The Lord Jesus does not look
at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward
appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:1,
In The Genesee Diary,
Henri Nouwen describes a type of bird that fools
people into thinking they are injured in order to
draw their attention away from the eggs they have
laid in open sandy places. ‘Beautiful!’ Nouwen
exclaims, ‘neurosis as a weapon! How often I have
asked pity for a very unreal problem in order to
pull people’s attention away from what I didn’t want
them to see!’
Can we honestly say that we have never done
something like this? Discerning people can see
through our duplicity as easily as when children
playing hide-and-seek cover their eyes and suppose
they cannot be seen – despite leaving their butts
There is such a need for discernment in the Church
today! Like Jesus, we are called to a level of
discernment that goes far beyond what we see or hear
with our natural eyes and ears. In search of the one
God wanted to anoint to be Israel’s king, Samuel
sensed no answering call from Heaven when he met
Jesse’s eminently suitable sons – and he had the
determination to make the further enquiries that
unearthed the youngest. David may have been
outwardly less attractive and imposing, but he was
the one the Lord had set His sights on.
To discern means ‘to perceive or recognize clearly.’
Many Christians claim to be filled with the Holy
Spirit, but how really exercise such discernment?
The need is so pressing that we are going to devote
an extended chapter to considering ways in which we
can train and develop this important gift.
We are not called
into action every time Goliath shouts, but when God
summons us. If Goliath shouts and I come running
every time, he’ll laugh – and I risk getting my
skull cracked. (S.J.Pigott)
When the truly discerning people meet someone, they
pick up quickly not just on their hurts and oddities
but also on their potential. They need to know then
what to do with what they have discerned. Should
they just commit this person’s onward journey to the
Lord? Or should they pause and take time to nurture
them, and to impart fresh spiritual blessings? Or
direct them to people and material that will help
develop their latent gifts?
We can see how swiftly easily what begins as a
personal moment of illumination may pass into a
weightier obligation. Perhaps it is the subliminal
awareness that listening to the Lord may entail
further consequences that explains why relatively
few ever develop this precious ministry to any great
extent – not least because there is a personal cost
to pay when we pick up on inauthentic words and
unbroken attitudes intruding where grace and
holiness should flow.
As we become more familiar with the Lord’s heart,
and better acquainted with the dynamics of human
relationships, we can hardly fail to notice the
pride in this worship leader, or the ‘religious’
voice which that preacher puts on. Not to mention
the self-centeredness or the uncleanness that
positively emanates from someone else – although
some of us wrap ourselves up in knots fearing we are
in danger of being judgmental rather than genuinely
We must certainly never use the gift of discernment
as a weapon to expose, control or belittle anyone.
Seeing something clearly is not, in itself, a
license from the Lord to confront unless He so
commands. There is a time for lying low until the
Lord shows us what to do. There is nothing unusual
in the example of a Norwegian friend of mine, who,
having discerned a serious controlling spirit in a
church leader in Russia, waited until his third trip
to his church before challenging him.
There is another reason why the gift of discernment
does not exactly top the popularity polls. Well
aware that their deepest-laid plans risk being
exposed, the powers of darkness subject the
spiritually discerning to particularly acute
attacks: wave after wave of them.
Sometimes this takes the form of full frontal
attacks, but since these often lead to major
spiritual retaliation, the assaults are often subtly
directed against the areas where we are most gifted.
If the powers of darkness can neutralize our
strengths and sensitivities, or even turn them
against us, we will be drawn into battles we were
never meant to fight, exactly as the starting
quotation for this section indicates. The result of
being involved in battles we were never meant to
fight is always that we become weary and
If the Lord is not calling us into action, we are
wiser to pray and hold our peace – like the
psychologist in the British sit-com Fawlty Towers,
who walks straight past Basil, the hotel manager,
who is behaving particularly bizarrely, and declares
firmly, ‘I’m off duty!’
We must be equally as ready, however, to spring into
action when the Lord does summon us – allowing no
fear of man to hold us back.
Your Word says ‘Be merciful to those who doubt;
snatch others from the fire and save them.’ (Jude
Grant us the discernment we need for each situation
that we face,
and then the right opportunities to warn or
with what you have shown us.
Keep us from coming under the influence
of any strong or controlling spirits
that are involved in the situation.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Testing Words and Discernment
to be a corporate rather than a purely private
Back in the seventeenth century, the early Quakers
greatly loved and respected the Word of God, but
many, unfortunately, could not accept that the Word
itself should always be considered superior to
individual leading. Because they were convinced that
it the Spirit Who had inspired the Scriptures was
the same One that they possessed, they even
suggested that their ‘inner light’ should test the
Word instead of the other way round.
The Quakers’ emphasis on being led by the Spirit
produced much lasting spiritual fruit, but it
unfortunately also left the gate wide open for an
ever greater degree of subjectivism. In time, this
led to many Quakers entertaining highly unbiblical
beliefs and practices. Richard Baxter, the Puritan
divine, reacted to some of these extremes by issuing
the sternest of warnings:
sober Christians should be the more cautious of
being deceived by their own imaginations. Experience
telleth us that most in an age that have pretended
to prophesy, or to inspirations or revelations, have
been melancholy, crack-brained persons, near to
madness, who have proved deluded in the end.
Baxter had an
important point to make, but whilst the fact that
many ‘crack-brained’ and downright immoral things
have been undertaken in the name of the Lord should
cause us to double check our utterances, and our
life-direction, it should by no means hold us back
from seeking to listen to the authentic Still Small
Within fifteen years or so, the Society of Friends
realized that trusting the leading of the Light in
every Friend was not sufficient. Words and leading
were henceforth to be tested by the corporate will
of the group – which hopefully included sufficient
awareness of Biblical teaching to be up to the task.
For Reflection and Prayer
As we seek to listen to the Still Small Voice today,
we face very much the same questions that the early
Quakers grappled with. The first question to
consider therefore is: ‘with whom do we check and
test our hearing?’
The second is, ‘When we pass on to others what we
sincerely hope are inspired suggestions, are we sure
that we are not merely transferring onto them the
things that we have found ‘work’ for us? Analogies
are helpful, but we should never dump them
indiscriminately on others – it can lead to a
‘hardening of the oughteries!’ (ie making people
feel that they ‘ought’ to be doing something, as
opposed to feeling genuine led to do it).
Christian tradition – ‘what the Church has always
believed’ – is by no means infallible, but neither
is it something to throw away lightly. We should
certainly not be so eager to embrace the new and
novel that we overlook basic questions: ‘Does this
word (or manifestation) bring glory to God and
Jesus?’ ‘Are they people of sound mind and behavior,
who are walking with the Lord?’ ‘Does it promote
unity in the Body of Christ – or does it draw people
into someone else’s orbit, and incline towards
The peace that
Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you
make; for it is to this peace that God has called
you together in the one body. (Colossians 3:15)
We considered previously the issue of prioritizing
competing calls on our time. The sheer variety of
choices we face can certainly be baffling. As we
toggle between myriad television channels, shop
online and venture further afield than ever before
to visit or to vacation, who can deny that pleasures
create their own pressures? May the Still Small
Voice that would lead us to God’s highest priorities
not get drowned out in the process!
‘In Me you may have peace,’ promised Jesus. The
whole of His life demonstrated this extraordinary
ability to be at one with His Father, even in the
midst of endless demands and jostling crowds. To
help us evaluate the choices we face, therefore, it
is important to try to sense where the peace of God
For Reflection and Prayer
make us quick to spot where Your peace is leading –
and rightly uneasy when we are in danger of going
We give you now the ‘leads’ we believe You have
and that we are doing our best to follow . . .
Overrule anything we have got out of balance;
bless and anoint all that truly is of You.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Ruach to The Rock: The Shetland Saga
The names of the
two houses that we lived in on Shetland – Ruach and
The Rock – represent the twin poles of our
spirituality. We are called to move in the power of
the Spirit (Ruach), but in a way that is constantly
undergirded by the Word of God (The Rock).
Towards the end of 2001, an unexpected opportunity
arose for us to consider heading north for a sojourn
on Shetland. It was not only an unexpected and
dramatic summons, but, as it needed to be, a
Our first hint that something radical was about to
happen came when a couple came to pray with us. They
brought us a prophetic word that our lives had been
proceeding in one direction, but that we were about
to experience a complete change of course. They also
warned that we would need to set our faces like
flint for it to come about.
We had no idea what this meant. The Lord had gone to
such great lengths to give us our present house and
ministry that it had never crossed our minds to
think that we might one day leave them behind. When
Ros discovered that there was an immediate vacancy
on Shetland for the post of Senior Clinical Midwife,
however, the peace of the Lord came on us, and she
felt led to apply for it.
The Lord impressed on us that this would be a
sojourn rather than a permanent move, but it
represented such a radical move that we felt the
need to set a seemingly impossible fleece. We prayed
that if the Lord really was in this change of
course, He would provide at least one point of
continuity by causing our friend Anna, who looked
after our two-year old son, to be willing to move to
On the basis that there is nothing to be gained by
building castles in the air, we rang Anna together
to see how she would feel about such an idea. There
was an audible gasp at the other end of the line.
Although she had never breathed a word about this to
us, it turned out that she had already received a
call to Shetland herself some years previously! She
had already paid several visits to the island, and
was actively looking for a way to get there.
As I was praying with a friend about what I would do
when we got to Shetland, she began to speak in a
tongue that I partially understood as a result of
having studied ancient Romance languages at
university. Amongst other things, the Lord spoke of
His help in the venture, and of my writing
illuminated manuscripts during the sojourn.
In due time we sent out a huge number of
publications that blended words and photographs of
the beautiful Shetland Islands. I found the word
‘sojourn’ particularly interesting. Apart from its
primary meaning as a ‘stay of unknown duration,’ the
Latin dictionary I consulted said that it could also
mean a ‘standing still,’ a ‘post,’ a ‘residency,’
and a ‘religious assembly or meeting.’ This
versatile word perfectly encapsulated the heart of
my calling: to stand before the Lord in prayer, to
send out teaching insights, and to organize an
international prayer conference.
Other confirmations quickly flooded in. At one of
our regular retreats, a friend had a picture of an
island attached to the mainland of Shetland by a
bridge. As if to highlight how closely linked
revelations and action are meant to be, the Lord
later went on to guide this man to purchase Ruach, a
wonderful modern house for us to have the use of
during our sojourn. Ruach, of course, means ‘breath,
wind of Spirit’ of God. We renamed our ministry
We loved Shetland, but it took time to adjust to a
lifestyle that was as far removed from our previous
twenty years of largely itinerant ministry as the
north is from the south. Six or seven months after
arriving, we heard about a word that had been given
back in 1997, when God had spoken specifically
during a meeting of Scandinavian intercessors about
a strategic conference that would bring Scandinavian
and British intercessors together to pray for
Europe. The word specified that the conference was
to be held on Shetland. This surprising choice
actually makes a good deal of sense if you turn the
map of the North Atlantic upside down. It is very
clear then that Shetland is the northern gateway to
Back in 2001 we had organized two national days of
prayer in the United Kingdom: Fight for this Nation
and Britain and Ireland United in Prayer. We quickly
realized that the Lord wanted us to take up the
baton, and to bring this conference to birth.
Eventually, Fire from the North drew together
intercessors from more than twenty-five different
islands and nations.
We knew nothing about all this, however, when we
sailed north for Shetland in a violent February
gale. As is so often the case when following the
Lord’s leading, obedience precedes understanding!
One year after moving to Ruach, the Lord surprised
us by calling us to purchase our own house. He
showed us clearly the one He had in mind: a large
modern building called The Rock, that overlooked a
stunning voe (fjord). He told both of us the price
we should bid for it, but warned that there were
other people after the property whom He did not want
to acquire it. Months later, we met the couple
concerned. They had been planning to develop it as a
New Age Centre. Amazingly, they had bid the same
amount for it that we did, minus the small change in
our pocket! Once again, the word of the Lord proved
Meanwhile, He had not forgotten Ruach. The Lord
completed the loop when some dear friends felt
called to Shetland, and moved into the house just
three weeks after we vacated it – and they are
making far more creative use of this beautiful house
than we could ever have done.
Even in the
utmost prosperity, the advice of friends is to be
very greatly employed. (Cicero) Do not speak too
quickly against things you do not understand. (Anon)
before we were due to take charge of a lively
six-week old collie-spaniel puppy called Brandle,
people came to us from all directions warning us
that we would find it too hard. After a lot of
thought and prayer we decided to go ahead anyway.
Fifteen lively years with Brandle brought many hairy
moments – in every sense of the word – but much love
and comfort too.
Whenever we are on the
point of pushing out the boat to attempt something
new, we almost invariably receive a barrage of
suggestions to take the opposite course of action.
We have nicknamed these well intentioned but
decidedly discouraging comments ‘The Brandle
Does the fact that we receive
contradictory guidance imply that we should give up
consulting others before we take important steps? By no
means. Scripture is emphatic that ‘For waging war you
need guidance, and for victory many advisers.’ It is
only realistic, however, to accept the fact that not
everyone will agree with us, even when we have heard truly.
The way of the cross sometimes sets us on a course that
others – even those we love dearly – will find it difficult
to follow us on.
It is a difficult balancing act to remain open to counsel,
without being unduly swayed by when the Lord really is
leading us in another direction. On the assumption that it
is more important to be on track with the Lord’s purposes
than to be well thought of by others, may we, with great
humility – and some diffidence – suggest adopting the
following principle at such times: ‘If the Lord is
calling you forward, focus on the Shepherd. If you look over
your shoulder to see who is following you, you will get a
crick in the neck!’
It helps if we can make allowance for people’s upbringing or
experience, and realize the extent to which it may incline
them to reject something as being God’s leading. Most of us,
after all, have learned to make mental additions or
subtractions when reading certain newspapers according to
their political leanings. But may we always be open to
discern the authentic accents of the Lord’s leading or
The pain is much greater when our differences are with
like-minded people. Paul must have faced the ‘Brandle
Factor’ in spades when he felt compelled by the Spirit to go
to Jerusalem, even though his fellow believers pleaded with
him not to do so.
Back in the 1996 the Lord showed us that the time had come
for us to take possession of the large country house He had
been telling us for some time that we would one day live in.
After some months of searching, we realized that the only
way we were going to be able to buy such a property was to
do so jointly with my parents. This was when the Brandle
Factor cut in, with numerous friends warning us not to go
ahead on this basis.
The best and kindest way to view apparently contradictory
guidance is to realize that people may be glimpsing how
difficult certain aspects of a calling may prove to be. That
is entirely different, however, from a project being either
wrong or doomed to failure. To hold back from following the
Spirit’s leading just because there will be difficulties
along the way is not an option – not least because it would
prevent the Lord from fulfilling many of His purposes.
As things turned out, the Lord used our six year sojourn in
the house in really special ways – including the hosting of
numerous precious retreats – before the call of the Lord
whisked us north to Shetland and then, more recently, south
For Reflection and Prayer
help us to tell the difference between Your
restraining hand, and people’s negative comments –
and between Your still small voice
and fleshly counterfeits and compulsions!
‘Do not look so
sad, Lucy. We shall meet again soon.’ Please, Aslan,’
said Lucy, ‘What do you call soon?’ ‘I call all
times soon,’ said Aslan, and instantly he was
vanished away. (C.S.Lewis)
If there is one issue above all others that causes
us problems when it comes to listening to the Lord,
it is the mater of timing. Partly this is because
the words God speaks to us often have a short,
medium and long term application. This is a matter
of multiple fulfillments and ‘layers.’
It is important to understand that it is perfectly
possible to hear something correctly, but to be
quite mistaken about when it is going to happen, or
about what we should do about what we have heard.
There is a time and a place for a word to be given,
but often an entirely different one for it to be
worked out in.
This is hardly surprising when you realize that
God’s call comes from the heart of eternity. It
links into our timescale with perfect precision in
its final outworking, but it originates in an
altogether different time sphere. In other words,
just because we have received God’s leading does not
mean that we should automatically expect it to come
to pass there and then, any more than we should
necessarily act on it there and then.
We hinted earlier that there is often a distinction
between a call (which gets us thinking and preparing
in a particular direction) and a commission – that
is, the actual moment when we need to take action.
Understanding this distinction will cause us to
double-check sudden impulses, and save us from
acting prematurely. More times than I can count I
have said something like, ‘I feel we should go and
visit x.’ Ros has agreed, but balanced my eagerness:
‘Sure. Tomorrow!’ The word was right: the timing
simply needed adjusting!
We are great advocates of applying the old military
adage, ‘Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom
wasted.’ It has saved us from numerous costly
mistakes. When we first moved into a new house, we
needed to replace the aged kitchen units. We saw
some we liked in a local store, but felt a check
against buying them.
Four months later, we saw the same units somewhere
else, but this time with a 50% discount. ‘They’re
the right ones,’ the Lord assured us: ‘Don’t buy
them!’ Two months later, the Lord suddenly said,
‘Today’s the day. Buy them.’ For that day only it
turned out that they were being promoted with a 60%
When the Lord allows a prolonged delay between a
call and its outworking, there is always a reason.
If the call takes the form of a warning, the Lord
often allows an extended period of time between
announcing His sentence and actually carrying it
This is because He wants to give people the maximum
chance possible to repent. Thus we find Jeremiah
proclaiming with great urgency (and accuracy) that
the Babylonians were coming, but all of forty years
before they actually did so.
As we hinted in the last chapter, the Lord does not
usually give us a once-and-forever set of guidance
that will last us a lifetime. He may well want to
fine-tune (or even supersede) the original pattern
as events unfold. The principle is simple, even if
the practice is challenging: ‘Guidance comes as and
when we need it.’
How eagerly Mary and Joseph must have received the
angel’s summons to return to Israel! At last their
enforced status as refugees in Egypt was over! When
they reached the border, however, they heard the
disturbing news that Herod’s equally pathological
son was now reigning in Jerusalem.
Just think how things might have ended had they
decided that since God had called them to return
they might as well press on to Bethlehem! They were
wise enough to heed the Lord’s warning in the dream,
and headed north instead, to Nazareth.
For Reflection and Prayer
Just as we need maturity to handle the matter of
timing, so we also require discernment in the way we
appropriate the promises of God. For obvious
reasons, many may not have any immediate application
in our own lives – and those that do may still be
conditional on our continuing right response.
Lord, help us to welcome into our hearts
those promises that You are giving us,
and to trust You with the timing of their
for You often give hints today
that You intend to fulfill many years down the road.
A matter must be
established by the testimony of two or three
witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15)
Outside Scalloway Harbour in Shetland, three harbour
lights (white, green and red) guide sailors along
the navigation channel between the cluster of jagged
rocks and islands. Only when all three of these
lights line up and appear as one white light is it
safe to enter the harbour.
Bob Mumford counsels that when God is about to lead
us along some major new path, He will normally
confirm His word to us in several different ways. He
suggests that we should look for at least two or
three other strands of guidance apart from a direct
word dream or vision before accepting that some
direction really does represent the authentic
leading of the Still Small Voice: for example, the
witness of Scripture, the peace of Christ in our
hearts, the confirmation of other mature Christians,
as well as the specific opening or shutting of
Nearly three and a half years after we moved to
Shetland, three people came to us separately to tell
us that the moment we had completed our assignment –
the prayer conference for the northern nations – the
Lord would recall us rapidly down south again.
The call had come earlier than we had expected, and
the transition was a fraught one. Several seemingly
promising leads failed to develop altogether.
Because Ros was under intense pressure at work, the
enemy did all he could to keep the uncertainties as
high as possible. Friends kept praying. One saw us
in a hot air balloon, heading south and landing in a
remote rural region.
The picture strengthened us through several painful
and perplexing months. Suddenly, it all happened. A
job opened up and we rather miraculously found a
house to live in. Less than three weeks after the
Conference had finished, we were on the boat and
heading south to start a new life in much warmer
For Reflection and Prayer
|| Most of
the mistakes I have made in matters of guidance have
come as the result of allowing myself to be
convinced too easily by one or two strands of
guidance, instead of waiting for the Lord to confirm
both the details and the timing. Even when some
initial piece of guidance seems overwhelmingly
strong, we should be wary of acting on one strand
alone – especially if it involves major changes.
Fleeces and decision-making
‘If You will save
Israel by my hand as You have promised, look, I will
place a wool fleece on the threshing floor.’ (Judges
The Lord never intended decision-making to be our
responsibility alone. At the same time, we should be
cautious of trying to devolve all responsibility
onto the Lord by laying arbitrary fleeces, such as,
‘If such and such happens, then it must be right.’
Neither should we try to cut deals with the Lord
along the lines that ‘if You do this, then I will do
Although it is arguably acceptable as a Scriptural
model to lay fleeces, there is one potential danger.
If circumstances do line up with the terms laid down
in the fleece, we may assume our quest for guidance
to be at an end. The fact that Gideon asked for two
signs suggests it might be wiser to regard fleeces,
like other strands, as representing just one part of
the confirmation we are looking for.
How about those occasions when other people bring us
‘directive’ guidance? We should certainly be careful
about acting on such words. We can recall a number
of occasions, however, when people have brought us
words that have launched us in entirely new
directions – usually when something was too far
outside our experience (or faith levels) for us to
have thought of it for ourselves.
Tragically, insecure and under-affirmed people often
end up ‘using’ prophecies and revelations as a means
of boosting their ego, or even to tighten their
control over others. It is as though they feel their
ability to get words for other people in some way
‘proves’ their ministry. When off-beam prophecies
are forcefully presented, rather than lovingly
offered, people have no choice but to accept them at
face value, or to discard them altogether. This can
cause much hurt and confusion, and lead to many
complications – not least the people who ‘see
through them’ becoming disillusioned with the whole
concept of listening.
Perhaps it was for reasons such as this that Paul
Tillich argues in favour of keeping reason and
spiritual experiences rigidly apart from each other.
I do not agree with him. It is surely a far better
sign of how well integrated listening to the Lord is
in our lives if we are able to satisfy both sets of
criteria along the lines of Acts 15:18: ‘It seemed
good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’
For Reflection and Prayer
help us to know which decisions are ours,
and which are only Yours to take –
and never to impose our will on others.
Doors opening: stay inside!
When I went to
Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that
the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no
peace of mind, because I did not find my bother
Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on
to Macedonia. (2 Corinthians 2:12-13)
When the elevator stops, the automated voice
announces: ‘Doors opening’ and we duly prepare to
step out. Except that sometimes we may not be meant
to get out at this particular floor. What happens,
for example, if you are blessed to have a whole
range of possibilities to choose from? It is
patently not enough to reduce our quest for guidance
to waiting to see whether a particular door opens
up, because several may already have done so for us
– in which case we need to know which one is the
In the quote above, Paul was clearly experiencing an
‘open door’ in Troas. People were hanging onto his
words and paying him well – so why not settle down
and enjoy the luxury limousine? ‘Come and hear
Pastor Paul’ sounds a decidedly better proposition
than ‘Go and visit Prisoner Paul!’
Paul knew, however, that the Lord had called him to
work with Titus. Because Titus wasn’t there, he
forsook the pleasant open door and set off on an
obstacle-strewn pilgrimage to Macedonia.
If the Lord has something richer in mind, may we
have the courage not to settle for second best! When
I first moved to the Paris region, I attended a
traditional local church. It was immensely
unexciting, but I felt a certain loyalty to it,
simply because it was close to where I lived. The
time came when I knew I had to overcome my feelings
and venture further afield. The Lord began
immediately to do the most remarkable things. If I
had allowed a false sense of duty to limit me, many
wonderful things would never have happened.
For Reflection and Prayer
Immediately before we embark on a difficult calling,
a door may open that appears to offer us an easier
course of action. It pays to be careful. Is this
door really of God? Since the same word is used in
both Greek and Hebrew for ‘tempt,’ ‘test’ and ‘try,’
there are several possibilities. When the devil is
tempting us, the Lord may be testing us, and our
souls are being tried. May the Lord give us the
courage to choose the highest way forward rather
than settling for the ‘easiest.’
Solid food is for
the mature, who by constant use have trained
themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews
Many of the discordant voices that echo in our minds
are nothing but the distorted projections of
unresolved emotional conflicts, and an immature
spirituality that is either over optimistic or
underdeveloped. Our unredeemed nature predisposes us
to hear what we want to hear – except, of course,
perversely, when it inclines us to expect the
precise opposite of what it most wants to hear!
Transactional Analysis goes some way to explaining
this confusion when it speaks of the immature child
voice within us clamouring for attention and
approval. This child voice promises great things,
but because it has no substance, it shies away from
testing and inspection. The delusory promises of the
child voice can lead us far astray. It wants all
sorts of good things – and preferably right now! It
is so deceptive that it even tries to reassure us
that the sins of the flesh are perfectly acceptable
in the sight of a loving God.
At the opposite end of the spectrum we find the
parent voice. Speaking through our distorted
conscience, this voice counterfeits the Still Small
Voice, and imposes stern demands. At first sight, it
may appear formidably ‘righteous.’ In reality, it
owes more to a misguided idea of what religion ought
to be, rather than to the true freedom of the Holy
Following this voice leads to a kill-joy legalism
which easily degenerates into a particularly
unpleasant form of abuse.
The parent voice establishes ‘control’ in the hands
of people who, deep down, relish the chance to
exercise it. It is the power that lies behind
totalitarian regimes and cults. Who is most likely
to take this spirit on board? Those who are not
truly humble, who (quite possibly to compensate for
inner inadequacies) are grasping for positions of
People who have been used by the Lord in the past
are by no means exempt from mistaking the parent
voice for the authentic Still Small Voice. Some who
were at the forefront of previous moves of God prove
unable or unwilling to adjust when the Lord moves
on, even to the point where they end up opposing
what the Lord is doing.
Almost all new moves of the Spirit contain a measure
of excess before swinging back into balance – but
those whose spirits have been hardened by the parent
voice are too self-righteous, and too judgmental, to
make allowances for this.
It is precisely these patterns of control and
domination that drive many lovers (or would-be
lovers) of Jesus away from Church. Ultimately, the
voice of control (the parent voice) represents the
way of self and Satan.
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
antithesis of all we long for when we pray, ‘Lord,
let Your will be done in everything.’
Sensitivity to the Still Small Voice checks the
demands of both the child voice and the parent
voice, and sets us free from making unreasonable
demands on our long-suffering partners, friends and
pastors. When we look to others to fulfill needs
that only the Lord can meet, we are as much
off-course as when we expect God to do things for
which we must accept responsibility.
When people have been taken captive by dominating
and controlling ‘parent’ spirits, they may well need
to be set free from the abuse they have suffered.
Tragically, leaders in the Christian community are
often amongst those most guilty of crushing others
through their strong personalities and harsh words.
This is especially the case if they have fallen into
the trap of assuming that the means justifies the
end in order to fulfill some vision they believe the
Lord has given them.
If we have been making unfair requests on our
friends, colleagues and (most especially) our
spouses, there are steps we need to take to put
matters right. We honour the Lord best by loving
For Reflection and Prayer
Here is a very short prayer, but one that may
require considerable thought and repentance:
Lord, set me free from the scars of such abuse.
Show me too where I am guilty of controlling others.
Make me one who steers people closer to You
rather than making them dependent on me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Avoiding the trammel net
Listening is linked to opportunity and to action.
God speaks not only because He has something to say
but because He has something to say but because
there are things He wants us to do. You are probably
as tired as I am, however, of getting caught in a
trammel net as a result of leaping to respond to the
expectations that other people place on us.
When a friend of mine
moved to a new region, she was beset by invitations
to do this and to attend the other. She felt the
Lord impressing on her that she must not allow
herself to become ‘trammeled’ into doing things just
because they sounded sensible, and because she was
gifted in those areas.
The Lord Jesus must have walked straight past many
people who were in genuine need. It is flattering to
be asked to do things (especially if they pay well!)
but wisdom lies in prayerfully assessing the
invitations that come our way.
It is not that we are called to be prima donnas who
refuse to lend a helping hand, but neither can we
afford to pay too little attention to God’s highest
call on our lives.
Growth in any aspect of life depends on a right
structuring of priorities. If we can identify the
central goals in our life, we have far more chance
of allowing them to direct and govern our lives.
Otherwise we will be in danger of ‘aiming at nothing
and hitting it every time.’
Leaders especially need to take care to follow the
Spirit’s prompting, rather than allowing people’s
demands to dominate their schedule. So much depends
on their stewardship of time, and on their
sensitivity in not imposing unfair expectations on
those for whom they have pastoral responsibility.
It is very important for us to choose carefully who
we spend our time with. To help us understand the
different character-types we rub up against, Gordon
MacDonald identifies the following:
(Very Important People). Wise ones, whose wisdom
sharpens our lives, and to whom we look for
VTPs (Very Trainable People). These are people who
are just waiting for someone to light the blue touch
paper. We should invest heavily in their lives.
VNPs (Very Nice People). These people make up the
majority of church congregations. They would not
dream of doing wrong, but they may still be quite
some way from the cutting edge.
VDPs (Very Draining People) complete the list. These
people are such past masters at draining our time
and energies that we can easily end up spending huge
quantities of time almost helping these people,
instead of taking proactive steps to befriend and
disciple people we really can help, and be helped
The Lord does not
want VDPs to impose their will on us and determine
our schedule. This is not to write the VDPs off. By
God’s grace all and any can change, but we may need
to re-examine our calendar in the light of this
understanding. If VDPs are ‘leeching’ our life away,
we may need to take more time out to pursue contact
with the VIPs who keep watch over us.
At all costs we must not permit the incessant
demands of the VDPs to prevent us from reaching out
to the strategic VTPs. These people are usually so
sensitive to our time pressures that they hold back
from approaching us, in case they prove a burden to
us. This is a great tragedy. They might have
benefited greatly had they had the courage to pursue
their desire to reach out to us. If they will not
come to us, it is up to us to go out of our way to
nurture and encourage them.
For Reflection and Prayer
The following exercise will help you to prioritize
your lifestyle in the light of the Lord’s leading.
Draw three columns on a sheet of paper. In the
first, write down your broad purposes – the themes
that God is stressing in your life. If you can,
prioritize them in terms of the importance you
believe they should have.
In the second column, write down the activities you
are currently involved in, as well as some of the
things you have been invited to do, or one day hope
you may do. It will be quite a mish-mash, but jot
down as many as you can think of. Prioritize these,
too, in order of the importance you accord them.
Finally, in column three, list all the activities
according to how much time you are devoting to each
The results are easy to collate. Notice in
particular things that take up a considerable
portion of your time and energies but which are not
amongst your stated priorities.
Does the way you are spending your time reflect
these priorities? If not, what is stopping you from
accessing your calling more fully? Is it health,
work or family commitments? Or are you simply
insufficiently determined to over come the
Checking our track record
‘I shall go back
to Calormen,’ said Bree, his face mournful as only a
horse’s can be. ‘What?’ said Aravis, ‘back to
slavery?’ ‘Yes,’ said Bree. ‘Slavery is all I’m fit
for. How can I ever show may face among the free
Horses of Narnia? . . . I’ve lost everything.’
‘My good horse,’ said the Hermit, ‘You’ve lost
nothing but your self-conceit.’
The fact that we hear the Lord accurately in one
area of our life is immensely encouraging. For every
word we hear correctly, however, there remains a 99%
iceberg of insights that we are either not privy to,
or are hearing less accurately about.
If we are wise, we will check our track record as
carefully and as objectively as possible – and learn
from our mistakes. As we ponder the things we
believe the Lord has said to us, and analyze how
accurate they have proved to be, we may see patterns
emerging – areas where we hear with considerable
confidence, and others where we are far less
Some of these mistakes may be rather more serious
than the ‘once-off blips’ we would like to dismiss
them as. They may be early-warning signs that we are
vulnerable to deception in that particular area.
Nothing but total honesty (and openness to
correction) will help us to recognize where there is
some root problem that needs dealing with.
Gun crews employ spotters to mark the fall of shots.
They identify when the gunner is over the tope
(OTT), short of the target, wide of the mark or bang
on the bull’s eye. OTT listening happens when we
confuse faith and presumption. The two run much
closer to each other than most people realize, but
lead to diametrically opposing outcomes. Most of us
stray the wrong side from time to time – but those
who are wise are quick to get back on track.
We go wide of the mark when we follow some wrong
leading, or fail to embark on some proper course of
action. For convenience, we will call this ‘error.’
When a Christian lies, steals or lives with his
heart set on someone else’s wife or husband, how can
the flow of God’s Spirit not be hindered?
Ultimately, there is no such thing as secret sin.
What one person does always has implications for the
Heresy also takes us wide of the mark, but it
differs from error in that it often starts by taking
some true idea and pushing it too far. Many people
persist in pursuing some wrong course of action to
the bitter end, hoping against hope for some
never-never breakthrough that will lead to a
If the Lord never sanctioned the project, however,
all their very considerable efforts will come to
naught, and they will merely go further and further
When people are heading wide of the mark, and their
error remains unchecked, there is a real danger of
sailing right off the spiritual chart and into the
blue yonder. Others wake up to what is going on, and
make a determined effort to get back on course.
When people become aware that what they had thought
was discernment is actually something quite
different, everything depends on their response.
Some are so shocked at discovering how wide of the
mark they have strayed that they lose confidence
altogether in seeking the Still Small Voice. For
fear of getting it wrong again, they frequently
retrench into a supposedly ‘safer’ form of the faith
– and thereby greatly reduce the likelihood of ever
taking part in any further Spirit-led adventures.
We are no wiser if we hold back at this stage than
if we vow never to get into a car again after an
accident. It makes it all but inevitable that we
will fall short of targets that, had we been willing
to persevere, the Lord would have helped us to
Where pride holds sway, and denial cuts in, the
whole process logjams. Lack of humility can
jeopardize everything. Great is the rejoicing in
Heaven, however, when error is acknowledged, and sin
confessed. Everything is once again possible.
May we be sensitive to the warnings the Holy Spirit
sends us! Most often, these will come through His
Word and His people.
No wonder David prayed in Psalm 141:5, ‘Let a
righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him
rebuke me – it is oil on my head My head will not
refuse it.’ Not every rebuke will be justified, but
it may contain grains of truth that we need to face.
If we find even helpful criticism hard to accept, is
this because we are to proud to admit our mistakes?
Or is it because we have such a low opinion of
ourselves that we regard any criticism as a threat?
Humility is good, but self-belittling is not. Since
the Lord is not writing us out of the script of
life, nether must we. Whatever mistakes we have
made, the Lord can always pick us up one more time
than we can get it wrong!
For Reflection and Prayer
Lord, please show me when I am over the top,
short of the target, or wide of the mark.
Where I have got things wrong,
may I not be too proud
or too stubborn
to retrace my steps.
For if I hang on grimly when I am mistaken,
I will not only end up disillusioned myself
but I will spread these seeds of error to others.
So, Lord, I give You my many mistakes.
Help me to learn from them,
and to recognise when I am in danger of repeating
May Your grace redeem what I cannot undo,
and turn all things around for good.
I give You especially the matter of . . .
‘This time he
found he could look straight into the Lion’s eyes.
He had forgotten his troubles and felt absolutely
content.’ (C.S. Lewis)
Someone pointed out a place to me last year in the
Faroe Islands that has apparently remained resistant
to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. It happened as
the result of a group of over zealous believers
paying a visit fifty years ago, claiming that they
could walk on water between two islands. Their
waterlogged feet not only made a nonsense of their
boast, but created a spiritually blockage that has
yet to be fully overcome.
Without falling into the pits of condemnation, we
need to face the fact that whenever we claim that
the Lord has spoken, when reality He has done
nothing of the sort, we risk setting up a stumbling
block that others may trip over.
At the same time, John and Paula Sandford remind us
in The Elijah Task that none of us graduate in the
school of listening with our pride intact. God
allows even those who are seemingly very mature to
fall over from time to time, if only to keep them
from taking undue pride in their giftings or
achievements. If our hearing were perfect, we would
quickly become unbearably complacent. Others would
undoubtedly start looking to us to provide instant
oracles, instead of seeking the Lord for themselves.
We must humble ourselves, therefore, admit our
mistakes, and, if at all possible, do our best to
put matters right. It is the enemy who wants us to
remain crushed by the memory of the times when we
have got things wrong, and it is perfectionists who
refuse to allow themselves (or others) to make any
Perfectionism is a faulty model because it makes us
strive to be or to achieve something that God never
intended for us. To have high standards is entirely
praiseworthy, but perfectionism is doomed to
futility – the devil keeps advancing the ‘finishing
tape’ a few meters ahead of our efforts to reach it.
Trying to live up to such misguided conceptions is
like saying we want to run a four-minute mile in
four kilograms! It means we are using all the wrong
measuring rods. We risk being forever at the mercy
of endless compulsiveness until we recognize it as
an enemy tactic, and the very opposite of grace.
May the Lord help us to see how and why such
obsessiveness developed in our lives. May we not
‘worship in graveyards’ by looking to find
inappropriate fulfillment with the wrong people and
the wrong pursuits. May He recalibrate our spirits,
too, away from the pitfalls of perfectionism so that
we can be more open to the leadings of His Spirit.
For Reflection and Prayer
|| If I
cherish iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not
listen to me . . . Confess your sins to each other
and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and
effective. (Psalm 66:18, James 5:16)
If we find that we
cannot rise above these tendencies and strongholds,
we almost certainly need the help of someone who is
less emotionally involved than we are. To quote my
paraphrase of a well known advertisement: ‘The
prayers of others can reach the parts our own
cannot!’ The question is, will you let them
close enough to help?
God fulfills His promise by another route
Their faces had a
new expression . . . All the sharpness and cunning
and quarrelsomeness . . . seemed to have been washed
away, and the courage and kindness which he had
always had were easier to see. Perhaps it was
talking with Aslan that had done it.
Post-modernist orthodoxy would insist that chance
and our own resourcefulness determine our destinies.
May no hint of such attitudes stain our thinking!
There is nothing random about the way God leads us.
Meaning and purpose undergird every part of His
dealings with us.
Shortly after I became a Christian, I made the
conscious decision that I would do my best to
consult the Lord before plunging in and doing my own
thing. There have been times when I have got things
upside down, and ended up way off the mark. On other
occasions, God has clearly honoured the fact that I
was trying to listen, and has made sure that when it
really mattered, I heard clearly.
Returning to the ‘leak of disappointment’ that we
looked at earlier, we have watched quite a few of
our friends over the years apply unsuccessfully for
the ordained ministry. Because each one felt had
convinced that they had received a call from the
Lord – and had done their best to test it – they
often felt extremely confused when it didn’t worked
out as they had hoped. If they didn’t openly blame
God, the turmoil had to go somewhere. Round and
round the questions pound. Had they been mistaken
all along? Did the powers-that-be make the wrong
decision in turning them down? Or, worst thought of
all, were they, perhaps, simply not up to scratch
Each situation is unique, and the pain is too
intense anyway to allow for glib answers. If there
has been presumption, may we recognize it and walk
away from it. But where the call is genuine, then
God can still fulfill what He has promised, even if
He does so by an entirely different route from the
one we originally envisaged.
When Israel escaped from Egypt, the Lord did not
lead them along the Inter-State to the Promised Land
for the simple reason that that way led straight
through Philistine country. He knew His people were
not yet ready to face a full-scale war, and that
they would be tempted to flee back to Egypt at the
first sign of conflict. He therefore led them by the
longer desert road, toward the Red Sea.
Can you recognize times when the Lord has allowed
‘detours’ in your life? When you head from A to B
via C, D, E (and even Z as it sometimes feels!). It
takes faith then to believe that you will ever reach
your destination. To the Lord, however, the journey
is every bit as important as the outcome.
We can think of many occasions when we have gone all
out for some initiative. We may even have gone
public on it, only for it to fall into the ground
and flounder. Where this has been a ‘dummy run,’ the
real thing that God had in mind for us usually turns
out to be not far behind.
These are the times when the verse we quoted earlier
comes sharply into focus: ‘What you sow does not
come to life until it dies.’ We, like the seed, must
often die to our own hopes and expectations before
the Lord can cause them to multiply exponentially.
The Lord knows exactly where He is taking us – and
He wants all the glory to go to Him. That is one of
the main reasons why He allows these dummy runs. We
find them painful and confusing, not least because
they often feel like the real thing at the time.
Beyond the present valley lie higher mountain-tops
for those with the courage and the vision to
For Reflection and Prayer
There is hope for a tree. If it is cut down, it will
sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its
roots may grow old in the ground, and its stump die
in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant. (Job 14:7-9)
Can you see how seeds
that have fallen into the ground in your life have
surfaced again another way? When God has fulfilled
His original promises to you despite the setbacks
Lord, You love to lead and speak to us!.
You are so much greater than our ability to get
Even out of the soil of our failures
You weave new beginnings
and find fresh ways to accomplish Your purposes.
Let us never become despondent or disillusioned,
for You ordain strength
from the depths of our brokenness,
and cause us to grow in discernment
and bear consistent fruit for You,
In Jesus’ name, Amen.