I would say that my sense of hearing is one of my most under utilized senses. My wife may even say it is a “neglected” sense. I’m not sure what it is, but I simply have trouble consistently hearing her. I may be distracted by the text I received, the kid bouncing on the couch or the television show I am watching but I find myself missing much of what she and others say to me. Many times I recognize I am zoned into something else and am not expecting her (or my kids) to speak to me, so I miss it. I may hear them speaking like the Peanuts mom in the background but I do not anticipate what they are saying is for me at all, so I simply do not hear what’s being said. I am working on this because it is vital to a healthy relationship to hear and actually listen.
I fear I do this same deficient hearing when it comes to the Lord and I would venture to guess many of you reading this do as well. I fear many live their lives as if God has spoken, but not as if he is currently speaking. Many of us simply think God’s Word is the Spoken Word of God and we live as if that’s all we need. However, there is more to His speaking! If this is the case, how can we tune ourselves into hearing His voice? I believe the passage of Scripture before us can answer that very question.
These prophets and teachers came with an expectant heart to have intimacy with God and to hear His voice. So, in order to tune into His voice…
We must come Expecting God to Speak (vs. 2)
In this passage, we see a group of “prophets and teachers” as well as the whole congregation with them gathering together to worship and fast. This type of intentional worship and fasting in the New Testament was typically done to hear the Lord speak on a particular topic. This was a service of intentionally pressing in with the expectation of hearing God speak, not on a particular topic as that is not suggested in the text, but rather to experience intimacy with God. With this expected intimacy, also just to seek God’s voice. They were not only expectant, but also had a level of “holy desperation” to be close to God. They came expecting a Word from God to happen, it wasn’t simply a time to gather and sing, but a time of deep intentionality and expectation. I believe deeply that the Western Church has lost much of her expectancy. A sense of actually having an intimate two-way conversation with God is one sense that seems to be largely missing. As I stated before, a healthy relationship has a sense of listening to it…we can’t just do all the talking. Let me ask a few personal questions: How often are we personally coming with this sense of expectancy? When we come to church, or open up our Bibles, how often are we actually expecting Him to speak directly to us? A.W. Tozer once said: “Some Christians memorize the Word of God but never meet the God who wrote the Word. They can quote whole chapters but have never been inspired by the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Word”. The Holy Spirit desires to make the Word come alive to us. He desires to speak through the Word and cause it to bring transformation to our lives, not simply education for our minds. In fact, John 16:13 states: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Jesus declared to us that as we read truth, the Spirit of truth would guide us in all the truth we encounter! He emphatically declares that the Holy Spirit will be speaking. We must expect him to speak. Expectancy is very important to actually hearing.
If one expects a package or a message to come, they are eagerly waiting for it to ensure they do no miss it. When one is not expecting a package or a message to come, they live as if nothing is going to change, so they often miss that package or message. I for one do not desire to miss out on the speaking voice of God. His message will come no matter what because He is a speaking God…but if I am not available to the Word He speaks due to my lack of expectancy; the lack of hearing is on me. The lack of hearing rooted in a lack of expectancy is my failure, not God’s.
At my church, we are on week 20 of the 91 weeks with Jesus (a devotional study we as a church are going through). To many who’ve been walking through this with us, I am sure it has now become a simple box-checking exercise. Many of us may simply read to be able to click the check-box on our app or the website declaring we’ve done today’s reading. Maybe at this point some of us have lost our expectancy to actually hear from God and are simply going through the motions. I challenge you (no matter what devotional you may be doing) to allow the Spirit of God to re-awaken your expectancy. God has a fresh Word in Season for us all! Take time to earnestly seek what he desires to declare to you each day you read. Ask the Spirit of God to illuminate the Word to you each morning and don’t allow the Enemy to trick you into thinking it’s just reading…because it’s not!
As we look at this church and how they approached hearing from God, they didn’t simply expect God to show up, they sacrificially sought after the voice of God. So, in order to tune ourselves into His Voice…
We must be sacrificial in our search to Hear His voice (vs. 2)
These prophets and teachers were leading a congregation in a time of fasting. The Greek work used here does mean to abstain from eating and was voluntary. It was a people’s desire to abstain from the pleasures and nourishment of food in order to hear God speak. They sacrificed food. They were also in an extended time of worship. There is no sense of how long they were fasting and worshiping, but one can assume that they were doing both long enough at the same time in order for the idea of fasting to mean anything. They weren’t simply skipping lunch and worshiping while they missed a meal. There was significant sacrifice of time, energy and food that happened. This could have been days or even weeks! In today’s culture we have everything easy, so I fear we often expect hearing God’s voice to be just as quick and easy. Yet, sometimes there is a need for a sacrifice of time for prayer, worship and fasting to transpire in order to show God how much you desire the intimacy of His Voice. In our society, sacrifice is not an often-desired word we use. We desire a “Cheeseburger Jesus” where just like at at McDonald’s things come in seconds. Back in the day before the “minute burger” we had to go to the store on our own, buy the meat, season it ourselves, grill it ourselves and (Big kicker) put the condiments on ourselves too. We live in a microwave society and we desire Jesus to be the same…quick and easy. We want God’s answers without sacrifice and without intimacy. God doesn’t work that way, just as no human does either. When I wanted to know my wife Hilary (and still today) there is sacrifice of time and energy in order to get to know her! Why would it be different with Jesus?
Here we see a diverse community who came together to sacrifice in order to hear His Voice. They recognized that only God’s voice mattered, only His way is the right way so they pressed in and waited upon the Lord to hear His Voice. This type of sacrificially waiting upon the Lord, not only allows us to hear His voice, but it changes us. As Tozer once said: “If we just stopped all our busyness; got quiet, worshiped God, and waited on Him; we would rise above the carnality of present Christians.” God would literally shift the atmosphere around us. We would hear Him speak. His direction would come. His guidance would lead us. He would show us where we are to go. Yet, we neglect this type of intimacy with God. Maybe we don’t desire to go where he wants us to, or maybe we believe that God is no longer speaking to us. Yet I assure you, he is speaking and desires to speak to all of us.
As we look at this church and how they approached hearing from God, they didn’t simply expect God to show up, they sacrificially sought after the voice of God. They also then obeyed the voice of God.
We must be willing to obey His Voice (vs. 3-4)
God spoke to this group. This moment was the life changing moment of both Paul and the Church itself (not just in Antioch). The Holy Spirit spoke clearly and gave direction in His speaking. God had called out Paul and Barnabas to a specific task. They’ve been doing great work in Antioch. God had been using them mightily. They were both listed in the group of “prophets and teachers”. This church had to make another sacrifice in obeying the voice of God. They had to let two of their best go so those two could bless every nation. Obeying the Voice of God is not always easy, but it is always the best course to take. When we take expectant and sacrificial time to hear His Voice, we will hear Him speak, we may not always like what he says, nor will we always jump at the chance to obey His voice, but obey we must.
I learned this the hard way some years back. God consistently spoke to me to witness to this one clerk at the Giant Eagle and I consistently ignored His leading. She began to pop up in places outside of Giant Eagle, dating one of our high school students at my church and I still didn’t act. Due to my disobedient heart for a time God stopped speaking as intimately to me as He had before. I had to confess my sin in order to hear His Voice again. When we desperately seek God’s voice through the Word and through prayer, we must be willing to obey or we may become deaf to His voice for a time.
God truly is a speaking God. We as the people of God need to regain our desire to hear Him speak as well as seek intimacy with Him. We need to take our earmuffs of un-expectancy and unbelief off and we must again sacrificially seek a deeper life in Him. God desires to speak to us. Will we listen?