As a young believer, I once helped a Christian group carry out a religious questionnaire in a university hall of residence. Being rather shy, and needing God’s help to accomplish this, I prayed before approaching each room.
We were supposed to leave at a certain time and, with about ten minutes to go, I started to pack up. But then I felt a strong prompting to try one more room – one that, for several weeks, had appeared unoccupied.
We don’t need a hearing aid to hear God, just clean hands, a pure heart (Psalm 24:4), a copy of His Word and a desire to hear Him speak
So I knocked, heard nothing, and was about to leave when the door flew open and a smiling student invited me in.
We went through the survey and I invited him to a talk on Christianity. When the much prayed for event began – there he was!
It turned out that, although my new friend usually returned late most evenings, he was feeling depressed and had decided to stay in that night, drinking wine and pondering whether there was any point to life. It was at this point that I’d knocked on his door and invited him to an evangelistic meeting!
A little later, my affable young friend became a Christian.
God, of course, can speak to us in a number of ways: through His voice (Isaiah 30:21, John 10:27), His Word (Romans 10:17, 2 Timothy 3:16-17), His Son (Matthew 7:24, Hebrews 1:1-2), and through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 16:13-15, Acts 8:29).
He can speak through Christian friends and faithful preachers (1 Corinthians 2:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 2:13), creation (Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1-2), and by giving us guidance and instruction (Psalm 32:8, 48:14, 73:24).
This God-given guidance was certainly something I needed when, a year later, I was carrying out the same survey in different university accommodation. I had reached the point where I’d covered nearly all the rooms on my corridor and – feeling tired – I felt a strong, God-given urge to call it a day.
Unfortunately, glancing at my list, I realised there were only two more rooms to cover – so, wanting to finish the job that night, I decided to carry on.
When I came to the first of the two rooms left, I was practically dragged in. I began by asking the student his religion – fully expecting him to say ‘atheist’, since that was what everyone else said!
Instead, he gave me a load of literature and began a lengthy description of his beliefs. ‘Anyway,’ I said finally – brain whirring, head pounding – ‘what religion should I put down?’
‘Theravada Buddhist,’ he said emphatically.
Seeing my bewilderment, he kindly spelled out ‘T-h-e-r-a-v-a-d-a’. I looked blank, so he did the same with the word ‘Buddhist’. But there wasn’t enough space on the form, so, seeing me in difficultly, he seized my clipboard and tried to write it for me.
‘No, that’s okay,’ I said hastily, liberating my things. ‘Very kind of you, though.’ I took the questionnaire, grabbed my pen, thanked him profusely, and ran out of the room.
I later asked myself why I’d disobeyed that inner prompting and not gone home – having forgotten that each room housed a precious soul who needed a believer at his best rather than a brain-dead Christian performing a tick-box exercise simply to complete his form.
I’ve experienced God communicate in other ways too.
On one occasion, I needed God’s wisdom about something that was troubling me, and a friend agreed to pray with me. He sat there, desperate to deliver a profound message from the Lord, and appeared on the verge of making one up when he stopped, confessing, ‘I was really hoping there was something I could say to you, but I’m afraid I haven’t a clue! Perhaps God will reveal something to you in due course.’
And that was that! But God isn’t some sort of celestial jukebox. He won’t put on the desired record just for our listening pleasure. He chooses to tell us what we need to know when we need to know it; doing so in a way that’s most helpful to us, is true to His Word and which will inevitably bring Him glory.
And yet, on another occasion, God used a particular friend to provide me with a specific encouragement.
I hadn’t been a Christian long, was looking for a job but – dishearteningly – was getting nowhere. A good friend had been praying for some time and one day said to me, ‘I think God will soon give you a job. A job that’s never existed before.’
I thanked him, but went away slightly sceptical. I didn’t really know what to think.
That night, before going to bed, I picked up my recently acquired Bible (I had started at Genesis and had now reached 1 Thessalonians 5), and verses 19-22 leapt out at me: ‘Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.’
The timing of these verses, if nothing else, made me think.
A little later, I was offered an interview. I went along (the chap who originally worked as film technician for a Christian film distributor was moving on and they needed someone to replace him), and soon heard that the job was mine.
I was of course delighted, but slightly confused. The original film technician was leaving and I was simply replacing him. My friend had got it wrong.
But on my second day, the boss called me in and produced a flow chart.
‘You can see from this,’ he said, indicating my name and job title, ‘that although you’ll eventually be responsible for checking and repairing films when Keith goes, for now we’ve created an entirely new role for you – as Keith’s assistant. He’ll train you up – then, when he goes, the new role will disappear and you’ll be in charge.’
I left the meeting praising God and marvelling at His desire to communicate with me.
Many years later, I needed to know if I should marry my girlfriend – not the sort of thing one wants to get wrong! So I prayed about it in a particularly beautiful church.
I can’t say I ‘heard’ anything but the startling thought came to me that I’d be an absolute idiot to let her go.
So, was God ‘speaking’ to me?
Not exactly, though as soon as I began considered my surprising thought, I recalled how alike Julie and I both were, how well we got on, how much we had in common and how God had brought us both together at a Christian conference.
Were there any biblical impediments to marriage? No. We were both Christians, both single, and had no practical obstacles, impediments or complications to surmount.
As all this flooded my mind, it became clear that I would indeed be an idiot if I didn’t marry her.
And so, in a sense, God did ‘speak’ to me. And yes, dear reader, I did marry her!
The safest, least controversial way to hear God, however, is through His Word. Regardless of the way He chooses to reveal Himself, God will never contradict what it says in the Bible, and any message we receive will always be for our blessing and His glory.
I remember the time when, having been through a particularly difficult period – bereavement, unemployment, ill health – that God ‘spoke’ to me through a series of church sermons. The biblical series contrasted those who, because of devastating or debilitating circumstances, had ‘small’, ‘battered’ or ‘little’ faith, with people who didn’t have any assurance whatsoever.
Being God, He can of course use any medium He chooses.
He conversed with Adam in the garden (Genesis 3:9-12), told Noah to build an ark (Genesis 6:13-22), used a vision to promise Abram a son (Genesis 15:1-4), appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3:3-6), spoke to Jacob and Moses face to face (Genesis 32:24-30, Exodus 33:11), talked to Balaam through a female donkey (Numbers 22:28-30) and communicated with Jonah when he was swallowed by a big fish and lost the plant that originally sheltered him (Jonah 1-2, 4:6-11).
In the New Testament, Zechariah and Mary received a life-changing message from an angel (Luke 1:11-20, 1:26-38), while the Magi were directed by God through a star (Matthew 2:1-2).
Joseph, like his Old Testament namesake, was shown what to do through various dreams (Matthew 1:20-24, 2:13), though Matthias was added to the 11 apostles by using lots (Acts 1:26).
Although Jesus’ disciples and contemporaries heard an audible voice (Matthew 17:5-5, Mark 1:10-11), as did Saul and his companions on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-7), Ananias received a vision which directly related to Saul’s (Acts 9:10-12) – an experience similar to that of Cornelius and Peter (Acts 10:3-20).
The One who spoke the world into being is a divinely effective communicator – and these are just a few of the examples I could give of the way He’s communicated to His people.
The living Word, in His infinite love and mercy, has spoken through the ages using a host of meaningful and creative ways to convict, challenge, exhort, warn and guide.
His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways, His ways (Isaiah 55:8), so, like the Berean Jews in Acts 17:11, we need to check everything alongside Scripture as we seek to follow our Saviour heart and soul – listening for His voice in any way that’s consistent with His Word.
Gary Clayton is married to Julie and father of Christopher (13) and Emma (10). He served for 15 years as Managing Editor of OMF, and is now Copywriter and Editor at MAF UK. To learn more about how MAF’s 135 light aircraft serve some of the world’s poorest and most isolated communities, visit www.maf-uk.org