Some speak of the church as an institution, but I think of God’s church as a family.
When I refer to “God’s family,” I am not talking about your physical family, or even about your local church group, although I hope that those things are included in your Christian family. God’s family is much bigger than the people right around you. Our man-made perimeters aren’t necessarily His. God’s family is not determined by denominational lines, but consists of imperfect people all over the world who are saved by grace and walking in faith.
How does God’s family help us on our journey of hearing from Him?
God’s family offers strength when we feel weak and uncertain. At some point along the path of hearing God, many of us find our feet slowed by doubt. “Am I really hearing from God? Is all this just made-up mush my brain has cooked up? What do I do if I think I heard God and I actually didn’t? Am I disgracing God if I thought I heard Him and obeyed, but in hindsight I can see that it wasn’t really His voice speaking?” Or perhaps the worst of all, “I am suffering, but God doesn’t talk to me! I feel desperate to hear Him in the throes of my pain.”
In the Bible, God often came to one person and told him/her what to do. (Abraham, Moses, Mary, Paul.) Sometimes they even acted against the advice of their “family.” (Example: Paul going to Jerusalem in Acts 21. I think he was right to go against advice in this case.) Not every instruction from God has to come through others. However, a group of people listening to God together experience a beautiful dimension of God’s grace as the gifts all work together to make a well-functioning, mature body in the likeness of Christ.
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ
Ephesians 4:13 (ESV)
Will and I have a collection of people who we trust and who we turn to for advice. They are scattered geographically, and they belong to a range of denominations. Over and over we have been strengthened and encouraged and sharpened by this family. When we are weak, they give us strength. They offer guidance and insight into the times we fail. Sometimes they can help us see aspects that we didn’t see before–maybe we aren’t messing up as badly as we think we are!
Through painful experiences when we think we should be hearing God in direct proportion to the depth of our pain, but don’t, God’s family can help us anchor our souls on His promises, speaking life into the pain. God’s family helps us experience God when He feels far away.
God’s family offers a safe place to practice hearing Him. Much of my spiritual growth has happened in small groups. This is where I first dared to try to listen to God with other Christians, and where I practiced praying with power instead of praying insipid prayers. Small groups helped me feel loved and safe; I could venture what I thought I heard from God without being scared of the others laughing at me or tearing down what I said.
If wasn’t sure if an idea was coming from my brain or from God, I could bring it to the group and let them test it. I could also seek guidance for big decisions. And sometimes the answer the group got for me was not the answer I wanted, but it resonated with my spirit and I accepted it with joy. Bringing questions to God as a group, and then listening for an answer is a holy experience. It’s enough to give me goose bumps when people spontaneously share what God revealed to them only to find that the others in the group got the same answer.
Practicing prophecy within a group is a good way to start exercising that gift, because the group can check our words. If we are wrong, a loving group won’t tear us down or make us feel dumb, but they will gently point us back on track. The group can confirm a word of prophecy for a person, or add direction to it. The group can offer scriptures that apply to the issue at hand. Mutual submission and openness to God’s words brings peace.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:29-33 (ESV)
God’s family is kind even to the wacky people who don’t really hear Him very well but think they do. His family is not perfect; but kind, and accepts everyone who is seeking God the best they know how.
Hearing God with a family forges a strong love bond. And this is what creates unity. Not impeccable doctrine, but love.
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:14 (ESV)
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:2-3 (ESV)
God’s family encourages opportunities for growth. This does not always feel safe, because growth involves risk. But God’s family prods us to obey God in ways we might not dare to on our own. Going on adventures with God can feel like a free-fall into the unknown, and yet we feel secure in love, in unity, knowing that there is only one God who lives within us and speaks to us as a Christian family.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6 (ESV)
We hear God personally, and we also hear Him through His family. God’s family offers strength, a safe place to practice His voice, and opportunities for growth.
This concludes my series on hearing God. So much, much more could have been said, but I am tired. I hope eventually I can look back on this and see that I have grown and learned and practiced a lot more of life in God!
If I could leave just one verse with you to remember, it would be this: If you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. (Hebrews 4:7)