I am preaching on the deity of the Holy Spirit this Sunday and thought this quote out of John Owen’s, Mortification of The Flesh, would be of value. The first paragraph is part of his lengthy discussion on how the Spirit is utterly indefensible in our battle to mortify the flesh. Then in the second paragraph he shows his pastoral heart as he considers those who are seeking to be holy and yet do not have the Spirit because they are not in Christ. Powerful stuff.
He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself. And, indeed, I might here bewail the endless, foolish labour of poor souls, who, being convinced of sin, and notable to stand against the power of their convictions, do set themselves, by innumerable perplexing ways and duties, to keep down sin, but, being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain. They combat without victory, have war without peace, and are in slavery all their days. They spend their strength for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which profiteth not.
This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in. A soul under the power of conviction from the law is pressed to fight against sin, but hath no strength for the combat. They cannot but fight, and they can never conquer; they are like men thrust on the sword of enemies on purpose to be slain. The law drives them on, and sin beats them back. Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered when it is not touched. By that time they are cold, they must to the battle again; and the lust which they thought to be slain appears to have had no wound.
In my online reading I came across a recent post about hearing the voice of God and how does that work. This is something I have had a lot of interest in for many years. I remember several years ago a group of younger men who came into the coffee shop where I was studying. They sat next to me and it rapidly became evident they were discussing spiritual things. They all had opinions on the subject (head-coverings for women) but there was no consensus and frankly, not one of their thoughts were connected to the biblical text. They noticed my commentaries and ended up sitting at my table and we talked. My questions centered on how will they arrive at a proper understanding of the meaning of the text? The answer became an almost comical as they would respond that God would tell them. I would ask how they would know it was God speaking and they said, “You know, you just know.” I asked what happens when others say that God told them a different meaning. They said God would tell them who was right. How do you know it is God speaking? “You know, you just know.” How do you know? “You just know.” This was less than satisfying and when I tried to explain the text (which I had just preached on) it did not fit their perceptions and they rejected it. Apparently God though God had not told them what the meaning of the text was yet, God had told them that my exegesis of it was wrong.
All of this to make this point. How do you hear the voice of God if you believe He is speaking today? And more importantly how do you know it is actually God? Here are some answers I have found and none of them are remotely satisfying for me:
- One commenter on the above blog said there is a sense of warmth as the words of God come to her unbidden. Later in her comment it is now a bright light and warmth that she interpreted as the smile of God (I trust the van she was driving was not in motion at the time).
- Another gave the standard feeling of peace.
- You know it because it is consistent with His Word (which makes me wonder why the person doesn’t just follow the written word).
- I found this statement at one blog, “i’d just pray and ask God a question, and i found that as i was still and silent i’d sense an answer.”
- She also suggests that you asked trusted believers to confirm it is God who is speaking.
- She also suggested using Christian dream interpretation websites as a help. Since I never knew those existed I thought I would visit a few. On this site the presence of acid in a dream means certain things, but on this dream interpretation site it means something else. So this was not real helpful.
- In the Vision and Commitment document of one local church we are able to hear the voice of God through the presence of the Spirit. But it didn’t explicitly say how this is done.
- This guy has 4 keys to hearing the voice of God. His voice is like a flow of spontaneous thoughts. Be still so you can sense God’s thoughts. Fix your eyes on Jesus seeing in the Spirit God’s dreams and visions. And lastly journaling.
- This guy’s sermon says that his people are going to hear the voice of the Lord in new ways. And to prove it he says that it is a word of knowledge but doesn’t say how we know it is now true simply because he says so.
I am sure that there are many who might be able to give additional thoughts on this subject. But for me, what stands out is the broadness of suggestions and lack of clarity that they bring to me. I know the bible and I know that there is not one place where we are told we know it is God’s voice that we are hearing. And I noticed as I read these articles that none of them could give anything that clearly, cleanly tells you when God has spoken.
There are times when I cannot think, or so it seems. And when that happens I find that writing helps manage my thoughts. The following is a prayer I could not say, but I could write. It was one that I wrote in the midst of preparing a sermon and was in a particularly difficult way. By the way, this is not an uncommon situation for pastors as they prepare a sermon. I think Satan presses hard on them as they begin to craft an exposition from God’s Word. Do not ever think that your pastor is somehow exempt from these things.
Show me kindness my Father, for I am needy.
My heart is worn and tired, my soul
aches and groans.
I have nothing and am nothing,
yet you have chosen to set me on high.
Oh Father in heaven, open my eyes to this truth
for all I see right now is
and my weakness.
Your word says that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,
but why is it that all I see is
Father, shall this be my lot?
Shall discouragement and sorrow be my constant companion?
Shall hope be only a faint ember that burns soft and low in the heart?
I pray that it will not Father.
I pray that you shall lift my head up again and is shall find rest.
Oh that you would cause
your face shine upon me
and lift up my countenance!
To see the smile of God
and the joy of the Spirit
would bring such relief to this sore man.
Trials seem to be my constant companion and weariness is filling my bones.
Therefore where shall I turn?
And when shall I turn?
Oh Father of mercies and comfort,
comfort me in my time of affliction.
Oh Father of wisdom,
grant me wisdom to press on
Let not my foot slip
nor my step stumble.
Instead Holy Father, set my eyes upon my Lord and Savior
Open wide my heart
that it would be filled by the Spirit of life
and that He might strengthen me in my inner man.
Oh Father I pray, I pray.
Our Father, in heaven;
Creator of both heaven and earth. Sustainer of all things.
You, who pour out your grace upon
the great and
the rich and
the good and
Let us sing today out of a heart of joy
for we have been richly forgiven.
Let us sing and make melody
for we have tasted of your enduring love.
Let us praise your name
for by it we have been saved from your eternal wrath.
We confess that our hearts often do not agree with the praise of our lips,
and so we ask that the Spirit work in such a way that our hearts and lips do not contradict.
Father, you sent us your Son
that we might become your children.
You poured out your wrath upon the Cross of Christ
that we might see your love for us.
Your raised Your Son on the third day
that we might have life that is truly life.
May our confidence today not be in ourselves,
but in Jesus Christ.
May we lean upon the work of the Holy Spirit,
that we would hear the Word of God that is preached
and receive it as holy
and be instructed in your ways.
My father wanted to send me to college, the first of the family that he could afford. So after some delaying and negotiating I found myself enrolled Northwest Nazarene College (now University). I was utterly clueless about what I wanted to become in life, but it had to be cool. I change my major over fifteen times in the first year—the best one was Psychology with an emphasis upon the paranormal. That one got the ladies’ attention!
I won’t bore anyone about the two years I spent there. Suffice it to say that I majored in skipping classes and playing video games at the local arcade. The only class that I found I enjoyed was Christian Theology, a required course for all students. Somehow theology made sense and struck a chord deep within me. When I left that school after two years I had a 1.9 G.P.A. and I am sure that the only reason it was that high was the one A in that theology class.
I left the school in shame. I had stolen some things from my employer and I was caught and summarily fired. The word spread quickly through that small town and I learned the hard way how easy it is to destroy a reputation. I could not find a new job anywhere and ended up climbing into dumpsters throughout the town to collect enough aluminum cans to keep my car payment. In short, I was a bum. Worse yet, a bum with no direction whatsoever.
Finally there came a glimmer of hope. My brother, who lived in Houston, owned a small bakery. He offered to teach me the trade if I wanted to come down there. I broke up with my girlfriend and off I went with all my belongings stuffed inside my Dodge Omni O24. A few thousand miles later I entered the South and began a new life. But it was not what I expected.
The pay was very low at first and the hours were huge, between fourteen to sixteen hour days six days per week and I got 20.00 a day for the first few months. Even after my first raise I could not afford electricity in my apartment and only ate one meal per day. Loneliness flooded my soul and there was only one answer for it, go find a church.
So this sinning, lonely, foolish young man started looking. I knew I wasn’t going to go to a Nazarene church ever again and I could not find any Plymouth Brethren churches. So Baptist it was! The first one was some little thing out in the country and everyone kept looking at me throughout the service. I suspect I was the first new face in years in that church. My only real memory was how bad the song leader was and how he made up for it in sheer volume. The second church was an American Baptist church where they took an offering in Sunday School, two offerings at the main service (since they didn’t get enough in the first offering), and then another offering right after the service during their potluck. I left and never looked back.
I finally found out there were these people known as Southern Baptists and decided to try them. I landed at College Park Baptist Church and found some people who were friendly. That was all this starved-for-attention young man needed. The teaching was poor, the fellowship was shallow, but they were nice to me. And there I met my wife, a brand new Christian who tended to stay on the edges because she didn’t fit in well with this Southern Belles. But it was there, in that church, that the Holy Spirit began to awaken me from a long sleep. I had a chance to teach a class and found out I loved teaching and studying the Bible. But everything changed one day when I turned on my radio.
It was after a long night at work and I just wanted to go home and sleep. But I found a Christian station and started to listen to some guy preach. I had never heard the bible preached like that in my life. This guy just explained it and opened it up in such a beautiful way. I listened for the entire half hour and finally heard his name, John MacArthur. I was hooked and began to order everything I could afford from him. I would listen to twelve sermons every night while I worked and listened to them so many times that I almost memorized them.
All I wanted to do was study and listen. I bought my first commentary and began to read through the bible cover to cover. I found out that my soul had been parched far more than I could ever have imagined and I drank up the Word of God like a man in a desert. I had a long ways to go, but I was back in the Word of God, I was praying once again, and I even began to witness to others. This ol’ boy was coming alive again.