Have you ever sensed that God was speaking to you? Maybe it was through circumstances, or scripture or during a time of prayer where God reframed your perspective on a situation in your life. Or have you ever been sitting at lunch with a trusted friend? You were struggling through some life situations and they graciously listened to every word you had to say. They then began to speak and while they were talking they said something that convicted, inspired or clarified everything in such a way that you sensed that God has spoken through their words.
In the Christmas story we see that God communicated with people in ways that they would understand. To Mary God spoke through an angel. To Joseph he spoke through an angel in a dream. To the shepherds he spoke through a choir of angels. For the Magi he spoke through the star. To the Jewish religious leaders he spoke through the Old Testament prophecies.
Our focus today is not so much on how God spoke, but that He did and still does. God’s “speaking to us” is not to the authority that scripture has, but it is God guiding us as we go through our lives. We see in scripture that God speaks to His people in various ways as He wills.
When considering the different responses of those in the Christmas story who do we most relate to?
Some might respond like Mary, when she said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!” (Luke 1:38) She was committed to whatever God willed for her life. Or Joseph who after seeing the angel in a dream obeyed immediately, “And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” (Matthew 1:25) or like the Shepherds who took God at His Word and “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15-20)
Some may respond like the Magi. Knowing that it was going to cost them time, money, and possibly even their safety they set out on a trip to worship the newborn king. Once they found Him they humbled themselves, bowed at His feet, and gave gifts that cost a lot. Regardless of what was demanded of them they had already decided that they were going to worship this new King. “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Matthew 2:10-11
Others respond to God like the religious leaders who told King Herod where the Wise Men should look for the Messiah. They knew from the Old Testament prophecies that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, but we see no evidence that they went to see the newborn King. Why not? We can’t know for sure, but from the circumstances it could have been that they were afraid of King Herod’s jealous power. They might lose their reputation, their position, or even their lives. Do we have not similar fears? What will we possibly lose or miss out on if we choose to seriously follow Jesus Christ. Will we lose friends? Will we be embarrassed at work? Will we have to change the way we live? There will be a price to pay. The Magi were willing to follow the Messiah and the religious leaders were not.
Herod could have chosen to join the Magi and humble himself at the feet of the newborn King, but he didn’t. There was something that held him back. Whether it was love of power, fame, control, reputation, fear, etc. His actions show us that something was much more important to him than this new king.
Compared to jealous Herod and humble Mary, or the fearful religious leaders or courageous Joseph, where do we find ourselves?
Scripture testifies that God speaks to His children, but we first must recognize His voice and second be willing to obey.
It is helpful to look back to the story of young Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:1-11. The boy, Samuel, ministered before the LORD under Eli, the priest. Samuel was sleeping in the temple and heard his name called. He got up and ran to Eli’s side but Eli said that he had not called Samuel. Samuel went back and laid down and again heard His name called. He ran to Eli’s side again but again was sent back.
At this point in the story scripture tells of how Samuel “did not yet know the LORD and that the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”
A third time Samuel heard someone call his voice and ran to Eli. Eli now realized what was happening. The scripture then says,
“So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Then the LORD spoke to Samuel as He never had before.
Before these verses Samuel had never known of God’s speaking and did not recognize God’s voice, but now He was listening.
For those who do not know Christ or are not listening for God’s voice it could be that they have never heard Him or did not recognize Him if He did speak.
But as Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” In the scriptures the idea of hearing always included obeying. If you didn’t obey you hadn’t really heard. A key part of hearing Him speak is to recognize His voice and have already committed to obey. It is similar to a person who is most prepared to benefit from Bible reading by already being committed to obedience before they ever open their Bible.
We can learn more about this in Jesus’ teaching on His being the Good Shepherd in John 10.
In Jesus´ day sheep were kept in two types of pens. One was closer to town where people lived. The sheep belonging to several shepherds might be brought in at night to one large pen. The shepherds would go home and one man would stand watch over the sheep all night and be the gatekeeper. He did not know the sheep or have any vested interest in them. He was just doing his job which was to make sure the sheep were safe during the night.
Anyone who entered the sheep pen by climbing over the fence and not using the gate was either a thief or a robber. When the shepherd arrived for the sheep you would always recognize him because the gatekeeper would open the gate for the shepherd and he would call out to his sheep. Even if there were several flocks of sheep in the pen, this shepherd’s sheep would recognize his voice and only they would follow him out of the pen. These verses even mention how the shepherd would call his sheep by name. That is how intimate a relationship the shepherd had with his sheep.
With that in mind let’s now listen to the words of Jesus, “He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. . . The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. . . My sheep hear my voice, and I (Jesus) know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:2-4, 27)
Verse 4 talks of how the sheep follow the shepherd for they know his voice. The sheep knew well the faithfulness of the shepherd. Knowing His voice and His character are an integral part of hearing and obeying.
It is similar to those who are followers of Christ. We have been given a heart and desire for the things of God. We have been given ears to hear. Through God´s Word we come to know His character resulting in being more sensitive to His voice. Ezekiel 36:26 says it in these words, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” The scripture even tells us that the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth (John 16:13). As followers of Christ He teaches us to recognize His voice and to walk faithfully in obedience.
With this in mind our focus is not to be so much on trying to figure out what God is saying, but in walking close enough with God that we will recognize His voice when He speaks. And trusting Him enough to have pre-committed to obedience before we ever hear from Him. Like the sheep and the shepherd, the more we obey His commands and they show themselves to be best, the more we experience God and grow in intimacy with Him.
It might help to think of using a radio. The radio may work fine. It may have batteries or be plugged in. It may be turned on, but if it is not tuned in to the right frequency we are never going to hear anything. It is not that the radio signal wasn’t there we just weren’t tuned into it. As we seek to hear from God, is our spiritual frequency turned towards God?
God’s final Word on the issue to hear His voice is found in Hebrews 1:1-3. “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
The Bible teaches us that we each were spiritually dead. But through faith in Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven and we are made alive in Christ. The Spirit of Christ comes to live inside of us. This is the essential truth to setting our spiritual frequency on God.
It is through Jesus Christ we are reconciled to God and a relationship with God is established so that we may know His voice and follow Him.
Our main responsibility is to nurture an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through an active faith that results in obedience.
Listen for His voice. Precommit to obey. Hear His voice. Obey. Experience God. Repeat.