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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

On Hearing God's Voice - Part One

In response to an earlier posting, someone asked for some instruction on "hearing from God." This is the first of two or perhaps three postings on the matter. I hope it helps.

The first thing that needs saying is that hearing God is not about hearing God. It is not a stunt, a skill, a gift, a badge of spiritual advancement, or an ability. Hearing God does not necessily mean that you will "hear" something audibly [I never have, although I have heard from God].

Hearing God has a context which is the pursuit and cultivation of intimacy with the Holy One. What we by "hearing God/from God" is that he causes us to know what he wants us to know, to do what he wants us to do, to be where he wants us to be within the greater context of growing in intimate relationship with Him and being agents of His purposes in the world.

Again, it is not a stunt, not a gift, and by no means a merit badge. It is a byproduct of intimate relationship. Therefore, above all, one should cultivate intimacy with God through prayer, study of Scripture and holy writings, and persistent service to His will.

I didn’t learn to hear from God until I was in desperate life crisis—I grew in discerning His voice when I was in a situation where there was simply no alternative. And during that time of crisis I became aware that for twenty years or so, intimacy with God had ceased being central in my life. In his place i put my relationship with my religious circles, the meeting of quotas, "the Lord's work." I was so preoccupied with the work of the Lord that I neglected the Lord of the work. And at that time, I repented of this. And, to be honest, it is a repentance I need to repeat from time to time.

But I did hear from God at that time--I knew because I knew because I knew that I needed to seek out a certain friend I had seen once in twelve years. Seeking him out, I discovered that he and his wife had been praying for me for about a year on the very issues about which I was coming to them! I then knew two things: I had heard from God and they had too, for it was no accident that of all the people I knew, I had sensed that I needed to seek out these friends. At that point, I became open to learning more about the subject of hearing from God, actually voraciously hungry to learn more. I talked to people about their own experiences in this realm, I read widely. The best book on the subject, in my view, is "Hearing God" by Dallas Willard. Most sane, balanced, helpful and challenging. Here is a quote from that fine book.

“If we are really to understand the Bible record, we must enter into our study of it on the assumption that the experiences recorded there are basically of the same type as ours would have been if we had been there. . . .Unless this comes home to us, the things that happened to the people in the Bible will remain unreal to us. We will not genuinely be able to believe the Bible or find its contents to be real, because it will have no experiential substance for us” [Hearing God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999:35].

The man certainly has a point.

What Willard is touching upon is one of the dirty little secrets of many who claim to be sound believers in Yeshua, Bible-believers. Many of us are Bible Deists. We are experts on what the Bible says, but are either categorically convinced that none of its dynamics are accessible to us, reserved for other people and other times. When reading the Bible, we subconsciously say "That was then, now is now, that was them and I not them." Frankly, we generally expect little from God. We live out the assumption that nothing that happened in the Bible can happen in our lives. In this manner, the Bible becomes meaningless, the Bible irrelevant to our lives, and our faith nothing more than words about words.

Charles Kraft reminds us that the Bible is a case book, a demonstration of what happens in human life and experience when we encounter the Living God. If that is not true, then Bible studies and blog entries like this one are nothing more than a religious philosophy class. Yawn.

As I struggled with the issue of how one hears from God, I eventually came to see that God is the Great Communicator, an even greater communicator than Ronald Reagan. And I learned to stop sweating it because I realized that God has no problem making himself understood when He wants to. If there is something he wants me to know, he’ll be able to do so. I took the onus off of myself as the one worrying about my ability to detect God’s communications, and I put the onus on God as the Great Communicator. I left Him with the task of communicating clearly and effectively. At that point, both God and I breathed a sigh of relief.

In this blog entry, I want to examine just some of the many ways God speaks—that is, just how he gets us to know what he wants us to know, to be where he wants us to be, and to say or do what he wants us to say or do within the context of growing intimacy with Him and partnership in HIs purposes. I am going to be taking the first chapters of the Gospel of Luke as my jumping off point.

1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Written accounts - God speaks to us through Scripture preeminently and authoritatively, but also through other books. Some of the most seminal thoughts in my life have come through books I have read. What about you? And God speaks to us in music that people write as well—artistic products, written, graphic, musical. Through such means God speaks.

Such "speaking" is more than simply the exchange of information. Rather, as you read the words, sometimes you will sense that you are being addressed, and/or you will be struck by the startling relevance of the passage in question to the present condition and issues of your life. Such times are not as uncommon as one might imagine.

Especially when we study Scripture, which should be a regular habit of life, we ought to do so with a conscious plea to God to address us in the matters which we study. Sometimes, subtly but inerringly, He guides us to where we ought to be reading. And one of the ways we know we have been guided, is the sense of being addressed that we have as we read these passages which turn out to be highly relevant to where we are in our life at that time.

Remember, Luke thought he was writing a letter, not Scripture, and Theopohilus thought he was receiving a letter. God can speak to us or speak through us in letters, and in books and articles as well---those that we read, and those that we write.

In that passage Luke refers to the fact that his reader(s) had been "instructed." Another way we hear from God is through those whom he has gifted and called to teach us--through their words heard or read.

Investigation - We learn by digging. To all the scholars and writers reading this, I have good news: God speaks to us in our research, and through our research, God speaks to others! That is how it was for Luke, and that is what God wants to say to you today!

In all these ways and more God gets us knowing what he wants, going where he wants, and doing what he wants in the world so that we become more like Yeshua, growing in wisdom and in stature, and in divine and human favor, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God

5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Scripture and tradition.
Tradition is the community’s discussion across time of “just how are we going to make this work. . .what is our obedience to God supposed to look like?”

We ought not to despise tradition. After all, tradition is simply yesterday’s “now” winnowed by the wisdom of the community across time. And if we believe we can learn from God in the now, we can learn from the approved “nows” of the tradition.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.

Tradition again—custom. Very unusual means—in this case, the drawing of lots. God can and does use extraordinary means to speak with us. But we must not forget that these means are extraordinary, and ought not to be relied upon. We would do well to depend upon more ordinary means--the voice of tradition, Scripture, dependable counsel within the community of God's people, a growing sense of conviction that God is "saying something to us," and sanctified common sense. The more factors like these line up with each other, the more certain we can be that we are not self-deceived.

"10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Tradition again - the time of the incense offering. And something more astounding: an Angelic visitation and the out and out miraculous. The same was to be true for Elizabeth and Mary.

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” 21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Here Elizabeth speaks prophetic words to Mary. Sometimes God guides us through prophetic words/words from someone else, often people who do not know that they are being God’s messengers at that very time. I am not speaking of those people who always somehow need to tell you what God has shown them about you. There are such people, but as a rule of thumb, I tend to be leery of them to the extent that their "prophetic gift" makes them feel special about themselves. I am leery of people whose "ministry" to me is driven by an ego need of their own.

Nevertheless, there are times when God speaks to you along with the words someone is speaking to you. They are just speaking what they sense, what they think, or whatever. But the Holy Spirit is adding His "Amen." Sometimes when such things happen, you sense that something is up. Sometimes, what the person says to you perfectly aligns with something you have "heard" from another source unknown to them. This is what is termed "double confirmation."

One day a woman in my congregation, a woman of prayer, came to me and said that God had told her something for me, and that, unusually, He even told her precisely what words to say to me. She felt herself "assigned" to give me these words in writing. Here they are: "I have put a Spirit of excellence in you." What I did at that point is, I tucked this away in my heart and mind to ponder and evaluate.

About two weeks later, I was in the home of some fellow students at Fuller Seminary where I was doing a Master's Degree at that time. The host was a chaplain to the students. Toward the end of the evening, he offered prayer for us. At that time he said, "The Lord seems to be saying that he has put a spirit of excellence in you."

Never before and never since have I heard these words spoken to me or the phrase "a spirit of excellence" used in any other connection.. The second person did not know the first person, and both of them were from entirely different contexts in my life. But the words were identical in a manner which confirmed that God was saying something to me through these people. And as I said, unlike this case, often the people who are speaking God's words to you are just speaking their own hearts and minds and are unaware that they are being God's agents. It is obvious as well that both of these people had also heard from God.

More later.