Which would you rather have – a hundred of your own bright
ideas or a word from the Lord? One word from heaven rescues
us from straitjacketed thinking, religious ritual and
nit-picking legalism. It births visions, changes mindsets,
cuts through confusion and transforms vague ideas into
The flesh wavers and the devil does his ugly best to hinder
our hearing and to confuse our thinking, but God is even
more eager to speak to us than we are to listen. In which
case it makes excellent sense for us to study the processes
by which the Lord speaks, so that we can develop both the
ability and the confidence to listen and then to act on what
we have heard.
Listening embraces attentiveness – to God, to one another
and to what the Lord is doing in our hearts. Just as we
‘hear’ each other in more ways than the purely audible, so
we are to ‘hear’ the Lord with every part of our being. That
is why I have done my best to focus on the ways of the Lord
as well as on the specifics, the ‘mechanics’ if you like, of
how we are to hear Him. It is the nearest I could get to
writing a textbook: a ‘manual’ on listening to God.
We should never seek to reduce something as precious as
listening to the Lord to mechanical formulae. These are
themes and topics to explore in the Lord’s presence. That is
why every section provides jumping-off points to reflect on
the key ideas and their implications. (You may find it
helpful to do these ‘exercises’ with a close friend.)
I have kept in mind that this book should serve as an
introduction for people who are considering the whole theme
of listening to the Lord for the first time. But at the same
time, the passages for reflection will make this an
‘interactive’ experience with the Lord and bring a fresh
perspective to themes that people may have been familiar
with for years. It is our prayer that the Lord Jesus Himself
may grant anew to each one who takes the time to ponder and
apply these truths the joy of hearing their beloved Lord
speak to their inmost being.
Robert Weston, Shetland, 2004
1 ~ “Listen to Him”
1.1 The call to listen
There is an old cliché that the
Lord has given us two ears but only one mouth because He
wants us to listen more than talk. Most of us find the
reverse much easier – not least when it comes to our
relationship with the Lord.
What was the secret of Jesus’ walk with His Father? In John
5:19 we find the answer when He declared: ‘I only do what I
see my Father doing.’ Jesus knew in His spirit when His
Father was prompting Him to stop and pray for a particular
person in need of His touch. He knew what was in people’s
hearts: and knew full well before it happened that Peter
would one day deny Him and Judas betray Him. How did He
know? God showed Him, and He listened.
When Jesus took Peter, James and John with him up the
mountain we now know as the Mount of Transfiguration He was
transfigured before them and a voice came from heaven: "This
is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him." (Matt17:5)
I believe it is highly significant that the command was not
to pray to the Son. Jesus had already taught the disciples
much about prayer. It only takes us a second or two for us
to read this command to listen to Him– but it will take a
lifetime to work out this principle in practice.
Since all we do will be much sharper if we are in touch with
the Lord, listening must begins with intimacy: the desire to
draw close to the Lord Jesus, who walks much closer to us
than any human father to his son.
It sounds easy enough for the disciples to listen to Jesus.
After all, He was right there in front of them. But God knew
that they would need to go on listening long after Jesus was
no longer physically with them. Just like we have to do
today. And He would not have told them to listen carefully
to the voice of the Lord unless He knew that it was possible
for them to do so.
Look at all the times when the Lord spoke to Moses or to
Joshua or to David. Imagine the Bible shorn of all those
passages! What would we be left with? Man’s ideas of what
God ought to be like: and a load of prescriptive rules and
regulations. It is because God does speak and does guide His
people that listening leads to such exciting adventures!
God comes to an eighty-year-old shepherd, who had been in
exile for forty years for striking a man dead and what
happens? God uses him to bring an entire nation out from
under Pharoah’s bondage, and into an entirely new way of
life. God speaks to Joshua and the people have the courage
to go in and take possession of the Promised Land. God calls
a young shepherd, who is also a prophet and a poet, to His
service and uses him to depose a corrupt king and to raise
up a mighty empire. The Holy Spirit speaks to Paul and
churches spring into existence all over Asia Minor. So let’s
not be afraid to bring the story up to date: God speaks to
you and your life suddenly assumes new significance and
takes entirely new directions.
‘This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.’ Turn these words
that came from heaven into an underlying refrain in our
hearts. Lord Jesus, I love you; may I hear Your voice and
honour You, today and every day. Let me see You as You are,
and help me to embrace the things that are on Your heart. In
Jesus’ name, Amen.
1.2 The Lord confides in those who fear Him
||The Lord confides in those who fear Him … He takes the
upright into His confidence.
(Psalm 25:14, Proverbs 3:32)
Every parent longs for the moment when their child is old
enough to take into their confidence. God is no different.
He watches and waits for our maturity levels to be
sufficiently developed to entrust us with how He feels about
things. This may be ‘just’ at a personal level for
reassurance. Checking in at Heathrow Airport the other day,
I was dismayed to find a massive backlog. It looked
impossible that I could catch my flight. But the Lord gave
me a deep assurance that I would! How did He do it? He
provided a British Airways ‘angel,’ who whisked me out of
the long queue and checked me through individually. His
peace continued in a special way for the rest of the journey
that He would open up the country I was heading for, unknown
though it was to me. And He did – wonderfully!
When we say ‘The Lord told me…’ we do not necessarily mean
that we have heard an audible voice. What we call ‘hearing’
is often just the God-given ability to make sense of things
that have happened. It is as we ‘mix’ this awareness with
faith that the Lord’s leading develops.
1:3 The power of Prayer
I find that I am much more likely to hear from the Lord if I
am being prayed for. It is as though many insights are just
out of reach, like apples up a tree. It is prayer that
brings God’s insights into reach. Most of the time, of
course, the Lord is quite content to communicate His leading
by gentle steering touches rather than by specific words.
Many of the most precious things that He does in our lives
come completely unheralded. There are certain other things,
however, that we may never be aware of unless we take the
trouble to seek the Lord.
As we bring issues to Him He shows us sharper insights and
ways to proceed. As we yield ourselves to Him, He directs
our steps and warns us when we are in danger of putting off
doing something that needs attending to – or going off
In all this, our primary need is to make time to seek Him,
rather than hoping to find it. The pressure of our
timetables, to say nothing of the enemy’s disruptions,
ensure that we may never be able to find enough time. The
scriptural call is to ‘seek the Lord with all our hearts’.
This calls for a combination of desire and discipline. The
one without the other is not enough.
start with the matter of desire. Have you ever known
two ‘romantically afflicted’ people find it
difficult to make time to be together? If we are as
eager to seek the Lord as we would be to make time
to be with the person we are most in love with, we
can be sure that out of such intimacy God will lead
1.4 Word and Spirit – From Ruach to The Rock
||We have recently moved from a house called Ruach (which
means breath, wind or Spirit) to The Rock – the foundation
of our spiritual life. The names of these houses represent
the two poles of our spirituality. We are called to move in
the power of the Spirit (Ruach) but in a way that is
constantly directed and undergirded by the Word of God (The
Many years ago, Smith Wigglesworth declared it will be when
God’s people put sufficient emphasis on both the Word and
the Spirit that we will experience revival. Precisely
because so much in this book may appear to be
experience-oriented, it is important to stress from the
outset that Word and Spirit must flow together in our lives.
The truths of the Bible must shape our thinking, saturate
our minds and check our impulses if our hearing is to stay
on course. It is as we read, study and meditate on His Word
that the Lord 'fine-tunes' our spirits and imparts wisdom
and direction to our lives.
We hear arguments today from life, from science, from
experience, from anything in fact rather than from the Word
of God. Yet that is the ultimate authority, and it may often
serve to point us in quite a different direction from the
wisdom of the world. More often than not, clarity comes by
the Spirit of God applying the truths of the Word in our
‘input’ of the Word of God sufficient to direct my
If we live only by the Word, parts of our life will never be
watered – but if we seek to live only spontaneously, ‘by the
Spirit,’ sooner or later we will go off course, or even blow
up. But if we are living by both Word and Spirit we will
Many great musicians and actors feel that they can only
really bring a piece of music or drama to life when they
have committed it to memory. This is not the way most
westerners live, but since the Word of God assumes new
depths once it is stored in the heart perhaps it ought to
be. A Chinese believer who was imprisoned for twenty-three
years testified on his release how greatly the many passages
of Scripture he had committed to memory as a young man had
sustained him during those long years.
Bishop Hans Lilje likewise relates that when the Nazis
placed him in solitary confinement during the war, what
saved his hope and sanity was the constant rehearsing of the
psalms and hymns he had learnt as a boy. Most of us do not
have bad memories: we simply have untrained and
under-developed ones. What would the Lord have us do to
rectify this distinctly improvable condition?
1.5 The Path to Transfiguration
||As a result of the miracle that took place on the Mount of
Transfiguration, Jesus knew His Father’s will more
intimately, and the disciples had their eyes opened to the
nearness of heaven. The end result of listening to the Lord
is always transformation and transfiguration.
That is when we experience the stillness of the Lord
descending on our meetings, when we are so caught up in Him
that it is easy to hear His voice. Such breakthroughs are
sovereign initiatives of God – but there are things we can
do that will help to predispose His coming: first to prepare
our hearts by slowing down and spending time with Him and
then by making appropriate frameworks.
Virtually every time we meet together with other Christians,
whether on the phone or face to face in person, we share
matters that are prayer-worthy. The secret is to take this a
stage further and to turn from sharing into prayer. It is as
simple and as challenging as saying: ‘let’s pray together.’
How much the Lord chooses to fill this framework is up to
Him: our task it to get on with seeking Him.
Let’s take the question of our hearts. In the Greek text of
Acts 2:1 it says that on the day of Pentecost the disciples
were literally ‘together together’: that is, together in
spirit as well as in one physical place. There is nothing
God blesses more than unity and honesty with one another. It
only takes one break in an electric ring to short the whole
circuit. It is disturbing how gravely our witness can be
weakened by one serious break in fellowship. Joshua 7 and
Acts 5 provided sobering warnings. Disobedience scrambles
out hearing and can cause us, and others, to miss out on the
purposes of God. But the Lord draws near when He sees our
repentant heart and allows us fresh opportunities.
If you are gifted with spiritual imagination, try picturing
the scene we described at the start of this section, Jesus’
Transfiguration. Imagine yourself on the mountainside
with the three disciples. Feel their shock at seeing Jesus
thus transfigured and Elijah and Moses appearing to him. The
disciples are taken aback, their reaction rather wooden.
Now, what would the Lord say to you?
How do you feel when the voice comes from heaven?
2 ~ Recognise His Voice
||For God does speak, now one way, now another, though man may
not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when
deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, He
may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to
turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride.
Start a conversation on the
subject of listening to the Lord and see what happens. You
are bound to hear the old well-worn excuses trotted out. ‘I’m
not the sort of person the Lord would speak to!’ I am
inclined to answer, ‘I understand where you’re coming
from, but don’t limit either yourself or God. If the Lord
does not choose to speak, that’s an end to the matter. But
in all probability, God already has been speaking to you,
even though you may not have realised that it was Him
The world around us reminds us of the infinite variety of
God’s creativity. God could have created one species of tree
or fern, but He created thousands. It is the same with every
aspect of nature. God is interested in everything that
happens on Planet Earth - and He has countless ways of
speaking to us.
Some of these require little further explanation. We have
all known times when passages from the Bible or Christian
books have taken on a special meaning for us, or when a
preacher’s words have spoken directly to our situation. Such
occasions reassure us that God knows and cares about us. An
unexpected urge to ring or visit someone, a chance remark
which brings helps and comfort – these are experiences most
of us will be familiar with. They are often so unspectacular
at the time that it is only afterwards that we realise it
was the Lord who was speaking to us.
||Father, thank You that You want to speak to me. Help me to
recognise the ways that You come to me, and to become more
confident in hearing Your voice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
2.1 Beyond Words
When we are watching a film, our attention is sometimes
drawn to a person or an object by the way the camera pans in
on it. We just ‘know’ that the candle on the mantelpiece is
going to be significant – and sure enough it sets the house
on fire a few minutes later! The director knows exactly what
he is doing, skilfully drawing our attention to the item
without needing to say a word.
This is how God works when He places quiet impressions in
our heart. These can range from gentle Force One nudges to
occasional hurricane-strength Force Twelve commands. The
more spiritually tuned in we are, the easier we will find it
to pick these up. Think of Simeon. Mary and Joseph were
presenting the baby Jesus to the Lord . God had promised
him that he would live to see the Messiah born, and He
alerted him to go to the Temple at just the right moment.
How many millions of such God-inspired nudges have there
been since then!
Imagine your spirit as a finely balanced pair of scales.
There is need to place an iron ingot at one end; the
slightest pressure should be all that is required to tip
them in one direction or the other. If we are keeping our
spiritual antennae up, at any time the Lord can show us
things that we would otherwise miss. What should we be open
to? Everything from sweeping the basement stairs to visiting
someone in need. With practice we learn when the ‘anointing’
to do something is running out and we should turn our
attention to something else.
2.2 More about these Spiritual Nudges
||As they talked and discussed these things with each other,
Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they
were kept from recognizing Him. (Luke 24:14)
It seems extraordinary that people who had known Jesus ‘in
the flesh’ could have failed to recognise Him. But that is
precisely what happened. Cleopas and Mary (in all
probability the same couple who saw Jesus crucified) were
walking on the road to Emmaus bewailing the loss of their
master. The fact is that Jesus came to them – as He often
does to us – in a different form.
More times than I can count I have experienced what I can
only term ‘nudges’ to do certain things. Usually, the
reasons for these have been immediately apparent. Most of us
have known times when we have felt led (often without
understanding precisely how or why) to visit someone or to
say something which has turned out to be exactly right for
talk seriously about ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD )
I prefer to ask, ‘In any given situation, what is
Jesus already doing?’ If we are seeking Him with all
our hearts, whether by circumstantial leading or by
direct command, the Lord will make sure that we too
are on time and in place when it really matters.
Nudges are nothing if not
exceedingly practical. As a young Christian I was on my way
to preach for the first time at a Baptist church. I was
pushed for time, but as I walked briskly up the High Street
the Lord told me clearly to go back and look at my car.
‘That sounds a bit self-indulgent, Lord: it will make me
late for the meeting.’ ‘Go back and look at your car!’ He
repeated. And there was smoke billowing into the cab from
under the bonnet! There was only one other person around
pulling up to park. I went across to him, and, feeling very
foolish, asked: ‘Are you an expert at putting out car
fires.’ To my astonishment he replied, ‘Yes!’ He got an
extinguisher out of his car and saved my car.
My wife (Ros) recently felt led to pursue plans to study for
an MSc by distance learning. With an ultra-busy job and a
demanding pre-schooler the idea seemed crazy – but the Lord
gave her peace about it. First her employers agreed that she
could do her job over three and a half days, thus freeing up
an extra day for study. Then a friend (not even a Christian
one) declared, ‘Apply for the course and the funding will
come in’. Ros discerned the voice of the Lord in that
apparently casual comment and went ahead. Within a week of
the course starting she won a national award that covered to
the penny the cost of the degree.
In God’s economy, one nudge often leads to other doors
opening. When a person came to mind some months ago, I
followed up the nudge and got in contact with him, as I
usually do. It turned out that at the precise moment I was
thinking of him, he was being reminded of a word which I had
given him a year before, and which had made the difference
to a situation he was facing.
I thought no more about it until, a few weeks after that, he
offered me a part-time post as a ‘prayer-consultant’ working
with him on a regular basis. This has proved fruitful and
beneficial for us both in all sorts of ways.
A few weeks ago I was talking on the phone with him when he
suddenly stopped the conversation and said, almost abruptly,
‘I sense a great pain in your heart.’ He then specified what
he felt this pain was related to. He had seen truly and
recommended a specific course of action to take. It is
wonderful to be in touch with people who sense and hear so
economy, following one nudge often leads to other
It is important that we heed these impressions and inner
convictions. The strange thing is that what we sometimes
experience as just a faint impression is, in reality, an
all-important reminder to pray for people who are going
through enormous pressures. If we are sensitive in our
spirit and faithful in following up these nudges, they serve
a crucial role in getting us to pray and be in contact with
the person in question.
How does the Lord communicate His nudges to you? Many
wonderful things will come about if you can identify the
nudges that He sends. May He develop your ability to discern
His promptings, and your willingness to act on them.
2:3 ‘By another Route’ - Turning Sight into Insight
||The Lord Jesus drew powerfully on the world around Him in
His teaching. He used spiritual parallels and parables from
everyday life: the sower and the seed, the woman who lost a
coin, the missing sheep, the unjust judge – these were
images drawn from a world his contemporaries were entirely
familiar with. The Lord often speaks to us from the world
about us, highlighting something and bringing it into sharp
Christine Larkin, who led a prophetic conference on
Shetland, was the most recent of a number of visiting
speakers who sensed immediately that God has a special
strategic plan for our islands at this time. She felt God’s
excitement bubbling up inside her and declared with great
authority that God is bringing this plan together.
She also declared that there is a strong wind coming – not a
gentle wind, but one that will lift roofs off. It so happens
that the church in which the conference was being held was
hit by a powerful wind some years ago that lifted the roof
right up, before putting it down again in a slightly
different position. This was a picture to her of how the
Lord needs to lift the roofs in our minds that condition
‘how we think church should be done’. She went on to explain
that God wants to move away from the whole idea of the
one-man leader who stands up front and directs the action.
God wants us all to be involved. Every Christian on our
island is part of His plan and needs to realise how they fit
into God’s wider picture. This word fits in well with others
that the Lord has given. The fact that the roof of another
church building has just blown off only serves to highlight
the point. The way church has been will not suffice to make
a significant impact on society.
nothing impersonal or mechanical about the way God
leads us. But, like a skilful investigator, we will
often have to piece together what God is saying over
a particular issue until we feel comfortable to pray
a particular prayer or to implement a specific
The other day Ros and I went for a walk beside a voe (a
Shetlandic fjord). A small track up a hill was calling to
me, but I considered it too muddy for the shoes I was
wearing. We went round a corner, where the ground was drier.
A few minutes later we were enjoying the sweeping views from
the top of the hill. The Lord met with me here and pointed
out that I couldn’t get up there in one go, but that I had
reached the same place now by a different route. It was a
parable of how He is leading me.
Such experiences point to the fact that meaning and purpose
undergird every part of our life. By God’s providence, one
episode dovetails intricately with others. It is the exact
opposite of the post-modernist concepts of relativity and
accident. There is nothing impersonal or mechanical about
the way God leads us. He weaves it all together with
consummate skill. But, like a skilful investigator, we will
often have to piece together what God is saying over a
particular issue until we feel comfortable to pray a
particular prayer or to implement a specific policy.
In Acts 15 the disciples made the crucial decision not to
impose any additional demands on Gentile believers beyond
those they deemed truly necessary. This was reached after
careful thought and prayer – one that felt right to both the
Holy Spirit and to them. Let’s make this ‘oneness’ with
the Lord our goal concerning our decision-making – not only
those that relate directly to the ministry but to all of our
life. God is interested in every part of our lives.
When we feel the eye of our heavenly producer drawing us to
a theme or a person, we must be quick to explore and embrace
it. Learn to see out of the corner of your eye, so to speak,
where the Spirit of the Lord is beckoning. Such sensitivity
to the Holy Spirit brings joy to our Father’s heart – and
turns meetings into heavenly encounters.
3 ~ Direct and Indirect Speech
||From time to time the Lord changes the way He speaks to us.
The disciples who had walked and talked with the Lord Jesus
Christ had to learn a new way of relating to Him when He was
no longer with them. Had the door of heaven closed on them?
By no means. It simply meant that henceforth the Holy Spirit
intended to communicate the will of the Lord Jesus to them
in a new way.
In football referees award direct free kicks (from which you
can score) and indirect ones, which require the ball to be
passed to someone else first. God sometimes speaks to us
directly (sure score!) – but more often He awards indirect
free kicks. These ‘starter’ thoughts get us thinking and
moving in the direction He has in mind, but which will
require more prayer and confirmation before we can be sure
of the goal, let alone see it fully achieved.
When the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud in the
wilderness, He summoned Aaron and Miriam to stand before
Him. What He said to them indicates that there are at least
three ‘levels’ of listening: visions and dreams; riddles and
face to face.
Listen to my words: When a prophet of the Lord is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in
all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not
in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you
not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? (Num 12:8)
3.1 Face to Face
||Let’s start with the most dramatic examples. I love to read
how God spoke to Moses ‘face to face’. Such encounters are
specifically ordained by God. They are often associated with
a specific commission – though sometimes they are given for
healing or reassurance.
Think back to the ‘mountain-top’ testimonies that you have
either experienced or read about. The power and glory may be
to the fore, but they are given for a purpose. For example
take Heidi and Rolland Baker, who is the grandson of the
missionary who did such sterling work in a remote part of
China helping orphans to experience the power of God. The
Lord placed a burning desire within this couple to serve the
least of the least and the poorest of the poor. The story of
how, by faith alone, they nurtured and discipled six
thousand fellowships in that most impoverished of lands,
Mozambique, is a testimony without equal of God’s saving
power. But it owes its origin to how God met with them.
3.2 Dreams and Visions
||More common than face to face experiences are those times
when the Lord speaks to us at ‘one stage removed.’ He speaks
to us in dreams and visions in order to impart some specific
understanding or to direct us towards some specific
We should by no means neglect or underestimate what the Lord
can achieve through dreams and visions. Many people in
Islamic countries are coming to the Lord, or making specific
contacts as the direct result of them. There is nothing new
Captured by pirates as a young man, the young Patrick spent
seven years in grim slavery in Ireland back in the fifth
century. During this time that the Lord drew him back to
Himself, and finally showed him in a dream how to escape the
country. Later, when he had been ordained, he heard the
voice of the Irish people calling to him to come and work
among them. What the Lord began through a ‘rescue’ dream He
took a stage further through a ‘commissioning’ vision. The
result? Ireland was wonderfully evangelised!
Most of our dreams are not in this league, but they contain
significant elements. At the simplest level, God gives
‘pictures’ on the screens of our mind to give us specific
insight or direction. We are wise if we write these down and
share them with friends or mentors.
We should take particular note of recurrent themes and
symbols. The Lord often uses dreams as a ‘diagnostic’
report; they show us what is going on in our hearts,
particularly if there is something that is out of balance.
It is a discreet and private way for the Lord to show us
something that needs adjusting or praying into.
More often than not, most of the details in the dream have
no particular purpose – but they serve their purpose if they
remind us of someone we should contact or pray for. Most
dreams, in fact, need further clarification before we accept
them as genuine guidance.
Some dreams need actively praying against. Suppose, for
example, you dream of a plane crash just before you set off
on a journey. Chances are, it is just the subconscious
having a wobble. Rather than cancelling your ticket (unless
God warns you in other ways not to embark on the journey)
use it as a warning and pray that the journey will be both
safe and blessed.
I have often had dreams of empty auditoriums when I am
setting up conferences. Rather than pulling out of the
venture, I tend to regard such ‘visions’ as warnings of what
will happen if I do not pray.
||Has God given you visions and dreams? If so what are you
doing about them? There is a delicate balance between trying
to bring about the fulfilment of a vision by our own efforts
– which is spiritually self-defeating – and recognising the
fact that many visions are never fulfilled – even if the
Lord did send them– because of insufficient prayer, labour
on our part.
3.3 “But that wasn’t what I was talking about”
||It is always good to ask God questions – but sometimes what
He shows us raises almost as many questions as it resolves.
In Mark 13:2 for example, Jesus responded to His disciples’
excited statement with a question. This was not a politician
ducking an issue: this was Jesus leading His future leaders
to consider the issues that really mattered most.
If the Lord appears to answer our questions at a tangent, He
has His reasons for doing so. We must be prepared to lay
aside our concerns and follow His timetable and agenda. He
alone knows what we really need to hear. Our only
requirement is to follow what He is showing us.
always be prepared to lay aside our concerns to
follow His agenda and His His time--table. He knows
what we really need to hear. Our only requirement is
to obey what He shows us.
Skilled counsellors try and draw
out what is really in peoples’ hearts, rather than just
telling them what to do or to believe. God has so much more
in mind for us than we have yet experienced. The crippled
man asked for money but God had something much better to
give him. Peter’s faith enabled him to walk!
Lord, teach me to trust the whispers of Your love,
You have spoken clearly or merely hinted at something.
me not to be discouraged when You appear slow,
to give a straight answer to the questions I bombard
Thank You that we are doing the right thing in
and You not only know exactly what You need to
but also the right order in which to do them.
I set my heart to hear You,
my will to obey You
and my joy
to serve You.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
3.4 Signs and Pointers
||I once remarked that the majority of things God shows us
about people are for us to take to Him in prayer. Perhaps
that is worth clarifying. If the Lord shows me something
encouraging about someone I will probably try to find a way
to share it with them more or less straightaway. But if He
shows me something less appealing I will want to check first
of all that it is a word from the Lord rather than something
conjured by my own hopes fears and imagination. After that,
I will pray for the Lord to show me the parts that I must
do, and the parts I should leave to Him.
The Lord often gives us insights that are signs and pointers
for prayer to show us that we are on the right lines about
something. The other day, I felt the Lord speaking about
Britain’s supplies of natural gas dwindling and about the
level of consumer debt being worse than people realised. The
next day I read in the paper that we will be needing to
import gas from Norway and that debt has doubled in seven
years to over one million pounds. These are all part of the
Lord’s ways of showing us where we are really up to as a
nation: things that grieve Him and that are a real concern
3.5 Understanding Dark Speech
||Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could
understand. He did not say anything to them without using a
parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, He
explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34)
What do you make of the reference to ‘riddles’ in the
context of how the Lord speaks prophetically? If there is
‘clear speech’ it stands to reason that there will also be
indirect speech. John and Paula Sandford do a splendid job
of making sense of these less direct ways in which God
speaks to us in their book The Elijah Task. They call
this ‘dark speech,’ or ‘dark sayings’ after
the proverb: ‘A wise man hears and will increase learning,
and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels;
to understand a proverb and the interpretation; the words of
the wise and their dark sayings.’
Unlike the disciples, to whom He explained everything
afterwards, Jesus taught the crowds about the Kingdom of
Heaven almost exclusively by means of parables. A parable
talks about one subject (such as fish, or a lost sheep) but
its real meaning lies elsewhere. Without the ‘key’ it is all
but impossible to understand this type of teaching. Parables
are both a helpful teaching aid and a fulfilment of the
Messianic prophecy. ‘I will open My mouth in a parable; I
will utter dark sayings from of old.’ At its simplest,
dark speech occurs when we think God is saying one thing to
us, only to find out later that He was actually speaking
about something rather different.
Hebrew word translated ‘dark speech’ or ‘dark
saying’ (chidah) literally means a ‘knot’. We often
have to ‘unravel’ the things that God is saying to
The way New Testament authors apply Old Testament prophecies
is itself a sort of ‘dark speech’. They by no means always
conform to what we would normally consider to be sound
exegetical principles, often taking verses, or portions of
verses, out of their context in order to illuminate
something with a particular and prophetic relevance.
God uses dark speech to keep us humble and dependent. If we
knew too much in advance, or could always be sure of hearing
correctly, pride would puff us up. The Hebrew word
translated ‘dark speech’ or ‘dark saying’ (chidah) literally
means a ‘knot’. We often have to ‘unravel’ what God is
saying to us. The Lord speaks as much, or as little, as He
needs to get us thinking or praying in a certain direction,
and then He looks for us to ‘match’ this revelation by our
prompt willingness to seek Him for more understanding.
Remember how your maths teacher used to tell you that the
‘working out’ is just as important as the answer? Long ago,
in the golden age of Greek philosophy, Socrates realised
that people learn more by finding things out for themselves
than by having all the answers spelt out for them. He
developed a technique of asking people questions in such a
way as to make them see the truth of a situation for
themselves. This style of teaching has been known ever since
The concept behind Jewish teaching ran along similar lines.
The Lord Jesus was concerned to help His disciples come to a
fuller understanding of who He was more by pointers,
parables and analogies than by direct proclamation. He used
memorable illustrations that stimulated the imagination of
His hearers, and prompted them to reason and understand for
When Paul says, ‘Now we see dimly, as in a mirror; but then
we shall see face to face,’ the word ‘dimly’ (as the RSV
translates 1 Corinthians 13:12) literally means ‘in a
riddle’, or ‘in an enigma’. This ties in well with the
reference to riddles in Numbers 12:8. Mirrors reverse our
normal perspective. We see images that are really on the
right on the left and visa versa, but we quickly learn to
interpret them the right way round.
In a sense, the gift of tongues is itself an example of dark
speech. We use it to build ourselves up in the Lord, but
most of the time we have less than no idea what mysteries we
may be proclaiming, or praying for.
help me to grasp this concept of dark speech and to
follow such leadings as You give me, until the wider
picture comes into focus and pulls the threads
together. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Sometimes we strive too hard to find a literal
interpretation for a vision or dream. The Lord uses ‘dark
speech’ to show us a type, or point us in a particular
direction. When God showed Paul to change the direction his
mission team were going in, He gave him a vision of a
Macedonian man calling to him across the water. The man
turned out to be Lydia(!) but the redirection was
The concept of dark speech may be new to you, but it is
quite likely that you will have experienced it in practice.
Perhaps you can recall occasions when you have felt the Lord
telling you to go and visit someone, only to find that they
were out. Because you were on the move, however, you were in
the right place to meet someone else – which was what God
had intended all along. In retrospect it is clear why you
were led as you were, but it can be puzzling at the time.
In theory the Lord could have said, ‘Go and stand outside
the Post Office at 3.33 and you will bump into X’ (which is
what actually happened.) But He preferred to put it in your
heart to go and meet Y, with the result that you just
happened to be passing the Post Office in time to meet X.
Similarly, the Lord does not always rebuke us openly, but
may allow circumstances to work out in such a way as to
bring us to a clearer understanding of a situation.
3.6 What do you mean ‘He spoke through an angel?’
||In the wilderness, God sent His angel not only to prepare
the way for His people, but to give them instructions they
needed to heed:
See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along
the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay
attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel
against him; he will not forgive your rebellion since My
Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and
do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and
will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of
you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites,
Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will
wipe them out. (Ex 23:20-23)
What do you make of the instruction to the Israelites to
listen carefully to the angel? When I first read this
passage, I had some fairly hefty scruples to overcome.
Considering the history of religious experience and of the
devil's ability to disguise himself as an angel of light I
thought it might be downright dangerous if we were all to
start listening to angels. The prophet Zechariah may have
enjoyed conversations with them on something approaching a
regular basis, but I was only too well aware that I am not
As I meditated on the passage, things began to make sense.
The Greek word ‘angelos’ means ‘messenger’. After all, the
Lord bestows His authority on angels to pass on His
messages. In one of the most famous ‘visitations’, the angel
revealed himself to Zacharias (the father of John the
Baptist) and explained his mission. ‘I am Gabriel. I stand
in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you
and to tell you this good news.’
angels spend their time?
Worshipping the Lord and then going out on specific
May we do as much!
How do angels spend their time? Sometimes we find them
standing before the Lord in worship, and sometimes going out
from God’s throne room on specific missions. Since Scripture
tells us that we will one day be like the angels ourselves we had better get into practice and do as much ourselves.
God did not create angels in order to make them bit part
players. They are a vital part of His plans for mankind.
They are mentioned nearly 300 times in the Bible, and appear
to people on something like a hundred occasions. Their
coming is often tantamount to the Presence of the Lord
Himself – and they are there to help us whenever we are
about the Lord’s business. May their sweet and strong
presence be with you in every assignment the Lord gives you
to do and enable you to have easier access to God in prayer
and worship and will open doors that would otherwise remain
3.7 Do not rely on one strand of guidance only
||Most of the mistakes I have made in listening to the Lord
stem from rushing ahead with the first ‘strong’ idea I had
instead of waiting for confirmation to come.
We cannot over emphasise how important this is. When we are
contemplating major changes to our life or ministry, we need
to be doubly sure that we are on the right lines before
committing ourselves. This will usually mean waiting on the
Lord for Him to authenticate the leading through several
different strands. No matter how strong the initial
guidance, we should be wary of acting on one strand alone.
In Scalloway Harbour, close to where we live, three harbour
lights mark the navigation channel through the cluster of
offshore islands and shallows – white, green and red. If you
can see two lights or more at one time it means you are off
course and may be heading for danger. It is only when all
three of these lights appear as one white light that it is
safe to enter the harbour.
Did a Bible verse stand out to you? Good – but check to make
sure you haven’t jumped to conclusions too quickly in
applying it. Did somebody (perhaps a preacher) say something
that struck you forcibly? By all means respond accordingly.
But again, if it relates to something life or ministry
changing, wait for other signs to ‘line up’. It is the same
with dreams, visions, strong impressions and every other
form of guidance, whether spiritual or ‘circumstantial’.
4 ~ Develop Your Discernment
describes a particular type of bird who regularly
fools people into thinking they are injured in order
to draw their attention away from the eggs they have
laid in open, sandy places. ‘Beautiful!’ he writes.
‘Neurosis as a weapon! How often I have asked pity
for a very unreal problem in order to pull people’s
attention away from what I didn’t want them to see.’
Have we not all done much the same thing? The gift of
discernment – never to be abused – helps us to see through
the smokescreens people put up and penetrate to the heart of
In a world where so many ‘voices’ clamour for our attention,
we need the gift of discernment desperately. But since it is
only the hard training of experience, which can enable us to
tell the difference between authentic listening and our own
longings and imaginings, let’s pray for the fruit of
discernment in our lives and give the matter some serious
4.1 Recognising the Shepherd’s voice
||The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to
his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them
out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead
of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his
voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they
will run away from him because they do not recognize a
In the verses immediately before this passage, Jesus
highlighted the contrast between Himself and the many false
messiahs who attempt to impose their control on other
people. In Palestine, shepherds knew their sheep
individually. Because several flocks often shared the same
pen, the shepherds needed to separate their own sheep every
morning. Instead of climbing into the pen and rounding them
up, the shepherds would call their sheep – and the entire
flock would then come to him. If a stranger tried to do the
same thing, God had provided a fail-safe mechanism. Not
recognising his voice the sheep would stay where they were!
world where so many ‘voices’ clamour for our
attention, we need the gift of discernment.
Would it were so simple amongst
God’s people, the sheep of His pasture today! When the Lord
calls, some of us respond while others quibble – especially
if the call involves doing something we have not done
What the Lord says has a greater sharpness and clarity than
our mind alone could ever have produced. This is because God
speaks to our spirit rather than to our mind. We are left
with a deep assurance that God has indeed spoken, even if we
do not fully understand the implications of what He has
said. When we hear only our own feelings and inclinations,
however, we are usually left with a feeling of uncertainty
and confusion. Hearing our own imaginings (or other people’s
opinions) is rather like listening to a poorly tuned radio
station or seeing a blurred photograph.
4.2 ‘The Brandle Factor’
||Shortly before we took charge of Brandle, a lively six week
old puppy, people came to us from all directions telling us
it would be ‘too hard for us’. After a lot of thought and
prayer we decided to welcome him into our family anyway. We
have enjoyed fifteen lively years with Brandle. There have
been many hairy moments – in every sense of that word – but
much love and comfort too.
More times than we can count since then we have found that
whenever we are about to push the boat out and attempt
something new for the Lord we have faced a barrage of
negatives. We have learned to nickname these discouraging
comments ‘The Brandle Factor’.
When is the best time to stop a plane taking off? While it
is still on the ground of course! God may have told us to do
something, but there are bound to be people trotting out
well-intentioned comments to tell us the opposite. Sometimes
it is the enemy kicking up a fuss to stop us doing what God
has in mind for us to do; at other times it is just people
being overprotective or under-imaginative. After all, it is
not easy for others to get inside a calling that has not
been given to them.
At other times, the best, and kindest way to view those
painful occasions when other people’s guidance contradicts
our own is to accept that we are being warned that something
really is going to be difficult – or simply needs some
‘course adjustment’. That is very different from it
automatically being wrong!
Lord, to differentiate between soul and spirit, and
to know when to proceed with caution and when to
advance flat out.
Paul faced ‘the Brandle Factor’ when his fellow team members
pleaded with him not to go to Jerusalem, even though the
Spirit had already shown him to do so. So, from time to
time, will we.
||We cannot allow ‘the Brandle factor’ (people’s negative
reactions) stop us from embarking on what God is calling us
to do! Equally, we are utterly unwise if we fail to heed
other people’s serious doubts and questions. May the Lord
help us to differentiate between genuine leading, godly
caution and a complete failure to recognise that God is
4.3 Peace the Umpire
||The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions
you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you
together in the one body. And be thankful. (Col 3:15)
What do you do when faced with half a dozen alternatives?
Learning to sense God’s leading is the most important thing!
Lift the options to the Lord, and one course of action will
usually stand out from the others – right choices bring
peace to the soul. ‘In Me you may have peace,’ promised
Jesus , and His whole life demonstrated His extraordinary
ability to be at peace even in the midst of jostling crowds.
But peace is often a fruit of obedience rather than a goal
in itself. Obeying God can lead us into conflict with the
powers of darkness as well as with people of different
persuasion. We would hardly expect to be drenched in peace
in the midst of such opposition. At the same time, it stands
to reason that we should not proceed lightly in any
direction that brings no peace.
||Life is full of decisions. There is often a good, a perfect
and an acceptable way ahead. Pray to get into the habit of
asking the Lord to show us His best way forward. Ask Him to
make us uneasy when we settle for second best, and to fill
us with peace when we choose His way.
more the fruit of obedience than a goal in itself.
4.4 Keep in Step with the Spirit
||Paul tells us in Galatians 5:25 to keep in step with the
Spirit. Back in 1976, I was present when a friend received a
very special (and entirely necessary) infilling of the Holy
Spirit. It happened just after I had read aloud some verses
from Hosea. With the typical enthusiasm of youth I dragged
another friend round a few days later, told them how
wonderful it was to be filled with the Spirit and duly read
aloud the verses from Hosea. You’ve guessed it - nothing
whatsoever happened. I was probably under the impression
that I had found the golden format for helping people to go
deeper with the Lord!
Just as David had to wait on the Lord for the right strategy
to fight each of his battles, so we must ‘keep in step with
His Spirit’ and wait on the Lord for wisdom for each
situation that we face. The Lord may often remind us of some
previous experience we have been through, or some lesson we
have learnt in order to point us in a particular direction.
But our trust is in the Lord, not in our experiences.
||Thank You that You are always doing new things, Lord. Help
us to be in step with Your plans and purposes, even when You
tread right off the map that we have known in the past.
Forgive us when we fall into the trap of always expecting
You to do things a certain way. Help us to be open to You
doing something entirely different – and to trust You when
You do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
4.5 Many visions have a shelf life
When we have been blessed in a particular way, it is not
surprising that we want to perpetuate the blessing. Trouble
is, God works in seasons and stages. There is a time for
everything under the sun. If the Lord has moved on, we need
to move with Him.
By no means are all visions ‘for life’. Ros and I have found
that God tends to move us on (geographically) about every
five to seven years. There is nothing fixed or special about
this interval – it just happens to be the ‘shelf-life’ He
has given many of the phases in our life. The key is to stay
flexible! The goals we are seeking may not change, but the
means of achieving them may need to do so. God is leading
the young generation today in a radically different way from
how He led us – and that wasn’t so long ago! All that
matters is that we are seeking to be in step not only with
His heart but also with His timing for doing what He has
shown us to do.
I went to a church once where the people were only too keen
to tell me how the ‘glory’ used to fall back in the 1920’s.
It was good to hear their stories, but something about the
way they were talking worried me. They were looking back in
such a way so strongly that I felt they had no real
expectation that the glory was going to come again today.
To remember what God has done in the past is fine – so long
as it does not make us wistful and nostalgic, pining for
times that are no more. ‘Do not say, “Why were the old days
better than these?” It is not wise to ask such questions.’ Far better to ask God to lead us fully into what He is
||To be in tune with the Lord’s vision for our life, means
being in touch with His heart. Many things He has shown us
in the past await a latter day fulfilment. But if certain
other things that we have been holding on to belong to a
previous phase of our life, we will find it difficult to
embrace the new thing the Lord is leading us into.
list of all the new things the Lord is leading you into.
you giving them enough time and energy?
4.6 Avoiding the Trammel Net of other people’s Expectations
||The more we know what God is asking us to do, the less
inclined we will be to feel guilty about leaving other
people to do the things that we have not been called to do.
For lack of understanding this, many well-intentioned people
end up being caught on the hook of other people’s
expectations – in the spiritual equivalent of a trammel net.
This three-layered net forms a pocket and traps the fish
whenever they attempt to swim through it.
we know what God is asking us to do, the less guilty
we will feel leaving other people to do the things
that we have not been called to do.
When pastors try to be evangelists, evangelists double as
pastors, and pastors freeze out prophets, the Church is in
danger of getting caught in a trammel net! But when God’s
people support and enable each other’s ministries, we are
well on the way to becoming a mature and healthy Church – a
net that holds and supports rather than a trap that
One important principle that will help to keep us out of
numerous nets is to remember that the need is not
automatically the call. If Goliath shouts and I come running
every time, he’ll laugh – and I’ll most likely end up with a
When a friend of mine recently moved to Shetland, she was
beset by invitations to do this and to attend the other. She
felt the Lord impressing on her clearly that she must not
allow herself to become ‘trammelled’ into doing things that
would be good and useful in their own way, but which were
less than what God was really wanting from her.
The good can so easily become the enemy of the best. Only
eternity will reveal how much is lost because we give in to
‘the need to be needed’ (which often hooks in to the dreaded
fear of man). Leaders, especially, need to bear in mind that
the prompting of the Spirit is more important than the
demands of men. So much ultimately depends on their
stewardship of time – and, conversely, on their willingness
not to impose unfair expectations on those in their charge.
||It flatters our need to be needed when we are asked to do
certain things, but we must learn to prayerfully assess the
invitations that come our way. Whilst we may often be able
to accommodate people’s wishes and lend a helping hand,
there is a danger of being driven by needs rather than led
by the call of God.
Write down some of the things you have been invited to do on
the left hand column of a page. Then write down on the other
side how strongly you feel God is leading you to respond to
4.7 Listening and God’s providential workings go hand in
God often gives us a nudge in one direction, which, in turn,
dovetails with something else that He is doing. In the
course of a busy revival ministry, the Lord directed Philip
to make his way to a desert stretch of road where he found a
man in a chariot reading the book of Isaiah! His mission –
as he quickly found out – was to come alongside this person.
By worldly standards it sounds like a rather spectacular
demotion: from revival preacher to a wandering nomad in one
fell swoop. Actually, he was on a highly strategic mission. The man Philip met is reckoned by many to have been the
finance minister of Ethiopia. From this seed, not only was
the first African convert made, but the ground was prepared
for millions to come to know Christ in that great continent.
guidance often appears strange at first – foolish
even. He often takes us, like Philip, away from an
area where we may previously have experienced some
measure of success. This is where we need active
trust to believe that He knows exactly what He is
doing in our lives – and why.
||Thank you, Lord, that what You call me to do today, links in
with what You are doing in many other people’s lives, as
well as paving the way for what You will do in my life in
years to come. Help me, like Philip, to be alert to come
alongside specific people as You lead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
4.8 Timing is all-important
If there is one issue above all that causes us problems, it
is timing. It is perfectly possible to hear a call
correctly, but to get the timing wrong. When the Lord speaks
to us, we should never automatically assume that we know how
or when He will bring what He has promised to pass – but we
must continue to seek Him concerning the details. When the
Lord summoned Joseph and Mary to return from their sojourn
in Egypt, they must have set out eagerly – until they heard
that Herod’s son was now reigning on the throne. This spelt
trouble with a capital T. Praise God that the Lord spoke
to them again at this crucial juncture and redirected their
path to Nazareth, where Jesus would be brought up.
Lord speaks to us, we should not assume that we
automatically know how or when He will bring what He
has promised to pass.
More times than I can remember I have said something like ‘I
feel we should go and visit X,’ and Ros has said, ‘Yes,
let’s. Tomorrow!’ So far as I was concerned, I had received
a nudge and assumed that we should act on it straight away.
But there is a time and a place for a word to be given and a
time and place for it to be worked out, and the two are not
always synonymous. A true call comes from the heart of
eternity, which links into GMT with perfect precision when
it needs to but which originates in an altogether different
I would suggest that there is often a distinction between a
call (which gets us thinking and preparing in a particular
direction) and the actual moment of commission, when we
actually need to get moving in earnest.
||When we act on a call rather than waiting for the commission
we are almost bound to make mistakes and end up
disappointed. Pray for the wisdom and patience to know where
we are on the Lord’s timescale – and then to recognise the
now moment when we need to act.
4.9 Don’t be daunted by closed doors
||Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of
Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit
from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they
came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia,
but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. (Acts 16:6)
We have no idea how the Spirit warned the disciples not to
go to Bithynia – and maybe that is just as well. We would
probably ‘make a doctrine out of an experience’ and end up
as unfulfilled as I was in my earlier example of praying for
my friend to be filled with the spirit of Hosea! All that
mattered was that the apostles obeyed God’s warning – even
though this meant heading right away from the region they
had originally hoped to evangelise.
Despite his prayerfulness, Paul was used to doors closing in
his face. Never one to make his plans lightly, he announced
that he intended to go to Spain on mission. So far as we
know, he never made it there. Instead, he was thrown into a
gloomy Roman prison, ending his days a long way away from
either Spain or Jerusalem. Did he just sit and moan? Had he
not set out for Spain with the most honourable of
intentions? Was it not unfair that God rescued Peter from
prison but showed no sign of doing the same for him?
We find not a trace of such an attitude. Paul turned his
imprisonment to the best possible advantage by penning the
letters to the churches that now, along with the gospels,
form the backbone of the New Testament. In this way, his
words reached countless millions of people through the ages:
infinitely more than would have been the case had he
achieved his goal and preached in the Iberian Peninsula!
Think of some of the doors that God has shut in your life.
It is hard not to feel daunted when yet another interesting
one slams in your face. Nine times out of ten, however, we
can look back on these experiences later on and realise what
a good thing it was that they did close. If God had granted
us what we thought we had wanted, it would either have been
too much for our flesh to bear, or would have meant not
getting to the ‘somewhere else’ that He had in mind for us.
And the tenth time? That’s where we have to concede that we
really have no idea at all. God’s wisdom is so much greater
||Father, grant us more of Paul’s grace to adjust when doors
slam shut in our faces.
Grant us not just resignation but an
active expectation that you can bring more by not opening it
than if You had given us what we so badly wanted at the
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
4.10 Is this open door of God?
||How do you set about obtaining guidance? Too many of us
effectively leave almost everything to the matter of whether
or not particular doors open. Whilst circumstances are bound
to be the decisive factor in many cases, this can also be an
excuse for not seeking God more actively. And what happens
if a door does open but God does not want us to go through
it? Not every open door is of God! Look at Paul, in 2
Corinthians 2:13, clearly experiencing an ‘open door’ for
ministry in Troas but choosing not to stay.
In modern day parlance, we could say that the people were
lapping up his ministry and paying him well. What more could
he want? Why not settle down and become well known as Pastor
Paul? But Paul knew that God had given him a roving
apostolic call, and that at this stage of his life he was to
work in partnership with Titus. Since Titus wasn’t there,
Paul was prepared to forego the luxury limousine and the
large congregations and to set off instead on an
obstacle-strewn pilgrimage to Macedonia.
So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the
night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and
begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After
Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for
Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the
gospel to them. (Acts 16:8-10)
Knowing God’s priorities for our life will help to keep us
from second best. But be warned. It often happens that just
before we embark on a difficult calling, a door will open up
apparently offering us an easier course of action. May the
Lord give us courage to choose the highest calling.
4:11 Hearing ‘beyond’ our Traditions
||Nobody is big enough to carry a cross and a prejudice.
More times than we perhaps realise, we assume that we know
what the Lord will say or do in a particular situation.
Right to the end, Jesus surprised His disciples and forced
them to overcome their prejudices and preconceptions. If the
Lord Jesus had not checked them, they would have chased away
the woman with the flow of blood, not to mention the
children who beset their Master and the lepers who were the
great untouchables – to say nothing of keeping the gospel
from the billions of us who belong to the Gentile world!
We will often need to go beyond the limitations of our
experience and our doctrinal upbringing and recognise when
God is speaking. All that God says and does will be in line
with His revealed will in Scripture, but our understanding
of His Word may be blinkered by our upbringing or by our own
God says and does will be in line with His revealed
will in Scripture, but our understanding of His Word
may be blinkered by our upbringing or by our own
How hard the early Church found it to believe that God was
extending His salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit to
the Gentile world. Ross Paterson describes how the Church in
the eighteenth century argued that if the Lord wanted to
convert the heathen, He would do so without involving us.
This hopelessly limited understanding, which relegated the
‘Great Commission’ to something ‘only for the first
disciples’ , excluded the need for missionary endeavour
and sounds strange in our day of many missions. Until, that
is, we remember that there are still many voices urging us
to respect other faiths, even to the point of ignoring the
uniqueness of Christ and His call to take the gospel to the
ends of the earth.
It reminds me of the tragic mistake so many ministers and
denominations are making to this day in assuming that
certain gifts and empowerments of the Holy Spirit were only
for the early Church.
All prejudices need confronting and laying down. Where would
the Church be today had Paul not had the courage to stand up
to Peter, urging the leaders of the Jerusalem Church to look
beyond their Jewish traditions and to embrace God’s
mission-call to the wider world?
enlarge the scope of our listening!
May neither fear nor prejudice prevent us from
receiving all that You are offering.
Slow us down where necessary, so that we cultivate
Your presence and ask the right questions.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is a matter that requires both direct insight from the
Lord and a certain amount of background information. We must
seek to allow the Holy Spirit to inform our minds, rather
than allowing our overly rationalistic mind to quench the
Ros and I often say to each other when watching the news,
‘What isn't being said?’ Not only about the items in
question but about other matters that God regards as
important but which are not being reported.
To discover what is on God’s heart requires cultivating this
ability to think laterally. Rather than simply responding to
what is already there, it is good to ask, What is lacking?
What could be sharpened? When I give a draft manuscript to
friends to have a look at, it is relatively easy for them to
correct the spelling and grammar, or to take issue with
particular points. It is asking much more of them to
consider the things I have not included. Yet these might be
precisely the points that would make the article more punchy
or prophetic. Lord, please help us to see the things that we
are not seeing or facing!
||Hidden fears and prejudices cause us to take on board things
that are less than helpful. They also stop us from
considering whether certain things we have taught ourselves
to mistrust might in fact be right.
4.12 Many a slip: Mayhem and Mis-steaks!
When Paul talks about being led by the Spirit He is not
saying that we will suddenly develop so accurate a hot-line
to God that we will never make any mistakes – but he is
speaking of living in step with the living God. It is the
Lord who has stirred up this longing in our spirit to be
close to Him – and it is He who makes it possible for us to
do things we could never otherwise have dreamt of doing.
The fact is, however, that the closer we draw to the Lord,
and the further we go with Him, the more we realise how
little we know – and how extremely selfish and sinful we
are! It is not that we are good at hearing the Lord but
rather that He is so gracious to overcome our sinfulness and
speak to us at all. No, we will emphatically not always get
it right – but if we are seeking Him, the Lord will make
sure that we get it right when we really need to do so. He
is committed to leading His flock, and to developing our
The danger comes if our desire decreases over the years –
especially if disappointments dampen our ardour. This is
particularly likely if our discernment has been found to be
at fault in the past. Effectively, we lose heart and are
scared to try again. All of us have mistaken our assumptions
and conclusions for God’s and have found out the hard way
that ‘My ways are not your ways and My thoughts are not
encouraged: getting our hearing wrong, even on major
issues, does not automatically make us false
Those who have been too keen to claim that the Lord has
spoken to them when nothing of the sort has happened have
done us all a disservice, by making people somewhat wary of
the whole subject. The excesses reinforce old prejudices.
Some pastors are terrified of the whole concept of their
congregation learning to listen in case it becomes a licence
for people doing their own thing.
This is an old battle! Back in the medieval days, church
leaders did all they could to discourage believers from
having access to the Scriptures in their everyday language.
They came close to success. Only immense sacrifice on the
part of many has enabled us to have the translations that we
now take almost for granted. Wycliffe, Tyndale . . . the
list of heroes who took a courageous stand in the face of
almost intolerable pressure is long. And we must not allow
ourselves to be deterred, either from those times when we
glean nothing (in which case we can just enjoy the Lord’s
company) or when we make mistakes.
Of all the books I have read on the subject of listening to
the Lord, few are sharper than John and Paula Sandford’s
perceptive book The Elijah Task. The Sandfords warn us that
none of us will graduate in the school of listening with our
pride intact. We can take it for granted there will be times
of disappointment and confusion when we mishear, or
misinterpret what we hear. Perhaps it has to be this way for
our own good. If our hearing were perfect we would become
unbearably proud and complacent – and other people would be
sure to look to us to be an oracle for them instead of
seeking the Lord for themselves.
How do we respond when something we had really been banking
on (and had supposed to be a leading from the Lord) fails to
materialise, or, even worse, blows up in our faces? Many
give up listening to God at this point, blaming either
themselves or God so strenuously that in extreme cases they
may never fully recover.
Hey, do we really need to react that excessively? If we have
got something wrong, which we often will, why be surprised?
The highly fallible have been shown to be highly fallible!
Whatever we do it’s self-defeating to blame it all on God.
There is nothing wrong with pouring out our hurt and our
heart to Him; but when this develops into full-blown
resentment or rebellion it becomes dangerous to the soul.
Trouble is, this process tends to happen by such
infinitesimal stages that we may not even notice it
happening at the time.
Getting our hearing wrong, even on major issues, does not
automatically make us false prophets. The best of us will
sometimes try too hard to impress others, get hold of the
wrong end of the stick and do all kind of goofy things. If
(and that is a crucial little word) we are willing to work
at these areas, and welcome the Lord’s correction, no matter
how or through whom it may come, then we are well on the way
to becoming humble enough for God to use more powerfully. If
we are truly humble, our pride cannot be hurt because we
won’t have a lot of it left!
But if you find that your spirit is weighed down by the
memory of some hurt or failure – that is just the way the
enemy wants it to be! He went to a great deal of trouble to
place that weight there in the first place. But the power of
God can rolls dead weights away, and set the captives free.
If we cannot set ourselves free, then perhaps someone who is
less emotionally involved in our pain can pray it off us. To
adapt the catch phrase of a well known advertisement: ‘The
prayers of others can reach the parts our own can not!’
||Lord, when I have been mistaken may I not be too proud or
too stubborn to retrace my steps – for if I hang on grimly
to what I mistakenly believed, I will end up bulldozing
others into my lopsided way of thinking.
Help me to be willing to examine the reasons why certain
things have, or have not happened, to see if they are
pointing to areas where I am particularly susceptible to
getting things out of balance. Free me to think and pray
more fully in line with Your heart and mind.
In Jesus’ name,
5 ~ Listening in Times of Pressure
||When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early
the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had
surrounded the city. ‘Oh, my lord, what shall we do?’ the
servant asked. ‘Don't be afraid,’ the prophet answered.
‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with
them. And Elisha prayed, O Lord, open his eyes so that he
may see. Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he
looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire
all round Elisha.
(2 Kings 6:15-17)
What does it take to get most of us seeking the Lord with
all of our heart? How about a crisis?! Trouble is, we are
only likely to be able to hear clearly in times of crises if
we have been doing our best to listen to the Lord in
between. It is so easy to allow fear and tension to shut out
His voice to us. How, for example, would we have coped in
the situation described above in Elisha’s day? I have
experienced considerable anxiety in the face of much less
In reality, of course, God gives us grace as and when we
need it, but knowing how we cope in times of pressure may
offer clues and solutions. It can also be helpful to
remember that men and women tend to handle things in
different ways. Men commonly take refuge in doing one thing,
fixatedly even, to avoid having to face certain things for
the time being. In the short term this can prove beneficial.
If we allow ourselves a certain amount of ‘time out’ in what
John Gray called ‘our cave,’ (and Allan Pease calls
‘fire-gazing’) there is a good chance that we will emerge
again much more prepared to listen and act appropriately. It
is when we fail to emerge from these withdrawn times that
the problems mount!
To continue to generalise, women tend to find it harder to
escape the pressure of the moment. They feel a greater
imperative to deal with an issue there and then, quite
possibly because their multi-tasking brains don’t easily
allow them to rest from thinking about the problem. Men can
watch TV or read a book and occupy the whole of their minds
thereby, (thus mentally resting from their problems),
whereas women can pay full attention to the book, and the
children at the same time. But it does not make for rest!
‘Worrying away’ at an issue is rarely the most appropriate
way to deal with it. Time and perspective are often
necessary to discern the will of the Lord. Were we to find
immediate solutions (or to just apologise and walk away when
we have done something wrong without facing up to why we did
something wrong) can prevent us from a fuller exploration of
a subject that would have taken us to the root of the
cursory reading of Scripture cannot fail to show us
how patient the Lord Jesus was under pressure. The
depth of His composure shines through both when
faced by His enemies and by crowds of people making
huge demands on Him.
May our intimacy with the Lord increase to the point
where we can continue to receive His specific
leadings, even in the midst of intense busyness and
The Lord has not called us to a life of doomed defeat but to
endless victories in Christ. He is completely committed to
us and even when we are surrounded by daunting circumstances
He does not want us to despair. The Lord who began a good
work in us will bring it to completion. (Phil. 1:6)
There is nothing more reassuring than hearing God speak –
although the implications of what He says will often
challenge us to the limit. To keep us from becoming overly
dependent on the way in which He has led us in the past, the
Bible provides numerous examples of ‘strange guidance’. Take
time out to recall God’s more unusual dealings in your own
life. Did you initially rail and react against them? Or did
you just trust that He was taking you on an adventure? How
do these things look now as you view them from your present
that You are always thinking of us,
always planning ahead to make things work together
I trust You, Lord,
even when You are leading me by ways that I have not
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
5.2 Everything God gives has to be put to the test (Mark
||Cars have their annual MOT, no ship is allowed out of the
harbour until it is considered seaworthy – and aren’t we
grateful that surgeons have to prove their competency to
practise before they are let loose on real people! It is not
so different in our spiritual development.
In both Hebrew and Greek, the same word is used for ‘try,’
‘test’ and ‘tempt’ . So when the devil is tempting us,
God is testing us and our souls are being tried. Since there
is no way round this process it is best if we can welcome
the situations God sends that expose our shortcomings. After
all, we often think we are strong when we are really only
untested. How will we know if we can withstand being
misrepresented, spoken against, sidelined or ignored unless
the matter is put to the test? This is the work of the cross
in our lives.
In His kindness, the Lord does most of His testing out of
sight in secret places. Why does He do this? So that we fall
flat on our noses less often in public! In private, though,
we will often be acutely aware that we have flunked and
failed the various tests that come our way. When we respond
with anger, fear or mistrust, we can feel as gutted as I did
when I failed my driving test first time round. But when I
passed, it was one day I will cherish for the rest of my
life! Again, it is not so different in the spiritual realm.
God lets us take the tests we fail a second, third, and, if
need be, a thirtieth time. He repeats various test scenarios
He sends our way so that we can gain the maturity we need to
handle the situation safely.
5.3 Light before the tunnel
||Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell
you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you,
and you will suffer persecution for ten days . . .If you do
not stand firm in the faith, you will not stand at all.
(Rev. 2:10; Is 7:9)
Ros and I were on holiday in a beautiful part of the country
when the Lord dropped His bombshell. He showed me clearly
that we were about to go through a really difficult time,
and would urgently need to keep our eyes on Him rather than
We have found that the Lord often seems to give us a word to
hang on to (or a special sense of His presence) just before
we enter some particularly difficult phase. Don’t get
neurotic: the Lord doesn’t only come close when there is
rough weather ahead! Neither should we blame Him when those
difficult times arrive. Although the will of God sometimes
leads us into the zone of maximum conflict, just as it did
for the Lord Jesus Himself, there are many other occasions
when the Lord knew that things were going to be difficult
anyway and He is simply being gracious enough to forewarn
If we can affirm the promises of God in the face of
massively unpromising circumstances we will become
increasingly waterproof against doubts that once threatened
to dog and waterlog our spirits. It blesses the Lord so much
when He sees such trust in us.
||Thank You, Lord, for the reassuring steering touches that
You send. You know the way that we take – and when You have
refined us we will come out as pure gold. Thank You that You
know all about the difficulties and dangers and are
committed to bringing us safely through them.
5.4 Would you turn up on time?
||Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to
listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools . . .God
is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
In many countries where believers are persecuted, Christians
need to listen to the Lord for their very safety. How else
will they know if it is wise to attend a particular meeting?
We are sensible if we make it our goal to seek the Lord with
equal determination, even without the stimulus of overt
A friend of ours was ministering some years ago behind the
Iron Curtain. One afternoon he made his way to a barn in the
country and found the place full to overflowing. It had been
considered too dangerous to announce the details of the
meeting openly, so the believers had sought the Lord and met
together by ‘divine appointment only’. When he asked them
what they would like him to speak on, he was awed and amused
when they said, ‘Teach us more about listening, please - we
are not very good at it’!
It seems paradoxical to speak about safety when we consider
Jesus’ ordeal on the cross and the sheer number of martyrs
there have been for the faith. Don’t get me wrong: the fact
that God frequently gives His servants specific warnings to
enable them to steer clear of danger does not mean that we
should make a doctrine out of their experiences. Countless
other believers have been arrested and martyred for their
faith without for one moment having strayed outside the will
of God. Was James a lesser believer than Peter because he
was beheaded and Peter was miraculously delivered from
prison? Far from it.
‘If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will
go . . . This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness
on the part of the saints.’
5.5 Listening in extreme crises
||The Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is made up of two characters.
One, predictably means ‘danger.’ The other, more
intriguingly, means ‘opportunity’. Every crisis has the
possibility of God intervening to do something new.
I dislike crises every bit as much as the next man. Fear and
tension crowd in to shut out His voice to my soul –
especially because He does not tend to say much to us anyway
while we are in the thick of it. But here is a motto that
will encourage you to look beyond the immediate pressures:
When God is going to do something important, He allows us to
see the difficulties first. But when He is going to do
something really magnificent, He allows it to appear
Let’s take a look at the best known of Moses’ many crises.
Against all the odds he had succeeded in bringing a million
plus Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert. But now he
was trapped, with mountains to one side, the Red Sea in
front of him and the vengeful Egyptian army sweeping up
behind him. How would Moses cope and God deliver? The
account makes powerful reading but it is the pattern
that I am wanting to highlight to help us through our own
times of crises. First comes the phase in which we come face
to face with all the difficulties and dangers facing us. But
then, as we cry out to the Lord in our distress, He reveals
His strategy and tells us what to do. Finally, He releases
His power into the situation.
In the midst of a colossal crisis, King Jehoshaphat, looked
at the Lord rather than the armies that were advancing
towards him. That is very much easier said than done when
the odds against surviving at all appearing overwhelming.
Study Jehoshaphat’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 20, and
Hezekiah’s in 2 Kings 19. They are masterpieces of trusting
in the Lord despite the most intense pressure.
5.6 Scrambling the Scrambler
||For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the authorities, and against the powers
of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil
in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:12)
When people who are dealing with sensitive situations do not
want anyone to intercept their communications, they activate
a scrambler on their phone. This makes their words
incomprehensible to any unauthorised listener. Satan, too,
the father of lies, is a communication scrambler. He
misrepresents the nature of God to people, and the heart of
people to each other. He even tries to misrepresent us
You must have known times when all is confusion in the camp.
What’s going on? You may well be experiencing the overflow
of this cosmic battle. The powers of darkness have a vested
interest in making it as difficult as they can for us to
hear and understand what God is saying. After all, the
better we hear from God, the more of a threat we become to
the kingdom of darkness. They will do anything they can to
resist the work of God and to distort what He is saying and
If the battle is not external (through hostile opposition or
contrary circumstances) it will be internal. The ‘accuser of
the brethren’ shapes his shafts of condemnation to get us
hearing the wrong things about ourselves (or others). He
knows that if he succeeds, as he often does, it will
seriously reduce our will to go forward.
Condemnation is probably Satan’s strongest weapon and his
most effective tactic. If he can make us feel sufficiently
belittled and beleaguered, the pressure will incline us to
accept the subliminal contract he suggests to our
subconscious: ‘I’ll stop troubling you if you quit seeking
God so hard!’ This has to happen out of sight at the a
subconscious level: if he put it to us in so many words the
chances are that we would rise up in faith and fight back.
But when we feel worn down, alone and bruised, our defences
Don’t listen to him. Don’t hold back! The very fact that
there is so much warfare going on is an indication that you
are known and feared in the kingdom of darkness. You pose a
genuine threat to their strategies. You are in the right
place when circumstances make the way ahead a jungle to
fight through, and when the most unexpected people oppose,
resist and reject you. Don’t allow the sadness and dismay
that you feel at being misunderstood, or even despised, stop
you from doing the thing that God called you to do. Those
who are trying to outwit and humiliate you are themselves in
danger of being shamed and dishonoured.
The guiding rule when under any form of pressure is not to
doubt in the darkness what you have heard in the light.
Press through the confusion. Use the many ‘warfare’ verses
of Scripture (particularly the Psalms) as a shield against
despair. They are there to be deployed as weapons of faith
to scramble the enemy’s plans. One plus God is still a
majority – so fight on against the unseen opposition!
The powers of darkness may delay the angel who brings God’s
answer to Daniel’s prayer – but the angel did win through . The Lord sometimes seems to take forever to respond to
our prayers, but then answers many months or even years of
prayer at one go. So long as you are still around, and still
in the fray, God can ‘turn back the battle at the gates’ and
use you in new ways. Tomorrow. And the day after. And every
day, until He calls you home. Never give up, no matter how
strong the battle.
5.7 Hold fast to what God has said
||Once you have committed yourself to a helter-skelter ride is
not the right time to wonder if you have done the right
thing! Of course we are wise if we check and double-check
every leading we believe to be of God – but if we hold back
when God has told us to do something it implies we do not
trust Him. The powers of darkness will have much less
success in tormenting us if our minds are steadfast and
resolute rather than irresolute and open to all manner of
doubts and misgivings.
Seasons of special opportunity must be seized with both
hands. For example, if God stirs up someone’s interest in
spiritual things, we must act promptly to introduce them to
the faith, lest the cults or some other distraction
‘harvest’ the interest that the Lord has aroused.
Far too often we are too half-hearted in what we are doing
or praying. In sporting and business terms it is dedicated
coaches and managers who ‘win’. Again, it is not so
different in the spiritual world.
When Elisha was dying, King Jehoash paid him a visit. The
prophet was determined to take this opportunity to bolster
the king’s far from fiery faith. He instructed the king to
take his six arrows and fire them eastwards, as a sign and
symbol of his forthcoming victory over Aram. The king
obeyed, but one feels that it was more out of duty than
heart conviction. He ended up striking the ground three
times with his arrows instead of firing off his quiver full.
Elisha was grieved and angry. He declared that the king
would win a measure of success but not the complete victory
he could otherwise have enjoyed.
When Moses was forty, he took it on himself to help his
people by rescuing a Hebrew who was being mistreated. He did
so, but furtively. It is said that ‘he looked this way and
that way’ (Exodus 2:12-15). He paid heavily for his action,
enduring forty years of ‘exile’ as a result. But he
persevered, ‘as seeing one who is invisible.’ (Hebrews
This is my prayer – that each one of us may likewise
persevere in seeking the Lord, in the face of all
temptations to compromise or give up. May He forgive us
when, for whatever reason, we fall short of the mark and
miss out on what He had in mind for us. As we repent of
opportunities missed, He will be gracious to allow us fresh
opportunities. May we use what He has given us and never
settle for second best. May our response then be that of
Jesus’ mother: ‘Whatever He tells you to do – do it!’ (John
We hope this publication has stirred your desire to listen
to the Lord. If particular sections of this publication have
touched, puzzled or annoyed you, why not contribute to
improving it? Feel free to write to us and share insights,
testimonies or corrections – we may be able to incorporate
them into subsequent editions! If you wish to use any of the
material in this publication we would ask that anything that
is ‘lifted’ from it be properly attributed.
All Bible and other references are detailed in the pdf of
this web page which you can access
All material in this article may be freely used, if attributed.
Robert Weston, Ruach (Breath of Life) Ministries,
23 Upper Chase Road