“Hey Dan, I just thought you should know that there’s a homeless man out on the corner by the church’s entrance…”
This is not the way one wants a conversation to start.
Recently, a member of our congregation named Jessica greeted me with that piece of information on a Sunday morning in the corridor. Though it was upsetting, I immediately knew what I had to do.
The subject of hearing from God is frustrating to many people, and I’ll include myself in that category. If God would just make His intentions and His plan clear, it would be a lot easier to make decisions that align with His plan and avoid the messy outcomes when we veer off the path He’s planned for us.
When I look at the Bible, I’m extremely envious of the personal relationship people like Moses and Abraham got to experience with God. They communed with Him and heard His voice. When they encountered life-altering decisions, they had a hotline to the Creator of the universe.
At the risk of dating myself, do you remember the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? One of the lifelines contestants were given was the ability to phone a friend and ask them to help with a question they couldn’t solve — imagine being able to do that with God!
That direct line of communication seemingly doesn’t exist today, and we often feel like we are going it alone. God exclaims His love for humanity 310 times in the Bible… so why — especially when we need Him most — does it often feel like God is silent?
Why — especially when we need Him most — does it often feel like God is silent?
I’ve got news for you: He’s not. God is constantly communicating with us. We simply must be receptive to His message. Allow me to use this story as an example.
As soon as I was told about the man outside, my brain flipped to “flight mode.” My first instinct was to pass this guy off to someone else. Talking with strangers is intimidating enough in the first place, and this conversation had the potential to become very awkward. I was way outside my comfort zone. I kept thinking things like:
Where was the nearest pastor? Could our Administrative Assistant go talk to this gentleman?
It wasn’t an audible voice, (or even something I heard in my head), but I knew immediately in a way that I can’t explain that this was my responsibility. As much as I didn’t want this assignment, I knew what the right answer was: I was the one that needed to talk with this man.
Moving toward the doors, Jessica helpfully offered, “Why don’t you take him a cookie?” King of Kings was providing free cookies to celebrate Pastor Leroy’s retirement that week.
Perfect. At least I could enter the conversation with a sugary olive branch.
Chocolate chip confection in hand, I started down the hill. While I expected my anxiety to rise with each step, internal confidence started to swell inside me. I’ve got this, I thought. This man needs someone positive in his life; for one moment at least, that could be me.
The interaction couldn’t have been more of a blessing.
I got to meet Brian, who was gregarious and grateful. He’s lived a hard life and is currently in a rough situation, but in our brief conversation, I could tell he was taking steps to improve. He’d been to King of Kings previously and wanted to come again in the future. Though he declined my invitation to come into the church and enjoy a hot meal, he gladly accepted the cookie — turns out chocolate chip is his favorite — and only asked one thing:
“Will you pray for me?”
Rarely have I felt closer to God than when I laid my hand on Brian’s shoulder and began praying over him. I don’t remember what I said, because the words weren’t my own. The Holy Spirit took the wheel. After we said amen, Brian thanked me, packed up his things, and left.
So, what does this story have to do with hearing God?
God guided me through this entire interaction in ways I didn’t recognize at the time, but, in retrospect, seem obvious.
Look back at the little markers.
Jessica suggested giving him a cookie, which ended up being the perfect entry point to the conversation. And after a few minutes of chatting, Brian told me what he truly needed: prayer.
Through these two people, God told me exactly what I was supposed to do. He didn’t need a mystical voice from the heavens or writing in the clouds; He spoke through the people around me to consistently point me in the right direction.
He spoke through the people around me to consistently point me in the right direction.
More importantly, that gut feeling telling me to go outside was no intuition… that was the Holy Spirit speaking to me.
If it had been up to me, I never would’ve walked out those doors. My brain tried to tell me this was a job for someone else more capable or experienced in handling situations like this.
God had other plans for me. No matter what my brain told me, and no matter how uncomfortable I was, God was calling me to talk with this man.
I can only imagine the apostles had a similar feeling when Jesus spoke to them right before His arrest.
God had other plans for me.
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer,” Jesus said in John 14:33. “Where I am going, you cannot come.”
Can you imagine how terrifying that sentence was to the apostles? Jesus wasn’t just their teacher; He was their life. They’d given up everything — jobs, families, reputations — to follow Him and His teaching, and now He was going away? Where was He going and what were they supposed to do?
However, Jesus wasn’t done.
“Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7)
John 16:3-14 continued, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you.”
It seems unthinkable that there could be anything better for one’s faith life than to physically be with Jesus. As both God and man, He held every answer and was a wise and loving, if at times stern, teacher. How could it be possible that it would be good for Him to go away?
That’s how powerful the Holy Spirit is. As a man, Jesus was confined to being in one physical location at one time. When the disciples dispersed all over the region, Jesus would have only been able to be present with a few of them at a time. These days, He would be even more limited, as there are billions of Christians spread all over the world. Jesus can’t be with us all if He is in His human form. Instead, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit lives inside each of us, guiding us and directing us in the way we should go. Sometimes, it seems the Spirit doesn’t speak as loudly as we’d like it to, but that often means we’re just not listening.
The Holy Spirit lives inside each of us, guiding us and directing us in the way we should go.
How does one listen? It takes a much smarter person than me to answer that question. However, I hope my story above shows, I believe there are times you can just know what to do through God, even if you aren’t listening. It might not be an easy, convenient, or even logical path, but, more often than not, I’ve found that when I listen to that inkling in my gut, it tends to be right.
I don’t know if Brian will ever come inside King of Kings again. I don’t know if our brief interaction will have any kind of lasting impact on his life. What I do know is that God spoke to me, I listened, and I believe we were both blessed by the experience.
Much as I wish that God employed a heavenly megaphone or would send wisdom-filled text messages, (“Do not eat that gas station sushi, Dan!”), He doesn’t work that way. He’s actually given us something far better: the Holy Spirit. And when we’re in tune with our prayer life and fill ourselves with Scripture, the Holy Spirit is the best possible form of communication.