In my last post I shared “What Jesus Said About Hearing God.” We learned that Relationship, not role, is the context for hearing and obeying the voice of God. The idea of hearing God draws mixed responses, but Scripture is clear that a relationship with God is a two-way street. God is more than a cosmic vending machine where we voice our prayers, press the “in Jesus name” button, and then out pops our answer. We are called to a relationship with him, not simply a role where we invoke his name at our every whim.
While the opportunity to hear God is cultivated in a relationship with him, there is also transformational power when God speaks. He may speak in a still small voice, but his words carry transformational authority. Consider this truth:
The right message from God, at the right moment in time, can change the momentum of your life.
Like our first insight on hearing God, this one seems obvious too, so let me unpack it by exploring three messages from God. In other words, let’s look at three types of messages God often speaks:
1. A Message of Encouragement
In Joshua chapter one, we read the story of Joshua. Moses had died and now Joshua was in charge of leading his people across the Jordan River into the land God had promised to give to them. After giving Joshua the exact parameters of the land, God changes his tone.
No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous…Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-7a, 9)
What did God do? He spoke a message—or a word—of encouragement to Joshua. But why? If I was about to give you a gift, would I really need to speak a word of encouragement to you before giving you the gift? God is about to give Joshua and Israel the land he had promised to them, but God has to encourage Joshua. It almost doesn’t make sense…until you reflect on Joshua’s age and his awareness of Israel’s history.
- Joshua Knew His Age – Joshua was not a young man full of energy when the time came to cross the Jordan. How do we know this? Because Joshua’s sidekick, Caleb, was 40 years old when Moses sent him and Joshua to spy out the Promised Land (Joshua 14:7). Some theologians believe Joshua and Caleb were similar in age. Now, add to that another 40 years when Israel wandered in the wilderness for failing to believe God for the Promised Land. That puts Joshua at the ripe age of 80 when he stood at the shore of the Jordan. Have you ever dreamed of doing something great but the very first uncertainty to cloud your mind was, “What if I’m too old?” Joshua needed encouragement because he didn’t have the energy of his youth any longer.
- Joshua Knew His History – In Numbers 13 we read that Moses sent a group of 12 men (one leader from each ancestral tribe) to explore the land of Canaan which God had promised to give to the Israelites. After 40 days of exploring the land, the men returned to Moses and Aaron with their report. Caleb, one of the spies, boldly declared his report.
“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored.” (Numbers 13:30-32a)
As a result of their disbelief and their disobedience, they were defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites. Even though this happened 40 years earlier, the image of rebellion and the image of defeat were probably fresh in Joshua’s mind. As the Lord instructs him to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, I can imagine that all of the emotions from 40 years earlier quickly resurfaced. “What if the people rebel again? What if God doesn’t go with us? What if we’re defeated?”
When you look at your personal history, and when you see the challenges of your past, do you need encouragement to take the next step of faith in your journey? Joshua certainly did. And that’s where this simple truth about hearing God is so powerful:
The right message from God, at the right moment in time, can change the momentum of your life.
That’s exactly what happened to Joshua. Now, you might say, “But God’s message to Joshua was, ‘Be strong and courageous.’ It doesn’t sound like encouragement as much as it sounds like a command.”
So what does the word “encourage” mean? “Encourage” actually means to “Put Courage In.” So when God speaks to Joshua, he is using his words to “put courage in” Joshua’s heart. And that word—or that message—of encouragement was the catalyst Joshua needed to act on what God promised to him. It literally changed the momentum of his life, and of the Israelites.
2. A Message of Direction
In Acts 10 we read the story of a God-fearing man named Cornelius who had a vision from God one afternoon. In the vision God tells Cornelius to send some men to Joppa to find Peter and to bring him back to him so that he can hear what Peter has to say (in other words, so Peter could preach to him). The next day, at about noon, Peter has a vision from God. In the vision God shows Peter a sheet lowering from heaven with all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds on it.
In the vision, God tells Peter to kill the animals and eat them…to which Peter says no. Why? Because Peter was a Jew and Jews were forbidden to eat the animals that he saw on the sheet. These animals were considered “unclean.” But in the vision God says to Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). This happened three different times. Then, while Peter was trying to figure out the meaning of the vision, God said to him:
“Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:19b-20).
The next day Peter heads to Joppa with these men. When he arrives, Cornelius tells him about his vision and asks Peter to tell them everything the Lord has commanded. In that moment, Peter immediately comes to grips with the meaning of his vision and of Cornelius’ vision: The Gospel—the message of Jesus Christ—is a message that is not just for Jews, but it is for Gentiles too. In other words, the message of Jesus Christ is for EVERYONE.
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:34-36)
As a result of Peter’s obedience to the voice of God, Cornelius, his family, and his close friends became the first Gentile Christians. What happened?
The right message from God, at the right moment in time, changed the momentum of the spread of the Gospel.
Please hear this. God wants to speak direction into your life. He wants to give you direction at work, at home, and in other important areas of your life. He’s not simply observing your life from a million miles away. He’s actively involved in your life and he wants to speak direction into your confusion.
3. A Message of Correction
This is the message most of us don’t want to hear. Correction usually isn’t fun. And yet, according to Scripture, God’s voice of correction is driven from a basis of love.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (Revelation 3:19)
Several years ago I was working with a leadership organization that trained young leaders. It was a non-profit organization and each staff member had to raise our own financial support. I remember in the early days having one of those weeks where money had completely dried up. In fact, when I received my paycheck, I remember it was less than $300…and that was supposed to last for two weeks. Needless to say, when you have to go home and tell your wife that your paycheck wasn’t even enough to make the car payment, it’s not a very good day.
That particular week, our administrative assistant was out of town and so I was picking up the mail each day from the post office box. I was hopeful, because six weeks earlier a member of my support team promised to send me a check toward my personal support, but it had never come. So before I went home, I stopped by the post office, convinced the check would be waiting for me.
I rushed inside, put my key in the post office box, opened it up and grabbed the mail. I stood there with the box open shuffling through the mail as fast as I could. There was no check. And then, as clear as I’ve ever heard God, he said to me, “Stephen, man is not your source…I am.”
I don’t need you to tell me that God uses people to partner with him financially to advance His Kingdom. I’m fully aware of how that relationship works. But this wasn’t a word of theology, it was a word of correction. My trust had been misplaced, and God needed to address my heart. Did I feel like God was made at me? No! Was he firm? Yes! But God’s correction was not hurled at me in a voice of anger. Instead, it was whispered to my soul from a voice of love. What happened?
It was the right message from God, at the right moment in time, and it changed the momentum of my life in regards to trusting God.
Whether it’s a word of encouragement, a word of direction, or a word of correction, in God’s extraordinary wisdom and love, he wants to speak to you and me. And what’s amazing about God is that when he speaks, it’s always the right message at the right time. And not only is it the right message at the right time, it has the power to change the momentum of your life.