This morning I preached extemporaneously. I had a wonderful Christmas message prepared from John 1:1-14, with beautiful Power Point slides, on Christmas as God’s revelation of the Word. Its purpose was to demonstrate how God has made Himself known in the Logos of which John writes in this beautiful Gospel. But the message as prepared was completely aborted!
During the night I felt I was being redirected to preach a message that was somewhat related though different. Because of what this church is going through in seeking to find the right person to be its new senior pastor I suddenly sensed the need to speak on hearing the voice of the Lord. It seems the church has struggled a bit with this. And I sensed that God was saying it is crucial that the church listens and hears His voice together at this time about what His will is on this important matter.
I don’t often speak extemporaneously because I don’t feel especially strong in that regard. But God has a way of working in our weakness. Like Moses, I sometimes feel a bit weak in my speaking ability — especially extemporaneously. Sometimes my response to the Lord about my pastoral calling has been, “Here am I, send Aaron!” In forty-plus years of ministry, it has only happened about a half-dozen times that I’ve been led to set my notes aside because it was evident the Lord had a different message to give to the people on Sunday morning. Each time, it is amazing to see how it comes together and how God uses it.
I am not one who thinks that God only speaks when we begin to preach on Sunday mornings or in preparing a message on Saturday evening. I think God is quite capable of providing a message for His people earlier in the week. Good sermon preparation and Spirit-anointed preaching are not mutually exclusive. Though there is much that is mysterious about God I believe that generally God works through order and structure. Yet it is important to realize that form is not an end in itself. Form without substance or the ministry of God’s Spirit is just and empty shell.
So it was that I sensed the Spirit of God was speaking to me about sharing a message with this congregation about hearing God’s voice. I basically broke it down into three parts: the importance of the voice of the Lord, the possibility of hearing the voice of the Lord, and the means by which this happens in our lives today. One of the outstanding aspects of the Christmas message is that God has spoken powerfully in the revelation of His Son. Likewise, the Christmas story itself has many examples of God speaking to the characters of the story. It seems to me that it is very important for God’s people to know that God is a speaking God. According to Romans 3, the most important characteristic of the Jewish people is that they were given the very oracles of God. It’s significant that they were meticulous about getting God’s message down accurately.
As far as our lives and the world is concerned, the voice of the Lord has huge importance. For it was through the word of the Lord that the entire universe came into existence and it is by that word that it is continuously sustained. According to Psalm 29, the voice of the Lord is extremely powerful. Jesus affirmed the Old Testament truth that man was incapable of living on bread alone; true sustenance is only possible by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). And one of the prophets (I believe it was Amos) prophesied that a time was coming when a famine would come upon the whole world — not a famine for food, but a famine for the word of the Lord.
One of the defining characteristics of the people of God is that they know Him as a God who speaks. While this was true under the Old Covenant it is especially true today under the New Covenant. Though the biblical canon of God’s voice has been closed God still speaks today. In these last days, writes the author of Hebrews, God has spoken to us through His Son. But, as is evident in the Book of Acts, He also speaks to us by His Spirit. In Romans 8, Paul instructs that those who are the sons of God are led by His Spirit. This should not surprise us since Jesus said He is the shepherd of sheep who know and hear His voice.
Hearing God’s voice is not often audible. At least in my experience more often than not it consists of an inner/spiritual urging of what God has in mind. Since God will never lead us in a way that is contrary to His written Word, the better we know the Scriptures, the easier it will be for us to hear His voice. But it also should be no surprise that we are more prone to hear the voice of God as we spend time in prayer and/or in the fellowship of other Christians.
There is something very beautiful about living life within ear-shot of God’s voice. And the good news is that this can be much more than something merely academic or theoretical. In fact, it is absolutely essential to the Christian experience, and especially to leadership within God’s church. Thankfully, God hasn’t left us without lots of examples, instruction, and encouragement to know how we can hear His voice today. And Christmas affords us a new opportunity to examine our own experience of how this is true in our lives.