Listening to God

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face,
as a man speaks with a friend.   
–Exodus 33:11a

The title of this meditation is “listening to God.” It may lead you to ask, “How can a person listen to God?” There are no stone tablets falling down from heaven instructing us as to what God’s will is or what the Spirit wants us to do in a particular case. Even when we do go to our private place, shut the door, and talk to God, there is no still, small, audible voice from God speaking to us. Yet, God does speak to us. He speaks very clearly and very openly if only we would take the time to listen. God’s main speech to us occurs through the written word, the Bible.

Whenever I read through Exodus and come across the words of Exodus 33:11, I can’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God would still talk to us face to face the way He did with Moses?” or, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to hear the conversations Moses had with God?” But in fact it’s not impossible. It is possible for us to hear the conversations God had with Moses because Moses recorded them for us. In a very real sense God is talking to us in the same way He spoke to Moses through the Bible.

Many people try to read the Bible and get turned off by it. That often happens when we are reading a book that doesn’t make a lot of sense to us—a book that is not easy to understand, like Numbers or Leviticus. When we do not understand the context in which they are written, it can be very hard for us to hear God speak to us through them.

Several years ago I met a man in a restaurant. We got talking about the Bible, and he told me that he thought the Book of Revelation was written by John at a time when John was on drugs. He said, “Just read it. That’s the only way it makes sense. He was on some hallucinatory drug.”

Now it may shock you to hear someone say that, and yet how many times have you read Revelation without understanding any of it? That way of thinking can happen very easily when a person who is not familiar with the Bible opens it up at random and begins to read. A person who does that will likely stumble upon a passage that makes no sense to him.

Often when people receive their first Bible they try to read it from beginning to end—from Genesis to Revelation—and they usually get stuck somewhere in the third book. They may force themselves to get through Leviticus and then they think, “Whew! That was hard reading, but now I can at last get back to some adventures like those of Abraham, or Joseph, or Moses,” only to find themselves reading Numbers, and then they just can’t go any farther. They quit reading the Bible altogether.


How to Begin

Although it is true that the Bible is God’s speech to us, it is also true that the Bible becomes meaningful only when we use it properly. If you were to overhear bits and pieces of a conversation and had no idea how the conversation began, the conversation would most likely confuse you. So too, the man I met in the restaurant began to read the Bible in the wrong place and, because he didn’t know what the Bible was all about, the Book of Revelation made no sense to him. He had just picked up the Bible and plunged in. I suspect that if he had been a person of prayer and asked God to guide him as he read the book of Revelation, he would have sensed some of God’s sovereignty and Christ’s majesty in that book. He would have gotten something out of Revelation even though it is a difficult book with which he was unfamiliar.

Reading the Bible is different from reading any other book. It is different because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. He is the author. When He comes into the lives of believers, convincing them of their sin, pointing them to Jesus the Savior, He also enables them to understand what God is telling them in the Bible. It is only natural, then, that when you as a believer read your Bible, you would ask God to help you understand it.

Pray before you read your Bible; pray as you read your Bible, asking God to speak to you as you read.

Where to Begin

Obviously the best place to begin reading the Bible, as with any good book, is at the very beginning. Actually, you should read the first three chapters of Genesis. There you will read how God created heaven and earth and all that is in it. You will read how God made the first human beings, Adam and Eve, and treated in a very special way. He put them in a beautiful garden. And you will also read about the wonderful way in which God communicated with Adam and Eve.

Then, in Chapter 3, you will read about how Adam and Eve rejected God and fell into sin. You will also read about how God came to them with a promise to save them from their own destructive nature. That promise is what the rest of the Bible is all about. That is really the key that unlocks the entire Book.

The first three chapters of Genesis set the stage for the rest of the Bible. If you don’t understand them—if you want to declare them as non-historic—then the rest of the Bible will never make any sense to you whatsoever. It will just become a nice collection of stories, poetry, and dreams.

Everything else after Genesis 3 tells us to what length God went to restore His creation and to restore mankind to Himself. That is really the point of the whole Bible—even Leviticus and Numbers. They are placed in the Bible to point you to Jesus the Christ.

That man in the restaurant couldn’t make sense of Revelation because he had never come to terms with Jesus of Nazareth. He did not know Jesus as the risen Lord, the second Person of the Trinity; the One who has been given all authority over heaven and earth. After talking to him for a while it was evident to me that he really didn’t want to hear anything about the humiliation of Jesus and how God’s Son came into this world to save sinners from their sin. Certainly then he wouldn’t be able to understand anything about the exalted Jesus.

But it’s not just him. There are many Christians who faithfully read the Bible but do not see Jesus in every passage. Unfortunately, for them, too, the Bible has become a nice collection of stories, poetry, and dreams. They miss the whole point of what it is that they are reading. They miss the whole point of why the Holy Spirit led the early church to include these sixty-six books and no more in the Bible.
So, I would suggest to you that, instead of reading the whole Bible through this time, after you are done with the first three chapters of Genesis you should read one of the Gospels. Read either Mark or John. If you begin with John, read Mark right after it. If you begin with Mark, read John right afterwards. One will tell you of the importance of the earthly mission of Jesus of Nazareth; the other represents the important events in the heavenly mission of God the Son who came to save us from our sin.

After that, I would suggest you read the Psalms. Because many of the Psalms are prayers, they will be very effective in helping you in your prayer life. As you read them you will discover that some of the people who prayed to God knew they were sinful and trusted God to supply the means of forgiveness. They knew God was merciful, gracious, and compassionate. And as you get to the end of each Psalm you will notice that God heard every single person and answered every single request.

Where to Go

For the Bible to be effective in our private prayer life, however, we must make use of it in our public life, as well. We need each other if God’s speech is going to be understood clearly. That is one way that the church can be helpful.

First of all, the church helps us to interpret and understand the Word of God by setting a pattern for us and instructing us as to how we are to interpret the Bible. We need to make use of Bible studies, societies, Sunday school and catechism, young adults and young people groups, and all the other avenues the church supplies for studying God’s Word.

We need the church to help set our hearts ablaze with joy because of the good news that is found in the Bible. That is why we delight in faithful preaching of the Word. It is uplifting. It is inspiring when one of God’s servants takes God’s Word and turns the spotlight on it so that we can understand it more fully. Words have new meaning. They come alive and fill us with comfort, peace, and joy.

As you read your Bible you can know that God does hear you and that God does answer you. More than that, as you listen to the voice of God you will be united to Him in true faith. Christ will become the center of your life. You will feel yourself lifted up into the very presence of God by the power of the Holy Spirit within you. God will speak to you in the same way that He spoke to Moses—as a friend.

Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the co-pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and the editor
of The Outlook.

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