This is the audio recording of the third reading of week four of Start, entitled Involving Others.
“The purpose of journeying together in spiritual friendship and spiritual community (whether there are just two of you or whether you are in a small group) is to listen to one another's desire for God, to nurture that desire in each other, and to support one another in seeking a way of life that is consistent with that desire.”
We will naturally make mistakes as we learn to discern God’s voice, and it is helpful to remember that people have been wrestling with this for centuries. You are not the first person to hear from God (and you will not be the last), nor are you the first to struggle to discern God’s voice. It is good to know that we are not alone in our journey. We can and are directed in the Bible to seek wisdom from other believers to confirm when God is speaking. We need more than our thoughts and limited ideas about how life should look or how God should sound. We need others to develop a deeper understanding of God’s voice and activity in our lives.
You are not meant to live the Christian life in your strength or independently. You have Christ, the Holy Spirit, and a Christian community that serves as an environment for your spiritual growth. You can learn to hear God’s voice by being around people who regularly listen to him.
One of the Bible’s key messages is that we truly need each other. Verse after verse instructs us on how to relate and, specifically, how to give and receive feedback. We can rely on each another to help us understand God and ourselves more accurately. The Bible has multiple instructions for how to communicate with one another.
- Encourage one another, and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:7)
- Speak the truth in love, and we will grow to become a mature body more like Christ in every respect. (Ephesians 4:15)
- Spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
- Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instructions to a wise man, and he will be still wiser. (Proverbs 9:9-10)
1 Peter 4:10-11 encourages us to use whatever gift we have to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace. He then says, “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” Did you catch that? We should be careful with our conversations with one another because they have a unique power to point us to God Himself. God can and does speak to us through one another. If we’re individually hearing from God, we then have the potential to mysteriously offer more than just human wisdom.
In our day and age, we tend to cling to personal independence even though we need interdependence. That’s why we need to hear God’s voice in a community (see Acts 15:28). Close friends often know us better than we know ourselves. They are better equipped to see our blindspots and biases. They understand how we speak to and about ourselves and can sometimes see our unhealthy habits more clearly. A close friend told me, Heather, that I often unnecessarily apologize. That one observation shed light on a whole area of insecurity I could now work on with God. Good friends can also help you realize how often we rationalize our actions or hide our mistakes. (It is easier to receive this type of feedback when trust is built and the observation is delivered with empathy, love, and grace.) My best friend truthfully points out when I am overcommitting for the wrong reasons because she knows how easily I fall into the temptation to rationalize my ‘yes.’ When we are part of a community of believers mutually committed to authentic spiritual maturity, these trusted friends can gracefully help us be honest with ourselves. Giving and receiving that loving feedback leads to more significant spiritual growth. These trusted friends can be the vessels God uses to speak His truth to us.
When trying to discern God’s voice, it’s a good idea to find other believers who’ve been walking with Christ longer than you have. Ask them if they can affirm what you sensed the Lord saying to you. Submitting what we hear to the wisdom of others is different from going to a person for advice (though Scripture does tell us seeking advice is helpful, see Prov. 9:9; 12:15). We are not seeking human wisdom but a sensitive heart that is discerning the will of God with us. James 1:5 says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.” As we hear from God, we ask others to join us in questioning and listening. When we involve trusted, godly friends in the discernment process, they can help us distinguish between God’s voice and the accuser’s voice or our flesh. Listening to other Christians should never become a substitute for listening to God Himself. But other believers can help you confirm whether or not your thoughts are consistent with what the Bible says.
This January, I sat around my friend’s dining room table for a ladies’ new year’s breakfast. After delicious food and lighthearted conversation, the mood shifted as we shared. We took turns answering the question, ‘What characteristic of God did you lean into most last year? Where did you grow? Stories of struggle, pain, suffering, and loss are juxtaposed with God’s promises, nearness, spiritual growth, and thankfulness. We saw ourselves in one another’s stories and took turns pointing out where we saw God’s hand. We verbally affirmed each woman’s unique tenacity to stay the course. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “God has willed that we should seek and find His living word in the testimonies of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings.” I would guess you’ve had moments where you have heard God speak to you through other people. It could be timely wisdom from a friend, a sermon that ignited you to action, a prophetic word or prayer that was uniquely for you, or an ordinary conversation that Jesus seemed to join in.
Conversations with other Jesus followers have the unique potential to be conduits for God’s presence. Jesus promises in Mathew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” If we remember that God is always present and at work, and every other Jesus follower lives in this reality, our friendships take on the ability to confirm God is among us. Our ordinary conversations are opportunities to point out deeper spiritual realities. When we unpack Scripture together, new truths become evident, and God’s Word comes alive in new ways. When we listen deeply and notice what is being accomplished, is more than human efforts, we testify that God is in our midst. As we learn to hear God together, we can hone our ability to listen to what God is saying and doing supernaturally in us. When we become aware of this possibility, we shift into expectancy. In our conversations, Scripture study, and prayers, we encounter His presence and listen to His voice as we listen to one another.
One of the benefits of a Missional Community is regular meetings with others who are actively learning to hear God’s voice. When you seek God together, you often confirm and amplify what God has revealed. Some may point us to Scriptures that confirm what we are hearing. Others will have heard from God themselves and be ready to speak affirmation (See Ananias’ story with Paul in Acts 9). Regular honest feedback opens up new areas of awareness, and if we are off track, these trusted friends can help us see that and join us in more prayer and discernment.
We were designed to seek God together. Putting time and effort into building deep spiritual friendships, and being a part of a community seeking to hear God together, strengthens your ability to hear and discern God’s voice.
- Recall a time when a conversation with a fellow Christian felt like God was speaking through that person. What was it like? What made their words feel like it was God speaking? Were their words consistent with the God scripture describes?
- Who are people in your life who you can talk to about what you are hearing from God? What makes them trustworthy? If no one comes to mind, what qualities can you look for in a person to play that role in your life?
- Have you ever been consulted by another Christian on something they were hearing from God? Why do you believe they asked you? How did you respond to them?