Asking for a Friend

Week 1

Does God Still Speak?

Several months ago, we began talking about this idea of a series based on questions that people may be uncomfortable asking, or afraid to ask. Their reluctance to ask may be because the question is awkward or embarrassing. Whenever someone asks an awkward or uncomfortable question, they will often use the phrase, “Asking for a Friend”.

So, we decided to do a six-week series, focused on some of the questions you might want to ask, but are reluctant to ask for some reason. Most of us are surrounded by noise every day. It is hard to hear someone speak when there is so much other noise that surrounds us. I want to begin this series by asking a simple, but important question.

Does God Still Speak?

I was talking about the series and how I intended to make some personal application in a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago, and Tim Ferret suggested a more provocative title. He suggested that the message be called, “What’s the real reason Pastor Steve is leaving?” With the subtitle, “Asking for a friend.” We’re going to answer both questions today.

I believe God has spoken, is speaking and will speak again to anyone who is willing to listen for His voice. I think most people believe that. The breakdown comes when we ask, has God ever spoken to you?

In John 10:27, Jesus said…“My sheep listen to my voice…” – John 10:27 (NIV) All through the Bible we see a recurring phrase, “And God said…”KJV – “Thus sayeth the Lord…” If we will just quiet down and listen, we will discover that God still speaks.
And when you obey His voice, your life will be blessed. I put an EQUATION in the notes:

Be Quiet + Listen + Obey = BLESSING

If you believe God speaks, and I think most of us do, it is important to hear what He has to say. But we have to be careful, or we will miss His voice.

We miss God’s voice when we are too BUSY or DISTRACTED to hear Him speak.

If we don’t set aside time to listen for the voice of God, we will never hear Him.

We must be intentional about listening for the voice of God, otherwise, our schedules will get overloaded with so many things that are far less important.

There is a great story about learning to hear God speak in 1 Samuel 3:1-10. It is the story of a priest named Eli, and a boy named Samuel. Samuel was staying at the tabernacle while he was being mentored by Eli. One night Samuel heard someone call out to him. He thought it was Eli, so he ran to Eli to find out what he wanted. But Eli said, go back to bed, Samuel. I did not call you. That happened three times.

When Eli finally realized what was happening, he instructed Samuel to go back to bed. He said the next time you hear someone call out to you, respond by saying, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel went back to bed, and sure enough, the Lord called out to him again. Samuel followed Eli’s instructions and he went on to become an effective prophet and spokesperson for God.

I have never heard the audible voice of God. But I have no doubt, God can speak to us in an audible voice, if that is what He desires. The point I don’t want you to miss is this, God didn’t speak to Samuel in the rush of the day. Instead, it was in a quiet place, while Samuel was alone and listening. Samuel heard from God when he was disengaged from the busyness of the day.

The sad reality is that there is so little time when we are still and quite anymore.
We are overloaded with so much noise. Psalms 46:10a invites us to “Be still, and know that I am God…” – Psalm 46:10a (NIV) Be careful not to allow busyness and noise to drown out the voice of God in your life.

We miss God’s voice when our FOCUS is misplaced.

Sometimes God uses something dramatic to get our attention. For instance, He spoke to Moses from a burning bush. He spoke to a guy named Balaam through is donkey. He spoke to Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds through angels. But, more often than not, God speaks to us in simple, quiet ways.

There is a great story in 1 Kings 19 about a prophet named Elijah. Elijah had gone through a period of depression. God commanded him to go up on a mountain and wait. As Elijah waited for the Lord to pass by, a raging wind encompassed the mountain, but God was not in the wind. Then came a mighty earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then there was a raging fire, but God was not in the fire. Then God showed up in the most unexpected way. He came in a gentle whisper.

In all the noise and confusion that surrounds our lives so much of the time, it is difficult to hear God’s voice. That’s why it is so important for us to get focused and listen for the still small voice of God. That often means waiting, which none of us like to do.
It means cultivating receptivity. It means being still. It is about intentionality and developing a desire to hear. God probably won’t speak to you through a burning bush, or a donkey, or an angel. I doubt that He will speak to you through the wind, an earthquake, or even fire. You probably won’t hear an audible voice. But you can hear Him speak if you will get focused and listen. God’s voice may be very subtle, but you can hear it if you are listening. His voice can be heard, but you must get tuned in.

We miss God’s voice when we don’t KNOW, or we FORGET what God sounds like.

With all the voices that we hear each day, it is hard to pick out the voice of God. It is especially difficult to hear from God if we have not familiarized ourselves with His voice by spending time with Him in prayer and reading His Word. Samuel didn’t recognize God’s voice because he had never heard it before. It took God calling out to him several times for Samuel to finally realize, thanks to Eli, that it was God who was the One speaking.

Perhaps you have never heard from God. Others might say you have heard God speak, but it has been a long time. Why is that? Has God stopped speaking or is it possible that He is speaking, but you have failed to recognize His voice, or have you forgotten what His voice sounds like because you have been too busy or preoccupied to hear what He has to say?

We miss God’s voice when we simply don’t CARE or don’t WANT to hear what He has to say.

God called out to Samuel to get his attention. He didn’t just start speaking. He called out first. He finally delivered His message when Samuel responded by saying, “Speak, your servant is listening.” Samuel could have chosen to ignore God’s voice. That is what many people do.

Some ignore His voice because of fear. Others don’t care what He has to say. And some may think they know what He has to say, and they don’t want to hear it. Perhaps they have turned a deaf ear to Him in the past and they have decided they will continue to ignore Him. Samuel chose to purposefully listen to the voice of God.

We miss God’s voice when we are living in SIN, REBELLION, or DISOBEDIENCE.

Darkness will drown out the voice of God. Why should God continue to speak when we have proven we are not ready or willing to listen or obey what He has to say? These are just a few of the things that can prevent us from hearing God’s voice. We miss out on God’s direction, and one of life’s great blessings, when we fail to listen for the voice of God.

In the remainder of our time together, I want to share with you a very personal part of my spiritual journey. Most of you know my life verse is found in Psalm 32:8. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” – Psalm 32:8 (NIV) Four promises in one verse! This passage has been a powerful promise that I have returned to again and again for more than 40 years.

Since I announced the beginning of the leadership transition here at The Point, people have been asking, “Steve, how do you know? Why would you step away from a ministry that is going well, especially when you gave no idea what is next in your life?”

What I am about to share is how Laurie and I have experienced the hand of God directing our lives and ministry for as long as we have been together. In fact, this is how the Lord first brought us to Seymour in 2002. It is how the Lord led me to initiate our transition plan here at The Point a few weeks ago. And it is how I believe God will guide us and the church into the future.

If you have never sensed God’s clear direction in your life, it is my prayer that He will use this message to show you how He wants to be involved in your daily life and in the most important decisions you will ever make.

First, I want to acknowledge a built-in hazard when it comes to listening for God’s voice. We all have a unique ability to hear whatever we want to hear. Look hard enough and long enough, you can justify whatever you want by looking for a verse in the Bible to support your desire by proof texting or by seeking counsel until you finally find someone who will tell you what you want to hear. That’s why it is a good idea to seek balance between a number of these methods I am about to share with you.

We must be very careful to keep our heart and motivation pure before the Lord. Otherwise, we can concoct a plan and blame it on God. I have seen people do it. Remember, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, the heart is deceptive above all things. We must be careful to allow the Lord to examine our heart and weed out any impure motives or agendas that are not in complete alignment with the will of God for our lives. One way to do that is though prayer.

We HEAR God’s voice through PRAYER.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT) If you are looking for God’s direction, just ask. He has promised to guide you.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” – James 1:5 (NIV) God speaks to us through prayer.

We HEAR God’s voice through HIS WORD.

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” – Psalm 119:05 (NLT) It is amazing to me how God can use His Word to direct us in such specific ways. As you read, stay tuned in to what God may have to say to you about your specific situation through His written Word. It might surprise you! You can be certain of this – God will never lead you in a direction that contradicts His written in His Word.

We HEAR God’s voice through WISE COUNSEL.

This is counsel from people with good judgment and who have a record of making wise decisions. “Plans succeed through good counsel” – Proverbs 20:18a (NLT) God uses the counsel of mature Christian to help us discern His will. But I have to tell you, I have been tested at this point in the past.

Several years ago, I sensed the Lord leading in one direction, but two specific people that I looked up to and trusted, were telling me something else. They were both older and wiser than me. They gave wise counsel. What they said made sense. There was just one problem. I sensed God leading in another direction. So, it came to down the question – would I listen to them, or would I listen to Him?
It was truly a defining moment in my life.

Sometimes God calls us to step out in faith and trust Him on a level that few will understand. Those moments have been the exception in my life. In most instances, God has used mature believers to speak truth, and provide wise counsel that He used to guide me.

We HEAR God’s voice through CIRCUMSTANCES

Some seem to think God is the only one who can open doors. I have seen some open doors that I know God did not open. The story of Jonah is a great example of how an open door led him to do something that he knew was not God’s will. God had made it clear to Jonah, that he was to go to Nineveh to preach the gospel. But Jonah got on a ship that was headed to Tarshish (2,000 miles in the opposite direction).

This is another reason why I stress the importance of balance. We are looking for alignment and confirmation as we seek to discern the will of God. If Jonah had determined that God would lead through circumstances alone, he might have thought that Nineveh was where he belonged. A ship was headed when Jonah went to the port.
One problem. That is not where God had told him to go. It is important to look for confirmation of God’s will as you work through this process. I think it is even OK to knock on the door, just don’t try to knock the door down!

We HEAR God’s voice through INNER PEACE.

This has been so big for Laurie and me. God guides us by sending His peace. He also guides us when He takes it away. That is sometimes how He nudges us to get back on track.

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” – Isaiah 30:21 (NIV) Whether it is a sense of peace, or a sense of receding peace, this is a significant factor in being able to develop the ability to know the will of God.

I believe that the Holy Spirit brings peace when we are following the Lord’s leading. This is an intangible but is so important in this process of discerning God’s voice. Laurie and I have had so many discussions about peace through the years. I can assure you that we are having these discussions for where we are right now. There are many days of uncertainty, but there has never been a day without peace.

Pay attention to peace. There is great peace in knowing that you are following the path the Lord has laid out for you. Confidence continues to increase as you establish a pattern of following His leadership in your life. If you lack peace about an important decision, pay attention to that. It has been said, peace is the umpire of the heart.

This next one may surprise you. We can HEAR God’s voice through Personal DESIRE.

“God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:13 (NLT) Don’t we all want to do the things we enjoy? That is the way God made us. When I am seeking His will, I believe He often guides us in areas of personal interest.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4 (NIV) This is not about giving us what we desire. It is about giving us the right desire. God will place within you the desire to do whatever it is that He is calling you to do.

Some people seem to think that if they submit to God, He will force them to do something that they don’t want to do. Have you ever seen a missionary get drug off to the mission field kicking and screaming? Of course not. Their delight is in the Lord and God has placed within them the desire to not only know but to do His will.

These are just a few of the ways God speaks. He is unlimited in the ways He can get our attention. It is up to us to pay attention and listen when He speaks. Sometimes God leads us to take a step of faith that others won’t understand. I think of examples in scripture like Noah, Daniel, David, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Abraham, and many others.

God sometimes calls us to step out and do something that seems unreasonable or unexpected. And that’s where faith comes in. God is at work in ways we cannot see. We are unable to see the end from the beginning. But God sees the big picture. That is why He calls us to live by faith.

FAITH – Forsaking – All – I – Trust – Him

As I look to the future, I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to have everything figured out at the end of the pencil. I can choose to trust and obey. I believe that is a winning combination spiritually speaking.

God is writing a new story here at The Point and I am convinced it will be a good one! And God’s timing is always perfect. I won’t pretend to know or understand everything the Lord is up to. But I believe it is something good. That is what I choose to trust and follow Him. I hope you will do the same. It really comes down to a matter of Lordship. Are you willing to do God’s will no matter what?

Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote, “95% of knowing the will of God consists in being willing to do it before you know what it is.” The Lordship issue is settled when I can say yes to God, even before He asks the question. I can do that because I trust Him. I believe He has my best interest at heart.

“Does God Still Speak?” I believe that He has, that He does, and that He will. And the next time someone asks, “What’s the real reason Pastor Steve is leaving?” maybe you can direct them to this message, or the one where I first made the announcement on March 13. God has great plans for the future of The Point. He is preparing us, and He is preparing a leader. I can’t wait to see His plan unfold.

The way to experience God’s best blessings is through instant, unconditional OBEDIENCE when He speaks. I am as confident about the decision to initiate the transition plan for the church, as I have been about any decision that we have made in 37 years of pastoral ministry. Let’s trust Him together and just see what great things He has in store for us.

One more thing….We have invited three speakers to help with this series. This series is not tryouts for a new pastor. Two weeks ago, we conducted our focus groups. A profile for the new pastor is being developed. When that work is completed the search process will begin. We will keep you informed as to where we are in that process.