Does God really speak to us and if so, how?
This is the most common question that I get asked as people are considering coming to a Seeking Stillness retreat. They’ve heard other people say things like “God told me….” or “I had a sense the Lord wanted me to…” or “God led me to…” They are really sincerely questioning how people can make these types of statements and more importantly, how they can be sure that it is God who is speaking to and directing them. I can understand these questions, I was skeptical for a long, long time. I wasn’t sure people were REALLY hearing for God, and once I had a healthy suspicion that maybe they were, I knew He wasn’t speaking to me.
How would scripture answer this question? Well in Hebrews 1:1-2 Paul writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. In John 16:12-13 Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Scripture clearly says to us that God will find ways to speak to us.
In his book, “Experiencing God,” Henry Blackaby discusses some of the ways that God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. He speaks through Scripture. He speaks through the Church and the voice of believers around us. He speaks through prayer. He speaks through our circumstances. Throughout the Bible, we are even told that God uses non-believers to teach, guide, and direct us in His ways.
So what does this “speaking” look like in real life. Well, here’s a recent experience I had where I was convinced God was speaking to me. Near the mid-point of the last Seeking Stillness retreat, in September, I was walking and began thanking God for his provision in this retreat and asking Him to make me open to the focus He had planned for the next retreat (coming up in April). As I finished my walk, the word “Joy” was in my head, but I dismissed it. I thanked God for reminding me of the joyous time I was having on this beautiful September weekend, but rejected the idea that He would call me to have a retreat focused on joy. A retreat on joy seemed a bit frivolous in light of the fact that the September retreat was focused on forgiveness – a topic with which many of us struggle. I returned to the retreat center and let the word “Joy” slip from my awareness.
At the end of the retreat, Lisa McNeely and I sat and prayed, thanking God for the amazing weekend and the way we had all experienced Him. We asked Him for safe travels for all the participants and requested that He use the days and weeks ahead to continue to reveal Himself in powerful ways. At the end of our prayer time, Lisa sat straight up in her chair and said “I think God just gave me a word.” Now she has never said that before. Of course I asked her to share the word and she said “Joy.” I about fell over and then told her of my experience the day before.
God was not done confirming this message. It was Lisa’s birthday that day and as we prepared to leave the retreat center, not five minutes after we had finished praying and talking about God giving us both the word “Joy”, Lisa got a text from a friend wishing her a happy birthday. The message read “wishing you blessings and joy for your birthday.” WOW!!!!
Finally, not a week later I was driving with my sister and we were discussing the fact that her daughter, my niece, is expecting a baby. I asked her about the choices for baby names. She shared several names for boys and one for a girl that I had heard before. Almost as a side comment she said, but they are really liking the name “Joy.” My heart skipped a beat.
So, do I think God speaks to us? I sure do. This is a pretty minor situation in which I felt He spoke to me, but I’m convinced, in my heart, that He wants the next retreat focus to be joy and I know that I and the retreat participants He has already chosen to be there, will be blessed beyond measure. God can speak into any of our circumstances if we listen.
Now, don’t also assume that situations like this are orchestrated by the Lord. When a message is from God, it is ALWAYS consistent with His character and His teachings. He would never tell us to do something that was against His commandments or direction in Scripture. When God speaks, there is also generally a sense of excitement, peace, confirmation, and yes, even joy. When a message is not from the Lord, it generally stirs up uneasiness and concern. It is always good to let a message sit for a while before acting. Generally God confirms it as He did in my situation.
Finally, we are unlikely to see and hear the things God is revealing to us when we are constantly distracted by noise, activity, stress, and busyness. I know God used the quietness of the weekend to speak to me and I know, that in the course of my daily life, I probably would not have realized how often He was putting the word “Joy” in front of me. I don’t always have the luxury of spending a weekend on retreat, but the quietness of my house first thing in the morning or in the last moments of the evening, can provide the sanctuary I need to hear His voice – when I stop and sit still in His presence.
God is speaking. Are you listening?