AS I LOOK ACROSS THE ROOM AT MY RADIO, I know that I can
tune in any time I like to the world’s news and views. But
when we seek the Lord in prayer, do we expect to be able to
hear Him so clearly? The answer is surely ‘No!’ – but God
would not have told the Israelites to listen carefully to
the voice of the Lord (Exodus 15:26) had it not been
possible for them to do so. On the Mount of Transfiguration,
when the voice came from the majestic glory, the Lord
commanded His disciples to listen to Him.
The most casual reading of Scripture reveals how dependent
the great men of God were on being able to hear the voice of
the Lord. The Lord spoke to Moses, for example, ‘face to
face’, as a man speaks with his friend,1 and we wish we
found it so simple. Yet since I have not hesitated to state
throughout this book ‘the Lord said this or that’, it is
important for us to explore the implications of this
overused, often abused, but ultimately undervalued
In ordinary life, we hear people in more ways than just
through their words. ‘Hearing’ is the end process of knowing
the person with whom we are communicating. We ‘hear’ the
Lord because we know Him. A close friend of mine once
attended a gathering of the underground church in a Russian
barn. It would have been too dangerous to have given out a
public notice, but the Lord brought everyone together on
time and in place. My friend was even more humbled when they
asked him to teach them how to hear the voice of the Lord!
Christians who live under persecution, listening is
an integral part of their everyday lives. Even
without the stimulus of persecution, we should be
careful not to forge ahead with our own plans
without consulting Him first. Why should He
rubber-stamp our actions?
Scripture tells us that we
are to draw near to the house of God in order to
It does not define any specific mechanism
or process: it speaks rather of the constant
practice that is needed to be able to discern the
right or the wrong way.3
Imagine a Resistance radio operator in the Second
World War going into a hut in the Norwegian
mountains to contact Allied Command. On some days
the radio reception is crystal clear, and messages
can be both transmitted and received. On other
occasions, reception is weak, and little or nothing
can be made out. It is not so different in the
spiritual realm. Our ability to discern the Lord’s
voice varies greatly from day to day. Not only can
the ‘wavelengths’ of our mind get clogged with our
own concerns, but we are easily distracted by the
welter of signals a clamouring world sends our way.
Moreover, demonic forces strive to ‘jam’ our
communication. Far better than we, they know the
damage that is done to their kingdom when people
follow the Lord’s leading.
We should never underestimate
the help that even the briefest word from the Lord can
bring. One day, when the disciples were ministering to the
Lord, the Holy Spirit said to them: ‘Set apart for me
Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’
(Acts 13:2).4 This was the prophetic word that commissioned
the apostle Paul for his great work of church planting. Many
of the finest New Testament churches – and ultimately our
own today – came into being because the disciples responded
to that word.
How grateful we can be that Moses and the other prophets
wrote down what the Lord had said to them!5 Understanding
some of the ways in which God spoke to them can help to
increase our confidence that the Lord will enable us too to
discern His leading more clearly.
Dare to Listen!
some horrible surprise overtakes us, common sense
may or may not lead us to do the right thing. The
danger is that fear and tension can easily shut out
the voice of the living God. It is those who have
learnt to still their souls who are most likely to
be able to find God’s way forward.
In corporate terms, we expect
young recruits to a company to be taught to heed the word of
the boss. Why are we so diffident then about teaching young
Christians to listen to their Lord? Despite our manifest
ability to get it wrong and mishear, the Lord honours our
desire to learn more about listening.
Given the bewildering variety of alternatives we often face,
we need to seek the Lord! Not only are there many calls on
our time, but the different facets of our character all
impose their own demands. Some of these should be honoured,
and others ignored. Thus the part of us which would enjoy a
quiet evening at home watching a good film may find itself
in direct conflict with the awareness that we have not spent
much time recently with the Lord. Meanwhile, another part of
us may be chafing over a pile of unfinished business – or
ironing – even while a social reminder is bleeping in our
brain that we are long overdue to visit friends or family.
Only the Lord can show us how to spend each day most
Paradoxically, it can be almost as hard to trust that we
have heard the Lord saying the very thing we most wanted to
hear, as it is to face something unpalatable. We are afraid
we are imagining the words of blessing and promise, just as
we tend to reject warnings or rebuke.
Children sometimes hear the Lord more easily than we do. The
Lord found a wonderfully discreet way to alert our daughter,
Ruth, when we were about to move from Chester. Running
downstairs one day she called out, ‘Something really
important has happened: I’ve seen an angel! He told me I’m
going to need to make new friends for my birthday party.’
Sure enough, we did move – and in time to make new friends
for her fifth birthday party.
Calls become weightier as the years go by. When she was
nearly nine, the opportunity arose for Ruth to attend a
Christian school in Worcester. Because of the distance, this
meant living with another family from Monday to Friday.
The Lord arranged the details miraculously. We met a couple
who were keen to host a child who wanted to attend the
school but who could not manage the distance on a daily
basis. Nevertheless, it was a costly decision for all of us
to have her living away from home. The Lord reassured Ruth
that it was His will, and promised that He would dry her
||When she reached up
to brush away the tears that came as He gave her
this word, she found that her eyes were already dry!
Ruth benefited greatly from attending a school that
was, in many ways, more like a Bible college.
Two years later He
implanted a deep desire in her to go to Africa. Out
of the blue, she was approached by a missionary
organization who invited her to join their team on a
mission to southern Tanzania. She had the time of
her life, gained invaluable ministry experience and
fell in love with the African people and the Swahili
language. Who knows where He will lead any of us
Confirming a Word from the
||Which of us has not
struggled to discern whether some word or vision
truly is of God? Bob Mumford counsels that when God
is about to lead us on to some major new path, He
will normally confirm His word to us in a number of
different ways.6 When it comes to making
life-changing decisions, we should be wary of
proceeding on the basis of only one or two strands
other words, we need not only an initial inner
witness but also an ongoing sense of rightness about
some course of action. Confirmation will come from
God’s Word, through the wisdom of those who are over
us in the Lord and by the opening or shutting of the
particular door in question. Only when at least
three of these strands of guidance are in place –
the witness of the Spirit, confirmation from the
Word, and through other Christians, as well as the
specific opening or shutting of doors – is it safe
to conclude that some impulse or thought represents
the authentic leading of the Lord.
Since most of us rely heavily
on circumstances to be the final arbiter in matters of
guidance I have deliberately left it to last. When Paul
arrived in Troas he found a wide open door for his
ministry.7 A lesser man might have concluded that this was
meant to be his life’s work, but Paul knew that he had
received a prior calling to work with Titus. Because his
friend was not there, he walked away from this open door and
moved on to Macedonia.
A simple guideline for helping us to tell the difference
between flesh and Spirit (and between God and Satan) is that
the Lord speaks to our spirit, not just to our mind. When
the Lord has spoken, we are left with a deep assurance, even
though we may not understand all the implications of what He
has said. When we listen to our own feelings and
inclinations we are usually left with uncertainty and
By trial and error we learn to discern between the many
conflicting impulses that come our way. Most commonly, the
‘voices’ that echo in our minds are nothing but the
distorted projections of our own unresolved emotional
conflicts. This counterfeit of true listening may be no more
than hearing what our old nature wants to hear.
The ‘child’ voice within us clamours for attention and
approval. This immature voice promises all manner of great
things, but it has no substance behind it, and no
willingness to embrace the Cross. It wants all sorts of good
things – and preferably right now! It is so deceptive that,
in the privacy of our hearts, it may try to reassure us that
the sins of the flesh are perfectly acceptable in the sight
of a loving God. Since it welcomes neither inspection nor
testing, its delusory promises lead at best to
disillusionment, at worst to serious trouble.
Still more of us are driven by a ‘parent’ voice, which
imposes stern demands. Often posing as the voice of God (and
speaking through our distorted conscience) it owes more to
our misguided idea of what religion ought to be than to the
true freedom of the Holy Spirit. Some still labour under the
misguided impression that the hard way must always be the
Rigid legalism is the result of following this voice. Its
baleful influence has spread much bondage throughout the
Church. It is the spirit that lies behind the cults: it
kills joy, and concentrates power in the hands of people
with controlling tendencies. This spirit quickly degenerates
into a particularly horrible form of abuse, made none the
better by appearing to be so determinedly ‘righteous’. It is
most likely to afflict people who are not truly humble, and
who are trying to compensate for inner inadequacies. It is
often to be found in those who were used by the Lord in the
past, but who are now unable to perceive when He is doing
something new, and who have effectively become opponents of
the Holy Spirit.
This matter of control is a serious one. The secret formula
that satanists are taught at the highest level of their
initiation is, ‘Let my will be done in everything.’ This is
the direct opposite of all that true Christianity stands
for. The voice of control is ultimately the way of self and
Intimacy with God sets us free from making unfair demands on
each other. The Lord sometimes has to go to considerable
lengths to rescue those who have been cruelly dominated.
However unwittingly, many church leaders have often been
guilty of crushing others by their strong personalities,
harsh words and rigid ways of doing things. Our constant
prayer must be to be able to steer people closer to their
Lord, rather than making them dependent on ourselves.
As you have sought to listen to the Lord recently, what
themes has He been stressing? To what extent are you obeying
and acting on what He has shown you?
the words You speak to me make all the difference!
Help me to be quick to recognize when You are
speaking, and prompt to obey. Open my ears to the
whispers of Your love, and help me to believe and
act on what You show me, no matter how unlikely it
may sound. Keep me from chasing shadows and
illusions, but help me to face the hard things that
You show me, so that I may inherit all that You have
promised. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1. Exodus 33:11.
2. Ecclesiastes 5:1.
3. Hebrews 5:14.
4. This word was given to the disciples at Antioch, where
the Lord had brought together a multi-national team of
prophets, pastors and evangelists. The church in Antioch
became a major resource for the whole of the region. When
the different parts of the Body are functioning in harmony,
it is much easier for the Lord to build his Church.
5. Exodus 24:4; Jeremiah 30:2; 36:2-4; Habakkuk 2:2;
6. Bob Mumford, Take Another Look at Guidance
(Logos). Bob has also written an excellent book on
7. 2 Corinthians 2:12-13.
8. Alissa in Andre Gide’s La Porte Etroite is a good
example of this.