C a r o l e King's hit from the 1 9 7 0 s , "Where You Lead - I Will Follow", is a song I loved to sing along with as a teenager. As I sang I always thought of my commitment to Jesus. Even the line about following as far as New York City resonated with me. I don't recall being overly zealous as a teen, but when I think about my response to that song, obviously my young faith was quite solid!
While it is great to express intention to go where God says, I have often wondered how to listen to His direction with confidence. It can feel like tuning into a radio station - sometimes clear, occasionally messed up by interference, and at times a most unnerving thought: What if I am tuning in to the wrong station?
Listening to God is something I have deliberately been working on lately as I have done some soul-searching about my future. While I love being the State Manager of Samaritan's Purse in Tasmania, I finally allowed myself to listen to Him tell me it is time to write a book about some of my experiences. The Voice has been there a long time - but I've put it off to deal with another day for too many years now. It is time to act. I have given notice to my boss in Sydney and will finish that role soon.
I have learnt there are several facets to clearly hearing God's voice in order to follow with confidence. My prayer is that these ideas will help you listen with confidence.
God occasionally speaks audibly, but mostly He speaks as a quiet voice. It is just the same as my own thoughts, the difference is that I know I didn't think them! Hearing these promptings comes naturally to some and is completely foreign to others.
If you have trouble listening with your spirit, ask God to make it clear. After all, Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Luke 11:9, NIV). Keep knocking. Keep asking. He will answer.
While it is really easy to suggest, "Listen to your spirit", there is no doubt it is not always simple. There can be conflicting voices and your imagination can run wild. How do you tell the difference between your imagination and God's suggestions?
This is where asking for the gift of discernment is key. I only want to hear from Jesus - not my own ideas. Paul wrote to the Philippians saying, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to
discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:9,10, NIV).
Confirmation from other trusted people sharpens discernment. It is another way God makes His mind known. In recent months as I pondered my future, Stephen, my husband, woke up one day saying he was sure the time was right to make the shift from my current State Manager's role. His 'revelation' resonated exactly with what I had been thinking.
However, sometimes there are even more unexpected ways God uses. Maybe you have had the experience, or have heard people say things like, "That preacher was talking directly to me!" or "Everywhere I go that Bible verse keeps coming up this week!" Confirmation can take you by surprise.
Knowing His voice.
It is also important to recognise Jesus' voice. Jesus explains how we hear His voice in the Book of John, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27, NIV) Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
Shepherds are a rare breed these days. I was constantly amazed at my father-in-law, a part-time sheep farmer, who could go out to the paddock, call the sheep, and they would come running because they knew his voice. However, if anyone else called, it was another story - they all ran away! It is important to spend time with Jesus so you know His voice.
In addition to your own imagination, the other voice you might hear is the enemy, AKA Satan and his cohorts, who can make unwanted suggestions which sound very feasible. Our task is to learn what Jesus' voice sounds like, and tune out if we hear anyone unfamiliar.
When making important life decisions it is imperative to listen well and discern where the thoughts and ideas are coming from. Are the ideas from God? From your own imagination? Or the enemy? To work out what God is saying to you here is a prayer that might help . . .
"Dear God, Thank you that you want to speak to me. I really want to listen! Let me become more aware of the workings of my spirit. I want to recognise your voice. Please give
me the ability to discern between your voice and that of the enemy. Please also quieten my imagination and my own ideas. I only want to hear what you are saying. If there is anything else I should do to hear you better, please show me what it is. And if I do take a wrong turn, help me to work it out quickly. I am ready to listen! Amen"
Jenny Baxter and her husband Stephen attend Hobart Baptist Church. After nearly four years as State Manager of Samaritan's Purse overseeing the Operation Christmas Child project, she will soon answer God's call and begin the next part of her journey. Find out more at www.jennybaxter. com.au