This week, we’re going to dive into what it really means to hear from God’s Spirit. Some of us respond with cynicism to hearing from God’s Spirit because we’ve seen it go bad. We’ve seen people talking about what God told them to do in immature and not well-discipled ways. However, time and time again, the Bible talks about how we are to hear from God’s Spirit for teaching, guiding, and instructing (Ephesians 5:18, John 14:16-17, John 16:13, Galatians 5:24-25).
Some helpful context for hearing from God’s Spirit:
- God is a speaking God. (Genesis 1:28-31, Genesis 8:15-17, Genesis 17:1-8)
- Relationships are formed through communication.
- God's Spirit is more focused on who you become than on what you do. (1 Thess 5:18, 1 Thess 4:3, 1 Peter 3:17, Romans 12:1)
“The Spirit of God’s main work is to shape us into being the kind of people God wants us to be, because when we become the kind of people God wants us to be, we will do the things God wants us to do.”
- J.D. Greear
In answering the questions, “how do we hear from God’s Spirit?”, 1 Thessalonians gives us our guardrails to not fall into the two extremes as we explore the different ways we can hear from God’s Spirit.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
Paul tells us not to fall into the pit of quenching the Spirit or despising the idea of hearing from God. And He also tells us to test everything and not fall into the pit of believing every passing whim and message we think God is telling us.
Five ways to hear from God’s Spirit:
1. Through God’s Word
God’s Spirit is the one who inspired the writing of Scripture. God cannot and will not contradict Himself. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 16:13)
Here’s what this means for us:
- We should open our Bibles and expect to hear from God’s Spirit.
- We should not blame the Spirit for disobedience to God’s Word.
- We should test any message from God’s Spirit by the message of God’s Word.
2. Through the church
In Acts 13:2, we see the church in Antioch is gathered together, worshiping, when the Holy Spirit speaks. In Galatians 2, we read that Paul, after 14 years of ministry, is prompted by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem and submit what he was teaching to the leaders of the church.
In our lives, it is really helpful for us to submit what we’re hearing from the Lord to the church because the church is a body of believers with God’s Spirit as well! (Ephesians 5:21)
3. In our giftings
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
- 1 Corinthians 12:7
God has given the church different gifts to be used for His kingdom and our good. We can learn what God is saying to us by looking at what God has put in us. Part of how we receive God’s Spirit is through the gifts He puts in us.
To begin to discern what your gifts are, look for the intersection of these three categories:
- Affinity - what we are passionate or care about. This is something God has given us a heart for.
- Ability - what we are good at. Some of us have natural giftings and skills that can align with the Spirit’s giftings.
- Affirmation - what other people see and call out in us. God’s Spirit can speak through other people to show us our giftings.
4. Through our circumstances
But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me...
- 1 Corinthians 16:8-9
God in His sovereignty can use our circumstances to open some doors and close others as He guides us through life. We don’t have to panic about whether or not we have missed out from hearing from God, because He has us where we need to be in order to be on mission for Him.
5. Impressions of God’s Spirit on our spirit
This final way of hearing from the Spirit can make people uncomfortable or nervous because we’ve seen it get weird. We’ve seen it mishandled. However, we cannot write it off, because it’s evidenced in Scripture.
In Acts 20:22-23, we read that Paul was impressed by the Spirit to go to the Jerusalem, even though the Spirit showed him that he would face imprisonment and hurt. In Galatians 2:1-2 and Acts 16:9-10, we see how mission and evangelism is brought about by specific messages and visions from God’s Spirit In our cynicism, we are prone to look at and write all this off as, “Well that was Paul and Acts! It doesn’t apply to us.” However, over and over again, Paul calls us to follow Jesus the way he does (1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:7, 2 Thessalonians 3:7+9)
It’s important to note that Paul and the early church heard from God sometimes, but not every day. So we shouldn’t assume hearing from God’s Spirit every day, But if we wait and listen, we will likely hear Him speak at times in our lives. Sometimes He will convict us of sin. Sometimes He will remind us of the truth of the gospel and God’s great love for us. Sometimes He will prompt us to pray for those who are hurting. Sometimes He will help us see how to love and engage those who are far from Jesus. In all these ways and others, God’s Spirit desires to speak to us and we will be wise to listen humbly.
If and when we think we hear something from Him, we should submit it to God’s Word and God’s people. We should ask if it aligns with our gifting and our circumstance. And lastly, we should make sure it’s in line with God’s clearly revealed will to grow our holiness and to grow His kingdom.