam Hatchfield was prying open a 220-year-old time capsule at the MFA, one that had been embedded in the State House's cornerstone by Sam Adams and Paul Revere in 1795. On July 4, 1795, fifteen white horses - one for each state of our union - had pulled this cornerstone and time capsule through the streets of Boston for the dedication ceremony.
Inside the box (which took nearly 7 hours to open), were artifacts from the dedication of the Massachusetts State House on the 20th anniversary of our independence. A silver plate, probably crafted by Paul Revere, displays an inscription for the building's dedication and names Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and Revolutionary War Colonel William Scollay. (See photo above). 23 coins, including one in a half-penny denomination, and a medal of George Washington are also part of the capsule.
One of our family's favorite movies to watch during the holiday season is Home Alone. You're no doubt familiar with the storyline: 8-year-old Kevin is left behind by his rather large (and obnoxious) family when they travel to France, and ends up defending his upper-middle-class home from a dynamic robber-duo named the "Wet Bandits." Two hours of hilarious pranks and traps set by this tyke end with a Christmas day arrest of the bandits and a much-matured little boy.
What we love about this movie is the creative ingenuity of a child that outwits the "professionals." Using only the resources he has at hand, most of them commonplace in an 8-year-old's world, he masterminds a strategy that is so unexpected to the pros, it almost has to succeed! From the ice on the stairs to the toy cars in the hall, we watch Kevin outwit and - just barely - outlast the enemies, until he is reunited with his family. The cops don't show up until the boy has done his job protecting his home.
Speaking to me yet again in His unusual way, God drew my attention this week to His "Home Alone" story in the Bible. Luke puts it just after the "traditional" Christmas readings of the birth of Jesus, in chapter two:
Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.
And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.
And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus
stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it,
but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey,
but then they began to search for him among their relatives and
acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem,
searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.
And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so?
Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”
And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know
that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying
that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to
Nazareth and was submissive to them.
And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
Luke 2:41-52, ESV
Jesus was a boy of twelve who, like Kevin, was left behind in His Father's house. Three full days went by before his parents returned to find Him quite peacefully settled in His temple, debating with the scholars. Like Kevin, Luke tells us he grew and matured after this, due in part, perhaps, to engaging His "enemies" (the religious leaders) who would later persecute him.
In the movie, Kevin listened to the robbers and learned the very hour they planned to rob his family's house, so he had time to prepare a strategy that would defeat them. In Luke's text, Jesus is said to have both "listened" and "asked questions" of His future tormentors. Their dialogue gave Him valuable insights concerning the scribes and Pharisees. It was these very same leaders whom He would "trap" with His own questions later in life.
The boy Jesus grew, matured, and learned how to defend His Father's house - the temple - from those would would defile it. His strategies were different; He used words, not toys, as His traps, but he successfully enacted His plan to restore to God what was stolen by the enemy.
Bringing It Home
Here's what's interesting about these stories. I believe God regularly gives us "home alone" moments in life, too. We are never completely alone, of course, but God gives us moments when our normal support systems - friends, family, or even the voice of God Himself - disappear for various reasons. We come face to face with spiritual or natural enemy forces, and we learn to defend what we love from predators who would rob us. Forced to draw upon inner strength and the resources we have at hand, we learn to stand our ground and fight back.
Like David the Psalmist, we may find that using the standard "grownup armor" isn't the best strategy. We learn that the resources most familiar to us at the time can be effective, no matter what stage of life we are in. Our unique gifts and talents are surprisingly adequate, in God, to overcome our enemy. In fact, it is what enemy is not expecting from us - like our slingshots - that yield the greatest results!
Be Who You Are!
My hope is that this simple analogy will encourage you to be who you are now at this time in God, and not to belittle yourself because your faith or your gifts are too small. The truth is, none of us is fully mature yet. The wonderful thing about God is that He takes our childlike efforts and multiplies their effectiveness with His power. As my spiritual dad always says, "We win!"
Are you ready to use your unique abilities to defend the Kingdom of God in your life? When you use your gifts, you do real and lasting damage to the enemy. Your confessions of faith set angels in motion. You overcome your fears and grow up a bit in the process. And God is gonna be impressed with your bravery and zeal for His house. I guarantee it!
c.Deborah Perkins, 2014
Deborah Perkins is passionate about helping others connect with God. She writes about knowing God and hearing His voice at HisInscriptions.com. Follow Deborah on Twitter@DeborahSPerkins, or click here to subscribe to her blog.
As I worshiped this morning, the Lord surprised me by speaking through the words of a classic hymn. I was singing William Bradbury's familiar song, "Solid Rock," penned in the 1800's and recently revamped by Hillsongs as "Cornerstone." Here are the words:
One of the enigmas of Christian life seems to be the dichotomy between what we are promised in the Bible and what we actually experience on a daily basis. If you have ever wondered why you haven't been healed (even though you believe the Word says healing is for today), or why you still struggle with problem areas of sin (despite Jesus' promise of abundant life), you're not alone. For many of us, the source of this conflict is a mystery, and we have resigned ourselves to daily living within the "status quo."
Many people think of faith as a noun: something that we have. True faith, however, acts more like a verb than a noun. Biblical faith holds mountain-moving power on earth when applied. 2 Timothy 3:5 cautions us not to be like those who "hold to an outward form of godliness but deny its power." Real faith requires both confession and action, not just a passive acknowledgement of God's guidelines. Faith without works accomplishes nothing (See James 2:17).
Do you ever wonder, what's my rooftop? Where is my place of influence? Think for a moment about where you are heard. Who is your audience? A pastor preaches to his congregation. A worship singer considers the stage her place of influence, proclaiming the gospel through song. A politician's cries for justice resound in the auditorium of Congress. but where do YOU make your voice heard?
The mission of every believer is to proclaim the message of the Gospel. As we get to know Christ better and love Him more, we are naturally compelled to share the good news of His redeeming love for us. Never before have we had such a tremendous opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) by reaching those in "all nations." The question is, how do you carry out your mission?
Ultimately, our mission field is wherever we are at the moment. True, social media is an amazing, world-reaching platform we can use for the Kingdom. But words alone are not always convincing. When people see how we live our lives - how we put actions to our faith - they will take notice of what we say. Character is convicting. And character is best seen up close. As a pastor friend recently said, "Your daily life is the platform your faith is lived on."*
Whatever I tell you in the darkness,
say it in the light;
and whatever you hear with your ears,
preach on the rooftops.
~Matthew 10:27; Aramaic English Bible
It's time to give the devil a one-two punch! You're familiar with the term, of course: a boxer throws a left-handed jab immediately followed by a right cross punch. The same technique is also used in fencing. It's a fast combination of two actions designed to give an athlete the upper hand. If you're a believer, you should be using a "one-two punch" strategy today. Here's why.
Current events are unfolding at an alarming pace. The war on terror is expanding, reaching many nations. Most of us lack the political influence we might feel we need to effect change. In light of this, the enemy wants us to feel hopeless. He knows that powerlessness can lead to fear. Luke 21:26 confirms that in the end times, men's hearts will fail them "from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming in the earth."
Preemptive Prayer & Compassionate Provision
The Bible offers hope, though, in the form of a one-two punch. The first punch is prayer, and the second is provision.
The Bible says that our prayers are powerful and effective (James 5:16). They work because we have been seated with Christ in heavenly places, where all things are subject to Him (Ephesians 1:20-22). As joint-heirs with Christ, we receive the blessing of being "above only and not beneath" (Deuteronomy 28:13).
This means that as we pray, no matter how impotent we may be in the natural, we rise to become agents of transformation in the Spirit. We partner with Jesus in His ministry of intercession. By tapping into the unlimited reach and resources of the Holy Spirit, we now pray and effect change at every level of government, business, education, religion and any other man-made institution.
Joseph as Prototype
The eleventh son of Jacob is a prophetic prototype for us here. After being sold into slavery and betrayed several times, Joseph was transformed from reject to ruler. He left the dungeon of the enemy and was promoted to second-in-command of Pharaoh's kingdom (Genesis 37-50). Like Jesus, he used his prayers of faith to enter in to a place of provision. Having overcome his own adversity through prayer, he then helped others to overcome, through practical provisions for a worldwide famine.
I believe we have a similar purpose. Rather than succumbing to fear, we can throw the first "punch" of prayer and follow it up with a second "punch" of provision for the disasters that do occur. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, we are wise to prepare our families in advance for whatever the "winter" season may bring, so that we are safe and can serve others in time of need. We can be "angels with skin on," ministering servants empowered by the voice of the Lord and serving humanity with practical assistance or spiritual gifts.
No More Shadowboxing
We are created to be strong spiritual athletes: to fight the good fight of the faith and to fear nothing. Paul says we are not called to be shadowboxers, Christians who throw ineffective punches at the air (See 1 Corinthians 9:26). Our faith is the antidote to fear, and our faith gives us a specific strategy for a Kingdom "win." What will you do with your spiritual authority in these dark days?
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014
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Sometimes, God reminds me of simple, familiar phrases and uses them to reveal spiritual truths. He did that again this morning. I'd been studying Proverbs yesterday: "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding." (Proverbs 4:7-8). I obviously hadn't gotten enough understanding yet, since He startled me awake today with another familiar saying.
"Hold on for dear life!" He said as I awoke, bleary-eyed and not quite coherent. Truthfully, I was more interested in holding on to my pillow at that point than having a theological discussion. But once I had grabbed a mug of hot tea and my Bible, His words began to make more sense.
Proverbs 4 commands us to "get wisdom" and "get understanding," and more specifically, to "Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life." (Proverbs 4: 13). It was this emphasis on "taking hold" that the Lord wanted me to see. Here's what He showed me.
Jesus is wisdom, and so the Old Testament command to get wisdom mirrors the New Testament call to take hold of Jesus and all that He has called us to do. 1 Corinthians 1:24 tells us that Jesus is the wisdom of God, and we know from Isaiah 11:1 that the 7-fold Holy Spirit is the spirit of wisdom, counsel, understanding, and knowledge. The fear of the Lord, the Bible says, is the beginning of all wisdom. In other words, accepting Jesus is the wisest decision anyone will ever make, since Christ is the author and source of all wisdom. Embracing wisdom brings protection and honor to our lives.
For wisdom is protection just as money is protection,
but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom
preserves the lives of its possessors.
~Ecclesiastes 7:12, NASB
So: get wisdom, hold on to Jesus, gain your life. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, from the time of the prophets until the time Jesus came to earth, His leaders hadn't held on to wisdom at all. In contrast, they had hypocritically laid aside God's commands in order to keep their own traditions. (See Jeremiah 8:5 and Mark 7:8-9). Like Joab taking hold of the horns of the altar, they appeared to be doing the right thing on the outside but were devoid of truth internally. (See 1 Kings 1-2 for the story of Joab and Solomon). Their loose grip on the truth cost them their lives. It was, quite symbolically, the wisdom of Solomon that struck Joab down.
Blessed is the man who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord.
but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul;
all those who hate me love death.
Holding on to instruction requires an attitude of humility: an innate awareness of one's need for wisdom, and a willingness to gain understanding by listening to His teachings daily. We are exhorted in 2 Timothy 1:13 to "Hold fast the pattern of sound words." Jesus, in three of His seven addresses to the churches in Revelation, asks us to "Hold fast to what you have until I come." (Letters to Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia). Holding on to wisdom is achieved by letting go of things that hold our attention elsewhere: children, family problems, job pressures, hobbies that steal our time. It is costly in that we must die to our own ideas of what should be done moment by moment in order to take hold of His plans for our lives.
Life is like riding a roller coaster. You gotta "hold on for dear life" to Jesus, the source of all wisdom, if you're going to survive the ride. His wisdom is life-giving, life sustaining. Had I held on to my pillow instead this morning, I would have missed the wonderful conversation I had with the Lord and the way He opened up my understanding of His Word. Our ability to hold on to Jesus may be as critical to our life one day as staying strapped in on a roller coaster ride. Without His protection, we risk it all.
Prayer: Jesus, please show me what I am holding on to. Are self-reliance, religious rituals or everyday routines replacing my search for revealed wisdom? Help me to make wisdom the principal thing as I press on to take hold of you!
Not that I have already obtained all this,
or have already arrived at my goal,
but I press on to take hold
of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet
to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do:
forgetting what is behind and straining toward
what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
~Philippians 3: 12-14, NIV
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014. All references NKJV unless otherwise noted.
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Have you ever climbed aboard a submarine? If so, you're familiar with those small but weighty water-tight doors that provide passage from chamber to chamber. They are made of solid steel and weigh several hundred pounds. Once closed, they seal you off from water or gas pressure at depths of up to 10,000 meters. As you might know, it's the Hebrew year 5774, the "Year of the Open Door," and while my boys climbed eagerly in and out of submarine doors on our vacation last week, the Lord began to speak to me about these doors.
Hebrew letters have both numeric and pictorial values, and the number 74 in Hebrew is "Ayin Dalet." Ayin evolves from the picture of an eye, speaking of seeing or vision, while Dalet is used to speak of an open door, specifically a tent door that is tied back. Keep that in mind as I show you how our vacation unfolded!
Since my husband is a submarine buff, we started our trip with a visit to the USS Albacore in Portsmouth, NH. This sub is a 1950's research submarine, the fastest of its kind at the time, and one prophetically named the "Forerunner of the Future." Shaped like a tuna fish, it was made for covert stealth missions and for speed. It carried 50 Navy men who literally stuffed themselves into narrow 6' bunks and crouched through tiny passageways. One hallway was so narrow that my 6-foot 1-inch 13-year-old could not walk through without twisting his broad shoulders!
The only things you see on this sub are steel and machinery. There are no windows to provide a view; only the periscope operator would see the skyline. It's what you hear that's important. The two primary goals of this submarine are to listen and to attack. Using sonar, the crew listens for enemy movement and protects our shores with missle attacks. All this substantial steel and watertight protection sounded pretty impressive to me, until the Lord made the very good point that the doors were open.
I watched my husband and kids playfully crouching down to step through the 700-pound doors and realized : the doors are open - locked open, in fact - open so that no man can shut them. (Rev. 3:7-8). What used to be an impenetrable steel barrier has been bolted open, in this case, forever! What a wonderful picture of Ayin Dalet!
But the Lord wasn't finished with His story yet. A few days later, we traveled to the Wood Island Lighthouse, where we climbed 60 stone and iron steps to the gallery and viewing balcony at the top. (Special thanks to my friend Lisa, who watched the kids for me so I could go up!) Most people are fascinated with the hi-tech lantern and the wonderful views, 71 feet above water. But what I noticed most was the tiny iron door, no taller than 3 feet high, which the lighthouse keeper must crouch down to climb through. Once outside, he can walk all around the balcony and enjoy his newfound perspective. Another small - but open - door. Another call to get low, to humble yourself as you go through the open doors the Lord is giving you in order to gain a new position and a new perspective.
I wondered where all this was leading, of course, but the third piece came only as we concluded our vacation and began the drive home. We love yard sales, and when we stopped at one along the way we were given a small bag containing - guess what - a tent. The kids set it up at home and found it to be a pup tent, in perfect condition, with just one small zippered door. They unzipped it so I could take a picture and suddenly, I saw what God had given me: Ayin Dalet - the tent door! Wow!
It doesn't take a rocket scientist (or a submarine engineer) to see that God is serious about opening doors for us this year. That which has limited us in the past is no longer a barrier to our future. In my case, the submarine and the lighthouse speak specifically to my callings (I am both a prayer warrior and a prophetic watchman). What doors is God opening for you this year? I challenge you to ask Him for the specifics. Please share your thoughts with me in the comments. And I pray He will open doors that give you a beautiful new view of your life - from His perspective.
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014
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A well-known Christian teacher and prophet posted an interesting question on Facebook this week. He asked: "What is your #1 question or concern about hearing God's voice?"
He received nearly 200 responses to his question, and not surprisingly, the majority of them had to do with distinguishing God's voice from the devil's - or our own.
Just for fun, I asked my children what their #1 question was. Two of them said the same thing: How do I know if it's God speaking? My youngest, who does hear from God occasionally, has come up with a solution to this problem. As I took a long walk with this adorable one last night, he explained how it works. He knows that God wants us to put others' interests above our own (Philippians 2:3), and so he decided that when he hears several voices in his head, he'll choose the second one, since Satan probably always wants to speak first!
Certain religious traditions have gone so far as to oversimplify the process of hearing God, teaching what I call the "Stoplight Approach." Afraid of encouraging people to "imagine" what God might be saying, they teach instead that God has only three answers: Yes, No, and Wait. Ouch. One look at the elaborate prophecies in scripture, Old or New Testaments, is enough to convince me that God is by no means limited to a three-word vocabulary!
But how do we overcome our fear of hearing Him? And how do we discern His voice, if He really is speaking? Thankfully, we are not limited to childish conjecture when it comes to hearing God. I believe there is a better - and biblical - way.
A Better Way: Three Steps to Discerning the Voice of God
1. Draw Close
James 4:8 reads: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (NKJV). There are two types of proximity: physical and emotional/spiritual. In a crowded room, I can pull up a chair and sit near you in order to hear what you are saying: this is physical proximity, and it is a necessary requirement for hearing. The closer we are to someone, the more we hear. We draw near to God in this way by spending regular time in the Word, which is the starting point for all of His communication with us.
The second type of proximity is emotional or spiritual. Growing intimacy with someone gives us access to a broader range of communication because of a heart-to-heart, trusting relationship. As we know someone better, we can almost anticipate what they might say or do in a certain situation. Similarly, as we spend time getting to know God and sharing our hearts with Him, He reveals more of His heart to us. Communication expands far beyond "Yes, No, and Wait," becoming deeper and more meaningful.
The best way to discern God's voice is to be intimately familiar with the real thing. Just as a bank teller is trained to recognize a counterfeit by handling hundreds of real bills first, so we need to train ourselves to recognize truth when we hear it. As we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the Word of God is our measuring stick:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof,
for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete,
thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV)
2. Seek Counsel.
Jesus also tells us in John 10:5 that His sheep will "by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of a stranger."
There is safety in numbers, especially for sheep, and it is no accident that Christ uses the analogy of sheep with a shepherd to describe believers like us. The predators - spiritual foxes, wolves and lions - are mentioned many times in Scripture, and a quick look at nature assures us that it is far safer to mingle with the flock than to set out on our own. I can think of several examples of times when I was attacked by the enemy, and all of them were situations in which I was alone or didn't run an idea by a trusted friend first.
Even the greatest Old Testament prophets like Elijah and Samuel didn't act on their own. They participated in training schools or mentoring which helped them hone their skills in the area of hearing God. Christ also demonstrated discipleship of his followers, spending most of His waking hours with those He trained. It is "by reason of use" (Hebrews 5:13-14) that our senses are trained to discern both good and evil.
We are called to fellowship and mutual accountability with others. This is not just for our safety, but for our maturity:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God...that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things
into Him who is the head - Christ.
We grow in fellowship with others, and we need the witness and counsel of those around us to help us discern whether what we hear is "right on."
3. Look for Confirmation.
That said, there are times when God will ask us to do something that is atypical, that goes against the crowd. In these cases, we are justified in asking God for confirmation. Just as it is the work of the Holy Spirit to draw us to Christ, it is the work of God to confirm the Word of Christ in us, with signs and wonders if needed. I regularly ask God to confirm things for me, and there are plenty of Scriptural precedents for this. He is a loving God who backs up what we do in faith and does not let us wander too far off track. We do not need to fear that we will "miss it!" He is so much bigger, and He knows our hearts.
I pray that the Lord will show you any areas where religious tradition or personal fears have kept you from hearing His wonderful voice. I am asking Him to - right now - set you free from areas of bondage that may have resulted from stepping out in faith and being hurt or shut down in the process. If you have given up on hearing God because someone in authority told you it wasn't possible or you heard wrong, I pray that you will have the grace to forgive - and then to go back to where you left off. May you begin again to familiarize yourself with His sweet whispers, and may His voice be the sweetest thing you hear.
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c. Deborah Perkins, 2014. All references NKJV unless otherwise noted.
According to research done by the Mayo Clinic in 2013, nearly one in four women ages 50 to 64 are on antidepressants. 13% of the overall population is on antidepressants. Men make up roughly 5% of those using antidepressants, and there is an amazing total of 70 percent of Americans using at least one prescription drug for a wide variety of physical and emotional complications.* We live in a complex, stressful world, and are finding - with disturbing regularity - that peace of mind (and body) evades us.
We long to escape, to get away from the stresses of life, to find an oasis of calm in our dry deserts. Medication seems to provide the only answer. Thankfully, God has an over-the-counter prescription for peace that is available to anyone, anywhere. This remedy is found in Philippians:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication ,
with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
A Two-Part Prescription
I took some time last week to do an oceanside prayer retreat with God. As I studied the book of Philippians, the Lord urged me to keep reading, beyond this familiar "prayer prescription" (above) that we so often quote in Christian circles. There is a second part that we often miss.
What I noticed was that when God addresses the problems of anxiety and depression, He tells us to do more than just pray things through. You may find that prayer works until the enemy assaults you with the next discouraging thing, sometimes only moments after you emerge from your prayer closet. There are so many negative attacks, in fact, that we jokingly say we do have to "pray unceasingly" just to get through our crazy days! I believe that depression sets in so easily because people are simply overwhelmed by the demand to keep going when life seems to be falling apart. This is a well-known and yet still effective strategy of the enemy. (See Revelation 13:7).
What, then, is the solution? More vacation time? More time in nature? As David Stern wisely notes in his Jewish Commentary on the New Testament, "The object is not retreat from an evil world, but sanity in it." ** The second part of God's prescription shows us how to find our balance:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble,
whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything
praiseworthy- meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received
and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
Change Your Thinking!
To find peace means to change our thinking. To meditate on God's inscriptions in our lives, on the testimonies of what He has done. (The Passion Translation notes that the Aramaic in verse 8 literally means to focus on God's "acts of glorification.") This is more than admiring the stars or sitting at the beach. This is the stability that comes from noticing and remembering the things that demonstrate God's trustworthiness. Justice rendered in a court case. The victorious faith of a friend who survived cancer. The love a husband shows to his wife, even when she fails him. When the enemy sows hopelessness with his negative thoughts, we must choose to think about more noble things. When we don't feel like we have anything positive to say, we can still speak the Word of God, as the psalmists did, rehearsing the many miracles God has done throughout the ages.
As we fill our minds with good things, we find that negative things slowly lose their depressing power over us. We encourage ourselves, as David did, remembering that God is still on the throne. When we are too broken to fight, we lean on the faith of others to help us up. We find, as Romans 15:13 says, "peace in believing." Faith in the goodness of God saturates our thinking and permeates our whole being, bringing peace and healing.
There are identifiable medical and psychosocial benefits resulting from prayer, as science is now confirming.*** There are even longer-lasting benefits that come when we do the deeper work of changing our thinking. The renewal of the mind with the truths of God is not easy, and it is a process. But the enemy is fighting harder than ever for control of your mind and destruction of your body. Are you using the two-fold prescription God gave you for victory?
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and
peace in believing, that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014; all references NKJV unless stated otherwise.
*CBS News, June 20, 2013: "Study Shows 70 percent of Americans take prescription drugs;" CBSNews.com; see also the Mayo News Release at MayoClinic.org for details.
**Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, MD; 1992; p.602
***"Prayer and healing: A medical and scientific perspective on randomized controlled trials;" US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health; as printed in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 2009 Oct-Dec 51 (4): 247-253.
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An often-quoted proverb from Alexander Hamilton says: "Those who stand for nothing fall for anything." The saying may be harsh, but it is undeniably true. It begs the question: what do you stand for?
My pastor spoke last week about the life of Elijah the Tishbite. Here was a man who definitely stood for something - or more accurately, someone. Elijah honored God's Words, and God confirmed his authenticity through many miraculous interventions. Only half-listening to the sermon, I began to meditate on Elijah's life, and the Lord began to speak to me about Elijah's posture.
There are so many wonderful gifts that God gives us as we follow Him! I wrote earlier about the gift of the Word, which Jesus both brought to us (speaking the Words of the Father) and became for us (obeying and embodying the Word completely). This Word is precious: so much so, that the apostles in Acts later gave themselves "continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word," saying it would be "undesirable to leave the Word of God." (Acts 6:4).
We are challenged in 1 Peter 2:2 to "desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby." 2 Peter says to "be mindful" of the Word, since by the Word the heavens and earth were created and are preserved. (2 Peter 3:2, 5, & 7). We know that when the Word is preached, the Gospel multiplies exponentially. (see Acts 8:4) Today, I'd like to look at the Word as it relates to prayer, and share with you a fun, real-life story to illustrate its power.
Some of you know that our family is believing God for a home with more land, specifically to raise livestock. We have been "frustrated farmers" for a while, having a vision for a farm and slowly working toward the fulfillment of that dream. Two months ago, by a small miracle, we obtained both a coop and fencing, along with feeding and watering supplies, for a mere $10. We began to pray that God would also give us chickens for our coop. Within 24 hours, we had a small flock of four chicks called "Easter Eggers," known for the colorful eggs they lay in shades of blue and green. We were amazed at God's quick provision!
The boys have needed no reminders to care for their new "pets" daily, feeding and watering them, and our oldest son has taken on quite a fatherly role towards these birds, repairing the fencing as needed and becoming sweetly protective of the flock. Interestingly, our family devotional reading around this time was on the biblical book of Jonah, which ends by mentioning God's concern for both people and livestock (see Jonah 4:11).
Have you ever felt guilty for something you didn't do? In this world of "Who's Who" and "American Idol," it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are inferior to others who are almost religiously celebrated for the amazing things they've done. Not surprisingly, God has been using this season of graduations, achievements, and reunions to sharpen my perspective on how to evaluate success.
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.