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About this series
When We Pray
Developing Intimacy with God
If you are like most Christians, praying is often a confusing, mis-prioritized, and forgotten part of our faith journey. But in this series, guest teacher Ryan Ingram will guide us to a healthier, more beneficial view of prayer. He will debunk common misbeliefs about talking to God, how to practice stillness, and what we are to do when our prayers seemingly go unanswered. If you genuinely want to strengthen your prayer life, this teaching will help!More from this series
Today, we are going to talk about hearing prayer. Hearing prayer. In fact, we are going to discover five foundational truths today of how to encounter and hear the voice of God from a person who encountered God. A guy named Moses.
If you’ve got your Bibles, would you open up to Exodus chapter 3. Exodus chapter 3 verse 1 is where we are going to be at today. And Moses, a little background context, he’s the great leader and liberator of the Israelite people. They were in bondage and slavery for four hundred years. God raises up Moses. He is a prince of Egypt. He tries to fulfill his calling in a bad way, literally murder. Not good. And then flees for his life. And he’s been spending forty years in the wilderness and he has been tending sheep, got married, had a family, and really if you just kind of look at this and back this up, here’s a guy with the best pedigree, the best education, and clearly had a calling on his life. And he has been wasting it in the wilderness for forty years, far from where he was designed and what he was called to do. And that is exactly where we pick up the story today.
Exodus chapter 3 verse 1 says this, “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and he came to Horeb,” it’s a mountain range. You would know the specific mountain, Mount Sinai, this mountain of God.
“There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So, Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.’ When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’”
Before we dive in to the five foundational truths, would you just pray with me to invite the Holy Spirit to speak to us? He wants to speak to you right now in this moment.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this moment, we thank You for this time to gather and to worship and invite You to have Your way, to get me out of the way, and that You would speak to every single person who is listening, that there would be an openness and receptivity of their heart and a responsiveness to Your Word. And so, we invite You in this moment. Speak. In Jesus’ name, and all God’s people said, amen.
Five foundational truths for hearing God. The first one that we must know if we’re really going to develop understanding how to hear from God is this: God is closer than you think. God is closer than you think.
Now, I think when we read this story, we would kind of draw the conclusion that God is farther than we think. Because where was Moses? He was on the far side of the wilderness. And you go, like, well maybe to, like, really hear from God I’ve got to do a pilgrimage. Maybe I can only hear from God on Sundays when I show up at church that I have to find some holy place and somehow, you know, then be able to hear from God.
And the truth and the reality of this moment is actually God is far closer than you think and realize or recognize or understand.
See, the text and the way it is is set up is Moses on this far side of the wilderness, it’s not so much saying that he had done this pilgrimage to the mountain of God. In fact, it was named the mountain of God afterwards, not before.
It’s that Moses was actually far outside his calling. Moses was in a season of wandering. Moses was going through a period of life from the outward perspective, we would say, wasted, wandering. In fact, he’s so far from home and here’s the truth that Moses was on the far side of the wilderness, but he wasn’t far from God. Moses was far outside his calling, but he wasn’t far from God.
Like, there was no place he could go or where he could turn that God was not already present and active and working. See, God was closer that he thought.
There are two big theological ideas we’ve got to understand here. And the first is the transcendence of God, the second is the immanence of God. The transcendence of God says that God is wholly other and distinct from creation, existing independently of His creation. That He is completely other. He’s not a part of creation. He is outside of it. He created all that we see and understand. He is great and beyond it. And in His transcendence, He is immanent meaning that God is present in all of His creation in a personal, intimate way while remaining distinct.
See, there is no place that you can go that God is not already present. There is no path that you can walk down upon which God has not already been there to meet you right where you’re at.
In fact, the psalmist, Psalm 139 would say it this way, great psalm to actually lean into the entirety of it. But he says, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?” Answer? [Audience] “Nowhere.”
“If I go up to the heavens, You are there. If I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” God is closer than you think.
Dallas Willard in his book Hearing God, he’s a famous philosopher and wrote extensively on spiritual formation says, “How hard it is for us to come to an adequate conception of the lowliness of God, of how His greatness is precisely what makes Him able, available, and ready to hear and speak personally with His creatures.”
See, I think for many of us, we wandered in and we feel like we are on the far side of the wilderness, because you wandered in with doubt and maybe you’re deconstructing your faith. You wandered in with anxiety and fear and discouragement and depression. You wandered in and last night you did some things. And you’re like, “Hello. I wasn’t planning to go there and I wasn’t planning to do that and I wasn’t planning to wake up there. And I feel way far from God. In fact, I feel so dirty in this moment and I just am here because a friend said, ‘Would You come?’ And I showed up.”
See, you may be on the far side of the mountain but you’re never far from God. God is closer than you think. He is ever-present and the moment you turn you’ll realize He was always there.
First foundational truth for us to understand in hearing God is God is closer than you think.
The second one is God is in the everydayness of life. God is in the everydayness of life. I don’t know about you, but when I read this story, especially for so long, I’m like, “I want my burning bush moment.” Right? Like, where is my burning bush moment? Where? And then I thought, you know, that would be kind of weird actually in my neighborhood if I saw a bush burning, would I really stop? You know?
But we want something spectacular, don’t we? We want it big, we want it extraordinary. We want something that’s, like, “Ryan!” You know! It’s like, whoa! And the truth and the reality for us to understand is God is in the everydayness of life.
Moses was a shepherd for forty years. He traveled those deserts and those plains and those barren wastelands. Do you know how many burning bushes he saw over the course of forty years? A lot. It was a common sight.
Lightning would strike and you would see burning bushes because of that. In fact, because of the arid climate there and how hot it was, bushes would even spontaneously combust. That’s crazy. Okay? And so, it wasn’t an extraordinary sight. It was an ordinary sight that Moses could have easily missed.
The burning bush was an ordinary, everyday – think about this – moment that would have been easy for Moses to overlook, pass by, and go unnoticed.
I like how poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it. “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”
And how true it is with God, the ever-present one. Not hard to find, but easy to overlook and we miss Him because we don’t stop and behold the burning bush and have curiosity of what is it? And why is it? And what is happening there? And we miss God’s activity in our everyday life because we are not aware and attentive that He’s actually working and moving in those moments with us. Like, God is in the everyday, dailyness of life.
When I was in college, I remember reading Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.
But Oswald Chambers talked about expecting God. And how often we miss God because God doesn’t show up in the way we expect Him. And he gave this picture and the picture was simply this. Like, often we expect God and imagine you’re in a house. And we’re looking at the front door and we’re expecting Him to go through the front door. And so, our eyes are focused on the front door and, yet, God came in the back door and has been present the entire time.
And I think that’s so true for us is that if God doesn’t show up in the way we think, the way we want, the way we expect Him and then we think He’s just not showing up and He’s like, “I’ve been here and I’ve been working and I showed up the entire time.” And his point was just make room for God. Just make room for God. Expect Him to show up and then have eyes to see, Okay, God, You’re in the everydayness of life.
Hearing God, five foundations: God is closer than you think; God is in the everydayness of life.
Foundational truth number three is God longs to speak to you. God longs to speak to you. Just as God longed to speak to Moses, just as God longs to speak to the apostle Paul, Elijah, God longs to speak to you. It wasn’t just for one person back then; it is for you and me today.
And so, I want to take a moment and just unpack a few of the ways that God speaks to us. Like, how does God speak to us? How do we begin to hear His voice, know His voice? And this is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good start. How does God speak to us?
The first way is God speaks to us through His Word. Like, He wrote it down. Like, God, just speak to me, please! And He’s going, “I did!” Like we so often go, God, would You speak to me? And yet we are not in His Word. He’s going, “I wrote you a note.”
God wrote us a note. God speaks to us primarily and fundamentally in His Word. If we are not in His Word, we won’t know His voice and His leading in other areas of our life. Because you won’t know what is His heartbeat and what is actually true.
He speaks to us in His Word. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, training, rebuking, and correcting so that the person, the servant of God, might be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
God speaks to us through His Word and God speaks through His Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God. Like the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now lives and dwells inside each of us.
In 1 Corinthians 2:10, the apostle Paul says it this way, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God, for who knows a person’s thought except their own spirit within them? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God,” now listen to this, “so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
The Spirit communicates with our spirit and verse 16 says, “But we have the very mind of Christ.” This is where we talk about the still, small voice of God. This is where we talk about and understand that inner voice, the whisper.
Elijah wandered onto this same mountain a few hundred years later. He was completely exhausted, discouraged, clinically depressed. And he needed a word from God. And we do just so want the extraordinary and God shows them in the ordinary. And He shows up onto this mountain and I love the way God shows up. And it says, first, this mighty wind tore through. And it says God was not in the wind.
And the earthquake rumbles through. It says He’s not in the earthquake. And then a fire tears through. And then the text, if you’re reading it in the NIV says a gentle whisper. In the Hebrew, it’s a silence. It’s the silence. It’s the gentle whisper of God. That God speaks to our spirit and He moves and it’s the gentle prodding.
Some of you might think of it and you might hear someone say, “Well, I just felt like I had this nudge of the Holy Spirit.” And as you begin to respond to those nudges or those promptings, you begin to clarify His voice in your life.
How does God speak? Through the Word of God, through the Spirit of God – the still, small voice.
He also speaks through other people. 1 Corinthians 12 says this, that, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom for someone, to another a message of knowledge by the same means of the Spirit.” Like, God uses other people.
And then He uses creation. The psalmist says it this way, Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, and their words to the ends [of the] world.”
And haven’t you had that moment where you stand in just incredible, you know, ocean view and beach and the majesty of God and His transcendence and your finiteness? Or you’re in His creation and His gentle whisper then wraps you up in that moment. And His profound love for you overwhelms you as you think about how great He is and yet close He is at the same time. And He uses His creation to speak forth, declare His glory, and to speak to us.