DISCERNING THE VOICE OF GOD
By Rodney W. Francis
Have you ever wondered why it was that God many times spoke to His servants through prophets rather than directly to them Himself? In 1 Chronicles 21:9-13 we read of God speaking to Gad, David’s seer (“a beholder in vision, prophet” – Strong’s), “to go and tell David, saying . . .” David had years of walking with God, leading His people, etc. He knew the voice of God for himself. Yet God chose ~ and still chooses ~ to often speak to us through His prophets. David obviously had confidence in Gad to hear from God on his behalf, for he responded to what he had to say from God. Gad obviously had a proven record of accuracy; otherwise David would not have had him as his “seer.” Prophets were first called seers because of their ability to see things in the spirit realm.
We see the same in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9 , 22 & 26). Jesus revealed Himself to Saul, and started to speak to him. The moment Saul recognized it was Jesus who was speaking, he totally yielded his will to Him. At that point Jesus told Saul to go into Damascus and one of His disciples, Ananias, would come and tell him what to do! Why did not Jesus tell him right there at that time while He had Saul’s full attention? One reason was that God was testing Saul’s commitment to do what ever God wanted him to. Just prior to this experience Saul did not have a very high opinion of Christians at all. He was on his way to Damascus ~ with authority from the high priest (would you believe) ~ to persecute and wound the Christian believers on Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-3 ). Saul’s response would reveal to God just how genuine he was in his “Lord, what do You want me to do?” prayer! Saul obeyed, went to Damascus, and waited for Ananias. Ananias, in the mean time, was instructed by the Lord in a vision to go and tell Saul a message. Ananias obeyed and there was a “divine appointment” meeting between the two. Ananias prophetically told Saul about his call and future ministry ~ which became the prophetic foundation for his outstanding apostleship to millions of people, even to our day (Acts 22:12-16 ).
What is the lesson as to why God chooses to speak to us through another human being like that? God is seeking to get us to know that He can speak in many different ways, through many different “channels.” Most of us accept the word of our pastor, but when it comes to a prophet, often the “defenses” go up. We have, generally speaking, not been taught well on the role of the apostle and prophet ministry. Those ministry gifts to the Body of Christ have not been well understood. As a result much of their ministry impact is lost to the Christians ~ to our detriment! Oh, yes, we herald the dead prophets of the Bible. But we are not too sure about the living ones today. God wants to be able to speak to us any way He likes. His voice has to be discerned for what it is, through whom it comes. When we give heed to the voice of God and obey accordingly, then we (and others) gain the benefits of why God speaks to us in the first place. We talk about “body ministry,” but often fail to recognize what that means. Because of a general ignorance of the prophetic ministry the function of the prophet gift is often rejected. I have learned there is a principle in life that works like this: “Ignorance breeds fear, and fear will always cause us to reject.”Sadly, that principle applies to a number of areas of Christianity today. The result of that is that we miss out on something wonderful and fruitful that God wanted for us, but we chose (through ignorance and fear) to reject the method by which He spoke! In my travels I sometimes get spoken to by Christians who state to me (after hearing me speak on the prophetic): “But God only speaks through the Bible, Brother.” That is a statement of ignorance. God does speak through the Bible by the Holy Spirit, but it is not the only way He speaks. Just reading through the Bible will open our eyes to the many different ways by which He chose to speak to various men and women throughout the ages.
THE PROPHETIC PRODUCES GOOD FRUIT
After more than 47 years of ministry I have learned that the voice of God is the revelation or “key” to unlocking ministry to us, opening doors for us, enabling us to produce fruitfulness in our lives that was never there before. It also enables us to impact many thousands of lives around the world in an exciting way. But I have to personally recognize that voice of God to me ~ in what ever way it comes ~ and then demonstrate my belief in that word by stepping out in a practical obedience to whatever He says. When I do that, I discover that I then “unlock God’s hands” to do for me whatever He promised through that voice I heard. That is a Biblical principle. If we do not respond in a practical way and demonstrate to God our love and obedience to Him, then nothing happens. His word falls on deaf ears and produces no fruit.
The next time someone speaks to you with a message from God, what are you going to do about it? Will you dismiss it because you are ignorant of God speaking that way, and do not trust the person? Or, will you perceive, and then discern, the source of the voice and, once you recognize this could be God speaking to you, will you respond in a practical way? Immediately logical thinking comes at you and says, “But what if it is not true?” My answer is,“How will you ever know if you never respond?” How do we know it is the voice of God if all we do is “pray about it” (for that is what most of us do . . . until the conviction goes away!)? When it comes to making a major decision ~ and a prophetic word comes to us through a prophet or other person, what should we do to “test” it? I believe there is a Bible principle that the word will need to be confirmed by other reputable, fruit-bearing Christians: “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (Matthew 18:16 ; 2 Corinthians 13:1 ). Another important factor is to recognize the role of the peace of God in such matters: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”(Philippians 4:6-7 ). God’s peace is like an umpire within us, causing us to know when something is right; and the lack of it when something is wrong.
If you still have doubt, then you need to submit the word given to you to some others who you have confidence in their spiritual ability to give wise counsel. To do that, of course, means you will need to have a taped or written copy of the original word given, so as to not have the original message “clouded” by your emotions that can sometimes only allow you to hear “what you want to hear.” (It is surprising how many Christians only remember what they want to when it comes to prophetic utterances.)
THE PROPHETIC MINISTRIES WERE TRUSTED
If you read Acts 13:1-4 you will see that the prophetic ministry was held in high regard in the early church. When the Holy Spirit spoke and said, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them,” those who were present had no doubts about it being from God. How did the Holy Spirit speak? Obviously through one of the Spirit-filled men who were gathered there. Unfortunately, generally speaking, that is not so today. There have been several occasions in my life when the Lord has given me a message for a person or church regarding some decision(s) they are about to make, and when you share that message, it has the effect of seemingly making them more determined than ever to do what the message was telling them not to do! Far too often leaders “judge” the personality of the messenger rather than the message itself.
In the illustrations I have given, we notice that David, Saul, and the prophets and teachers at Antioch, all had no problems in recognizing the source of the voice. They all accepted that what they heard was from God. Yet in each instance the message or word from God came through a fellow human being.
THE NEED FOR PROPHETIC ACCURACY
The challenge for prophets and apostles today ~ and those learning in the prophetic ministry ~ is for us to continue working on receiving and speaking out the message correctly. That is, we have to keep making sure we are hearing from God, and not sharing our “opinions” ~ and we need to be strongly motivated by love for those we are ministering God’s message to. We have to keep in mind that we are New Covenant prophets operating under the grace and love of God, and not carrying a mindset of a “judgmental” Old Covenant prophet.
In reality, any negative attitudes towards the prophet and prophetic ministry (we are not a prophet because we can function in the gift of prophecy) will not change too much until we (the prophetical people) can raise the standard of accuracy and demonstrate more of the positive, good fruit that comes as a result of obeying the voice of the Lord through us. In many circles today there is a real skepticism of the prophetic. Many of us have been taught to be careful and cautious, and often that has resulted in our responding to nothing. Then we wonder why we do not see more of the supernatural in our lives and churches! New Covenant Christianity is Holy Spirit-filled and inspired, with the nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit being freely encouraged to operate. Those Gifts are nine different variations of the voice of God; the true gifts only come forth when a person has a conviction that the Holy Spirit desires them to say or do something, and then, when they respond to that prompting, it becomes a manifestation of one of the Holy Spirit’s Giftings. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit (as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 ) are vitally important for the growing and maturing of the church today! They are God-given and God-ordained ~ we neglect them to our own hurt and loss.
Even under the Old Covenant the prophesying of the prophets to the people was for their good, when they obeyed. Here is just one illustration: “. . . they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah” (see Ezra 5:1-2 ; Ezra 6:14 ). The word “prospered” means “to accomplish successfully; to reach the goal” (Wilson’s). Prophesying inspired and encouraged the people to be focused on the purpose of God for them. It stirred them to rise up and build the work of God; to finish what they had started; to be obedient to the commands of God, etc. They reached their goal! They accomplished successfully the task God had called them to do! Consider, then, how much more we could (and should) be accomplishing under the prophesying of New Covenant prophets!!
This is a vast subject, and we can only touch on a little here. May what has been written cause us all to more seriously consider how much more effective we could be when we rightly discern the voice of God that comes to us through His prophets today. God is speaking through many different means. Are we listening to, and then obeying what He says?