Doug Batchelor - Hearing the Voice of God
One of the greatest male voices, not talking about singers, that might be Caruso, but one of the greatest male voices according to history was a preacher by the name of George Whitfield. George Whitfield was a friend of the Wesleys. Early in life, he had such an incredible voice he went to the theater and he studied acting. And back then, they had no PA system, you would project from the stage. And he learned to take what was already an incredible voice and project from the stage, and then he was converted and God put that to good use. He was kicked out of the churches of England for preaching the conservative Puritan message and so he began to do open-air evangelism and preaching, preaching thousands of sermons over the course of his comparatively short life. But he made history in that they say that probably more people could hear him without any artificial amplification than any other human.
He was called The Trumpet of the Lord because God gave him this incredible set of pipes. Benjamin Franklin even comments about George Whitfield in his autobiography, they became good friends. Whitfield worked for years to try to convert Franklin but they were good friends and Franklin printed many of his tracks. And Franklin, being a scientist, he had heard that 25,000 people were listening. Can you imagine me trying to preach to 25,000 people? I need a PA system and we've got, you know, 500 here. 25,000 people.
And so what Franklin did is, Whitfield was preaching from the steps of the Philadelphia Courthouse, and he began to pace-off distance. He was right up at the front and he paced-off and he got nearly half a mile away and he could still hear him distinctly until it was interrupted by other background sounds on the street. And then Franklin, being a scientist, he figured how many square feet each person takes up, how many people could theoretically hear him gathered in a semi-circle and he said 30,000 people could be gathered to hear him. One man, Trumpet of the Lord.
Now, not only was he a preacher with a loud voice, he was a powerful preacher. Franklin used to wonder why people would go to hear him preach, because they said when they'd hear Whitfield preach he would talk to them about their sins and it was so convicting and he was so, sometimes powerful in proclaiming their sins. He thought, "Why would anyone go?" But they came because they knew it was true. And he goes through a town and all the saloons would close. Franklin comments, he says, "After Whitfield went through a community preaching," he says, "Where before you'd hear cursing," he said, "You would hear people gathered on the streets singing Psalms."
This one man had heard about Whitfield and he wanted to hear him preach but he didn't want to give up his drinking, but he was very curious to see the man that had such a powerful voice. And a friend said, "Look, you better not listen to him because if you listen to him you'll be converted." He says, "No, I won't be converted," he said, "I'm not about to give up drinking." He said, "I don't even want to risk it," he said, "I'm going to go plug my ears." Well, when he came to the place where Whitfield was about to start speaking it was so crowded he couldn't get anywhere near. So, like Zacchaeus, he found a tree and he climbed a tree. And up in the tree he saw Whitfield was getting ready to go on this wooden platform and start preaching quite a ways in the distance. He thought, "Look, I don't want to get converted," so he wrapped his legs around the branch of the tree and he leaned against the trunk and he plugged his ears, and Whitfield commenced preaching.
Well, back then, they came to listen riding horses and so there are a lot of horse flies, and horse flies bite. And this man saw a horsefly was buzzing around his face getting ready to land and the horse fly landed on his nose. So he pulls his fingers out of his ears to swat a horse fly, and right when he did that was at the very moment when George Whitfield said, "He that has ears, let him hear what the Spirit saith," and he was so convicted, he figured he'd better keep listening and he was ultimately converted.
Now, most of us don't have problems talking and a lot of us talk much more than we should. The Bible doesn't say, "He who has a mouth, let him speak." It says, "He that has ears, let him hear." In fact, seven times in Revelation, Jesus makes that statement word-for-word, "He that has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says." "He that has ears, let him hear."
You know, people talk about the gift of tongues but a lot of us need the gift of hearing, because sometimes we struggle to hear what God is saying to us. Now, when I talk about hearing the voice of God, I am not talking about hearing God speak audibly; God has done that a few times in the history. We read about that in Deuteronomy, where God spoke in giving the 10 Commandments. You can read in Deuteronomy 4:33, "Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live?" Happened a few times in the Old Testament, where God spoke audibly to people like Moses and Abraham and Jacob, there are others, Samuel.
In the New Testament, it tells about from the baptism of Jesus, "A voice came from heaven, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,'" and people heard that. John 12, verse 28, "Jesus prayed, 'Father, glorify Your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, saying, 'I have both glorified it and I will glorify it again.' Therefore the people who were standing by" said they thought they heard thunder. "Others said, 'An angel has spoken to Him.' Jesus said, 'This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake,'" that they might believe. Then Jesus took Peter, James and John up on the mountain, and after they saw the vision of Moses and Elijah, it says then there was a voice from Heaven and God said, "This is My beloved Son, hear Him."
Now here's my question for you. Why would God say, "Hear Him," if it was not possible to hear Him? Is it possible to hear the voice of God? Problem is we're not very good listeners most of the time. Jesus said, Matthew 13, verse 14, "In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, 'Hearing you will hear and not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of these people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, their eyes of closed, Lest they should see with their eyes in here with their ears, and they should understand with their hearts.'"
So what's the hearing that God wants from us? It's a hearing where we understand in our hearts. "So that I should heal them," heal them from our sin. So how do we know if we're hearing the voice of God? I thought I might even ask for a show of hands but I changed my mind because it frightened me. I was going to ask if anyone here feels they have audibly heard the voice of God. You don't have to raise your hands. I meet people every now and then that think that they heard the voice of God and you've probably met people that they live in a very spiritual state and they say, "God told me this today and God told me that," and usually they mean God spoke to their hearts or impressions or their spirits somehow. But some folks just are really walking in the spirit because I know people will say, "God told me to buy this kind of toothpaste," and, "I was driving and God said this is where He wanted me to park," and, "God told me to buy this dress." And you've met people like that, right? You know what I'm talking about?
That's okay, some people are just very sensitive to the Spirit. And I know when I was a baby Christian I was listening for the voice of God in everything because I realized God was everywhere. So I was talking to Him all the time and I was looking for indications and impressions and guidance on things that, you know, later, you mature and you realize, "God just wants me to use good judgment." I mean, you know, I was asking God, just, "Should I buy the white corn chips or the yellow, Lord? Which one is it? Your perfect will, I want to be in your perfect will." And then, you know, God says, "Which one do you like? I don't know." But and so some people, they're always saying God told me this and God told me that.
And so how do you know the voice of God? And I looked at some of the different things and there probably a dozen different keys that we could look at about how do you know when you're hearing the voice of God or how do you identify the voice of God. Well, I'm going to give you four and you may want to write some of these down, they won't be on the screen.
Number one, "Is what I'm hearing in line with Scripture?" Does the voice that you're hearing, the impression you're receiving, does it line up with Scripture? Romans 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." We measure what the voices are telling us by, "Is this matching up with what the Word of God says?" Psalm 25, verse 5, "Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day." We're listening for what the Word of the Lord says. Deuteronomy 13, verse 1, "If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass," it does come to pass, "Of which he spoke," but then he says, "Let's go serve other gods," well, that's not a true prophet.
So if you're hearing a voice and it's saying, "You know, you don't really need to pay your taxes," but the Scripture says, "Obey the laws of the land," you want to believe that's the Voice of God that says, "Don't pay your taxes," but it's probably not, because the Bible says that we ought to do everything that is decent and we ought to live lives of integrity.
Or, if you think there's a voice that's saying, "My spouse is evil, God wants me to find a new one," and the Bible tells us that, "What God has joined together let not man put asunder," that may not be the Holy Spirit or God's voice that's talking to you. And if you think you're hearing a voice and it's saying, "I could probably buy this and not tell my spouse," well, that's not honest and it's probably not the Holy Spirit telling you that. The Bible says in Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony!" that means the law and the prophets, the Word of God. "If it speaks not according to this Word, it is because," what? "There's no light in them." So right away, you can eliminate a lot of false voices out there by just saying, "Is what the voice is saying measuring with the Word of God?"
But frankly, a lot of things that we need to know about you're not going to find word-for-word in the Bible, so what are some other ways you can know if God is speaking to you. Second point, and this may be one of the most important, if you really want to hear the voice of God, Bible says, "He that has ears, let him hear."
How many of you want to hear the voice of God? Are you like that guy in the branch trying to plug your ears and still listen? "You know, I want to come to church, but God, don't speak to me." Are you like the Israelites, saying, "Moses, you talk to us, but don't let God talk to us, it's too much." But don't we want to be led of the Lord? Don't you want to hear Jesus speaking to you? Alright, one of the most important criteria if you want to hear the voice of the Lord: Are you willing to do what the voice says?
Do you remember we read a verse a moment ago and it said some people thought they heard thunder. Others said, "No, it was a voice from heaven." And others, the Apostles heard what the voice said, that it was, "This is My Son. I have glorified your name and I will glorify it," they understood what was said. Why did some understand and some not understand? I think it's because God had those understand who were willing to listen, who are willing to follow Jesus. You know, we're accountable for all that we know, God knows that, and if you don't have a heart that's willing to do God's will, He's not going to make you understand more than you need to know. The Bible says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," not just because they don't know but, "Because you have rejected knowledge."
So, do you want to hear what God is going to say? What if He's going to point out some sin in your life, do you still want to hear Him? Another very important criteria for understanding, something very important to understand God's will; is what the voice you're hearing, the guidance, is it supported by Christian counsel? In other words, it's not that God just speaks through His Word, God speaks through other people. I'm hoping that's true or what are we doing right now listening to me? Like I said, if you're just listening to me, that's dangerous.
We hope that God will speak through Christian counsel. Let me give you some verses on that. Proverbs 11:14, "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety." It's not just any counselor, you want good counselors. I'm always amazed in the Bible of the story of Rehoboam, when he had to make a tough decision that was going to keep the kingdom together he had the choice of getting Solomon's counselors or his friends. I mean, who would say no to Solomon's counselors? This was the wisest man who ever lived. If he picks a counselor, he's got to be like top-tier, right? That's the A-team. And young Rehoboam, he said, "No, they're old fuddy-duddies, you know, they're stuck in the mud, they're too conservative. I'm going to get my buddies to tells me what to do." And they gave them some advice and he lost half the kingdom, the kingdom was split from that time on for 200 years after that because he listened to the wrong counselors.
So when you're getting counselors, it's not any counselors, there's plenty of counselors out there, you want counselors with integrity, Christian counselors. God speaks through people. Ephesians 3:10, "To the intent that now the manifold," manifold is like on your car you've got an intake and an exhaust manifold, it's got many different ports, "The multiplied wisdom of God might be made known by the church." Within the church, God has some are prophets, some are evangelists, some are pastors, some are teachers, there are elders, there are leaders, there are people you can go to who have some age and experience and they will teach you, they'll give you advice, they'll counsel. That through them might, "The manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church."
Acts 9:6, you remember when Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus. It says, "Trembling and astonished, he said, 'Lord, what do You want me to do?' And the Lord said, 'Arise, go to the city, and it will be told what you must do.'" Well, Lord, aren't you going to tell me? No, I'm going to tell you through a person, his name is Ananias; God uses people to talk to people. Acts 10:4-6, "And when he observed him, he was afraid," this is when Cornelius sees the angel, "And said, 'What is it, Lord?'" He said, "Your prayers and your alms have come up as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, to the house of Simon whose name is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, who is in the house by the sea. He will come and he will tell you what you must do." I want you to go get this man to tell you what to do, Spirit-led man; God speaks to people through people that are connected with God. That's why it's so important we're connected because other people may need our guidance.
Now, when we're asking about listening to the voice of God, this is a very important subject because it's through listening to the voice of God we have opportunities to reach others. Have you ever had the voice of the Lord tell you to say something to somebody and maybe you are afraid? I wish I could tell you, "I've always listened to the voice of God."
You read stories like Philip and the Ethiopian. The Spirit of the Lord said to Philip, "Arise and go down to Gaza." He doesn't know why, he said, "That's where the Spirit's telling me to go, I'm not sure why." He figured there was someone or somewhere to preach so he goes, and when he goes he's standing on the road and this entourage is going by, it's an official going down to Ethiopia, having come from worship in the temple. And there's this chief treasurer for Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia, and he's riding along in his chariot and he's reading out loud from Isaiah chapter 61, he's reading the prophecy, or I'm sorry, it's Isaiah chapter 53, reading prophecy about Christ. And Philip knows this is an opportunity and the Holy Spirit says, "Draw near to the chariot." He hears a voice say, "Go to Gaza," now he says, "Go to chariot." And he ends up saying, "Can you understand what you're reading?" He said, "No, I need some help actually." He says, "Well, you know, I specialize in that very chapter." "Well, come up on in my chariot, tell me about it," and the man ends up getting baptized.
The Holy Spirit spoke to Philip not because God's always talking to us telling what kind of toothpaste should I buy and what kind of mouthwash, God's not. The main reason the Spirit speaks to us is so we can reach others. It says in Acts chapter 1 "And I will give you My Spirit and you will be My witnesses." The Spirit will speak to us and help us recognize opportunity to witness to others.
You know, something else I've noticed about receiving the Holy Spirit; we hear God's voice when we accept God's plan. This is a very important point, we hear God's voice when we accept God's plan, God said to Abraham, Genesis 22:18, "In you and in your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed," notice, "Because you obey My voice." God did something through Abraham because Abraham listened. Have you read in Isaiah chapter 6? It says there in Isaiah 6, you read the first eight verses, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple." And on the right and the left were these angels that were declaring the, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts; The whole Earth is full of Your glory!" And the temple shook from the voice of God and the angels that were there, and Isaiah fell down on his face and he said, "Woe is me, I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts."
And because he confessed his sin, God then sends an angel who takes with tongs a coal from the altar and he places it on Isaiah's lips, and he said, "'Your sin is purged,' your sin is forgiven, your iniquity is purged." So after he sees the Lord, he hears the voice of God, his sin is purged, then he hears the voice of the Lord saying, "Who will go for Us, Who will I send?" After his sin is purged, he hears the voice of the Lord.
You notice after Jesus is baptized, he comes up out of the water, it says the heavens are open and there's a voice that says, "This is My beloved Son." It seems like we hear the voice of God a lot better after we accept the plan of salvation.
You know, I remember reading about Helen Keller, it's kind of an interesting story from history that, you know, she was born blind. Well, she wasn't born blind, she actually got a disease and she became blind and deaf. I think she had scarlet fever or something and it completely took away her hearing, took away her sight. She did eventually learn to talk, she had that famous teacher, Anne Sullivan. But some friends, she was with a group of friends one time and they were listening to their radio back in 1925, and they said, "Oh, Helen." You know, they're talking to her through braille or tapping on her hands, and they said, "If you could only hear, this is so majestic. We're listening to Beethoven's ninth, it's being played by the best orchestra in the world in Carnegie Hall, they're broadcasting it on the radio." And she said, "Well, let me feel the speaker of the radio."
So she put her hand on the speaker of the radio and she was amazed to discover, a matter of fact, I'll read it to you, it's in her words. "Last night, when the family was listening," she wrote a letter to Carnegie Hall. "Last night, when the family was listening to your wonderful rendering of the immortal symphony, someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver to see if I could get any of the vibrations. He unscrewed the cap and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm," of the actual speaker itself. "What was my amazement to discover that I could feel not only the vibrations but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music. The intertwined intermingling vibrations from the different instruments enchanted me."
This is a person entirely deaf, her fingers were so sensitive from reading braille that she put her fingers on the speaker. "'I could actually distinguish the coronets, the role of the drums, the deep toned violas, the violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments, when the human voice leapt up thrilling from the surge of harmony I recognized them instantly as voices. I felt the choir grow more exultant and more ecstatic, up curving, swinging like a flame until my heart almost stood still. The women's voices seemed an embodiment of the angelic voices, rushing in harmonious flood of beautiful and inspiring sound. The great chorus throbbed against my fingers with poignant pause and flow.' The composer of the symphony Keller enjoyed was Beethoven."
Now you realize Beethoven had written it 100 years earlier while he was deaf; perhaps one reason deaf person could hear it is because a deaf person had written it. And perhaps the reason that we can hear the voice of the Lord is because God became one of us so he understands our speech so that we can hear his voice. Isaiah 51, "Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness." Isaiah 54, verse 4, "Listen to Me, My people; And give ear." Isaiah 51, verse 7, "Listen to Me, you who know righteousness."
Over and over, God is appealing, He wants to speak to us and, "He that has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says." Do you want to hear the voice of the Lord? If you submit to the Gospel, if we will unmute the plugs in our ears so that we're willing to do His will and read His Word, He will speak to us.