HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE GOD’S VOICE

“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4.

Have you ever felt God speaks more clearly to others than to you? Discerning God’s voice from all the other voices can be challenging in the noise of life. The good news is we can get better at recognizing God’s voice. One way to get better at understanding and recognizing God’s voice starts with understanding the role of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is God on earth. He is the very presence of God within us, the One through whom God communicates His will, guidance, and love.

Have you ever been in a dark room and able only to make out vague shapes and outlines. It doesn’t look like much until the lights come on and then you see a room of beautiful furniture, impeccably decorated walls, and priceless artwork. Without the lights you cannot truly enjoy or appreciate the beauty without light to illuminate it for you. God’s truth is like that room.  We know it is there, but understanding and applying it require the light to be turned on.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 tells us, “But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.”

In other words, man cannot fully understand God’s truth without the Holy Spirit.  We don’t have to be intimated by scripture because the Holy Spirit guides us through it and makes it clear to us.  We all want tidy, black-and-white answers and step-by-step guidelines to differentiate God’s voice. But there is no rulebook for recognizing the voice of God, is there?

“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:26). God can speak through other believers, His creation and His Word, and as our faith grows, He wants each of us to recognize the voice of His Spirit. God will show up in various ways to confirm that He is speaking to you.

God knows there will be times when we question His voice. The good news is that He keeps speaking in our uncertainty. Let’s take some time to get still and listen today. The more we do, the more we’ll recognize Him when He speaks.

Discussion Questions

  1. What assurance do you have from God’s Word that God intends us to hear His voice in very personal ways?
  2. What dangers might exist in seeking to hear God’s voice as described, and what safeguards are given so we won’t misread the voice of the Lord? 

LISTENING TO THE VOICE OF GOD

Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.” – Isaiah 55:3.

You were created to know God in a deep and personal way. He never intended for your relationship with Him to be distant, formal, or mechanical. He knows you. He has a plan for you that is beautiful, adventurous, and meaningful. God created you to be in fellowship with Him.

1 Corinthians 1.9 says, “God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The word “partnership” means to share life together. Jesus always lived in close, loving fellowship with His Father. He listened to His Father and obeyed Him completely. On one occasion, Jesus said, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing…” (John 5.20). Jesus had unbroken fellowship with His Father and He invites us into that fellowship.

Now, the basis for any fellowship is communication. God wants you to hear His voice and follow Him. You may be thinking, “Does God speak today?”  He has always spoken to His people. God spoke to Noah about how to build a boat. God spoke to Joshua and told him to march around Jericho. God spoke to David and gave plans for the temple. God spoke to Daniel with prophecies of the future.  God speaks, but are we listening, or better yet, do we know how to listen? The Bible tells us that we must listen and obey God’s voice. Consider the following verses: “I listen carefully to what God the LORD is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people” (Psalm 85.8). “And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3.10). “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 11.15). Hebrews 3:15 adds, “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.”  God speaks, the question is, “Are we listening?”

Learning how to hear God is an even greater challenge. Though there are some instances in Scripture when God speaks with an audible voice, God speaks in less direct ways most often. We struggle with listening to God, often questioning the reality of His presence when we don’t feel like we’re hearing from God. But hearing God isn’t always as hard as you may think.

Hearing God doesn’t have to be a confusing or difficult experience. We can make a lot of false assumptions about hearing God. Have these thoughts ever come to mind when trying to listen to God? While there are many methods to try to hear from God, it’s likely He’s been speaking to you this whole time. The key is to tune your ear to Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever heard God’s voice, or wished you could? In what ways do you think God speaks to us?
  2. Why might it be hard to hear God? Could it be because we don’t expect it, or because we have trouble distinguishing between our thoughts and what God might be trying to say?
  3. How can we practice listening to God? Do you have a regular time to listen to God, or do you do things that you or others have assigned you to do? How can you grow in your listening this week?

THE VALUE OF PATIENCE

“Our lives are to be characterized by patience, for it is important in developing the mature, stable character which God wants to produce in His people.” – Billy Graham.

We live in an impatient world created by a patient God. Webster’s dictionary defines patience as: “bearing pains for trials calmly or without complaint; not hasty or impetuous; steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity; able or willing to bear.” A cursory glance at the last days of Jesus’ life will give you the perfect picture of patience.

 A good example of patience in the Bible is the story of Abram and Sarai. It has been ten years since God promised Abram, “I will make you into a great nation…” (Gen 12:2). Abram is in his mid-eighties, and Sarai is in her mid-seventies—not exactly prime child-bearing years. Genesis chapter 16 begins with a simple statement that Sarai is barren and her patience is wearing thin. But we know how that ended.

God does things in His timing, for His purpose, and for His glory. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope”  (Jeremiah 29:11). Peter told his readers, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9).

God has a plan for each of us, fulfilled in His timing. However, our patience is often lacking as we wait for the story to unfold. Paul reminded his readers, “But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently” (Romans 8:25).

Patience is talked about in the Bible because God is patient with us. Because God is patient with us, we need to be patient with our fellow human beings. And that’s not always easy. Many people we must deal with—and sometimes even live with—can be obstinate, frustrating, selfish, inconsiderate, and absolutely impossible to please. They say and do the wrong things at the wrong time. Sometimes, they unnerve us. Other people may see us in the same light.

Patience often flows from understanding. We are too quick to judge, and we are too prone to treat our fellows harshly. They, too, have troubles—bills to pay, sick children, spouses to please, bosses to impress, and headaches to bear. But let’s try to remember that God is patient and long-suffering. And we need to give one another a break.

As we mature in our Christian faith and learn to trust more and more that God is in charge of this world and our lives, we see that patience is the fruit that grows as a natural result of our relationship with God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does to mean to be intentional when it comes to patience?
  2. To what extent are you patient with yourself? How might you practice patience with you as Jesus’ does?
  3. Why is margin so important when it comes to patience?

FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

“We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” – 1 John 1:3.

It’s mind-boggling and overwhelming to think that God participates in our lives. Fellowship with Christ means that not only do we participate in Christ’s life, but Christ participates in ours, too.

When we see the word “fellowship” in the Bible, it’s not only the idea of relationship. The word relationship means the state of being connected. So, even though we are connected to Christ, we’re invited into something more profound: fellowship. We want to know and to be known. And the best place to get that desire filled is, first and foremost, in Christ.

The salvation of Jesus brings us into a relationship with Him. But fellowship with God is an invitation to intimacy with Him. It’s our continued connection with Him and our means of spending time with Him. When Jesus walked the earth, He referred to God as Father. While it shocked the “religious” people, it opened up the door to relationships, which is what Jesus is all about. He pulled them out of religion and into relationships. He participated in their lives and let them participate in His.

Not only are we in a relationship with Him, but we get to have fellowship with Him, where we walk in the light, as He is in the light: “So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin”  (1 John 1:6–7).

This is the avenue, or the means, by which we become more like Him and see His life in ours. When we fellowship with Jesus, we become more like Him and reflect Him. We share our life with Him, and He shares His life with us. In other words, experiencing Christ and letting Him experience us. That’s why Paul said, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Our starting point is in God’s word, the Bible. It is all we need for fellowship with Him. If we want to experience deeper fellowship with God, we must know what it says so that we can submit to His will and obey His commands.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your current level of fellowship and closeness with God? 
  2. How can you deepen your fellowship with God?

FOR GOD AND COUNTRY

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of indepedence, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” – John Adams.

Happy Fourth of July. This weekend, Americans from sea to shining sea will gather family, friends, and neighbors to celebrate their liberty with cookouts and local festivities. Fireworks will be painted overhead on a canvas of clear night sky. This favorite day of summer allows people from all backgrounds to celebrate the precious freedoms and opportunities we enjoy in this country.

And while it’s important to be with family and friends on this day, it’s also good to reflect on why we’re celebrating. Our early forebears left England for the unfamiliar shores of America mainly because they were unhappy under the tyranny of religious persecution. Since those dawning years of our country, many others have migrated for the same reason. They gave up everything for the right to freely worship God here.

It is important to remember that our American liberty is a blessing from God. Because of our freedom, we can express our faith and boldly share it with others. It is important to recognize that in many other parts of the world, this is not the case. The cost of following Christ is much greater for our brothers and sisters across the globe.

We should not lose sight of why we celebrate Independence Day. Take time to reflect on the ways God has blessed you in your life. As you spend this day with family and friends, celebrate the blessing of freedom given to us by Christ. This is something we should never take for granted; we should never stop thanking God for establishing this country with such freedoms.

This July 4th, as we celebrate fireworks and wave flags, may we also pause to reflect on our nation’s heritage. As the festivities end and the last trails of smoke glide across the summer night sky, take a moment to thank God for all our freedom allows solemnly.

May God help us to begin today, this 247th celebration of our independence.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How will a “blessed” nation look if it honors God?
  2. How does this play out in your home, job/school, and community?
  3. Pray for our nation and the nations around the world.

THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” –  Revelation 7:16-17 (NIV).

“The Dog Days of Summer” is an expression one often hears in baseball. The phrase comes from the very challenging days of playing baseball in the heat of the summer. Not only are players contending with the heat, but they are also contending with the length of the baseball season. Added to this is the sad reality that some teams recognize that their championship hopes have been shattered. Championships are won or lost in these “dog days of summer.”

The Christian can experience the spiritual “dog days of summer.” We experience dog days not just in the summer season but also during difficult seasons of our lives. These times may be miserable days, weeks, months, or even years. Someone going through cancer treatments may not have a single day they feel good for several months. Someone working two jobs to put themselves through college may be exhausted and stressed for four or more years. Dog days of life may center around any number of circumstances.

The good news is the dog days will not last forever. Regarding the summer heat, we are comforted that cooler fall weather is coming even in Florida. Likewise, in life, the dog days do not last. The Scriptures tell us that though the sorrows may last for the night, joy comes in the morning: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalms 30:5). Even if our dog days last into the fall or next year we know they are not forever.  One day, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4). And there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).

It is also important to remember that we do not have to go through our dog days alone. We have help for the journey. Jesus has promised, “He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Further, we know God’s grace is all we need, and His power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). We are not alone in our dog days, but instead, we have countless promises from God that He is with us in the midst of them.

 Lastly, we need to remember that nothing is wasted. The Scriptures tell us the afflictions of our dog days are not in vain: “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:17). God will use our dog days for good in our lives as we trust Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you experienced spiritual dog days in your life?
  2. What did you do about them?

AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT RACISM?

“Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:26-27.

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law a sweeping civil rights bill passed by Congress. This act outlawed segregation in businesses such as theaters, restaurants, and hotels, discriminatory employment practices, and segregation in public places such as swimming pools, libraries, and public schools. But 60 years later, race and racism remain a hot topic.

As Christians, we believe this is a gospel issue. It is not just a social issue. Or a political or economic issue. This is an important issue for the church and all of us who are followers of Jesus. The Bible condemns all forms of racism and teaches that every human being is created with equal dignity and God-given worth.

If we take a few seconds to remember that every person was conceived by God before they were conceived by your parents. They were loved by God before they were known on earth. And every person is made in God’s image.

Genesis tells us that all people have been created in God’s image. When we say everyone is made in God’s image, everyone has great value, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. This belief, which is central to Christianity, helps us understand that every person has value regardless of ethnicity, nationality, creed, sexual orientation, or outward appearance.

People have been searching for the antidote to racism for years. The antidote is to love as Jesus does. You can’t love someone like Jesus does and harbor racism and prejudice in your heart toward another person. Jesus gets very specific about this in John 15:12: “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” Jesus loves every person unconditionally, freely, completely, and continually.

If God created every ethnicity, died for every ethnicity, and brought every ethnicity into His everlasting kingdom, then we need to get in line with God’s view of every ethnicity. We share the same beginning, the same problem of sin, the same solution at the cross of Christ, the same destiny of heaven if we are children of God. We have a whole lot more in common than sets us apart. The things that unite us are bigger and better than those that make us different.

Revelation 7:9-10 adds, ”After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be created in the “image of God”?
  2. Do you find it difficult and/or scary to enter into the conversation about diversity and racial issues? If so why or why not?
  3. What kind of conversations do you think that Christians need to have that will lead to real change?

IT’S ALL ABOUT TRUST

“In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.”So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” – Galatians 3: 6-9

We are always told to have faith and to trust God. In certain situations, that is easier said than done. We sometimes think things will be easier if we take it into our own hands. Nobody ever said having faith would be easy. Whenever trusting God doesn’t seem all that easy, remember Abraham. We can learn much by observing Abraham’s life through the scriptures. The apostle Paul in Romans chapter 4 refers to Abraham several times as the father of faith. Abraham models a life lived to those who choose to walk by faith in God.

When told to go, he went. When promised, he believed. When commanded, he obeyed—even when it seemed to make no sense. He was given one of the greatest tests recorded in the Bible, yet he obeyed willingly and promptly. Abraham’s faith wasn’t because of his intellect, accomplishments, pedigree, or wealth. Abraham was “a friend of God “ (James 2:23) because of his faith. Abraham believed in and trusted God completely.

Fast forward 2,000 years. Trust can still seem like hoping against hope. Trust is rarely a suggestion. When someone says “trust me”, it is usually implied that you throw yourself into a situation and believe wholeheartedly that the situation will come to pass as they promise. In times of trouble, in out-of-my-control circumstances, and the I-don’t-get-it days, we will look to something or someone to trust.

Proverbs 3:5 gives us a direction for trust: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” Trust is action is putting yourself in God’s hands as  Abraham did,

Why should we trust God completely? Because He is trustworthy. He is worthy of trust because trust requires a track record. You wouldn’t trust someone at their word if they had lied to you consistently in the past. But God’s track record is perfect. This does not mean it is perfectly understood, but it means His love, power, grace, and compassion are promised clearly in scripture and can be experienced in our lives.

Abraham is a living example of faith and hope in the promises of God (Hebrews 11:10). We need to do what Abraham did. We need to believe that God can do the impossible and that nothing is too hard for God. We need to believe in God’s power and promises without wavering.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If there are areas of your life where God is not “coming through” the way you would like, how can you learn to trust God in those situations?
  2. What can you do this week to realign your actions to reflect trust in God?
  3. Think of someone in your life that you see as an example for trusting God – what do they do really well that you can learn from?

WHAT IS GOD BUILDING IN NORTHWEST FLORIDA?

“Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:20-22

It is common for Paul to use multiple metaphors to make a point. In Ephesians 2, he describes the church as a kingdom, family, and building. In the building metaphor, Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. But what is God building in Northwest Florida and around the world?

There are many shows where people come in and completely transform a house or apartment from plain to beautiful. God is also in the construction business. His building skills, however, are beyond our wildest imagination.

God’s construction project is the church – not just physical buildings, but the fellowship of all people who believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the chief cornerstone, which determines the other stones’ position in a structure. Without Him, it loses its reason for being. The question is, why did God decide to put so much effort into building it? Did God build His church to give us a place to meet each Sunday? Did He build His church to help the less fortunate in our communities? Or did He build it so believers can encourage each other in their faith?   

The church’s purpose is to be the believer’s spiritual family. Through the church, God takes people with different personalities and gifts, unites them as a single body, and equips them to care for each other and reach the world. We were not meant to live the Christian life alone; surrounded by the church’s biblical teaching and loving community, we find our own purpose in life.

Acts 2:42 explains the internal function of the church: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.  Yes, the church has often failed in this mission, but God knew this would happen when He started the construction project. After all, he’s dealing with imperfect people. Nonetheless, He loves us. He wants to build His church family. For this to happen, He uses His church body to show the world who He is.

All we want for people on the Emerald Coast and the world is for them to encounter Jesus—really encounter Him. We want them to see the living God—how loving, kind, active, and present He is in our lives because we believe everybody needs and should hear about the transforming love of Jesus.

Discussion Question:

  1. How do you answer the question, what is church?
  2. What do you like about the church? What do you dislike?
  3. What can we do this week to build the church? 

THE JUNK DRAWER OF MY LIFE

Is Jesus your all in all or is He just a compartment in your life?” – unknown.

Every house has a junk drawer. That one drawer, often the kitchen, is the designated place for unrelated stuff that has no home. This drawer is not organized. When looking for a miscellaneous item, mom or dad can often be heard asking, “Did you look in the junk drawer?”

It is easy to live a functionally compartmentalized life. We try to divide our lives neatly into two drawers: real life and spiritual life. The real-life drawer is the one that holds a lot of the stuff of everyday life, like a job, physical health, friends and family, leisure, money, possessions, and daily routine. This drawer is where we expend most of our emotional and physical energy, and where most dreams will be realized or dashed. The contents of this drawer are the location of our highs and lows, our joys and sorrows.

Then, they have a second drawer—the spiritual life drawer. All the “God” stuff goes here. It’s the drawer for Sunday worship, small groups, tithes and offerings, short-term mission trips, and spiritual conversations with neighbors or extended family members.

The Bible tells us there is only one drawer. God has a radical, single-drawer purpose for your life. The best word for that purpose is ambassador. A U.S. ambassador is the President’s highest-ranking representative to a country or international organization abroad. The ambassador leads the diplomats and staff serving at a U.S. embassy or mission. Ambassadors are not always popular because what their country is doing or has not done is not liked in the home country. But an ambassador is not to be judged on how “popular” he or she may be but on how faithfully they represent the message of the leader who sent them. That is what an ambassador does. They are to represent their leader and convey his messages to the citizens of the country in which they temporarily serve.

So 2 Corinthians 5:20 says a lot of things to us as Christians: “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” Like an ambassador, we live in this place temporarily, and we will be judged not on how popular or successful we are here in this world, but by how faithfully we represent our King while we are here. The only thing an ambassador does is represent the ruler who sent them—every day, all the time, in everything you do.

Therefore, our purpose in life is to make the invisible presence of Jesus visible in the lives of others.  You are the look on Christ’s face. You are the tone of His voice. You are the touch of His hands. You are the physical representative of His grace.

This is your mission in every situation, location, and relationship of your life—to make the grace of the invisible King visible. This is our one drawer.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Many people are tempted to compartmentalize their faith rather than allow God to influence every aspect of their lives. What are some of the reasons for this? 
  2. How have you experienced the benefits of a single-minded focus on God?
  3. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to occupy all the compartments in your life.