I love our church. We’re small, and we meet in our home. And we’ll often just sit and listen to hear what God might be saying to us. Some will share visions. Others, dreams. Still others will share Bible verses that are apt for the moment. Through it all, it becomes clear that one word from God is worth a thousand sermons.
Isn’t that what prophets do? Figure out what God is saying for the moment? I haven’t seen anything else motivate a community more than a word that everyone knows is from God.
So how do you know if God is speaking?
Though there are many times when it’s difficult to discern God’s voice, much of it often uses common sense — given that the Spirit actually lives within us as a community. When I’m discerning whether or not God is speaking through a person or a community, I’m usually asking these five questions:
What does the Bible say about it? In Acts 17:11, the Bereans were considered of more noble character because they tested what Paul and Barnabas said against the Scriptures. So, it’s extremely important to know the Bible: if you know how God spoke in the past, you’ll be better at recognizing his voice in the present.
What does God say when you pray about it? In the Ancient Near East, different herds of sheep were often kept in a common pen. When the shepherd came to the gate, he called out to his sheep, and his sheep would self-sort and follow his voice. That’s what John 10:4 is talking about, when Jesus hints that Christians will know his voice like these sheep — above the noise of other voices — and follow him.
What would you do if fear isn’t involved? This is my favorite question. 1 John 4:16 tells us again that God is love, and then two verses later states, “perfect love casts out fear.” So if something’s from God, fear isn’t involved. Because the opposite of faith isn’t doubt. Without doubt, you have certainty, and have no need to trust. The opposite of faith is fear, because that keeps you staying in relationship with Him.
Will it help you become more like Jesus? Does it come with a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)? Or does it produce the opposite: hate, despair, anxiety, impatience, meanness, evil, faithlessness, coarseness and intemperance? Discount things that don’t reflect the fruit of the Spirit.
What does the Chrisitan community say about it?I know that it’s in the context of discipline, but “where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20). Something about the community makes Jesus’ presence, well, more present. And sometimes, our brothers and sisters in faith see more clearly that we ourselves do — and this is particularly true for relationships with younger folks.
So, what is God saying to you today, and what are you going to do about it?
Editor’s note: you can find more material on hearing God in community in James’ latest book, Real Life (InterVarsity Press, 2012).