January 29, 2006

God is speaking…are you listening?

Part 4: God is speaking through people

 

Opening:

God is speaking…are you listening? So far we’ve talked about three ways that God speaks to us. What are they? The Bible, in prayer, through life. There’s one more; what do you think it is? Through people. God is speaking through people. Today we’ll think about the different ways God speaks through people and how we can recognize His voice when He speaks to us through someone.

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

 

Offering and announcements:

Next weekend: No 6 PM service on Super Bowl Sunday!!  Instead, 6 PM on Saturday, February 4.  Go Hawks!!

Life Group sign-ups today!  Discussion groups: indicate 1-2-3 choices. Interest groups: as many as you want! Drop completed form in offering if you’re done, or in the bin on way out of auditorium.

Offering: I was reading 1 Samuel 2 this week. Eli the priest couldn’t control his two sons who were helping themselves to the offerings people brought. When a sacrificial animal was being cooked, they would walk in with a three-pronged fork, and plunge it into the pot and keep whatever they pulled out. The Bible says “they were fattening themselves on the choice parts” of the people’s offerings. By doing this, they “treated the Lord’s offering with contempt.” People were making sacrifices for God and these bozos were helping themselves to whatever they wanted, like it belonged to them! And God was ticked!

This week I met with our church council, members of our congregation who oversee our church finances. I shared this story with them. We all reaffirmed that we treat God’s offerings, your sacrifices, with respect. What you give belongs to God and it’s holy. We don’t want anyone using a three-pronged fork, fattening himself on God’s offerings. I wanted you to know that; I want you to be able to give to God with confidence that we’ll treat your offering to God with respect, and not just fatten ourselves.

Worship: Psalm 145:3 says “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” Revelation 4:11 says “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.” God is worthy to be praised. Said another way, God deserves to be praised. God deserves to be worshipped. God deserves to be loved. So we are going to worship Him today because He is worthy; He deserves it. It doesn’t matter if you feel like worshiping; He is worthy.

ILL: There’s a verse that says, “The worker deserves his wages.” How many of you deserve your wages? How would you feel if payday came and your boss said, “You’ve done a good job, but I don’t feel like paying you this week”? You’d say, “I don’t care if you feel like it or not; I deserve it! Pay me!” You get paid because a worker deserves his wages.

And God gets praised because He deserves it. We’re going to worship God—give Him our praise and our love—because He is worthy. He deserves it. Worship is not about how you feel; it’s about who He is! He is worthy! Let’s worship.

 

Introduction:

Have you ever had a conversation like that—where you went away feeling that someone had read you like a book, and spoken into your soul? Have you ever had a conversation where you thought that God had spoken to you…through another person?

God is speaking…are you listening? How does God speak to us? God speaks through the Bible, in prayer (a conversation with God), and through life experiences. And God speaks through people.

 

1. God speaks through people.

Here are three ways God speaks through people.

 

A. Through leaders.

God speaks to us through leaders, through people who have authority in our lives. I’ve listed verses that describe how God uses leaders in different areas of our lives, and also some verses that describe the nature, purpose and limits of authority. God uses leaders to speak to us in every area of our lives.

  • Civic or governmental leaders: from the President to a policeman.

  • Vocational leaders: our bosses.

  • Educational leaders: our teachers.

  • Spiritual leaders: our pastors.

  • Family leaders: our parents, grandparents, or spouse.

God uses leaders to speak to us in every area of our lives. It doesn’t mean that they’re infallible, that we should never question them, that we should do everything they say, or that everything they say is from God. They are just people, like us. Being a leader doesn’t make them perfect or infallible. But God does use leaders or authorities to speak to us.

God speaks to us through our spiritual leaders. All through the Bible, God spoke through spiritual leaders. Name some. Jesus, Moses, Joshua, Peter, Paul.

ILL: I have a boss, actually, several bosses, in our denomination. They are good and godly men and women. Are they perfect? Not by a long shot, but then neither am I and they’re stuck with me, so I can’t complain about them. Because I believe that God uses leaders to speak, when my leaders speak, I listen.

One example of this: Jared and Ann Roth are going to be with us next weekend. God used Jared and Ann to lead our denomination into more intentional and successful church planting. Jared served as our district and then national church planting coach, then Ann assumed that role when Jared became our general supervisor, then vice president, and finally president of the Foursquare Church. Both of them burned with passion for church planting. It was largely through their impassioned talks and discussions with them that God spoke to me and our team about planting churches. God used these leaders to speak to us. I have tremendous respect for Jared and Ann and their relationship with God; when they speak, I listen. By the way, Ann is my sister. Ann is going to wrap up this series, talking with us about trusting God’s silences. It will be good!

There are other spiritual leaders in my life that I listen to. I listen to some of them on tape or CD as they give a talk, just like you are listening to me right now. And often, God will speak to me through that talk. I listen to them personally when we get together to talk and discuss things. I have a number of trusted spiritual leaders that I consult, and when they speak I listen, because I believe that God speaks through my leaders.

I hope when you come here each weekend that God speaks to you through me, or whoever is speaking. Please, I’m not claiming that everything I say is from God—last week I used the word “butthead”—I think that was just me, not God! I’m not claiming papal infallibility or anything like that. I’m fallible, and someone wrote me a letter this week to remind me—not like they needed to—I’m married and have kids—which is a daily reminder of my fallibility! But I do pray and try to hear what God wants to say from the Bible, and do my best to say it. And when I speak Biblical truth, God speaks to people. And if you come with a desire to hear from God, I think He’ll speak to you though me, or sometimes in spite of me and what I say!

God speaks through leaders—through spiritual leaders. God speaks through family leaders. As a teenager, I knew that the Bible said I should obey and honor my parents. So there were times when I asked them for counsel and believed that God would speak to me through them. God often speaks to me now through my wife. As a married man, I am the leader of my family; it’s a leadership that I share with my wife. God often uses her to speak to me.

God speaks through leaders. When a leader in your life speaks, listen. God may be trying to say something to you.

 

B. Through gifts of the Spirit.

God speaks through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, also called spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is an ability given by God, the Holy Spirit, to enable us to do His work.

ILL: Some of you might have noticed that we recently advertised in our program for two open positions on our staff: a graphic designer and an accountant. What ability might you need to do the graphics job? Artistic ability. That eliminated me. What ability might you need to do the accounting job? Mathematic ability—specifically, training in accounting. That eliminated me too. I can’t do anything! No, I have other gifts.

Just like you need abilities to do your job, whatever it is, it takes abilities to get God’s work done too. God gives us these abilities, spiritual gifts. These gifts are listed and discussed in the passages on your outline. Peter lumps these gifts into two large groupings: serving gifts and speaking gifts.

1 Peter 4:10-11 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.

If you look at the other passages on your outline, you’ll see that many of the gifts listed there are verbal in nature. In each of these verbal gifts, God gives a person something to say to others—God speaks through people. Some verbal gifts are:

  • Prophecy.

  • Teaching.

  • Encouraging.

  • Message of wisdom.

  • Message of knowledge.

  • Speaking in tongues.

  • Interpretation of tongues.

Let’s look at the first: the spiritual gift of prophecy. When people think of prophecy, they usually think of foretelling the future, and it can be that. Many of the Biblical prophets foretold the future. But more often, prophecy was simply speaking for God; it was not foretelling, but forth-telling—forth-telling the message of God. A prophet heard what God was saying and said it. A prophet was God’s spokesperson. In the Bible, there were male and female prophets. Moses in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament both said that he wished every one of God’s people could prophesy.

*Numbers 11:29 “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets.”

*1 Corinthians 14:5 “I wish you were all able to prophesy.”

That should get our attention. Why would they want that? Prophecy is simply hearing what God is saying and saying it. It’s a good thing for people to hear what God is saying and say it.

I think prophecy has gotten a bad rap. We imagine someone in church standing up and speaking in King James English, with a holy quiver in his voice. “Thus saith the Lord: Hear ye, O my people; thou art like donkeys sniffing the wind. Yea verily, I say unto thee, like donkeys sniffing the east wind.”

But since prophecy is simply saying what God is saying, it can happen anywhere, in ordinary English, and without fanfare. It can happen over coffee, talking with a friend; or in a conversation at work or school. You sense God is saying something and you say it. How do you know if God is giving you something to say? It’s hearing the still small voice. You recognize God’s voice, that this is something from Him.

ILL: Jim Hansen was the youth pastor at the Milwaukee, Oregon church when the Lord spoke a strange word to him. “Moses and no instructions.” Jim thought about it and believed that the Lord was telling him he was going to go, but like Moses, he had no instructions about how. But he was happy where he was and so he put the word away and forgot about it.

A couple weeks later, a friend said that she had a word for him. It was “Moses and no instructions.” Now Jim got nervous! Maybe God was serious about moving him.

Then a friend with whom he had a falling out called him and set up lunch. The friend apologized and made amends, and then said he had a word for Jim: “Moses and no instructions.” Third time’s the charm. Jim resigned his comfortable position with nowhere to go, but within a few weeks, he was hired as the youth pastor at Canby by my friend, Ron Swor.

Most of the time, when God gives me something to say to someone else, it’s not so obscure! I’ve noticed too that when God gives me something to say to someone, it’s usually to confirm what God already said to them, like Jim’s two friends did.

ILL: God spoke to me on New Years Eve, 1977 and said that I would be leaving Faith Center in Eugene to pastor somewhere else in 1978. And He told me not to mention this to anyone, so that I wouldn’t engineer it. He would make it happen. And He gave me a Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 “Faithful is he who calls you, and He will bring it to pass.” So I wrote it down in my journal, and tucked it away. I didn’t even show Laina.

A couple months later, in March, my pastor, Roy Hicks Jr. stopped me in the hallway at church. “I was praying for you last week, and God said it’s time for you to go pastor somewhere else.” I opened my journal and showed him the New Year’s Eve entry. “I’m way ahead of you, pastor!” God’s word to Roy was confirmation of what He had already said to me.

One last thing about prophecy. Because hearing the still small voice is a subjective experience, we always want to be humble about it. I rarely tell anyone, “God spoke to me and here is what He said for you.” Instead, I’ll say, “Here’s what I think I heard. It may be from God, or it might just be me. Why don’t you pray about it and think about it and see if God speaks this to you.”

Bottom line: God uses spiritual gifts to speak through people to us.

 

C. Through ordinary conversations.

God speaks through ordinary conversations. He can use ordinary people in ordinary conversations to speak to us.

In John 3, Jesus had a life-changing conversation with Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader. In John 4, Jesus had a life-changing conversation with a Samaritan woman by a well. Two very different people, at opposite ends of the social spectrum, but both of them heard God speak to them in a private conversation. Now I know you’re thinking, “That was Jesus talking to them, God in the flesh. Of course they heard God speak to them!” But the point I want you to see is that God did it through an ordinary conversation. God used ordinary conversations to speak to people in a life-changing way.

How many ordinary conversations do you have in the course of a day? Lots. In any one of those, God may speak to you, if you’re listening.

ILL: I told you a few months ago about a conversation I was having with a friend. In passing, he mentioned a lady who is leading a national effort to get teenagers to pray one hour a day. It was a passing comment—he said it and moved on in 15 seconds. But it was like God took a highlighter and underlined it for me. Later that day, I thought about that comment and felt like God was speaking to me about praying one hour a day. It’s hard! It’s really hard for me to sit still for an hour! I don’t do it every day, but when I do, it’s good. Hard is what makes it great!

That wasn’t what my friend came to talk with me about. That wasn’t the main subject of our hour-long conversation. It was a foot note, an aside. So how did I know that God was speaking to me? Because it stood out. It caught my attention. It kept coming back to me. My friend didn’t even know that God has used him to speak to me.

ILL: Another example. One day several years ago, Rick told me about a conversation he had with Stan Busby. Stan had just taken some high school boys backpacking and rock-climbing, among them, my son, Jeff. During one of the rock climbs, Jeff had gotten most of the way up, and then stopped. He started protesting, saying he couldn’t go any farther. Stan, who was at the top of the cliff, simply said, “You can do it, Jeff,” and ignored his protests. Jeff scrambled up to the top.

I said, “I wish I knew how to get Jeff to do things.” Rick said, “Stan didn’t react to Jeff’s protests. He under-reacted.”

Another Holy Spirit highlighter: “He under-reacted.” That simple comment got my attention. I’m a major over-reactor! I’m bad! So this was a new thought: under-react. It’s actually in the Bible.

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

When someone is upset or angry or volatile, my tendency is to react in kind—or worse, to overreact! What would an under-reaction look like? A gentle answer.

Under-react. God spoke this word to me through my friend Rick…and he didn’t even know God was speaking! And it changed my relationship with my son, Jeff.

I could go on, but you get the idea: God speaks through ordinary people in ordinary conversations.

Another way God speaks through people is by giving us wisdom or advice. I believe that God usually gives us wisdom rather than answers. He gives us wisdom so that we come up with the right answer, the best decision. And one of the ways God gives wisdom is through the counsel or advice of trusted friends. (These references are not on your outline; you might want to jot them down.

Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 13:10 Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

Proverbs 15:22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 19:20 Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.

Proverbs 20:18 Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance.

Proverbs 27:9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.

I don’t make big decisions without advice. I’m not that smart!

ILL: We had to decide this week what we’re going to do for Easter: do it here or in the Arena. I sought advice from a number of people, who landed on both sides, some here, some there. And all of them had excellent reasons for doing it here or there. In fact, when I asked Laina and Noel, she landed on one side and her dad on the other…and they each had good reasons supporting their opinion. By the way, I went with Laina’s advice—I know which side my bread is buttered on—and we’re going to do Easter in the Arena.

I believe that God uses people to speak to us when we seek wise counsel.

In Acts 15, the leaders of the church gathered in Jerusalem to discuss an issue that was dividing them. Do Gentiles need to keep the Jewish law to become Christians? It was a big issue: at stake was the future of the church. If they went one way, Christianity would be for everyone; if they went the other, it would be open only to Jews. They needed to know what God wanted. How did they decide? After much discussion, including statements from Peter, Paul and Silas, and James, they came to an agreement, and wrote a letter to send to the churches. In it, they said:

Acts 15:28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” How did they know what the Holy Spirit said? Through much discussion. By listening to each other. As Peter, then Paul and Silas, then James spoke, it became clear what God was saying. God spoke through the discussion, through people in conversation. And they were able to say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

God speaks through people—ordinary people in ordinary conversations. Just in case you think that God could never speak through you, I listed the Numbers 22 reference. Balak, a foreign king, summoned a prophet named Balaam to curse the nation of Israel. When Balaam was on his way to meet with Balak, God sent an angel to intercept him. Balaam didn’t see the angel standing in the road with a drawn sword, but his donkey did and turned aside into a field. Balaam beat his donkey to get her back on the road. Then the angel stood in a narrow path with walls on both sides. The donkey pressed up against the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot, so he beat her again. Finally, the angel stood in a place so narrow that there was no room to pass on either side, and the donkey simply laid down under Balaam. Balaam beat her again.

Numbers 22:28 Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” (King James says “The Lord opened the mouth of the ass.)

There you have it: proof positive that God can speak through anyone! God spoke to Balaam through a donkey! If God can speak through an ass, He can speak through me…or you! God can speak through anyone. God can use a child to speak to us.

ILL: Bill White tells this story.

I was kneeling in prayer in the front room of our house at 6:30 in the morning. I’d just confessed sins and was asking God for a blessing that day, needing to feel loved by him.

Our little boy Timothy, who is 22 months old, had just gotten up, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he had sneaked quietly into the front room. He’s always quiet in the morning when I’m praying because his mom tells him to be, but this time he ambled straight over to me, put a hand on my clasped hands, and said, “Hi, special one. Hi, special one. Hi, special one.”

Never once has he called me that before. Six times he called me “special one.” He said it enough for me actually to get it—that God was speaking to me and giving me a blessing.

God speaks through ordinary people in ordinary conversations.

 

2. How to hear God speaking through people

 

  1. Expect it.

Simply put, there are certain situations where I expect God to speak to me.

When I listen to someone teach God’s word, I expect God to speak to me. I hope you come to church every Sunday with an expectant heart—not because of me, but because God loves you enough to speak to you.

When I ask advice of wise and trusted friends, I expect God to speak to me through them. The action step is simple:

  • Pay attention.

If you’ve asked God to speak to you, and expect Him to, pay attention. This is one reason we give you an outline to write on. When God speaks to you, write it down! Write it down so you can remember and act on it. Taking notes helps me pay attention.

In certain situations, I expect God to speak through people, and I’m paying attention. But what about the unexpected times, the ordinary conversations?

 

  1. Evaluate.

Most of us lead unexamined lives. We miss what God is doing and saying because we are tearing through life at breakneck speeds and rarely take time to evaluate or reflect. So the action step is:

  • Reflect and journal.

I challenged you last week to take 10 minutes a day to reflect on the day’s events and see if God is speaking to you, teaching you. That includes reflecting on your conversations with people. Was there anything that stood out? Did God highlight something someone said?

I want to challenge you again to take PBJ time—Prayer, Bible and Journal. Let God speak to you in prayer (the still small voice). Let God speak to you through the Bible. Let God speak to you through life and through people as you take time to reflect and journal—the last 10 minutes of your PBJ time.

 

Here’s how we’re going to finish today. We’re going to take 5 minutes for some conversations right now, right here in our seats. Five minutes of conversation. “What will talk about?” How about this: has God said anything to you today? Share that. Or in the last couple weeks? Share that. Or is there a Bible verse that’s stood out? Share that. In twos and threes, let’s talk…I’ll come back in five minutes for closing prayer.