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We use God's truth to discern whether or not something that we think we hear God say really is His voice. That truth comes to us in two different ways: through Scripture and through experiences where God reveals Himself directly to us. And when we need to judge/discern if what we are hearing really is God's voice, then we want to apply both of these truths to it. If it really is God's voice, it will not contradict what God has already said in the Bible and it will be consistent with Who God has revealed Himself to be to us.
Remember lesson 1, where I said that there are two things that try to imitate God's voice to us? Those two things are the devil and our own hearts. I will talk about our own hearts imitating God's voice in our next lesson, but for right now, we will focus on discerning when the devil tries to imitate God's voice.
The devil sometimes pretends that he is God speaking to us in order to led us astray, or to get us off track, or to torment us, or to confuse us. The devil is not very nice. In fact, John 10:10 tells us that part of his job description is to steal and kill and destroy. And he will use any means he can to accomplish his objection. Jesus said, in John 8:24, that the devil is a liar and the father of lies. And 2 Corinthians 11:14 tells us, "For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light." This means that Satan purposely tries to misrepresent himself as if he were speaking for God when he is really speaking for his own evil agenda.
Since the Bible says these things about the devil, it should not surprise us when he tries to imitate God's voice and pretend to be God speaking to us. God wants us to be aware that he does this so we will not be caught off guard when it happens.
I would like to share a real-life example of how Satan tries to do this and how we can use God's truth to detect it. I want to use a recent example, so I will share an experience that I had yesterday morning.
I had just let the dogs in the yard to do their doggie business. As I was coming back into the house, I prayed a prayer that I have prayed many times. "Lord," I asked, "How are You feeling today? Is there anything I can do to give You joy or to make You happy?"
His response startled me. He said, "Actually, Teresa, today I am feeling afraid."
"Feeling afraid, Lord?" I had never heard Him say anything like that to me before. It startled me.
"Yes, I am frightened for My people and the choices they will make and what lies ahead of them."
A thousand responses began to race though my mind. 'It sounds like we are about to make a bad choice.' 'Something terrible must be up for God's people, maybe God wants me to warm them?' 'Or maybe He wants me to raise up intercessory support. How would He want me to implement that?' 'What would He want me to do in response to this?' 'Maybe this is a warning for me personally that something bad is about to happen?' These thoughts and others like them all began to race through my mind. God had never said anything to me like that before, so it must be pretty serious.
But then another thought began to run though my mind, and I believe the Holy Spirit was the author of that thought. [God is so faithful to speak to us and show us His will. If we start to head off in the wrong direction, He is faithful to redirect us, to put us back on course. We can trust Him to lead and direct us and to lovingly correct us when we hear wrong. John 14:26 tells us "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." In other words, one of the ways that the Holy Spirit speaks to us is by recalling things to our memory. And that is what He did with me at that instant.]
I suddenly found myself reliving an experience I'd had on the airplane less than 48 hours earlier, when I flew home from a conference in Kentucky. It was a 5.5 hour flight and I decided to pass that time by listening to a gospel CD -- of the book of John. My original intent was to listen to the whole book and then go on to the book of Acts. But when we got to John chapter 5, I got of stuck there for quite a while. Jesus said so much in that chapter and I did not feel like I was absorbing it all. So I replayed that chapter over and over again, trying to absorb everything that He said. I knew I was missing something, so I kept prayerfully going over that passage and asking God to show me all that He wanted me to see out of it.
Each time I listened to that passage, a different phrase would jump out at me, and I would find myself in a discussion with the Lord about that phrase. One part had been quite a puzzle to me, and that was the part that the Holy Spirit recalled to my memory. In fact, that memory began to drown out all those other thoughts. I was mentally "back on the plane" and prayerfully puzzling over John 5:31-41. In particular, I was puzzling over what He said about John the Baptist in verses 32 to 34:
32There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. 33You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.
When I read that passage, I remembered saying, "Wait a minute, Lord! First You say that You sent John to be Your witness. And in another place, You said that he was the greatest of all the prophets. You chose Him as Your prophet to proclaim Your coming and be a witness of You... and now You say that You don't receive His testimony? I don't get it God? Why send him as Your prophet if You don't receive him? Why would You do that Lord?"
I puzzled over this with the Lord for some time before He gave me the understanding that I was looking for. The way He gave it to me was by reminding me about the vision I described in the last lesson, where I had "met" Jesus shortly after the last supper. He asked me what I had learned from that vision. I said that I learned that He is much bigger and greater than I am and it is not my place to try to comfort Him. I am incapable of doing anything to help God, and He does not need my help. God is quite capable of taking care of Himself.
Then Jesus explained to me that this was a similar sort of thing. Jesus knew Who He as and what He had been called to do. He did not need John's testimony to convince Him of Who He was or of the destiny on His life, because the Father had already showed that to Him. John was not sent for Jesus sake, to help Jesus in any way with His mission. Instead, John was sent for the sake of the people, to prepare their hearts and to help them believe in Jesus.
The memory of that discussion on the plane ended, but the Holy Spirit had made His point. He had my attention now and I was alerted to the fact that what I had heard probably wasn't really His voice. So I brought it back to Him and told Him what I'd heard and that I was beginning to think that was not really His voice. I asked Him to talk to me about that. And He did.
He asked me to show Him just one verse anywhere in the Bible that said or implied that anyone had the power to scare God or to make Him afraid, or to control or manipulate or harm Him in any way. I could not think of a single one and I am pretty sure that there is no such verse in the Bible. But I could recall many passages about how great God's power is and how no one can make Him do anything He doesn't want to do or can prevent Him from doing anything He does want to do. I was reminded of those passages from the book of Job where God proclaims His majesty and how He alone is all powerful and fully sovereign to Job and his three "comforters."
God made it pretty clear to me from His word that He would not be afraid of what was going to happen. He could not be afraid of the choices that His people might make. He might be sad or angry about them, but He would never be caught by surprise by them or afraid.
Then God reminded me once again to that Last Supper experience with Jesus. He asked me if man could comfort God? I remembered the experience vividly and said "No." "So," He continued, "If it were possible for Me to be frightened, would I see comfort or help from one of My creation?" The answer to that was pretty obvious. "No." God would comfort Himself, He would never look to His creation to comfort Him or to make Him feel better.
In this example, God used both the Bible and personal revelation to speak to me. He let me know that what I had heard was not really His voice. When I looked at what I heard in light of God's truth, it did not hold up. Therefore it was not from God and I discarded it.
God's truth will work in a similar manner anytime we need to prayerfully discern whether or not something was really His voice. When it really is God talking to us, anything He says to us will hold up against Scripture. And it will also hold up those times when He has given us a direct revelation of Himself. In short, God is Truth, and anything He says is Truth. So, what He says today will be consistent with what He said in His word. And it will also be consistent with any personal revelation of Himself that He has previously given to us.