37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We continue with this fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, to see how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Now let’s move on to see the final phase of this story:

(Proactive after further prayer)

Having been left feeling somewhat encouraged by what had happened so far in the week with his junior and his boss, Alan realised that the problem of the Client was still not resolved, and he needed to do something about it. He prayed briefly and dialled the number. The call was not exactly an unqualified success but at the end of it the client had agreed to have lunch with him in two days’ time. In that waiting time he called a couple of others from the prayer group and asked them to pray for his coming encounter.

 (Approaching the Client)

Two days later he sat at a table in the restaurant waiting for the client who was ten minutes late.

As soon as the man arrived, he muttered at Alan, “I don’t know why I am bothering with you! I’m thinking of taking my business elsewhere. You’re a blithering idiot!”

“Yes, I am,” was all Alan could manage.

“Well, that’s a good starting place,” the other replied tartly.

“Yes, I’m really sorry I upset you on the phone the other day. I’m afraid I made a very bad job of explaining some of the pitfalls of the course of action you were proposing, and I fully understand that it upset you, and I’m really sorry.”

(A change of response)

The other looked embarrassed. “Well I must confess I wasn’t expecting to hear that from you.” He looked a lot calmer. “All right, let’s order and as we’re here, you might as well have another go at explaining what you’re thinking.”

They ordered and talked.

Twenty minutes later the client put down his knife and fork and smiled at Alan. “You young idiot! Why didn’t you put it like that in the first place?”

Alan thought it better not to say that he had said roughly the same thing before, and just shrugged his shoulders. “I must have been having a bad day. I’m sorry.”

More smiles. “Right, well let’s talk some more.”

An hour and a half later Alan returned to the office with a lucrative contact under his belt.

And that is the end of the story. But let’s consider the lessons that come out of this particular part of it. It doesn’t matter that it was fictitious for it demonstrates how things need to be and how they can work out.  First, for this part of the prayer request, Alan recognised that he needed to be proactive. Second, before he acted, he prayed, made contact and then requested further prayer backup. Third, in his approach to his client he exhibited humility. Fourth, and this is vital for us to see in these things, God clearly moved by changing the man’s heart. Our expectation must be for God who answers prayer to move and bring changes to the circumstances. Our role of to pray (stick close to Him), be alert and watch the changing circumstances and be ready to move within them with His grace. In that we are watching to see these moves as the hidden hand of God.

The story of Esther is famous for not having clear and obvious signs of God moving dramatically (as, similarly, with the story of Ruth) but we do see what we call the providential hand of God – circumstances changing to make way for God’s people to move in. In the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, we find first of all in respect of Potiphar, Joseph found favour in his eyes,” (Gen 39:4) and then in prison, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warder.” (Gen 39:21) i.e. God moves on the heart of unbelievers on behalf of His people. As people of faith, we should be expecting this when we are available and seeing ourselves as seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)

Now our danger is that having read that story, you say, “Oh but it’s only a story. It’s not that easy!” Well it is, and things happen like this a) when we approach prayer meetings like this and b) are willing to be part of the answer to what we pray. If we reflect on the wider story, we can see a number of things that may help us in our own prayer experiences:

  • The praying people had learned to listen to God for HIS will as they prayed.
  • What they ‘heard’ from the Lord became a resource for further prayer for encouraging activity afterwards
  • The ‘answers’ involved Alan stepping out in faith in the week ahead:
    • looking at what was happening as the Lord provided opportunities for him to speak and act,
    • being willing to be humble, gracious and available for whatever came up,
    • being willing to accept that he perhaps hadn’t handled some of the people very well previously but, even more importantly,
    • here were opportunities to be a blessing to others, despite the past.
  • The ‘answers’ also involved the needs of other people coming to the surface and providing a basis for Alan to show love, care and compassion and faith – and then for God to move some more!

Perhaps we may analyse it in the following way. In the Prayer Meeting faith and encouragement and future direction were given when the people listened to God. After the Prayer Meeting, things happened (answers came) when the person in question was willing to play his part in bringing answers. Or to put it in yet another way, simply praying words out loud in a prayer meeting can be unbelieving ritual. Praying, listening and then acting on what you hear is faith building and opens the way for God to move in a much greater way. Simply praying weekly ‘shopping lists’ does little to build our faith and we remain unchanged – and circumstances and people around us only change a small amount. ‘Listening prayer’ followed by ‘available obedience’ develops faith and enables us to grow to be more available and more like Jesus, and so that God can work, and circumstances and people can be radically changed. The kingdom comes!

33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Deut 30:19,20  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

Listeners: Listening to God is perhaps one of the fundamental characteristics of the people of God throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve had to listen to God. Cain had to listen to God. Noah had to listen to God. Abram had to listen to God, and so it goes on.  If God hadn’t spoken to Israel at Sinai they would never have been constituted as a nation, never led to Canaan and never taken the Promised Land. Years later, it was because they refused to listen that they ended up in Exile. Yet it was because an ungodly king, Cyrus, listened to God, that they were sent back to their own land.

Threefold Purpose: The other facet of God speaking, we said yesterday, was people hearing. Many people deny hearing, I believe, because they are insecure in their faith and fear that if they start hearing they will find themselves being told off. However, let me remind us again of the threefold thing Paul said prophecy should do today within the church: strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (1 Cor 14:3) Those are all good things. So, perhaps to allay fears and show a feasible and secure pathway through, may I suggest some guidelines to help you become available to bring these three things to people as you listen to the Lord.

Stick to the Threefold: First, stick to the three things above. Prophecy, or hearing a word for another, is not an opportunity for you to vent all the feelings you might have for that other person.  You are NOT there to correct them or chasten them; God will do that in His own way.

A simple example: Many years ago I was ministering in West Malaysia under the leadership of an apostle with whom I was travelling. We were having a ministry time after the main part of a service in a church in the north, and as I stood there I felt the Lord focus my attention on a young man standing across the room and the Lord said to me, “Go and tell him that I love him.” And that was all. It doesn’t get more simple than that! I went across and shared that with him, to which he broke down in tears and ran out of the room.

Confession flows: He came back a little later, more composed, and said, “How can God love me when I’ve done what I’ve done?” He went on to share how he and a friend had gone across the border into Thailand one night and visited prostitutes and he was now sure he had AIDS. “What’s more,” he confessed, “I am engaged to that girl over there and I don’t know how to tell her.”  The girl in question was a beautiful young Malaysian Christian. We talked, and he agreed he would tell her if I would come with him. I did, and he did and, listen to this, she looked at him tenderly and said to me, “I love him, so it doesn’t matter. We’ll get married and trust God for the outcome.” What example of faith and commitment, and possible sacrifice, and all because of the most simple word shared.

Keep it simple: Did you see how simple that was?  An illustration I gave yesterday simply involved two words – “Do it.” Even more simple. We are not talking about bringing deep and meaningful and highly theological words here. The first ground rule is keep it simple and keep it love.

Conform to God’s Word: The second ground rule is say nothing that is contrary to God’s word, so you never give permission to someone to sin, say. More often than not, your words of strengthening, encouraging or comforting, are most likely to be words of assurance. I say again, you may know areas of weakness in the person before you, but you are not there to correct, chide or chasten them; God does that. This is different from the correction process that Jesus spoke about when someone has sinned against you (see Mt 18:15-17). We are, in all we are saying, ministering to the imperfect people of the church (that’s a big field; it’s all of us) and as we seek the Lord (and do nothing outside that context) we are making ourselves available to Him to strengthen, encourage or comfort another brother or sister.

Humility: The third ground rule is approach in humility and deference. Where I know people are not used to this sort of thing, I may approach them with, “I hope you will forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, and if I have, please just forget it and put it down to the ravings of a guy having a bad day, but I felt as I looked across at you that the Lord wanted to say to you……” Then, as you share and see tears of appreciation and even wonder running down their face, you know you got it right, especially when they say, “Thank you so much, that was exactly right.”

Avoid Dogmatism: Fourth, and perhaps associated with that, never speak beyond contradiction. As a church leader many years ago, I often used to say in leadership meetings, “The Lord said to me that we….” and it continued until my wife pointed that that shut down every conversation because no one wanted to challenge the assertion that I had God’s will. I may have had but we are all imperfect and we can get it wrong, and if we speak in dogmatic ways, we shut anyone else down who might put forward an alternative – which may be the right path.

Straight forward language: Fifth, as part of this, you don’t need to use Authorised Version, “Thus says the Lord…” In fact these days I never say, “The Lord says….” Which so often raises the defences of our listeners. I simply say, “I believe the Lord says…” which is much less dogmatic and not so confrontational.

Don’t dress it up: Sixth, don’t be defensive and dress it up by explaining how this word came, i.e. you don’t need to justify it. It doesn’t need lots of preamble. Many of us do this, and I still find myself doing it from time to time, perhaps to give time for people to take on board what is coming. Yet it shouldn’t need that. When you are saying good things to people it neither needs dressing up nor justifying.

Checking it out: Seventh, you can say perhaps as you end, “Does that make sense?” but often they will show by their response that it certainly did, so don’t emphasize your rightness by asking. However, if they stand there and you ask, and they say no, then simply apologize that you’ve obviously got it wrong and leave it at that. You might not have done; they might just be feeling insecure still and it will take a little time for them to accept what they’ve heard.

Walk away: Eighth, when it comes to giving deeper or fuller words for the future, leave it with the Lord and don’t worry about it. Walk away and leave it; you’ve been the messenger boy He wanted you to be. The greatest extreme I’ve had of this was someone who didn’t look particularly blessed by what I shared but who ran across me years later and said, “Do you remember that word you shared with me ten years ago? Well the Lord’s just done it as you said.” I try not to look blank at that point because I rarely can remember even a few days later what I’ve been able to share.

And us? Available to bless others? You will be if you concentrate on your relationship with the Lord. These things will just naturally flow when that relationship is alive and well. It’s streams of living water flowing; it’s that simple. Can we grow into that?

32. Listening and Speaking

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 32. Listening and Speaking

Jer 1:12,14  The LORD said  to me….

Present Goal: In the past two studies I have made a variety of comments and given several testimonies about ‘hearing’ God. Moving on into yet a third one about the same subject you might, quite understandably, be asking yourself, why is he keeping on about this, especially if you feel unsure about it yourself. I have two reasons. The first is exactly that: in the modern church there is almost a fear about daring to say, “The Lord said to me,” and when it comes to church services the communication is all one-way. The second reason is that the matter of ‘hearing’ God is vital to all other activities in our position of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he works in and through us to bring the kingdom of God to the earth. I will go on to ‘listening evangelism’ in a later study as well as ‘listening to His written word’ as well as listening for healing or deliverance and listening for changing the community, but for the moment I really want to confront us with this matter of hearing God.

Look out for ‘said’: There is a word in the Bible that my concordance says occurs over 3000 times, a word I am absolutely certain most of us read without any thought to the wonder of it, and it is the word ‘said’. Yes Satan speaks, and men and women speak but the wonder is the fact of the Lord speaking. From now on, every time you read your Bible, when you come to the words, “and God said….” or “and the Lord said”, pause up there and consider the wonder of that. It’s not only that God spoke but SOMEBODY HEARD Him! For it to be recorded, somebody actually HEARD God and there are hundreds and hundreds of times when it happens. It is the norm for the Bible.

Excuses: “Ah, but with the completion of the canon…” Hold on before someone rolls out that unbelieving old Chestnut, do you realise that if you hold that view you are worse than the unbelieving Jews of Jesus day, because they had the entire set of scrolls that we call the Old Testament and yet were open to the fact that a new prophet could be in their midst, e.g. John the Baptist, and then Jesus. God’s communication did not stop once the last of the minor prophets had been written down.

There is nothing in the New Testament, seen in context, that says God has ceased to be a communicating God. It doesn’t diminish the value or worth of the New Testament, in fact it says believe every word of it and don’t put time stops on any of it, so when Paul says, I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy,” (1 Cor 14:5) it is only our unbelief that says all that stopped when the canon was agreed. A study of history shows it continued somewhere in the church throughout the Church age. What is the point of you and me seeing ourselves as being seated with Christ in the heavenly places if it means he cannot communicate with us and we can’t communicate with him?

Ah but he can communicate through his written word, comes the reply. Er how? Well it is all truth, so we obey it all. Agreed. And he can highlight specific verses and make them stand out to speak specifically to us. Right! Hold on, isn’t that just as subjective as ‘hearing God in your mind’, you could be making it up, that ‘specific application’ couldn’t you? The moment you start talking about God speaking specifically through His written word, you’ve inadvertently climbed into the boat of faith with me. Why is this important? Let me tell you a simple little story I heard from a preacher-teacher who I respect and trust. I will repeat it as accurately as I can, but it was a long time ago – but the main point was exactly as below.

A Christian steps out: There was a lowly Christian at a Bible conference and he understood the idea of hearing God but wouldn’t say that he fitted into that understanding. However, in the middle of the worship and prayer he had this almost overwhelming desire to speak out a word from God, as he felt it must be. He wrestled with it and eventually when there was a pause in the prayers, he stepped out in ‘faith’ and started, “The Lord says, ‘Do it…” and to his horror his mind went blank and he dried up. He nearly died with embarrassment. A few minutes later after the worship and prayer continued, he felt the same feeling and prayed, “Lord if this is you please give me the whole word,” and at an opportune moment he launched out again, but exactly the same thing happened. More embarrassment. To his horror it continued and was exactly repeated a third time. He nearly died.  At the end of the meeting he slunk away as quickly as he could but was stopped by a man who came rapidly up behind him and took his arm.

Understanding: “Please stop,” the man asked. “I want to say thank you to you. For the last few weeks I have been catching a sense that the Lord is calling me to (and he named a ministry in eastern Europe, I believe it was) and I came here looking for confirmation. When you first spoke out it went straight to my heart, and I felt sure it was for me, but I am not strong in these things and so I prayed, “Lord, if that is you, please will you say it again,” and you did! And that was wonderful, but I still doubted and so prayed, “Lord, please forgive me for my doubting but if that was you – and I know it was wonderful the same man said it twice – but if it is you sending me, then please get him to say it just once more and I will go without question – and you did, and I am going. Thank you so much.”

Facing the Problems: As we said in a previous study, we can have a multitude of immediate needs and although we know the truth of His written word, we need something personal and God loves being personal. I was in another church recently where I was just visiting with family, and the young pastor at the end of the meeting said, “If anyone has a word to share, while we sing the last song, come and share it with me.” Nobody came. I know him quite well, having visited there a number of times on holiday staying with family abroad, and I spoke with him afterwards.

Where I was located, with the layout they had, it was almost impossible for me to get out and get to him but I am certain there were at least five people in his congregation who ‘heard’ words of strengthening, encouragement or comfort, either for the congregation at large or for individuals, but they just needed encouraging to come out, to be reassured that they had ‘heard’ but a) they weren’t laid out for movement (they didn’t expect it and so hadn’t made access and movement easy) and b) he didn’t follow through and bring a further encouragement.  My ‘five people’ was a word and the Lord didn’t want me to be the main message bringer, just the encourager, but it wasn’t possible.  So why did He speak to me like that?  To teach, to face the inadequacy of the situation (sharing it with the young pastor) so we can learn and get it right next time, and there will be a next time, and next time will still require us to be people of faith and ‘risk it’. You may not be in a place where this is acceptable, and change won’t come (but talk with your leaders to make sure it won’t come) so go somewhere where it will. Will we confront the truth of His word and seek for a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed?

13. Prayer – He is here!

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 13. Prayer – He is here!

Mt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

A New Way of Looking: Oh no, you may be thinking, this is degenerating into basic studies about spiritual disciplines. Well, yes and no, Yes, in that we are going to consider one or two of those things that are often referred to as spiritual disciplines but no, in that we are looking – hopefully with fresh eyes – at these things as expressions of the ‘resurrection life’. Resurrection, remember, is all about power, God’s power, and so we will be looking at these things as expressions of the working of God and will try to see how the power of God takes us to a new, divinely supernatural level of experience.

Jesus’ Resurrection shows the Way: Why do I say that? Because that is what the resurrection of Jesus was, an expression of the power of God that first brought life back into the body of Jesus and then enabled him to do things that his human body had not been able to do before.  So now I ask the question, can we see prayer in this same way? Can we see ‘prayer’ as an expression of the power of God flowing through us and does it enable experiences to happen that cannot happen in the non-Christian?

Poor Prayer?  That challenges us to think just what prayer is. For many people prayer is uttering words into space and hoping for the best. The only thing is that that is exactly what unbelievers do in a crisis so if that is what we do, it puts us on the level of the desperate and superstitious unbeliever!

Prayer and God’s Presence: Let’s be as basic as possible. Throughout I hope I convey a message: “God first!” Whatever we are thinking about in the spiritual realm – start from God. When it comes to prayer, the starting point must be that He is there, or rather, He is here! He really is! So often, as I watch other people leading in public prayer, they shoot straight off speaking into the air, giving no thought whatsoever to the fact that He is HERE!

The ‘Presence of God’:  Instead of blurting out words, we can pause and sense His presence. Oh dear, we’ve just moved into an area that makes many of us feel uncomfortable, looking to feelings, senses, and that can be deceptive or questionable. Yes, of course it can, we can get it wrong but that can be true of anything, and so we simply have to learn!

So, OK I confess that very often, if I pause before launching into prayer, I will simply sense a simple quietness and, as nice as that is, that is all it is. However, I am also aware that there have been other times when it was considerably more than that, almost a tangible presence of God (and actually it is more than occasionally!). This is the thing, God is always present wherever you are, whenever you are; the presence of God is always there. But then there is what is sometimes called the ‘manifest presence of God’, God’s presence becoming manifest, made obvious, in some way.

An Example: A little while ago I was with a group of leaders in America and we were sitting around a table to discuss a way ahead, but we started in ‘prayer’. I simply said to them, “Let’s just be aware of the Lord with us shall we,” and then prayed, “Lord, please draw near to us.”  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (Jas 4:8 NKJV) All I can tell you is that there was an almost tangible silence that went beyond mere silence; it was a presence, His presence, and we just sat there bathing in the wonder of Him and it went on and on. In fact it became obvious that when I eventually called the leaders to ‘come back’ there was a visible reluctance to leave and move on. What we are talking about here is the supernatural presence of Almighty God which is wonderfully beautiful and awe-inspiring and simply inspires and releases worship of the heart (not the words or tunes only type of worship that is so common).

Becoming Aware: I think I have told this experience before in my writing, but it bears repeating. Many years ago I was witnessing to a young woman and although she was fairly receptive to what I was saying she said, “I just don’t seem to get it.” I think it must have been the Lord because I said, “Would you like to try an experiment. Humour me. I want you to pretend there really is a God and I want you to close your eyes and I will pray a few words. Then I want you to humour me with this experiment and you speak into the air some words that you think might constitute prayer, maybe starting, ‘God if you are here.’” She looked a bit embarrassed but agreed to do it. I said a few words out loud to the Lord and then went quiet. A moment or three passed and eventually she started and prayed something (I don’t remember what it was) and then there was a silence and then the sound of snuffling. Out of curiosity I opened my eyes and she was sitting there with tears streaming down her face and she whispered, “He IS here!” She went on to pray ‘the sinners’ prayer’.

The Effect of Talking to a Person: I believe it is vitally important to make this emphasis because so often when I go into a new church group I simply witness prayer meetings where people are just throwing words at the wall and there is no sense of the Lord’s presence and no sense of speaking to a PERSON who is there. The moment we start to catch the sense that we are in the presence of, and are addressing Almighty, Holy God, everything changes.

Change No.1 – we stop focusing on what we want, and it becomes what He wants. When we recognize we are in the room, if I may put it like that, with the all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God of the universe, it changes our perspective.

Change No. 2 – If He knows everything (and He does!) the only reason for telling Him all about the circumstance that troubles us, is to clarify it in our own minds; it is for our benefit.  If He is all-wise (and He is) then we realize we are foolish to tell Him what He ought to do (which is what so much modern prayer is!)

Change No.3 – when we start realizing these things, we realize that prayer needs to become as much about LISTENING as it is speaking. We briefly mentioned this yesterday, but we are now talking about the mystery of ‘listening’, another questionable area in the lives of many insecure modern Christians.

Let me give you an example. The prayer I find the Lord answers most for me is, “Lord, I need your wisdom. Please show me what you want me to do here.” The next thoughts that come, again and again, are thoughts about what to do – the wisdom needed. But it does need me to watch what is happening ‘between my two ears’! This is where faith comes in, because to take note and act requires faith.

Group Praying: Moving in this dimension in a group, corporately if you like, means we listen to God through each other. I often say to a group, “Let’s wait on God and listen, and then as you start to catch a sense of what direction, one person start off and when they finish, see if someone can follow on the thread they have started with.” When we ‘flow’ like that we then find the Lord releases faith and revelation and pictures start getting shared, awareness of direction comes, and more faith is released. Inevitably, direction of what we need to do, as an outworking of the revelation received, also comes and we are enabled to step out in life with a new sense of faith.  Prayer thus becomes more of a “what do you want Lord?” exercise, than merely uttering personal needs, but we’ll look at that as the next subject.

To conclude here – dare we step out in prayer in a dimension that is God-inspired, with revelation, insight, prophecy, knowledge, understanding (all things that come from Him) that make us different from the world around us, for this is what the Lord calls us to in this newly empowered resurrection life?

9. Would you know God’s voice?

Meditations in 1 Samuel   9. Would we know God’s voice?

1 Sam 3:6-9    “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”  Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”  Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ “

We arrive at what must one of the strangest little cameos on the Old Testament where young Samuel starts ‘hearing voices’ in the middle of the night or, to be precise, one voice. He assumes it is old Eli for he’s the only one in the vicinity but Eli denies it and so Samuel goes back to bed. When this happens for the third time Eli realises there is something going on here and it must be God, so he tells Samuel to reply to the Lord when he next hears the voice – which Samuel does do and the Lord speaks on.

Now whether this was a literal audible voice or such a strong impression in Samuel’s mind that he virtually ‘hears’ it, we don’t know. Both are possibilities. The challenge to some of us is, do you believe God still speaks today? This is not God adding to Scripture but God speaking into your life about your life. Do some of us think, “Well Samuel was a special case, he was a prophet,” and there is a certain amount of truth about that but why should we think that a God who speaks throughout the entire Bible should no longer speak to His children today? Isn’t communication likely to be the very main thing that a loving Father will do with His children?

Well, yes, you may say, that’s what the Bible is surely? Indeed it is. It is His general communication. Do you also have the experience where there have been times when a verse seems to leap out to you and be especially meaningful? That is His specific communication. Have you ever had the situation where you have say three options before you but just one of them seems to stand out and feels the right one? That again is His specific communication.

Suppose it is not the audible voice of God you hear (because it seems the audible voice is rare and saved for major crisis or major calling situations) and you are left with the strong voice in your head? How do you feel about that? It takes faith to believe. Can I share some stories with you they are all true and without exaggeration.

The first one occurs when I am still a young Christian and am now a father for the first time. One day my baby daughter was in her crib upstairs and I crept upstairs to gaze in wonder on her. As I looked at her I seemed to ‘hear’ a thought in my mind that seemed to come from nowhere: “What do you think of her?” Perhaps He was giving me help but I thought, “Oh, my goodness, is that God?” and so I ‘thought back’, “She’s wonderful, Lord.” Back came the strange question, “What does she do?” I thought for a moment and thought back, “Well I suppose she cries a lot, she keeps us up in the night, she constantly wants feeding it seems and she needs her nappies changing all the time.” “And what do you feel about her,” came back. “I love her, Lord,” I responded. “Why?” came back the next question and I responded without thought, “Because she’s mine, Lord.” Back came, “And that’s why I love you son. Because you are mine,” and with that I realised that He loved me with all my faults even more than I loved my demanding daughter.

I went through a series of lessons on listening it seemed in those early days. At that time I had to take a fifteen minute bus ride to catch my train to London every day. One day I got on the bus, went upstairs and sat down and immediately I got that same imposing thought in my mind, “You will catch your train.” That’s odd, I thought, of course I’ll catch it, this bus always has at least five minutes to spare before the next train is due, and so pushed the thought away. After a few minutes I assume the bus driver thought he must be ahead of schedule because he remained stationary at the next bus stop. I looked at my watch. Yes, well, we’re just about OK, but it would be helpful if you got a move on. The thought came back with insistence, “You will catch your train!”  Hmm. The driver started up and off we went, but he stopped and paused yet again at the next stop. Oh, come on, this is getting silly. Get a move on we are on the edge of me missing my train. “No, you WILL catch your train.”  For the remainder of the journey he crawled along and I gave up hope of catching the train when we arrived at the station five minutes after the train time and so I slowly wandered in to the station with a quarter of an hour before the next train was due. Except when I got on the platform there still seemed a lot of people there and a voice came over the loudspeaker, “The 7.48 train for London is running seven minutes late and will be arriving shortly.  I caught the train.

Now I could probably tell you literally dozens of similar stories in a variety of contexts that have involved not merely me learning to listen but specific guidance or direction. If this surprises you, that is a shame because it means in your thinking you limit our God. Please, I am not special. I have been a church leader and some of the guidance has been in respect of times of stepping out in faith, but that is what it is all about isn’t it?

If you think it is only prophets in  the Bible that God speaks to think again. Consider little Ananias in Acts 9, an ordinary disciple: In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”  “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:10-15)

There is a beautiful song and mime routine called “Sitting in the window praying”, that is based on that – although we don’t know for a fact that Ananias was praying when he gets this vision. What is fun about it is how he argues with the Lord, and yet he is so convinced by the experience that he goes and ministers to Saul. Just an ordinary disciple! What will it take for you to become a listener (and hearer) of God? In each of the three examples here today – Samuel, me, Ananias – we all responded like little children in faith to what we thought we were hearing. Dare to start being a listener?  Ask Him to open your ears to hear.

4. Desperation Prayer

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 4 :  Prayer comes from Desperation

Acts  1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The motivation behind people praying is probably very varied. The nature of prayer itself is also open for consideration.  What takes place when people pray? I’m sure there are some people who pray out of superstitious fear and they therefore come as craven children to a monster God – if I don’t pray I’ll be in trouble with God. Some people, I am sure, pray by habit and it is merely a repetition of words. Whether people pray for things, or for change of circumstances, or whatever, and whether they pray in faith believing that their praying is going to have effect, is another whole area to ponder upon. I’m sure some people genuinely pray out of love for God and their words will be a demonstration of a loving monologue. Some pray with a listening ear and are more concerned to catch what God would say to them rather than what they would say to God.

Yes, these are all areas for fertile investigation but when it comes to the recorded prayers of the Bible, there is one characteristic that I note above all others – desperation! What we have in our verse from Acts above is, I suggest, a demonstration of this. Consider their circumstances. Jesus has just left them for once and for all and they are alone. He had spoken about them waiting in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit was sent from the Father, but beyond that he had not given them any instruction. For instance, he had not told them to pray.

I think we almost need to pray for revelation to truly catch something of the awfulness of their situation. Imagine you live in a world of bright and brilliant colours and then one day something happens to your eyes and everything appears as shades of grey. Imagine you have had wonderful hearing and had appreciated amazing music and even the sound of birds outside and then suddenly you catch an ear infection and everything now seems muffled and you have lost a large part of the range you could hear previously. Having walked with and watched Jesus ministering for three years, and then having him taken away from you – twice – must have been something like that. The LIFE of the world had been with you and now he is not!

But there is also your own life. You gave up everything to follow him. Your old life, the things you did three years ago are either just not there or they appear so unattractive in the light of the experiences you have had over these past three years, that going back to that life seems unimaginable. So what can the future hold? You haven’t a clue. The source and motivator of your life has gone so how will you know what to do and where to go? There is suddenly a massive void. Help! And so you pray,

I have often wondered if one sign of maturity is how fast you turn to pray when a crisis hits. It’s the obvious thing to do, the sensible thing to do, and Scripture confirms that. Let’s take just a few examples from the Old and the New Testaments (and there are plenty of others).

Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 is such an example: In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.” (v.10). Hannah was one of two wives of a man named Elkanah and the other wife was fertile and kept bearing children but Hannah appeared barren and the other wife kept making nasty comments about this. After a number of years of this, Hannah is desperate and we find her prayer there.

Another good illustration is Hezekiah when he is being threatened: “And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.” (2 Kings 19:15,16)  Lord, we’re in trouble and we need your help!  So many of David’s prayers in his psalms were like that!

In the New Testament the disciples coming back after a brush with the law, is another good example (Acts 4:24). Peter and John have just been threatened by the authorities and the new group of believers is under threat. They go home and they pray, and there is an element of desperation about this – Lord, please do something! Another such example is when Herod has just had James killed and Peter is next in line in prison and so we read, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5). You bet they were praying! It looked like Herod was about to work his way through all the top leaders!

So here’s a thought: if a crisis is a prime motivation to pray or, if you like, being strongly aware of a great need, should our starting point today, here in the West, be the prayer, “Lord, please open my eyes to see the state of your church and the state of this godless world that is under your judgment”? Perhaps sometimes we don’t pray because we don’t see the mess that our world is in and we don’t catch the Lord’s heart for it in these days. Thus that revelation would be the motivating force that would make us more of a praying people. A sharp awareness of our plight is a strong motivating force. The persecuted church know their plight and they pray. Do we need something like that to motivate us?  May that not have to be!