Testing What You Hear Against Jesus’ Prayer
Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26
In the last few writings, I’ve been talking about how we might come to hear the Father’s voice better and, in one piece, some of the wonderful reasons why we might want to. This time, I’d like to change the focus a little bit, and talk about discernment. I want to talk about discernment because hearing His voice means separating it out from the myriad of other voices we hear each day, sometimes each moment. God’s voice can get lost in the midst of them all if we don’t learn to listen for it. There are so many other voices assaulting our souls from the side of the world, and only one of His. It may be audible in a number of different venues, but it remains one still small voice in a mob, one small voice wanting desperately to be heard, but unwilling to shout down all the competition.
“He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.” (Isaiah 42:2) This the Word says about the Servant, the One who speaks with the Father’s voice. He will, He does speak peace into our hearts, but never in a shout.
So, you and I are left with the difficult (if we engage to do it on our own) task of narrowing down our hearing until we have excluded everything but the voice of the One whose desire for us is everything.
Discernment is a spiritual gift. That is to say, we have available to us, by means of the Holy Spirit, a gift that permits us to know which voices are the voices of the World, and which one is His. This means that if we are to engage in discernment with any hope of succeeding, we will first submit ourselves to God in prayer. No amount of careful reasoning alone will permit us to tell which voice speaks for God, and which is a counterfeit. In my experience, when I try to sort these things out on my own, I am far more likely to be swayed by the enemy’s reasoning, which seems perfectly sensible to me at the time.
Our reasoning, as wonderful a gift as it is, is still broken, part of a broken world. We simply cannot go from one logical premise to the next without allowing our sinfulness to in”sin”uate itself into the process somewhere. As a result, any effort to discern God’s voice begins with seeking God’s power to do so. Submit your will to the Lord, and let the Spirit guide your process.
Once you have submitted yourself, begin to test your conclusions against Scripture. In particular, test your discernment against the model of Jesus, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Having identified a voice that you think speaks to you or in you on God’s behalf, ask yourself this, “Is this something Jesus might’ve said?” If it isn’t, be very, very careful. Paul says, in Second Corinthians that the “Jews” still read Moses with a veil over their hearts (the instrument of understanding). Paul explains that only Jesus removes that veil, so we read all the Scriptures with Jesus as our model. We test all our discernments against Him and what He did and taught.
Today’s lesson gives us one very, very important test for “His Voice.” Jesus speaks of the Oneness that comes from the Father for those who believe in Him (Jesus). When you attempt to discern the source of your voices, ask this, “Does this voice manifest in oneness, or division? Is it focused on what makes us one? or on what divides us?”
The World wants to divide us, to make us blind to the oneness we have in Him. It keeps bring up old hurts, and stunting forgiveness. It seeks justice through punishment and retribution rather than restoration and mercy. It criticizes instead of offering guidance. And it makes perfect sense (according to the logic of the world). When confronted with the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, the oneness of God’s chosen, the voices of the World all begin their answers with the same two words, “Yes, BUT….”
The voices of the World make me afraid, the voice of God never does, ever. The voices of the World try to convince me that I am alone or nearly so, and that I’d better look out for myself and my own (more division still!). The voice of God reminds me that in Him I have in me He who is in all, and that I simply cannot be alone.
Having come to the decision that I want to listen for His voice in my life, and that I want to know the joy and peace that only He can speak into being, I am confronted with the task of sorting out His from the many. One question I can ask of every voice I hear is this, “Does it unite? or divide?” I follow the Voice of the One who prayed that we all might be one, as He and the Father are one.
Recently I was trying to explain to some friends how I understand unity. I think I said that our unity is not something God has yet to create, but rather something God accomplished at the Cross, breaking down all the barriers between us. Of course, I often fail to discern that unity. I am given to believing the enemy’s lies that make us appear divided. And so I act as though we were. But those appearances are lies. Nothing more.
This is where Jesus stands as my guard against being deceived, where he removes the veil from my heart. I stand on His prayer that we all be one, and He and the Father are one, and my belief that (as was often the case with such prayers) He said it for our benefit, not because the Father wasn’t already doing it. So, we are one.
Sometimes I have to claim that reality in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Often I have to claim that reality in the face of my own feelings of sadness or fear that rise up because of the divisions I think I see.
Today, ask yourself this: “Do I believe that the Father answered Jesus’ prayer?” Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I don’t often see the unity Your Son prayed for in my daily life. Still, I want to learn to tell the difference between Your voice and the voices of this world. Show me, dear Father, the work of Your hands, the unity of Your children, so that I might begin to know the lying voices for what they are.
In Jesus’ Name.
In this week’s piece, I mentioned several of the methods that the enemy uses to make us seem and/or act as though we were divided. The first I named was unforgiveness. When I harbor an old hurt, when I treasure my indignation for the (false) comfort it gives me, it casts up a great bulwark between me and my offender. It also causes me to return offense, even if it is only in my ill intentions, which have much more power to shape reality than we give them credit for. And so the circle is closed, and the spiral of apparent division rises to new heights.
Today, ask yourself this, “Do I harbor anything against another? Any other at all? No matter how distant? Do I let that create the appearance of division that would make Jesus’ prayer into a silly hope?” Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I repent of my bitterness. I may not quite be able to name it, and if I’m not, I trust You to bring me to a place of recognition. Please, pour Your love into my broken heart, so that I might truly forgive as I have been forgiven. Help me to see beyond the lies that I create by my unforgiveness.
In Jesus’ Name.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
One of the sources of apparent division among us is our system of retribution, which we like to call “justice.” The lie goes like this: “We cannot be restored to communion, to community, until the “offender” has suffered the consequences of his sin. Forgiveness is fine, but we are not one until he has paid his debt to society.” The lies woven into that thinking are too numerous to count, but they all founder on three words of Jesus. “It is finished.” We will all offend, in one way or another. If not the laws of our society, then most certainly the righteousness of God. And none of it creates separation. Apparent separation, yes. Real separation, no. Nothing, NOTHING, says the Word, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And if we remain bound to Him, we remain bound, through Him, to one another.
Today, ponder this: Do you still accept the lie that sin makes a separation among us and between us and God that has not already been dealt with? Can you hear the voice that whispers this lie? Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I do not know how to live without my system of justice, and so I have never thought that it might be founded on a lie. Teach me to see my offenses and those of my brothers and sisters through the lens of the Cross, so that I might learn to know and reject the voice that whispers “retribution” in my ear.
In Jesus’ Name.
As we’re learning to discern the Father’s voice among the myriad voices that carry His enemy’s messages, one of the surest indications that we’re not listening to God is the presence of criticism. The voice of the Father guides. It enlightens. It speaks truth, but it doesn’t characterize us or our actions in a way that ultimately describes us as bad or stupid or some other negative adjective.
God tells me when what I’m doing will lead me away from Him. He shows me how my choices have warped my perceptions, He tells me I’m sinful, but somehow that doesn’t sting when He does it. And of course, His guidance is never missing His declarations of love. “You are broken, you have wandered, Jeff, but look what I have done, what I am still doing to bring you back to Me!”
It is the enemy’s whisper, overlying or interweaving with the Truth that stings. God offers me Truth so that I might accept His cure. The enemy criticizes me, names me as bad, hopeless, so that I might despair. And of course, I wind up being just as critical of others when I am accepting the enemy’s lies.
Today, listen for the voice of criticism. In what you hear, in what you say. Don’t worry, you’ll find it if you pay attention. No one is immune. Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, this voice of criticism is so deeply embedded in my flesh. Help me, Lord, to see it for what it is, and to allow You to remove the barb. Open my ears, Father, to the difference between Your voice and my critical voices.
In Jesus’ Name.
“But… it’s just common sense!” This is another of the counterfeit voices that you and I must learn to detect if we are to hear the Voice that speaks resurrection into our lives.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24) The world’s wisdom is simply not that of the Father. Because you and I have broken faculties of reason, we can only exercise them properly in submission to God. If we are to hear the Father’s voice of restoration, if we are to speak His words into a broken world, we must utterly reject “common sense” or wisdom of the day.
It is amazing to me the way that my heart has come awake as I have learned to trust His whispered wisdom, and to let Him speak His vision of my life and the lives of His children to me. I took a long time, learning to quiet my overweening intellect and hear another, wiser Intellect speaking. It still takes some real effort but with time, I can usually hear a Reason beyond my own.
I started with the bigger things, thinking those “important” issues were the first ones I should surrender to His guidance. I think that’s the way a lot of people do it when they find that their boat is sinking. For those of you whose dinghy is still floating well, let me suggest another way. A speaker I enjoy listening to, Patricia King, speaks of a time when she was learning to listen for God’s voice. She began each day by asking God what to wear. She brought every small decision into submission in her life. What shall I have for breakfast? What shall I do first today?
Common sense will offer us answers to all those things, but so will God. Yes, He cares even for the little things, and can use them for the building of His kingdom. And He loves to hear us ask, even when we feel a bit silly doing it. Today, you might choose one or the other of those paths, then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I want to learn to trust Your voice, and not myself. I bring my decisions to You today, as many as I can remember to, at least. I thank You that You value each one that I am able to surrender, and I really look forward to spending the day with You.
In Jesus’ Name.
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