Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hearing from God.


I have been sharing teaching ideas with children's ministers through my monthly Newsletters and on my 'Blog' sites since 2002. In these 'Special Blogs', I have grouped together some of my ideas into some of the major Biblical teaching areas. In this way it is hoped that readers will be able to go directly to a particular subject to view some ideas - object lessons, teaching tips, stories etc., or even to prepare a complete children's lesson (or lessons) on that subject.

Maurice Sweetsur

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Contents - All 'Special Blogs'.

1. Creation.
2. Christmas.
3. Easter.
4. The Bible.
5. Prayer.
6. Hearing from God.
7. The Ten Commandments.
8. John 3.16.
9. Teaching Memory verses.
10. Gospel Illusions.
11. Object Lessons (using natural laws).
12. Lessons involving balloons.
13. Lessons involving fire.

Other Blog sites from Maurice Sweetsur :-

Children's ministry -
All teaching material (All Newsletters) -
Object lessons / Illusions -
Bible lessons and Teaching tips -
Stories, skits and puppet plays -
Bible answers for kids -
Kidzone (Children's site) -
Kidzone - Archives. -

To find out more about my ministry to children, go to my main 'Blog' -

Introduction (Hearing from God).

As teachers, I am sure we all teach our children about prayer and encourage them to develop good prayer habits for themselves. However, we should always remember that rather than just listening to our monologues, God desires to have a two-way conversation with us. Listed below are nine ways in which God can and does speak to us. Some of these ways may not be totally understandable to some children, so taking their age and Christian maturity into consideration, you will need to decide which ones are suitable for sharing. As you share these ways with your classes, it will always be good to illustrate them with examples, including your own personal experiences. I have done this to give you a few sample ideas.

Note. When teaching on this subject, I usually introduce it by telling the story of Wesley Steelberg. (Alternatively, you could just tell the story of Samuel hearing from God when he was still a young boy).


Story - Wesley Steelberg.
Ways in which God speaks to us :-
1. The Bible.
2. An audible voice.
3. An inaudible voice.
4. Your conscience.
5. Older Christians.
6. Circumstances.
7. The desires of your heart.
8. Through Prophets.
9. Through dreams and visions.
Question - How can I know if it is really God speaking to me?
Questian - How can we hear more clearly from God?

Story - Wesley Steelberg.

Almost 100 years ago young Wesley Steelberg was on his own in the basement of his house doing his weekly chore - cleaning it up. It was a job he didn't really like, but he knew he had to be obedient to whatever his parents asked him to do. Suddenly Wesley heard someone calling his name "Wesley, Wesley." "That's my Dad" thought Wesley "He's the only other person in the house right now." Ascending from the basement, Wesley approached his dad. "Yes dad, what do you want?" His dad replied "What do you mean, what do I want?" "You called me." responded Wesley. "I most certainly did not " replied his dad, "Now get back down to the basement and finish your chore."

Feeling rather puzzled, Wesley returned to the basement "I'm sure someone called my name, but if it wasn't my dad, who could it be?" thought Wesley. Wesley had hardly started work again when he heard the voice a second time "Wesley, Wesley." "That's definitely my dad this time" thought Wesley as he came up from the basement again. "Yes dad, you definitely called me this time" said Wesley as he approached his dad. Wesley's dad began to look rather angry. "I did not call you" he retorted "If this is some trick of yours to get out of cleaning the basement, it's not going to work. Now get back down those stairs and finish your job."

Back in the basement, Wesley was beginning to feel a little scared. If his dad hadn't been calling out his name, who could it have been? "Wesley, Wesley" came the voice for the third time. A rather frightened Wesley ran up the basement stairs, three at a time! "You've been kidding me" said Wesley as he came up to his dad. "Please tell me you're having a joke with me. You've been calling out my name, and then pretending it wasn't you?"

Wesley's dad was just about to send his son back to the basement when he suddenly remembered a story that he'd read in the Bible about a little boy called Samuel who was about the same age as Wesley. Samuel worked in God's temple for the High Priest, Eli. One night while in his bed Samuel heard someone calling his name. He thought it must be Eli, but Eli said that it wasn't and sent Samuel back to his bed. Twice more, Samuel heard his name being called. On the third occasion, Eli worked out what must be happening. If he wasn't calling Samuel, it must be God! So Eli told Samuel to go back to his bed, but if he heard his name being called again to say "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." That is what happened, and God did speak to Samuel in an audible voice - and told him lots of things that were going to happen to Eli's family.

Wesley's dad thought "If God could speak to Samuel in an audible voice, perhaps He also wanted to speak to Wesley in the same way." Thus Wesley was instructed to return to the basement, but if he heard his name being called again to say "Yes God, what do you want?"

A fourth time Wesley heard his name being called "Yes God, what do you want" he replied. And God did speak to him. He said "I want you to go to your next door neighbour and tell him that I love him and sent my Son, Jesus to die for his sins." Wow! Not only was God speaking to him, He was actually giving him a job to do - and there is nothing more important than being used by God. There was only one problem. Wesley didn't really like his next door neighbour, because he was a bit of a 'grumpy' man. However Wesley reasoned that if God was telling him to go to the man, it must be important, so he was obedient.

Wesley knocked on his neighbour's door, and asked to see the man. However, he was told that he couldn't do so because the man was very sick. In fact, he was not expected to live for much longer. Wesley pleaded to be allowed to see his neighbour, and eventually was allowed into his bedroom to deliver God's message. "God has sent me to tell you that He loves you, and sent his Son, Jesus to die for your sins." On hearing the message, the sick man immediately burst into tears.

As it transpired, that man had lived all his life as though God didn't exist. He just lived a very self-centred life. In fact, he wasn't even sure if God was real. But when he got sick and realised that he was dying, he became very worried because he didn't know what would happen to him after he died. So that very day he had prayed for probably one of the first times ever. His prayer was "God, if you are real, if you really exist, send someone to tell me about you." And God heard and answered his prayer. God didn't send a famous preacher to the man, or even the local Pastor. He sent the little boy from next door!

That night the sick man repented of his sins and gave his life to Jesus. Shortly afterwards he died, and we believe he went straight to heaven, not because he had led a good life, but because, in the end, he had put his trust in Jesus.

When Wesley Steelberg grew up, he became quite a famous preacher, and used to speak to thousands of people about Jesus in his meetings. But God first began to speak to and use Wesley while he was still a young boy. This reminds us that you don't have to be old (or clever, or rich) to be used by God. You only have to be one thing - Obedient, just like Wesley.

Ways in which God speaks to us.

God can speak to us in many different ways The way He choses to speak to us is not important. The important thing is: Are we like Wesley and obedient to what God says?

1. The Bible.

This is God's Word, so what the Bible says, God says. This is the main way in which God communicates with people today. Thus, if you neglect your Bible reading, you could well be preventing God from speaking to you.

Although all of the Bible is God's everlasting message to us all, He can take a part of it - perhaps even a single verse - and use it to speak into our lives, by making it 'come alive' to us, so to speak. Thus as we read this particular verse, we get excited and just 'know' that God is using it to speak to us.

For a number of years, I had been attempting to emigrate with my family to New Zealand. Unfortunately, I didn't meet the New Zealand Immigration requirements, as I didn't have enough 'points' to qualify. Although we still believed that it was in God's will for us to come to New Zealand, I was getting disheartened. Then in my Bible reading, I read Jeremiah 29. 11. "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to bless you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I had read this scripture many times before without it really exciting me, but now it just seemed to jump out of the page at me and witness with my spirit. I just 'knew' that God was in control, and that He would get us to New Zealand because it was part of His plan for us.

Within a few weeks, all the New Zealand Immigration rules changed, and I now easily qualified for entry! Did God arrange for those rules to be changed just for me? I don't know, but I tend to think so because that is the sort of Person God is. There is nothing that God is not willing to do for you, if it is part of His plan for your life.

God can of course bring to our mind at any time any scripture that we have memorised. Almost every Christian has experienced times when the Holy Spirit calls to mind some scripture or truth at a moment when it is needed, for example in their own conversion experience or personal life, or in counselling or witnessing. That is why scripture memorisation is so important for teachers and children alike.

I had been seeking the truth about God for two or three years. I wanted to believe in God, but as a scientist, and coming from an atheistic background, I had many doubts and unanswered questions. Really, I was trying to prove in a scientific way the reality (or otherwise) of God. I was frustrated because I realised my search had got me nowhere. Oh yes, I now knew a lot more about what Christians believed, but was no further forward in knowing whether it was really true or not. I wanted answers to my questions before I would consider making any form of commitment to Christ.

Sometimes I prayed - just in case God was real and could hear my prayers! One day while praying, two scripture verses came into my mind. The first was "Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11.6). Suddenly everything became clear. I realised that no-one could ever prove the existence of God in a scientific way, and that the only way to know Him was by faith. I had reached the point where I realised that Christianity was both reasonable and rational, but the final step to God had to be one of faith - not exactly a leap in the dark, but certainly a small step into the unknown as we put our trust in Him.

But what was I to do next? The answer came straight away in the form of the second scripture "Ask, and you shall receive." (Luke 11.9). So I did. I prayed "Lord, if you are really there, if you really exist, reveal yourself to me." Immediately, it was as though I sensed God's presence. Waves of love and joy flowed through my whole being and I just 'knew' that God was real. These waves of love and joy were quickly followed by a devastating sense of shame because for the first time in my life, I realised I was a sinner. Now, I had been going along to an evangelical church for over two years, and I had thus been told that I was a sinner, and accepted the fact in my head. But knowing this in your head, and having a revelation of it in your heart are completely different things. The surprising thing was that I now realised that my sins were not so much the bad things I had done, but rather the fact that I had spent my whole life centred around myself, instead of around my Creator. There and then, I repented of this self-centredness, and put my trust in Christ. All my doubts disappeared and the unanswered questions I had didn't seem to matter any more. All that mattered was that God was real and that He loved and accepted me. And the rest, as they say, is history!

2. An audible voice.

The Bible records a number of occasions in which God spoke to people this way, perhaps the best known being the boy Samuel. This is not God's usual way of communicating with people today, but that is not to say that He cannot or will not speak to you in an audible voice.

I have never heard God's audible voice, but I know a number of people who have. In most cases, someone's life was in danger. It was as though God had to speak to someone urgently to avert the danger. However, I once taught my class about God speaking to Samuel. The following week a girl came up to me and said "God spoke to me a few days ago in an audible voice, just like He spoke to Samuel. He told me to go and tell my Gran. that He loved her." I asked her if she had done it, and she replied that she had. This reminds us that the important point is not how God speaks to us, but whether we are obedient to what He says.

3. An inaudible voice.

Although you may not hear God speaking to you with your ears, if you are trusting in Jesus, God's Spirit lives in you and He can speak to you through your spirit. For example, you may get a 'little voice in your head', a strong desire or impression to do / not to do something, speak to someone, go / not go somewhere etc. The closer you grow in your relationship with God, the more clearly will you be able to recognise this 'inner voice.'

The following story came out of China a few years ago.

A fairly new Christian worked for a mining company. It was part of his duties to ring a bell when it was time for the miners working underground to finish their shift and come to the surface. One day this man kept hearing a 'little voice' in his head say "Ring the bell, ring the bell." He tried to ignore the voice, reasoning that it wasn't time for the miners to come up. The voice persisted however, and the man finally gave in to it and rang the bell even though it was still too early. On hearing the bell, all the miners came up to the surface. At that moment there was an earthquake, and the whole mine collapsed. If those miners had still been underground, they would all have been trapped and almost certainly killed. However because one man heard the voice of God, and was obedient to it, many lives were saved.

My Pastor had been speaking about discovering our God-given spiritual gifts and ministries. I was a little concerned because although it was obvious to me what the giftings were for many other members of our congregation, e.g. evangelist, teacher, pastor, showing hospitality etc., I still hadn't discovered what mine was. Although I was involved in a lot of different church 'activities' I didn't seem to have any special gifting in any of them. Then one day while I was working in the garden and thinking about these things, a 'little voice' in my head suddenly said "You are an apologist." I really believe this was God speaking to me because I wasn't sure what an apologist was. I had to go and look the word up in the dictionary! An apologist is a person who defends their faith, or as Peter put it "Always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have within you." (1. Peter 3.15).

Immediately, I realised that this description fitted me perfectly. Whether I was evangelising 'door to door' , writing articles for Christian Newspapers, or teaching the Bible to children, I was never content to simply say for example "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God", or "Jesus died for your sins." No, I always wanted to go further and explain why I believed Jesus was the Son of God, and why He had to come and die for our sins. I have never questioned my "calling" since that time.

We all have ideas, and we tend to think "Oh, that idea is mine." But perhaps God placed the idea in your mind in the first place!

I once came across an eight year old girl in the school playground, crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she replied that none of the other girls ever played with her and that she had no friends. I told her that I would pray for her and ask God to give her a good friend. As I began to pray, I noticed another girl about 100 metres away begin to run towards us. She arrive just as I finished my prayer and had said 'Amen.' She looked at the girl I had been praying for and said "Will you come and play with me?" An instant answer to prayer! But why did that second girl suddenly run over to the first one and ask her to play? I don't really think that God shouted down into the playground with a loud voice "Hey Jessie, Go and ask Jodie to play with you." No, I think He just put the idea in the mind of Jessie (who interestingly was a Christian) "Why don't you play with Jodie. She's not really all that bad." Therefore, I think that Jessie had heard God's inaudible 'inner voice'. However, the important point was that she was obedient to what God said.

4. Your conscience.

This is one of the things that makes us different from animals. God has given to everyone who has ever been born a conscience. This is God's voice within us all that warns us - by making us feel uneasy or anxious - when we are about to do wrong. God will never take our free will away and prevent us from doing wrong, but He will always warn us when we are about to make a mistake.

We should always listen to our conscience, because if we keep ignoring this "little voice" and continue doing wrong, the voice will appear to get smaller and smaller until we can hear it no more.

5. Older Christians.

By this I mean people who have known Jesus longer than you have. They are often able to give us good advice and help guide us into what God wants us to do.

6. Circumstances.

God can use the everyday events of life to guide us. This can be likened to the opening and closing of doors. For example you may wish to get into the school Rugby team, but you are never chosen. Therefore you start playing Soccer instead - and find you have a greater ability for Soccer than you ever had for Rugby.

When certain events happen at the same time in our lives, it is very easy to just write them off as coincidences. Often it is only as we look back that we are able to see God's hand guiding us through these 'coincidences'.

In the early 1990's my plan was to resign from my job in Scotland, move to New Zealand, and get a new job there. I was rather apprehensive about this, however, because my Scottish job was so specialised that it was extremely unlikely that I could get a similar one elsewhere, and I didn't really like the idea of making a career change at my age. However, when I finally got the 'green light' to come to New Zealand, I unexpectedly was offered voluntary redundancy from my Scottish job. The timing couldn't have been better because this meant that we were able to move to New Zealand, and I wouldn't need to get a paid job there - my private Scottish company pension being sufficient to meet our financial needs.

On arrival in New Zealand in 1993, I had no idea of how I was going to spend all my newly acquired spare time. However, my first Sunday in this country happened to be 'Bible in School' Sunday - the one day in the year when the churches promote the practice of 'ordinary' Christians going into state schools to take weekly Bible lessons. I could hardly believe what I was hearing! Such a practice is unheard of in Britain. I 'signed up' straight away, and within a few months I was going into about ten different schools to take Bible lessons. Fifteen years later, I am still taking regular Bible lessons in ten schools and thoroughly enjoying it.

Coincidences? I don't think so. I can now clearly see God at work through my circumstances.

7. The desires of your heart.

Psalm 37.4 says "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Most people think this means that if you put God first, He will then give you whatever natural desires you happen to have. I interpret this verse in a slightly different way. I believe it means that if you concentrate on "delighting yourself in the Lord", He will then put His desires for you in your heart, so that they become your desires as well.

Probably the strongest motivation for doing something is that you desire to do it. So do you have a strong desire to be something, to do something, to go somewhere? It could be that God has given you these desires because that is His will for you.

When I was a young boy in England and I heard about someone leaving the country for a 'better life', it usually seemed to be that they were going to Australia, Canada, or South Africa. I never had any desire to go to these, or indeed any other countries. But I did have a desire to go to New Zealand. I knew nothing about this country, and if anyone has asked me why I wanted to go there, I would not have been able to answer them. I just had a 'strange' desire to go there.

When I was older, and contemplating career choices, one that I dismissed straight away was that of a Teacher - I knew from personal experience how 'difficult' children could make life for their teachers! However, when I became a Christian in 1980, I got a great desire to share what I knew about Jesus with others, and soon found myself teaching Children's groups.

Now, all these years later, here I am in New Zealand and teaching children. Did God place these two desires in me? Yes, I believe so. But remember, the key to making your desires become a reality is to "delight yourself in the Lord."

8. Through Prophets.

A Prophet is essentially a Messenger. That is someone who hears from God, and takes His message to someone else. There are many Prophets in the Bible. Indeed much of the Old Testament itself is a recording of these ancient messages from God.

There are still Prophets in the Church today, and God may use one of them to bring you a message, perhaps to tell you to do something or to go somewhere. But if someone 'brings a message from God' to you, how do you know that it really is from God? The main thing to remember is that God uses Prophets to confirm what He has already spoken to you about. For example, suppose someone comes to you and says "God wants you to go to China." If your reaction is something like "What me? What a surprise! I have never thought of going to China." Then forget it, this message is not from God. However, if your reaction is more like "Oh yes, I have always been interested in China, I love the Chinese people, I always thought I would go there one day," then this message is almost certainly from God. It is God confirming what he has already spoken into your life, and perhaps enabling and encouraging you to take the next step in your preparation.

9. Through dreams and visions.

We all know what dreams are, and God can speak to us through them. Visions are often similar to the 'moving pictures' we get in dreams (or they could be just a still picture), but God gives them to you while you are awake. God spoke to many people in the Bible through dreams (e.g. Joseph and Daniel) or visions (e.g. Peter and Paul).

I have never had a Vision, but I know many people who have. In the early 1980's, I belonged to a church in Prestwick, Scotland and for a number of years God's Spirit moved in a mighty way. Consequently the congregation grew from around 20 to almost 300 in about two years. My wife used to get many visions in these church services. She would often be sitting behind people, and 'see' either a white spot or a black spot in the middle of their backs. This was confusing to her for a while. The obvious explanation for the white and black spots was that some people were 'sinners' and others were 'righteous'. The problem was that some of the 'righteous' people were thought to be unsaved, and some of the 'sinners' were professing Christians! As events turned out however, the original interpretation of the 'spots' proved to be correct! On other occasions my wife would 'see' dice or beer bottles in the middle of newcomer's backs. Again, events proved that these people had a gambling or drink problem. What should my wife have done when she had these visions? Possibly more than she did do. But she was new to such manifestations at the time. However, at least she was able to pray for the people involved.

A few years ago, I went to a Sunday school weekend camp. The theme of the camp was 'Hearing from God.' On the Sunday afternoon the Camp Leader gave each child a notebook and pen, and told them to go out and be completely on their own for 30 minutes. They were all told to ask God to speak to them, and write down in their notebook what they thought He said. On their return, all but one or two of the thirty children claimed that God had indeed spoken to them. Many of the children said that they had seen visions, including many of Jesus on the cross.

There was one new boy to the Sunday school at that camp, and no-one knew very much about him. He shared a cabin with three other boys. On returning from their 30 minutes of isolation, these three boys all independently said that they thought God had to them "I will never leave you, I will never let you down, I will be with you always." Their cabin companion then said that that message must be for him. He revealed that his parents were in the process of divorcing, and he felt let down and was worried about what was going to happen to him in the future! Isn't God good! He doesn't speak to us so we can just say "Wow, God spoke to me." No, He speaks to us for our benefit, or for the help and encouragement of others.

How can I know if it is really God speaking to me?

There are two tests that we can apply to any message we think may be from God.

1. Does it agree with the Bible?

God never contradicts Himself. Therefore, if your message doesn't agree with God's revealed Word in the Bible, then it is definitely not from Him. For example, if you think God is telling you to tell a little lie because it will get you out of trouble, forget it! That is not from God, because the Bible says "Do not lie."

2. Do you have 'Peace' about the message?

Colossians 3.15 says "Let the peace of Christ rule (be the umpire) in your hearts." An umpire is the one who decides. And God has given us His Peace as our umpire, so that we may know if something is from Him or not. Thus, if you feel at peace about a message, supposedly from God, then it probably really is from Him. On the other hand, if you feel uneasy or anxious about the message, that is God removing His Peace to warn you that this is not from Him.

How can we hear more clearly from God?

If you love God, your greatest desire will to know Him better and communicate more fully with Him. How can we hear more clearly from God then? Fortunately, the answer is very simple - stay close to Him!

If I was talking in my normal voice and you were sitting close to me, you would hear me very clearly. But suppose I was still talking in the same way and you were at the other end of the room, or even outside the room. Would you hear me so clearly then? No. You may not hear me at all, and if you did, you would probably hear me incorrectly and get the message wrong.

It is exactly the same when hearing from God. If we stay close to Him, we will hear Him clearly. But if we are a long way from God, we are unlikely to hear Him. How then, can we stay close to God? There is no short cut to this. We need to ensure that we spend adequate time in His presence by reading and meditating on His Word, talking to him (prayer) and doing what we know He has already told us to do. Then we will be in the right position to hear from Him when He speaks to us.

"The nearer we come to God, the more graciously will he reveal himself to us."
Charles H. Spurgeon.