In prayer this week, I felt the Lord's desire to know His people - really know us, intimately. Sometimes we think this isn't possible because it seems so hard to hear Him. Into this difficulty, God desires to speak hope, because from His perspective, things look VERY different! The following words are what He gave me to share with you.
Many of you in the His Inscriptions community responded positively to last week’s post, which included a reminder of God’s promise to bless those who set aside time for Him. You may remember that part of the specific promise the Lord gave was to “release strategies to help you bring the full tithe of your time and energy into the Kingdom.” (For the full post, click here.)
This week as I studied, the Lord gave me a strategy to share with you, which I have found immensely helpful. It is the idea of a “mini” Christian prayer retreat. What I will share with you is an adaptation of a plan outlined in Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy’s new book, entitled “Living Forward.” (Click here to preview the book.)
Summertime and the living is… NOT always easy! If you’re a parent with kids, you know how *challenging* summers can be! Between long work hours for my hubby and an increasingly busy schedule feeding and caring for my family (think weekly sleepovers, the constant geographical shuttling of children to and fro, doctor’s appointments, and - oh – did I mention we are scraping AND painting the house ourselves in this heat wave?!), I was distracted from my usual routine and beginning to feel exhausted. And there’s still another month until the kids go back to school!
Thankfully, through the generosity of a friend, the children and I escaped to the mountains for a few days this week, bringing one of their friends along. Here, they could swim and play with less supervision on my part, and I could relax and perhaps write. The words of David in Psalm 119 came alive to me: “Revive me, Oh Lord!”
Growing up, I remember my parents repeating the phrase, "Knowledge is power." My mother insisted I get a college education because she never had one. My father was a well-educated Wharton grad who ran the family business. My grandmother used to corner me at unsuspecting times and tell me I should become a teacher, so that I'd always have something to fall back on if things "didn't work out." In our family, knowledge was VERY important; it seemed so essential to survival!
In the family of God, I've found that knowledge is still seen as power. We Christians relentlessly educate ourselves in the things of God: through conferences, seminars, books, degrees, and videos. We are thirsty for understanding, especially for the knowledge of what God might be saying about us. We don't want to miss anything!
God speaks in the most unusual and unexpected ways! Sometimes we dream, and a person in our dream imparts wisdom to us. We don’t realize until we wake that it was Jesus, and we wish we had known it was Him at the time!
Sometimes, He shows up in human form, in a conversation that leaves a mark on our minds and causes us to realize something deeper or receive something we need.
And sometimes, He speaks from the mouths of babes…
The famous comedian, Woody Allen, quips that "eighty percent of success is showing up." I'm not sure about the numbers, but I do think there's some truth in this. Ask any pastor and you will find that one of their primary concerns is how to keep people coming back to church, week after week, when most people simply crave "down time" on the weekends. We are tired, world-weary, and longing for rest. How do we find the energy to "show up" when we feel like there is nothing left to give?
Matthew's gospel reads:
"It is time! It is time! It is time to rise up and fly! The season of flight is upon you, to stretch your wings and fly. In flight you will gain a new perspective, one you were always intended to have. You started on the ground but you'll end in the air! You begin in the flesh but you soar in the Spirit. Rise up, rise up my dove, and come away with Me into realms of the Spirit previously unknown to you.
In the eyes of God, a leader is a servant. We know that Jesus places a high value on servanthood and teaches His disciples to do the same: "Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26-28, NKJV).
A servant, by definition, is one who waits on his master. Attentiveness to the master's commands produces an effective, treasured servant who is entrusted with more responsibility and becomes a leader in his own right. It is primarily our listening, not our busyness, that makes us good servants. When we have first understood what our master needs, we will do a better job meeting that need.
Society honors leaders who "step up" to the proverbial plate and take authority. We admire, respect, and follow such people. Our busyness becomes a badge of identity and self-importance.
Yet God demands that His leaders "step down," often into a place of obscurity, where the tasks are menial and the recognition is scarce. I know several mature leaders who began their "ministry" cleaning toilets! They graduated to helping people get "cleaned up" later. God's model of servanthood is designed to help us avoid the idolatry of leadership: the allure of titles as well as the worship of leaders themselves. It is servanthood cradled in humility.
Why does God do this? Doesn't He need good, strong leaders today, who will take charge of things and champion the Kingdom cause in a world filled with corruption?
Yes, He does. He longs for mature leaders - servants - to go and impact the world for Christ, just as your pastor probably longs for someone to lead a small group or set up the chairs on Sundays. God longs for those He can trust with greater things: those who have been faithful over little things and graduated to weightier matters. The catch is that He also longs for us to recognize one simple truth that many of us miss: HE is the leader!
Are You a Slave to Man or a Servant to God?
After years of "service" in the Christian church, God had to adjust my understanding of whom I was actually serving. It's easy to be caught up in the needs and demands of a growing church body: lead a small group, serve coffee and donuts on a Sunday, join the parking team, or minister to people at the altar. The needs never end; they only increase as a church grows. And this is a good thing, because it provides opportunity for believers to exercise their faith and grow in the grace of servanthood.
But somewhere along the line, God calls us to examine our hearts. Have we become a slave to man or a servant to God?
Here's what the Lord spoke to me concerning leadership:
"A leader, in My eyes, is a servant. Yet the focus of servanthood is different (from the world's). Would you rather be a slave to man or a servant to Me? If you serve Me, I will lead you to help others. But if you serve man, you will only burn out - and quickly! I will offend your sense of what should be done in order to show you that what you do is to be done for Me alone. All other types of "servanthood" are nothing more than idolatry - the idolatry of self or others."
In other words, a good leader leads by listening.
Leadership that magnifies itself or its own mission overmuch causes people to stumble. If we are truly serving Christ in the way He intended, we will place His requests above those of man - even those that may come from our leaders. We will recognize Jesus as our Lord, and see that leaders, too, should be working in subjection to Christ's authority, direction, and mission. Christ is the head, not man. Every man - even the pastor - is part of a Body, receiving orders from the Head.
Lest it sound like I am against Christian service, I am not. Yet there is a distinction between doing something because it "needs" to be done and doing something because the Lord has asked you to do it. Many of us blindly accept requests to serve without checking first to see if that is what the Lord wants us to do, and as a result, we have a growing body of Christian workers, missionaries, and pastors who are burnt out and exhausted. They have focused their eyes on something or someone other than Christ.
We must be willing to trust that the Head knows what the Body needs to do, in what order, and by whom. We must also be willing to let things go undone when He does not call us to do them. Either He will raise up someone else to do the task, or the task is not a priority to Him at this point.
The only way to know what we should be doing is to listen to our Master, and sadly, many leaders are not listening. Studies of Christian leaders in the US have found that 80% of pastors spend fewer than 15 minutes a day in prayer.* A true servant is one who waits on his Master first, not as an afterthought.
The God Who Sees
Besides the idolatry of leadership and the constant needs presented by the church, there is another reason why we are so quick to jump onto the "service" bandwagon: pride. Jesus cautions us in Matthew 6: "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven." (Matthew 6:1, NKJV).
Joining the prayer group seems like a good thing until it becomes evident that someone is hoping to be "heard for their many words." (Matthew 6:7; notice Christ's emphasis on "being heard" as opposed to "seeking" or "listening"). Serving with the goal of being recognized by man is never a good idea.
In fact, the entire chapter of Matthew 6 addresses the issue of being seen by men, a form of pride. If men are the ones we are pleasing, we have missed the essence of Jesus' lesson on service. Service should flow out of our quiet times with God, with a clear sense of purpose and mission, and a balance to how much we are taking on - balance that can be provided only by God Himself.
If I had my way, I would serve relentlessly. I thrive on service, and I love to accomplish things - especially when I know those things benefit God's Kingdom. Many of us are wired this way. We get excited about "doing" things for God instead of finding out what God needs to be done! It is all the more important, then, for us to be sure that we stay in contact with the Head of our Body, who will keep us from doing too much and burning out.
In God's eyes, tasks are never as important as people. He sees whether we are responding to our pride, to man's expectations, or to Him alone. When our priorities are not in order, He will hold us back from the task in order to preserve His people. No matter how pressing the need, our reward only comes from serving His way. A secure leader can serve without need of recognition because he knows that God sees what is done for Him, even in secret.
Leading by listening is the most effective way we can become a servant. Serving man will cause us to burn out quickly. We need to stay in the flow of the Holy Spirit. When we listen first, we allow God to place us exactly where He wants us, doing what He wants done. This is not an easy lesson, since it requires that ministers and laymen alike make listening to God a priority. But leaders who listen will have the greatest impact on their generation.
c. Deborah Perkins/HisInscriptions.com. *Source: US National Prayer Council.
Deborah Perkins is passionate about connecting people with God. She writes about knowing God and hearing His voice at HisInscriptions.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, or contact her directly here.
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
A Tennessee school district bans the American flag from being displayed on student vehicles. Planned Parenthood secretly profits from the harvesting of unborn fetal tissue. A judge orders a Christian bakery to pay a penalty for their decision not to bake an LGBT cake. The issues surrounding us in our world today are unbelievable almost, overwhelming. What should we do? Or in the words of the late Francis Schaeffer, “How Should We Then Live?*”
There’s no denying it: smartphones are, well, smart. Nifty and immensely helpful gadgets, they seem to do everything we need: connect us to our peeps, answer all our questions, and guide us to our destinations. We grab them when we wake up, and fall asleep with them in our hands. (See infographic, below). We drive with them, keep track of our kids with them, and work better with them. As a nation, we have become addicted to the kind of personal technology that helps us live life, lose weight, look smart, and keep up with the daily grind – yet still fits in our pocket. There really isn’t much a smartphone can’t do – and we like that – a lot!
"It is not My will that man be governed solely by the voice of man. Throughout Scripture I have governed man's actions, and I intend for that to continue. But the traditions of men remove Me from governance, requiring My people to adhere to rules instead of My voice. This is dangerous. Not only does this practice obliterate any direction My Spirit is giving, but this also causes a dependence on man and his structures that is unhealthy.
I took a walk down to a local pond last week to rest and pray. The stillness of water relaxes me, and I sat for a while enjoying the warm sun and the beautiful scenery. Psalm 19 tells us that "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge." (Psalm 19:1-2, NKJV)
The Lord told me once that the "ancients" - our fathers in the faith - used to meditate far more often than we do, and as a result, they were rewarded with far more wisdom. I sought rest, not wisdom, yet God gifted me with both.
He reminded me that water in Scripture is sometimes used to symbolize the Word (see Ephesians 5:26). And wind ("pneuma", or "breath," in the Greek), often represents the Holy Spirit. When wind blows upon the water, creating ripples or waves, suddenly the direction of the wind, normally invisible, can be seen. Asking the Holy Spirit to breathe upon the Word as we read it will help us to discern more clearly His direction for our lives. The Bible comes alive. The movement of the Spirit is seen.
In the same way, a topical look at the water of the Word gives a certain amount of peace. But when we choose to immerse ourselves in water, rather than just look at the surface of it, we find that deep within that water is life. All kinds of living creatures abide there, things we would never see if we did not immerse ourselves. Tides, or perhaps the directional pull towards a waterfall, can now be felt. In the water, it is easier to sense the direction that water is taking, and we can allow ourselves to be carried along to where the water - or rather, the Word - wants us to go.
Living water! Isn't that what Jesus was talking about? We came to the Word seeking peace and rest, and yet as we immersed ourselves in it, studying it, we began to gain wisdom from God. We now know the direction He is taking us, and with the wind at our back and the swell of the waves, we float effortlessly to our destination.
Christians have a ritual of immersion called baptism. My youngest son is obeying Christ's command to be baptized this weekend. He is choosing to believe that his interaction with the water will yield new life in the Kingdom of God. I pray that as he grows, he will continue to immerse himself in the water of the Word, which has the power to guide and direct him all the days of his life.
Isn't it interesting that following Jesus begins with a command to be baptized in water and ends with a command to abide in the water of the Word?
To help you study the relationship between the water of the Word and the wind of the Spirit, I am including a link to a teaching I delivered recently at Indian Lake Community Church in Worcester, MA. I believe it will bless you and challenge you to take the plunge: to dive into the Word daily and to enjoy the feel of the wind on your face as you follow Him.
*Please note: Because this is a live recording, there is some background noise. I encourage you to press in and discover all that God wants to say to you through this teaching.
c. Deborah Perkins, 2015
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
Have you ever wished there were some kind of "litmus test" to tell you if a prophet is for real? Or to discern whether a prophecy you've received is true? I have. In this noisy world full of voices, it's probably a good idea to have a "back pocket" checklist of some sort to help us sort things out! Will this make us faithless Christians or doubting Thomases? Actually, no. It will help us tune in much more accurately to what God is saying. Here's why.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 summarizes the essence of a biblical approach to prophecy. It says: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast to what is good." Likewise, the apostle Paul, discussing prophecy (1 Corinthians 14), says he desires that all should prophesy. He elevates prophecy to be among the highest of the gifts. He also encourages believers to judge prophetic words. (Notice that he wants us to judge the words, not the people giving them!)
The New Testament clearly favors the idea of God speaking to us today via the prophetic. It also gives us clear guidelines for how prophets should operate and how we can know if their words are true. Taking a look at five of these will give us greater confidence as we give and receive prophetic words.
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:
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
In every major revival, and for every notable Christian, there is a common denominator: intimacy with the Presence of God. Those who have seen an increase in the supernatural power of God are the ones who have allowed for a corresponding decrease in their own personal ambitions. Humility precedes honor.
In fact, to put it in more scientific terms, there is an inverse relationship between our movement and God’s movement. We deliberately resolve to surrender our personal drive and intentions, choosing instead to come to the restful place of prayer and adoration of God. It seems largely counterintuitive and unproductive to us at first. But amazingly, He transforms our stillness into a harvest of abundant fruitfulness.
Why? Because He is seeking intimacy with His creation. A quick look at nature reveals that intimacy is impossible without time spent together. Love is indeed a choice, and a good relationship is one in which both parties have chosen to invest in each other. Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. Yet if two agree to walk together, there is an unlimited potential to what they might accomplish: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:19, NASB).
Our Maximum = His Minimum!
As we invest in the quantity of time spent in prayer, we will see a yield in the quality of our fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God. Setting ourselves in agreement with the Lord of all creation opens up possibilities that otherwise would not exist for mankind. By ourselves, we have limited energies, educations, and abilities. With God, the maximum limit of our potential becomes the minimum for what He can do with us! Cancer cannot be cured by man, but healing is possible with God. Human argument alone cannot convince someone of the need for salvation, but the conviction of the Holy Spirit can.
I believe that we as a church have settled for far too little. I am not alone; there is a company – an army – of others who have seen this as well. They have understood that the severity of our times requires massive, large-scale revival, and are willing to pay the price to bring the manifest Presence of God to the earth. What is that price? It is the willingness to lay down personal desires in order to meet with God in prayer.
Who is Responsible for Revival?
The burden for revival has for too long been relegated to those who call themselves intercessors, worshippers, or prophets. Our particular gifting within the Body of Christ neither includes nor excludes us from the responsibility for revival, either personal or corporate. It may be that the intercessors hear the Lord’s directions first because they are setting aside time to hear, but all of us are called to take some course of action based on the type of commission we receive.
In fact, I have heard the Lord say that He desires for each of us to find our “specialty” within this end-time army. Knowing what our specific callings and talents are will help us to both find our place and work with others in revival. As we get to know our Commander-in-Chief, He gives us greater understanding of the unique roles He wants us to fulfill. He also shows us what not to do in order to complete our commission.
Promotion comes from submission. Intimacy is the key to hearing. If we are not hearing God, it is only because we are choosing not to. Any leader worth his salt in the Kingdom of God (pun intended!) has learned to spend time with the General, receiving the strategies for his life.
Psalm 19 says that there is no place on this earth where God’s voice cannot be heard! John 10 reveals that there is no sheep in His fold who cannot hear His call. But God has made it so that enlistment in His army is volitional. I like the way Pastor Brian Simmons put it recently: “If revival depends on you, how close are we?”
We all need to hear our marching orders. We are all given, at salvation, a key that opens the door to the war-room of God. We may find that this door is located in an inconvenient place, hidden far below the common-rooms of Christianity. But it is here that strategies are birthed and generals are made. Those who emerge from this place are anointed with the power and authority of the Lord of Hosts to accomplish His will on the earth. My prayer is that in the coming days, many more will hear the call to enter in to this place of divine intimacy, emerging with the radiance of those who have been with Him (Psalm 34:5) .
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014.
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I was reading the parable of the ten talents last week and I noticed something I hadn’t before. It is fear that causes man to hide. It is love that causes God to seek. There is no fear in love. But it is a choice to believe the love.
Fear causes us to hide ourselves and our talents so that God cannot use either. Jesus describes the Kingdom of God in Matthew 25 as a Kingdom whose Lord entrusts his servants with gifts, goods, or talents. Then he leaves. Those who use and multiply the talents are rewarded; those who do not, lose even what they had. There are several great principles in here, not least of which is the law of diminishing returns. In other words, you use it or you lose it.
I believe this is true in the area of prayer as well. But what causes a person to lose it? Even the wicked servant, who hid God’s talent in the ground, acknowledged that the talent belonged to God: “Look, there you have what is yours.” But just before this, he said, “I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.” (Mt. 25:25)
Fear doubts the character of God. This servant wrongly perceived God as a hard and unfair man, reaping where He did not sow. Although the seed actually belonged to his Lord, this servant resented, perhaps, the labor he must invest to grow that seed. He decided instead to hide it.
Adam and Eve responded similarly in Genesis chapter 3. As a result of their sin, shame and fear entered their minds, and verse 9 says “Adam and his wife hid themselves from the Presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden.” When the Lord called to Adam, asking where he was, Adam responded: “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
And of whom have you been afraid, or feared,
that you have lied and not remembered,
nor taken it to your heart?
~ Isaiah 57:11
We know that throughout the Bible, God commands us NOT to fear. Fear is not an option for the child of a loving Father. 1 John 4:18-19 says that he who fears is not made perfect in love. Why? Because fear has to do with punishment. The only one who wants us to be punished is the devil.
The love that causes God to seek us out when we sin is the same love that provides clothing as a covering for our nakedness. It is the same love that causes His Son to bear the punishment for our failings so that we don’t have to. (See Genesis 3:21 & Isaiah 53:5).
Compare Genesis 3:7 with Psalm 27. Fear induces us not only to hide ourselves, but also to provide for ourselves, usurping something that our loving Father planned to do. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to make themselves a covering. But it was God’s intention to provide our covering Himself: “He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:5)
Hiding and providing are God’s prerogative, not ours.
It is in the absence of God’s Presence that the enemy tempts us to sin. Therefore, our best defense against the spirit of fear is to stay in the Presence of God as much as possible. “Pray unceasingly,” we read in a letter to the Thessalonians. How can we do this? Aren’t we busy enough? To pray nonstop, engaging our minds and our mouths, would be nearly impossible!
Strategically, God has given believers one unique gift (or “talent”) to help us in this area: the gift of tongues. As we pray unceasingly in tongues, our spirits remain active in the Kingdom realm while our bodies are able to continue with whatever work we are doing in the natural realm. I believe that this particular talent is grossly underused, and has been even hidden by the church out of – you guessed it - fear. We fear the denominational division that comes from this kind of spirit-to-Spirit prayer, and yet it is indisputably one of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal.
I have said often that the believer’s “secret weapon” is hearing God. Speaking in tongues enables us to communicate with God directly and to establish a “secure connection” in the Spirit which the enemy cannot penetrate. Think of it as Kingdom WiFi that is password-protected. Once we connect to this power source, we have access to all the wonderful wisdom of God, downloaded to our minds through our spirit.
God has reversed the curse that came from Adam’s original sin. The shame of eating from the tree of knowledge has been replaced with privileged access to all wisdom and knowledge through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this Jewish month of Elul, the traditional season for the King to visit His fields, our Beloved is searching for His Bride. He is walking through His Kingdom garden even now. When He asks where you are, will you be hiding?
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014. All citations NKJV unless otherwise noted.
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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.
If you were God, and you could send a gift to help us - the people who live on earth - improve life, what would you send? Money to help the poor? A wise doctor who could cure cancer and other incurable diseases? World peace?
While pondering this a bit, you might decide that Jesus was probably the best gift that you could send; after all, Jesus does heal people, he does bring peace, and he offers eternal hope and everlasting security: all very good things. You might just decide that God's gift was good, and join the millions of others who have opened the gift of a relationship with Christ and improved their lives. If you haven't yet, I hope you do.
I also hope that you won't think, after opening that very special gift, that the party is over! Here's why: there's a whole big pile of presents still waiting to be opened, and if I were God, which I'm not (thank goodness!), I'd be wondering why my kids didn't want to open the rest of them!
My studies led me into John 17 this week. This is the chapter that includes Christ's famous prayer to His Father, just before His death and resurrection. The first part of verse 14 seemed to jump off the page to me; Jesus says, "I have given to them the Words which You have given Me; and they have received them." (John 17:8 & 14) What impressed me was this: that the gift Jesus chose to give us was the Words of His Father. Christ gave His disciples every Word He heard His Father speak, and stated in the same prayer, "Your Word is truth" (John 17:19). Clearly, God's Words are very precious.
For those who feel they cannot hear God, this has huge implications. If the one thing Jesus gave us when He came to earth was the Word, and if we have this Word meticulously, even inerrantly preserved for us today, then it is impossible NOT to hear from God! The Word is indeed "near you, in your mouth and in your heart." (Romans 10:8) The only thing we need to do - you guessed it - is open it!!
"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word...
the Word which you hear is not Mine
but the Father's who sent me."
Amazingly, so many believers fail to open the largest, most obvious gift given to them. This present sits neatly on our bookshelves or even prominently displayed on our coffee tables for all to see, but we rarely get beyond looking at the cover's beautiful "packaging." We don't have time, we don't understand it, we fear what it - the truth - might do if we allowed it to penetrate our hearts. And so this precious gift, God's Word, is ignored. We have an opportunity to communicate with the most powerful and influential Person ever known, and instead, we walk away.
In contrast, there is currently a YouTube video-gone-viral of believers in China opening a box of Bibles for the first time. They rush to receive a Bible, then a hush comes over the assembled group as they kiss the books and hold them close to their hearts, some with tears of joy. Desperation, while unfortunate, creates deeper desire.
In fact, God had to humble the Israelites with hunger in the wilderness to create just such a desperation. Deuteronomy 8:3 reads: "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord." We should be like a ravenous man seeking food as we devour the Word of God!
The Bread of Life
The Word is, quite literally, living and active. (Hebrews 4:12). It is the bread of life that sustains us. In fact the Word, says John in the first chapter of his gospel, is God. (John 1:1-3; see also John 6:33-35). Christ presented us, through God's Words, with the manifested heart and desire of God in the earth. And beyond that, Christ became the embodiment of the Word in its entirety, and is called the Word (Revelation 19:13), because He obeyed the Words of His Father perfectly. Jesus fulfilled every Word the Father had ever spoken, prophesied, or commanded. (See 2 Peter 1:19).
As Jesus demonstrated, the Word of the Lord is precious enough to die for. We simply must hear the Word; life is not worth living without it! This Word is powerful enough to give life to our mortal bodies and resurrect the dead. Knowing the Word - knowing Jesus - gives us everything we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3) In other words, we have not just the "survival gear" we need to get through this wilderness called life, but also the supernatural anointing to transcend this life and walk in godliness and communion with Him, as Enoch did.
When you need a father or a mentor ... He is in the Word.
When you need healing or deliverance, it is in the Word.
When you need physical strength, it is in the Word.
When you need a friend who understands, He is in the Word.
There are innumerable gifts to be given in His Word.
In short, to know God is to spend time with Him, receiving the one gift which has the power to transform spirit, soul, and body. He who receives the testimony (the words) of Jesus certifies that what He says is true. (John 3:33). As Jesus taught the scribes, the first commandment is to hear and to love the Lord. (Mark 12:29-30). To listen and obey, to allow God to inscribe His Words on our hearts, is the greatest thanks we could ever give Him.
c.Deborah Perkins, 2014. All Biblical references NKJV.
It has been said that the best defense is a good offense. As I have continued to meditate on the Psalms this week, I believe that is true, but with a qualification. I have noticed that our strategies for life are often far too wearying for us because we end up on the offensive lines when we shouldn’t be. We become tired and overwhelmed, trudging after the Lord reluctantly. We excuse or eliminate ourselves from His battles because we have already been expended fighting when we were not called to fight. In short, we miss the rest and refreshment He has provided for us along the way.
I had an interesting dream the other night. Dreams are not unusual for me; they are just one of the biblical ways God speaks to me, clarifying things or bringing direction and insight. This dream was more like a parable, and it illustrated exactly what I have wanted to write about: Psalm 91.
Psalm 91 speaks of abiding and dwelling in the shelter of the Most High, of trusting in God and making Him our refuge. This Psalm rivals Psalm 23 in its popularity; just about anyone who has been to a church service, or read even snippets of the Bible, will be familiar with it. We send Psalm 91 to our troops on the field as a promise of God’s protection, and we quote it to comfort those in hard circumstances.
I have often wondered how to “dwell” and “abide” better; it seems like such a slippery task sometimes, given the demands we feel to be anything but still! Just making eye contact and listening to someone for more than a moment requires such discipline sometimes! (My husband can confirm this…)
Yet the reward God promises for abiding in Him is extraordinary – deliverance from a multitude of dangers. Here is a summary:
God also promises:
My favorite promise from this psalm, however, is in verse 4: “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.” (Psalm 91:4). All this, just for abiding in Him! Who wouldn’t want to stay close to a God like that?
Well, I do, but like you, I don’t always succeed at this. So the Lord gave me a dream to illustrate the idea, and I hope it will be meaningful to you, too.
The Lord once gave me a prophetic word through a very personal analogy. He showed me that when the church doesn’t allow Him to speak, we develop a profound spiritual hearing loss, similar to what I have dealt with in the natural for most of my life. Let me explain by sharing what it means not to hear, and then give you a vision for what it would be to hear Him more clearly.
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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.