Listening To God – Dr. Charles Stanley

Start your day off right with the free In Touch devotional. Subscribe today. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ CC by Aberdeen Captioning 1-800-688-6621 male announcer: "In Touch" with Dr. Charles Stanley, reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ through sound biblical teaching. Next on "In Touch," "Listening to God." Dr. Charles Stanley: It is a very comforting thought to think about the fact that God loves you and me enough to have made a plan for our life. And He planned it before you and I ever existed because He's known everything for all time, so that you weren't just an accident; God had a plan for your life. Now, whether you understood that or not is a different issue. But He does have a plan for every single one of us. And the very fact that He has a plan is an expression of His love for us, that He thinks enough of us that He wants the best for us. He has a plan that He has laid out in His Word that if we will just follow His Word, follow His plan, we'll have life at its very best, because His plan's always the best. His plan is not always the easiest, but it is the best. Some of His plans may lead us to places like we have to climb mountains or walk through valleys or whatever it might be, but He has a plan. And I would simply ask you in the beginning of this message, have you ever asked God to show you His plan for your life? Have you ever asked Him if you were following His will and His purpose for your life? Or did you just sort of grow up thinking, "I'll do what comes next or I'll do what's the most convenient to do"? If you have never asked God, "Show me Your will for my life, what is Your plan for my life," if you've never thought about it, you need to think about it now. And this is a good time in this message for you to think about it, because God has certainly done that. He's made a plan, and the question is, if He has a plan, is He willing to guide you in that plan? And the answer is yes, because here's what He says. He says in Psalm thirty-two, "I will teach you and instruct you in the way which you should go; I will guide you with My eye upon you." Then He says in Proverbs three, five and six, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Listen to that. If you will acknowledge Him, recognize Him, His power, He says He'll make your path straight if you will simply trust Him and follow His guidance and direction for your life. So that's what I want to talk about: the very idea that God would guide our life. But in order for Him to do that, there's something that people oftentimes don't think about. And that is, if He's going to be my guide, I've got to be willing to listen to what He says. God has a plan for your life, and He's continuously giving you a sense of direction, but if you're not listening, you're going to miss it. Because you see, it's one thing to be guided; it's something else to be a listener. And that's the part that I want to talk about today, and that is the fact that our responsibility is to listen to Him. Now if you'll turn to Mark the fourth chapter-- look there for a moment. There are three passages here in Mark that I want you to notice, because Jesus was very conscious of the fact of that whenever He spoke, He wanted people to listen to Him. And so, look if you will in this fourth chapter of Mark and beginning in verse one. "He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables and was saying to them in His teaching." Now watch this, and this is the way He begins: "Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow." So He begins this parable by saying, "Listen to this!" And if you'll look at the twenty-third verse of the same chapter, He said, "'If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.' And He was saying to them, 'Take care what you listen to.'" It's not only necessary to listen, but you have to be careful what you listen to. And then look if you will in the seventh chapter-- we stay right in Mark. Look in the seventh chapter and look if you will in the fourteenth verse of the seventh chapter. And He begins here: "After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, 'Listen to Me, all of you, and understand.'" Because He knew that regardless of what He said, if they weren't listening, it wasn't going to do them any good. And you know, it's interesting in John, for example, different other parts of the gospels too, but in John, Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you." Twenty-five times He puts two truly's together. "Truly, truly, I say to you," which was Jesus's way of saying, "This is how important this is. This is a word of authority. This is the truth. You need this. Listen carefully. Don't miss anything I'm about to say." So He would say, "Truly, truly." And one of the examples of that is when Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Jesus, we know that You're a teacher, a man from God, because we see all these miracles You are doing." Jesus said to him immediately, "Truly, truly, I say to you, except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." There was no hem-hawing around about it. "Truly, truly, I say to you." And I believe that Jesus is still saying that to us, "Truly, truly I say to you," when He speaks to us. He wants to give us a sense of direction for our life. He wants us to understand how absolutely important what He's saying is. Think about this. Jesus never said anything that was not important. He didn't just casually come across with things. He spoke clearly. And His goal was to give direction. His goal was to lead them to make right decisions, godly decisions in their life. So, when I think about how Jesus said it, "Truly, truly, I say to you," that is, "Without any question, this is a word of absolute authority." And so twenty-five times just in the Gospel of John alone, we see Jesus beginning a conversation like that. "Truly, truly, I say to you." That is, "What I'm about to tell you is very important." Do you remember when you were growing up and your mother or your dad said, "Sit down, I want to talk to you"? Usually that meant, uh-oh, maybe I've done something wrong, or this is--but anyway, you realized immediately, this is important. So, you ask yourself the question: I wonder if God's been speaking to me and I haven't been listening? God's guidance is of no value if I'm not listening. And no one else can listen for you. There may be someone who can give you a suggestion here and there and so forth, but God doesn't speak-- watch this carefully. He doesn't speak most of the time for somebody else to come tell you. But there are lots of times we hear through other people God saying something that really applies to our hearts. But God can speak to you personally. He spoke to the Apostle Paul, but he spoke to those people whose names are not in the Bible. God speaks to those who are willing to listen. And all of us need divine guidance in our life in every area, and He is ready and willing and committed to showing us and telling us. So, when we talk about listening to God, you say, "Well, how does He speak?" His primary way of speaking to us is through His Word, the Bible. And sometimes people say, "Well, why do you, why do you hold up that big old Bible?" I'll tell you why. Because I'm not the authority, this is the authority. And if you're going to church somewhere that you don't see one of these--doesn't have to be just like this one, but nobody opens a Bible, you should have questions. Why is it that the ultimate, final authority is not opened? Because this is the authority. And what I want to share with you came from the Authority. So, the Word of God--this is the way He speaks. This is His primary way of speaking. And of course He speaks to us through prayer. He gives us guidance oftentimes. And when somebody says to me, "Well, I've never heard God speak," I would say to you: because you're not listening. Because I know that He speaks to a lost person through His Holy Spirit to convict them of sin. They can brush it off very easily and move on. He speaks to any one of His children very clearly if we're willing to listen to Him, so I would ask you this. In your prayer time, how much time do you give to listening to God, or you do all the talking? If you sit down to pray, you sit down and say, "Heavenly Father, I just want to thank You for today," and go-- you go on and on and on. And then you say, "In Jesus name, amen," and you get up and do whatever you're going to do. That's not the way to listen to God. So simply want to say this. You need to give God time to speak. Because if He has a plan, He wants to show you what the plan is. He wants to guide you in the plan. When God speaks, He speaks to you about your life, and it's always good. It may be a warning sometimes, but even that's good. So He speaks through His Word, for example. He speaks through prayer. He speaks through circumstances. There are things that happen to us that God will speak through those things. And you know I mentioned to you about falling, and my first thought when my head hit my arm: "Thank God, not the floor." I thought, "God, what are You up to?" Because I don't believe there are accidents with God's children. You're walking in His will and something happens, He's up to something. And I instantly wanted to hear what He had to say. Well, did I hear? No, not then. It took me two or three weeks to really begin to understand what He was doing in my life. But He had to get my attention. Now you say, "Well, you mean to tell that God did that to get your attention?" I can tell you absolutely, yes, He did, and I listened to Him, and thank God. And secondly, I would go through it again if necessary for God to show me what He showed me. So sometimes His circumstances are painful, but you have to ask yourself the question, what's more important? My ease, comfort and pleasure, or hearing from God? If you're willing to listen, He will use circumstances that are difficult sometimes in order to get the message to us. And then sometimes God speaks through other people. He may choose someone that you don't even like or someone that you have a difficult time having a relationship with, but sometimes God speaks through others. So, the important thing is this, and that is that He's speaking because He wants to give us clear direction for how He wants us to live. And it's unwise for me to think that He's got a plan and that I'm not going to listen. Listening is--listen, listening is the key. And so I would simply say to you before--when you decide to pray, whether you kneel down or sit in a chair, whatever it might be, just think about this. Before you start talking and telling God every-- about all these things that He already knows about, or complaining about, or whatever it might be, why don't you take time just to be quiet? And just sit quietly and just say this to Him: "Heavenly Father, I need to listen to You. I'm going to be quiet, and just want You to speak to my heart and help me to listen carefully so that I can do exactly what You want me to do. How do you think God will respond to that? I'll tell you how. He will say to you exactly what you need to hear. And when He does, don't say, "Oh, well, I-- that's just my imagination." No, God promises to lead you. Listen to what He says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him. He will direct your path." But I must acknowledge Him, respect Him, love Him, adore Him and obey Him, whatever He says. And so oftentimes people have a difficult time admitting and being willing to do that. Now, how can I, how can I identify the voice of God? People oftentimes say, "Well, I'm not sure God is speaking." Well, first of all, it's always going to be consistent with the Word of God. It's always going to be consistent with the Word of God. He's not going to say anything to you that is inconsistent with the Word of God. And usually, He speaks quietly; softly, sort of. It's like a whisper. You just know that it came from God. It doesn't make any difference what anybody else thinks; you know that He's spoken to your heart. And so, when He speaks to you, He'll speak to you in a way the exact proper way that He knows you can hear Him. It'll always be clear. He'll never give you any mumbo jumbo about anything. He'll tell you exactly what to do. And listen, He doesn't use a lot of extra words. He goes straight to the issue and says, "Here's what I'd have you to do. I want you to do thus and so. I want you to stop that; start this. I want you to start reading the Word of God every day." If God says that to you, you know why? Because He wants to guide you in some issue that's to be found in the Word of God. And so sometimes you're going to have a clash with what God says to you versus what other people may think. That's why you don't have to go telling everybody what God said to you. Secondly, a lot of things He says to us will clash with our flesh. "That doesn't fit who you are. I don't want you heading in that direction. I don't want you to develop in that relationship." Very, very specific and clean, clear. And always speaking to our spirit. So, He's going to speak. Our responsibility is to listen. Now, I think about how few people, for example, are tuned into God. They're tuned in to a certain kind of music, they're tuned into certain stations they listen to or news or whatever it might be, but if you tune your heart to God. You say, "Well, how do I tune my heart to God?" I'll tell you how. You take--you set aside a definite time to sit and be quiet and just say, "God, I want You to speak to my heart." You'll be surprised what you begin to sense about the presence of God in your life. You say, "Well, I've never felt that." Well, did you give Him an opportunity? He's promised, listen, He's promised in His Word to guide us. And if He's going to guide me, I must be willing to listen. And the question is, am I willing to listen? You'd be surprised how clearly God will speak to your heart, if you're willing to listen to Him. So, somebody says, "Well, how does He get our attention?" Well, one way He gets our attention is restlessness. And I think about one of the first times in my life that I realized that. My wife and I were planning to go to California with the Home Mission Board, that's what they called it in those days, and work in a church out there for the summer. And we had everything all set because we had a summer off in June, July and August. Sounded like a good thing to do, and I felt like that was the right thing. One Saturday morning, I woke up and I felt very restless. I thought, "What's this?" And I knew enough to know that that feeling was from God, this restless feeling. I had no idea what, what the subject was. So I just said to her, "I just need to spend some time praying and just asking God to give me direction." And so I just got on my knees. And I remember that Saturday morning, sometime around nine o'clock, or thereabouts--I don't know what time, but I know that I was there till six o'clock. I was so restless, wondering, "God, what in the world are You saying to me?" And what He said to me was so unlike what I expected. He said, "I want you to go to the mountains and spend these three months and just relax and trust Me." Well, that sounded selfish as it could sound. Go to the mountains. And it so happened that her father had given her a house up there, and so we're going to pack up and go to the mountains for three months and just take it easy, and we could be serving God. That's all I got. We went to the mountains. We were going to California. We went to the North Carolina Mountains. We'd been up there maybe a month or so, and we were out fishing right off the dock there, and somebody came, a fellow came down the steps and he said, "Are you Charles Stanley?" I said, "Yes, sir." "Are you a seminary student?" I said, "Yes, sir." So, to make a long story short, he said, "Are you--would you be willing to preach for us next Sunday?" He's-- "Our pastor's gone on vacation." Well, I didn't know him from Adam and didn't know anything about the church. In fact, didn't know anything about anything up there. But I said yes. So, I went and preached for them, and they said, "Would you preach next Sunday?" I said yes. Then they said, "We're having a party tonight at church. Would you come to the party?" I said yes. Next thing I knew, they were calling me to be their pastor. I thought, no, no, no, no, no--nah, because I had, I had another year of seminary. And so, to make a very long story short, I ended up being their pastor after I finished seminary. If I had ignored my restless spirit, I would have gone to California and probably would have done a mediocre job, out of the will of God. And so, watch this. His plan was totally unlike anything I would think. But in order to get me to the mountains and that church, and to teach at that Bible Institute, and finally for the few other things going on, finally getting me to Atlanta, and finally all over the world--suppose I had said no to God. That's why it's so important that we listen carefully. And so when He says, when He says, "Truly, truly," that's what He means. Sometimes He gives us a restless feeling. Sometimes He just whispers something quietly. "Here's what I want you to do." And thus, I don't--somebody says, "Well, does God speak audibly?" I don't think He does ninety-nine point nine percent of the time. Somebody says, "Has He ever spoken quiet--has He ever spoken to you in an audible voice?" I would only say for me, personally, maybe once or twice I heard it. But don't--that's not normal. Two critical times. Did I hear Him say "Charles"? No, I didn't. I didn't hear that. I probably would have fainted if I'd-a heard it, so I didn't hear that. Let's put it this way. It was so loud and so clear, it was as if it were audible. He knows exactly what it takes to get your attention. He knows how to stop you long enough so that you start listening. But if you determine you're going to have your way anyway, you're going to do it your way anyway, will He stop you? Sometimes He will and sometimes He won't. And nobody knows when that is. For me, He stopped me dead. For you, He may not do that. I'd certainly hope that you'd be wise enough to listen more carefully than I did till I got the message. But all of that is an expression of love. He says, "Here's My plan. Now for you to have the plan, you must be willing to listen." And I think there are primary reasons that people don't listen. And sometimes people say, "Well, I don't believe God speaks today." Well, let me just say this: you are absolutely wrong. God speaks today. And what He says to each individual, He says according to what the need is, and what He wants to say, what's His plan for your life. That's why developing a listening heart is so very important. What that does, that keeps us always in tune with Him. "Lord, what are You saying?" If somebody comes to me and says, "I have a question for you," my first response is, "God, I want to be sure I'm hearing what I need to hear in order to give the answer I need to give." And if you'll just think about all during a day, you and I should be in tune with Him, because--listen. God is in the process of speaking to you and to me all during the day and evening. Don't you wake up sometime--I wake up sometime and I think, "God, what are You saying to me?" And sometimes out of a dead sleep, He awakens us because He has our undivided attention; no sound, no noise, no light, nothing. Wants to give us direction for our life. And see, it's foolish to try to live your life in this day and time without His direction. And it's the safest thing you can do, is to--listen, is to invite Him and His opinion and His direction for every decision you and I make. So, people say, "Well, I'm not too sure He speaks." Yes, He does. You know what the problem is? We're too busy. But the truth is we don't believe Him, we don't value His voice enough to take the time to listen to Him. That's the reason people don't hear Him, because they got their minds full of other things. And I think about one of the reasons people are afraid of what God would say. If you opened your heart to God and said, "Lord, I'll do anything You want me to do." Are you willing to say that to Him? And I've met a lot of folks down through the years who've said, "Well, I'm not about to say that to God because I don't know what He'll say." Well, what you're saying is you don't trust Him. So here, here's a God who has a perfect plan for your life, and you don't trust Him? And His plan is always the best plan. Listen, not any of us can come up with a better plan for our life than God has, because He's a God of love, unconditional love. He doesn't love us whether we obey Him or not. He loves us whether we--whether we obey Him or whether we don't obey Him, because He's God. And because He wants the best for your life. And my encouragement to you this morning is: make a practice every day to get alone with God, and before you start doing all the talking, be quiet and let Him speak. Now, if you've never trusted Jesus as your Savior, I can tell you what He's saying. He's saying, "Repent of your sins. Turn your life over to Christ. He died for you. He shed His blood for you. It's possible for Me to forgive you of all of your sin and give you a new beginning." I know He'll say that. And I trust that if you've never trusted Him, you'll do just that. And if you have, I ask you the question: How much time in twenty-four hours of a day do you spend listening to Him in order to make wise decisions in every aspect of your life? That's my prayer for you. And Father, how grateful we are that You love us enough to speak to us, and You make it clear. And You help us to avoid those pitfalls that are always out there. I pray that You'll make each one of us a listening servant so we can fulfill Your purpose and Your plan for our lives, and that the impact of our lives would be such that our children will be greatly impacted. The people we work with, the people we love, the people we surround ourselves with--I pray the Holy Spirit will make each one of us like a listening post for people who are seeking godly advice. In Jesus's name, amen. ♪♪♪