In this day of preparation for the visitation of the Holy Spirit, God wants men and women with ears to hear what the Spirit of God is saying to the church. The problem is not that God has stopped speaking. The problem is rather that we are not listening. Jesus taught this concerning the proper attitude toward hearing God’s voice:
“My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, he is true and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:16-18).
Jesus points out in this passage the two major hindrances to hearing the voice of God. The first is being unwilling to obey the will of God; the second is seeking one’s own glory.
The desire to obey God’s voice, and to do His will, is a prerequisite to hearing God’s voice clearly. God does not instruct us to do something unless we first make a decision to uncompromisingly obey no matter what the cost. God does not offer His will to us like food in a cafeteria, beckoning us to choose what excites our appetite. Our prayer must be, “Lord I desire to hear your voice so that I may know and do that which pleases you.” It is this prayer that will get a response from God.
Those who are always in the fog about what God desires for them to do generally have unsurrendered rights or limits to what sacrifices they will make in order to fulfill the divine command. As a result, discovering the will of God alludes them. Missionary to Africa C.T. Studd, when asking Priscilla Stewart to be his wife, exemplified this wholehearted dedication to God. He writes:
“It is to be a fellow soldier in His army. It is to live a life of faith in God, a fighting life, remembering that here we have no abiding city, no certain dwelling place, but only a home eternal in the Father’s house above. Such would be the life: may the Lord alone guide you … Now before I go further, I just want to beseech you, darling, that we may both make the same request every day to our Father, that we may give each other up to Jesus every single day of our lives to be separated or not, just as He pleases, that neither of us may ever make an idol of the other.”
At the end of their wedding ceremony, they vowed, “We will never hinder one another from serving Thee.”
When C. T. Studd left everything to obey the call of God, his last words were, “Take my life and let it be, a hidden cross revealing Thee.” Writing to his wife, whom he had to leave behind, he exhorted, “Goodbye, my darling Priscilla. We began risking all for God and we will end as we began, loving each other utterly and only less than we love Jesus.”
The last years of the Studd’s life were spent in virtual separation from each other. C.T. spent his days laboring in the jungles of Africa while his wife traveled the world recruiting missionaries for their work. Studd, whom the Africans called “Bwana,” continually told them about “his wife who was at home, so busy getting white men and women to come out and tell them about Jesus, that she could not come herself. But, when they saw her in the flesh and realized that there really was such a person as ‘Mama Bwana,’ they then began to understand, in a way that no words could bring home, the price that Bwana and his wife had paid to bring salvation to them.“1
If we desire to hear God’s voice, there cannot be things that we do not want to hear God say. When Jesus was telling his disciples that the time had approached for Him to be delivered into the hands of sinners, Peter cried out, “Not so, Lord!” But Jesus responded, “Get thee behind me Satan! You know not what spirit you are of.”
Peter did not want to hear that the Master was going to be killed, therefore he was not able to understand what the will of God was. He resisted the will of God even to the point of cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Jesus’ response to Peter was, “Put away your sword … the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” Peter’s lack of discernment stands in stark comparison to Jesus’ attitude. Jesus totally understood God’s will because of His total submission to God, even to the point of death.
It might be added that Jesus came to grips with the will of God while in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene. He had taken Peter, James, and John aside and had exhorted them to pray and watch with Him that their hearts might be prepared for what was to come. Instead he found them sleeping. When the time of trial came, Peter was unprepared.
Obedience to the will of God, regardless of the cost, is an essential requirement to hearing God’s voice. It enables us to understand and comprehend what the will of God is.
Avoiding Saul’s Mistake
The second qualifying factor in discerning the will of God is that we must not be seeking our own glory. Jesus taught that a person who is secretly seeking his own glory, will not speak from the Spirit but will speak from himself.
We find an example of this from Jesus’ interaction with his disciples. In Luke, Jesus told his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” The disciples heard what Jesus said, but Luke records that “they did not understand this statement and it was concealed from them so that they might not perceive it.”
Immediately afterwards, we are told that an “argument arose among them as to which of them might be the greatest.” Although the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus, hidden in their hearts was a motive that was not pure. Because they were seeking their own glory, the meaning of Jesus’ words were hidden from them. Mixed motives can hinder our discernment.
It is possible to be serving God with all our heart and at the same time be guilty of self-exaltation. We find an example of this type of mixed motive in the life of Saul.
God had commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites for their rebellion against the Lord. He was instructed to utterly destroy everything, including the animals. It was a tough assignment by anyone’s standards. Gathering together an army of 210,000 men, Saul set out to perform his God-given task.
Saul engaged in battle and defeated the Amalekites, utterly destroying all the inhabitants. It must have been difficult to bring such judgment by the sword. The task was most assuredly unpleasant and took a tremendous amount of work. But the armies of Israel were successful and Saul carried out the assignment.
But God had commanded Saul to kill everything. The spoil of the battle was the customary payment to the soldiers. The captured king was the winning king’s trophy, and was traditionally paraded through the streets as the people rejoiced in the victory. Saul contemplated about what he should do. What would the warriors think if he did not pay them with the spoil? They were already rushing toward the booty. What about the victory celebration at home? It would be so much more impressive if he could present Agag, the king of the Amalekites, in chains.
Suddenly Saul had an idea. He would have the people kill all the worthless animals, but keep the best animals. Then they could sacrifice the best animals to God. And King Agag, well, he would be a real boost to Israel’s faith – a living testimony of the great victory God had given them over their enemy. What rejoicing it would bring among the people to see the captured king!
So Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs, and all that was good. Flushed with the joy of victory, Saul and his army marched home with the spoil.
When God saw this disobedience in Saul, He said to Samuel the prophet, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not carried out My commands.” Meanwhile, Saul and his army arrived at Carmel where Saul set up a monument for himself in commemoration of his triumph.
It was here that Saul’s desire to seek glory for himself became apparent. His desire for the people’s praise kept him from complete obedience to God. He was concerned more about what the people thought than what God thought. He desired to protect his reputation and was not seeking the glory of God alone. When Samuel questioned Saul about his disobedience, Saul blamed others and continued to insist that he had been obedient. His self-seeking kept him from discerning the voice of the Lord.
In Saul’s mind 90 percent obedience was true obedience. But God called it disobedience. Saul felt all his work in battle should count for something. God counted it all as nothing, and charged him with disobedience, insubordination, rebellion, and idolatry. Saul had another god in his life that he exalted above the commands of the living God … and that god was self.
When Saul realized that he had lost the kingdom, and that God was not going to change his mind, he begged Samuel to come back and honor him before the people. Samuel went back with Saul and honored him, but after that day Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death.
The word of God during Old Testament days, which was delivered through the prophets, was never heard by Saul again. His self-seeking severed him from hearing the voice of God speaking to him anymore.
Getting Rid of Selfish Ambition
Many Christians today are in the same predicament that Saul was. They began in obedience, and like Saul were little in their own eyes when the Lord called them. He gave them a place and a name, a measure of success and recognition. However, along the way they exchanged the desire for God’s glory for a desire to take some of that glory for themselves. They set up images to themselves in their hearts and attempted to serve God with divided interests.
Saul was able to rationalize his sin because, after all, being the king of Israel was not his idea. God had called him and chosen him. He felt small in his own eyes and didn’t think he could do the job. God had given him success in battle and a position of honor among the people.
God was the one who had called Saul to go out to defeat the Amalekites. The plan for battle had not been his idea. He had gone to battle in obedience to God and had spent his energy, his time, and risked his life to fulfill the will of God. However, along the way he had grown to like the respectful greetings in the market place as well as his place of power and influence. He wanted to protect his position, so he did what he had to do to stay in favor with the people. He set up an image of himself to remind them of the victory over the Amalekites.
Saul’s desire for acclaim among the people was the root of his problem, and the reason why he lost the kingdom. Saul’s fear of losing his position of honor was also the source of his jealousy and envy of David. Saul spent the rest of his life trying to protect his position … and, as a result, the Spirit of the Lord departed from him.
We must take a warning from Saul. It is possible to have a call from God and to set up images to ourselves along the way. If we do things in a spirit of competition, or measure ourselves by a standard that God has not given, we can be sure that our ability to know and discern God’s will becomes increasingly difficult. If mixed motives abide in our hearts, and we desire to retain the honor of men, we become a potential candidate for resisting the Holy Spirit.
We must never forget that the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of Israel, loved the greetings and the praises of men. When they saw how popular Jesus was, they were jealous of Him and feared that they might lose their position of importance among the people. Therefore they sought to kill Jesus. Matthew tells us that at Jesus’ trial, Pilate knew that it was “because of envy that they had delivered Him up.”
The snare of envy, competition, jealousy, and selfish ambition has hindered the discernment of many of God’s people. These attitudes can be the root cause of the difficulty we may have in responding wholeheartedly to the move of God’s Spirit when He comes to bring revival in the church. These attitudes can result in God’s people persecuting one another or resisting the Holy Spirit in the brethren.
Those who harbor such thoughts will not be sensitive when a visitation of God’s Spirit arrives. They will speak from themselves and think it is God, or insist that they have been obedient to God when they have only rendered partial obedience. Churches, denominations and ministries have been turned out of the flow of God’s Spirit and have been side-tracked, either because the leadership or the people had selfish ambition in their hearts.
Throwing Out the Idols
The prophet Ezekiel was once given a vision of the temple of God. An angel brought him to a hole in the wall, and he dug through the wall and found an entrance. Then God told him, “Go in and see the wicked abominations that they are committing here.” So he entered in and saw all the idols of the house of Israel carved on the walls of the temple; he also saw each man burning incense before the images.
Then God said to Ezekiel, “Do you see what the elders of the house of Israel are committing in the dark, each man in the room of this carved images?” God told Ezekiel that it was all this idolatry in the temple that “filled the land with violence and provoked Him repeatedly.”
During the reign of Hezekiah, there was a revival in Israel. The temple was repaired, and the king commanded the Levites to consecrate themselves, and to consecrate the temple by carrying the uncleanness out of the holy place. He said, “Our fathers have been unfaithful and have done evil in the sight of the Lord, have forsaken the Lord and have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord. They have shut the doors, put out the lamps, and have not burned offerings in the Holy place. Therefore the wrath of the Lord was against Judah and Jerusalem and He has made them an object of terror, of horror, and of hissing.”
So King Hezekiah made a covenant with God, and asked him to remove his wrath. The priests cleansed the temple, and carried every unclean thing out to the Kidron valley, which was the dumping ground for idols. After the cleansing, consecration, and offering of sacrifices was complete, the Bible tells us that “the Levitical priests arose and blessed the people and their voice was heard and their prayer came to His holy dwelling place, to heaven” (II Chronicles 30:27).
The New Covenant teaches that our bodies are the temple of the Living God. As we stand on the threshold of a worldwide move of God’s Spirit, He is visiting his church in holiness. It is His desire that the images that have been set up in the hearts of His people be removed, so he can refill his people with His Spirit, take away their reproach, and remove the violence from our land. We must, through prayer and repentance, bring the idols and the images out of the temple of our hearts and crush them to powder.
When we measure ourselves against ourselves, or our ideas of progress, success, or perfection; when we compare ourselves with others to make sure we “keep up with the Joneses”; when we compete with someone to become the greatest; then we are measuring ourselves by false standards, and are making the same mistake that cost Saul the kingdom.
God doesn’t grade on a curve, nor does he measure us by our standards of perfection. We are to measure ourselves, and will be measured by God against one standard only – and that is the measure of the stature of Jesus Christ. Any other standard by which we measure failure or success is in the image of man, and is idolatry.
We must tear down our images of greatness, our idols of self-sufficiency, and recommit ourselves to being led and judged by the Holy Spirit. As God’s holy Presence begins to fall upon the church, one of the first signs will be brokenness, humility, and true conviction of heart.
A Proper Attitude Toward Sin
Korean pastor Dr. Paul Cho writes, “When you come in contact with God in your time of prayer, the first thing you feel in your heart, as you enter into His divine presence, is a realization of your sin. No one can sense pride in the presence of a holy God. Once you sense your lack of natural qualifications to be in His Holy Presence, you will begin to confess your sin and humble yourself before God.
“This does not mean that you don’t belong before the Throne of Grace. In fact, the clear access has been paid for each believer by the blood of Jesus Christ. However, you realize that you have no natural qualifications to be there, and your immediate reaction is one of brokenness. Brokenness and pride cannot coexist!
“Amazingly, as you enter into the Presence, you will be made aware of reactions, attitudes and actions that you may have forgotten … you become aware of your great need before His holy Presence. The next very natural reaction to the Presence is to desire to be forgiven for your sin. This is true in my own experience. I may have done some little thing without realizing it.
However, as soon as I enter into my prayer time, the Holy Spirit will point to that very thing and I will need to be forgiven and set free. You might say that this is too hard … We cannot tempt the grace of God. The holy Spirit will keep an up-to-date account of our behavior. If we are to continue to walk in the Presence, we are to remain broken and humble.” 2
When God came to visit the nation of Israel in the wilderness upon Mt. Sinai, He commanded the people to consecrate themselves in order to prepare for His visitation. Then, on the third day, when it was morning, there were lightning flashes, thunder, and a thick cloud upon the mountain. A very loud trumpet sounded so that all that were in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out to the foot of the fiery mountain.
When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the people heard God answer him with thunder. Boundaries were set and the people were not allowed to come near the mountain to gaze upon the beauty of Lord lest they perish. But Moses walked right up the mountain and talked with God face to face.
Why was Moses able to enter into the very presence of God when the people were not? The difference was in their attitude toward sin. After the people heard God pronounce the Ten Commandments, their response was not to seek repentance. Instead, they asked Moses to speak to them on God’s behalf. They did not want God to speak to them personally.
The Bible records that Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth and was able to speak with God face to face. Why was he so meek? He spent 40 days in God’s holy presence receiving the law. He saw himself as God saw him, and realized his desperate need for forgiveness and cleansing of sin. His response to God was not to stop his ears from hearing God’s voice. It was to repent and to seek forgiveness. Brokenness and pride cannot coexist.
Because he realized his own deep need for salvation and his utter unworthiness to stand before God, he was able to speak with God face to face. As the Psalmist proclaimed, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity and sworn deceitfully … this is the generation of them that seek Him” (Psalm 24:3-6).
This proper attitude toward God is demonstrated in an encounter that Jesus had at the home of Simon the Pharisee when a harlot burst into the room and threw herself at Jesus’ feet. As the woman wept in remorse for her sin, Jesus challenged Simon by asking him why he did not have a similar reaction.
Simon the Pharisee failed to recognize who Jesus was because of his own self-righteousness. The harlot, on the other hand, knew her deep need for forgiveness. Although their sins were different, Simon needed to repent as much as the harlot, yet he did not recognize his need.
In preparation for the visitation of the Messiah, John the Baptist came to Israel preaching repentance in order to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. The great multitudes that heard his message were repenting of sins and receiving baptism. John rebuked the Pharisees because, although they came out to hear him preach, they were trusting in their own righteousness. But all those who were repenting were in a state of expectation as they looked continually for the appearing of the Christ.
God is coming once again to visit the earth through an outpouring of His Spirit. Will we be among those who have prepared our hearts through repentance and true humility by spending time before Him in prayer? Will we have committed ourselves to prayer and poured out our hearts in love, humility, dedication and thankfulness as the woman who came to Simon’s table? Will we be as the Levites in the days of Hezekiah, removing all idols from the holy place of our hearts? Will we have clean hands and a pure heart so that we can ascend into the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place?
Or will we be like those of Ezekiel’s vision who burn incense before the images that remain carved on the walls of our heart? Will we be among the Sauls, the Simons, or the Pharisees, trusting that we are righteous and without need of repentence? Let us determine in our hearts that we will not miss the day of our visitation. Let us dedicate ourselves to prayer so that our hearts may be prepared to receive Him.
1 Norman Grubb, C. T. Studd, pp. 85-90,141-142,235.
2 Dr. Cho, Prayer:The Key to Revival, pp. 29-31).
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved