How to Recognize Impressions of the Holy Spirit
Rev. Richard Pfeil
John 14:26, Romans 8:16, Philippians 2:5, 1 Corinthian 13:4- 9, Romans 14:4; 14:13, 1 Corinthians 14:33
I believe everyday God sends messages our way, things that he would like us to know. I know a lot of people don’t believe that. Maybe you are sitting there saying, “I have never heard God speak to me. Does he still do that today?”
I think it is as silly to say that “God doesn’t speak to anyone today” as to say there is no such thing as text messaging because I have never in my entire life text messaged or received a text message. Anyone else who has never received a text message? There is text messaging. It is out there. You need a cell phone. You need a network. What else do you need to get a message? Is it free? No! You need a plan and of course you have got to use it and believe that it actually exists. If I believe there is a network there, but I don’t believe in it, I am not going to access it.
The same thing is true with God. God is speaking and a network already exists. There isn’t anywhere in the world you can go that God doesn’t exist. That is why we use the word omniscient. He is everywhere and he can speak to us anywhere and everywhere. He has already put a cell phone in the interior of our being. That is what it means to be created in his image. God has given us the capacity to hear Him and to know Him. That is what makes human beings unique. He has already paid for the plan by the cross. That opens up an access to God so we can talk to him and get to know him on a personal basis.
But you need to talk to him. You need to receive the plan, you need to talk to him, and you need to believe the network is there. This is the Information Age and there are many forms of communication. You can get information from the cell phone, text messaging, Internet, E-mail, and radio. There are radio waves going all over the place, but if you don’t have a radio you will never be able to tune in to them. The same thing is true about God.
What are the ways to access God? One of the means of communication that God has provided is the Bible. You will never hear God’s voice through the Bible if your heart doesn’t really believe God is going to talk to you, and your heart is not open. If you really want to hear from God, open your heart. Let the Bible speak for itself. Ask God, “If this is really your Word talk to me, speak to me. Show me! Give me a message. Show me that you are right there.” There are usually three reasons why people have failed to hear the voice of God.
1. Pride. “I can handle it myself.”
2. Fear. We are not sure we want to hear what God has to say. I like the way my life is going, and I am afraid of what he is going to say to me.
3. Bitterness. You have been hurt and as a result are angry. You have a hard time believing God because of things that have happened in your life. I can say on great authority that it wasn’t God who did that to you. We live in a fallen, broken world. A lot of things that are not according to God’s will do happen; it is not God. But God is the solution. A lot of times when we hold that bitterness in, rather than venting to Him, we close ourselves to the answer of God.
A good example of this is Habakkuk. In the first chapter, Habakkuk has this complaint; “God, why am I doing everything right and everyone else is doing better than me?” Have you ever felt that way? He vents his bitterness, and the rest of the book is written because God gives an answer. So if you feel bitterness towards God, vent it. Tell him what’s on your mind because it will open you up to God’s answer, and God will indeed answer you.
Last week Pastor Jody talked about worship and music as another way of accessing God’s voice. The second week she talked about how God speaks to us corporately, and in that sermon she hit four points that I want to reiterate. That God speaks to his church through (1) the people of God, (2) the power of God. We were in our book on Prayer by Philip Yancey. He quotes somebody saying “people see the power of God (things that happen unexplainably) as coincidences. His discovered that the more we pray, the more these ‘coincidences’ happen in life. Are they coincidences or illustrations of God? The people of God, the power of God, (3) Scripture, and (4) the Spirit of God.
God also speaks through his Spirit. In Acts 15 it says “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” meaning that the Holy Spirit spoke and they heard the Holy Spirit to the degree that they knew what to decide at that moment in time.
What is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is a gift that God gives every person who has placed their faith in Him. In the first sermon Peter said “Turn away from your sin! Turn to God. And as a sign that you have done that be baptized, demonstrating and bearing witness that you are a Christian, and He will give you the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So if you receive Christ as your Lord and Savior, God has given you a gift. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the spirit of God that he has placed at the core of your being to speak to you, to counsel you. John 14 says, “The Spirit is our counselor, the Spirit is our guide, the spirit is our teacher.” John 14:26 says “When the Spirit comes He will remind you of everything I have told you.”
How does the Holy Spirit speak? In the Bible the Holy Spirit uses many means but the most common one is expressed in Romans 8:16 which says, “The Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us we are the children of God. How do I know that it is not my emotions, it is not another voice I am listening to? Maybe it is just me and I am talking to myself. How do I know that it is the Spirit speaking to me deep into my heart?
The word that is used to express God speaking to us through the Spirit is an impression. God gives you an impression in the very core of your being. You just feel this is the answer, this is the way God is leading me. How do I know that this is God’s voice and not my own voice? Not every voice that we hear in our head comes from God, correct? Have you heard some weird things in your head? Let me give you a good example: Peter, in Matthew 16: First Jesus says “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter says, “You are Christ, the son of God.” And Jesus said “You didn’t speak that on your own. God spoke to you. You heard his voice! As a result you came up with the right answer. You heard from God.”
Just moments later Jesus said, “I am going to go to Jerusalem. I am going to die on the cross.” Peter says “No way! You are not going to go to Jerusalem! You are not going to die on the cross!” And Jesus looks right at him and says, “Get behind me Satan!”
One moment he hears God and the next moment he is hearing a different voice! How do I know, if Peter doesn’t even get it right? How do I know whether the voice speaking in my head is God or another voice (my self) or evil (the devil)? That is the topic for today. Five filters for knowing it is God and not yourself.
The first way is in John 14:26 “When the Spirit comes He will remind you of everything I have told you.” Jesus said when the Spirit comes he is not going to speak for himself; he is going to take what I have said and make it known to you. If you want to know for sure if whether the voice in your head is coming from God or yourself or some other source you ask the question “Does it contradict the Bible or is in line with Scripture?” There are all kinds of voices we hear in our head.
Around or just before April 15 perhaps in your head you heard this voice: “Go ahead and exaggerate that deduction! No one will find out!” There are all kinds. “Go ahead, your husband (wife) will never find out!” When you hear those kinds of voices, it is not God. When you hear a voice that is in contradiction to God we know it is not God. God has given us a written record, a consistent picture of his nature; what he believes, his thoughts, his character. As a temptation is being offered you hear voices like this: “It’s no big deal!” “It’s a small thing!” “No one is going to find out!” “Everyone is doing it!” “Give it a try!” “God will forgive you! He is a God of mercy, a God of grace!” You fall into the temptation and then you hear these things: “You are awful!” “You will never measure up!” “God will never forgive you!” You call yourself a Christian!” Before, Satan minimizes it; after, he maximizes it. Is that your experience? When you hear a voice minimizing an experience that is in contrary to God’s word, you know that is not God. And when he maximizes your mistakes, you also know that is not God because God is also God of mercy and a God of grace.
Romans 8:16 says “The Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us” He tells us how God speaks, “deep in our hearts”, and in that passage one of those messages that God will relay to us is that we are “children of God.” If you hear (as a believer) in your head a voice that says, “You do not believe, how can you believe that stuff?” Or “You are an awful person” “You are unworthy of God’s grace” “God hates you!” “How often does he have to forgive you?” When you hear those messages that tell you that you are not a child of God, that is not God’s voice because in the Scripture it says when the Spirit speaks he tells you (if you have placed your faith in Christ), he tells you, “You are a child of God!”
The first filter: Is it in contradiction or in line with the Scripture?
The second filter: Does it make me more like Christ?
Philippians 2:5 says, “In your life you must think and act like Christ.” WWJD, have you ever heard that phrase? What would Jesus do? That is not a bad question. You hear a voice. You know it is not in contradiction to Scripture, it falls in line with it. You have to ask yourself, “Does it make me more like Christ?” or “What would Jesus do?” This is why knowledge of the Bible is important because the more you know the Bible, the more you know what is in line with what Jesus would do, by knowing His character, His actions, His beliefs.
John 8 is the story of the woman caught in adultery. In the earliest texts of John, it is placed as the last Chapter of John, as a way of John saying “I remembered a story I just have to include, but I already finished my book so I am going to slap it here at the end.” Either it was John who did it or someone who wanted to pretend they were John and he put in this story. Scholars saw that and they had to decide. Does this come from Jesus? Does this fit with Jesus? They decided to include it in Scripture because it fit perfectly in line with the character of Jesus. It is a story that really is very close to how Jesus thought and how Jesus behaved.
How did Jesus behave? He showed mercy. I loved the passage that depicts that scene where the woman comes on her face before God reaching for the sandals of Jesus and how Jesus lifts her up. If in your head you hear a voice that calls you to act mercifully, that is the voice of God. If you hear in your head a message about extending grace (which is unmerited favor) to another person despite the fact they don’t deserve it, to show kindness to your enemy or someone who just hurt you. That is the voice of God. That is grace. That is in line with his character.
Think of the passage in 1 Corinthian 13:4- 9, “Love is patient.” If in your head you hear a voice… “Get angry!”…. “Lash Back!” That is not God. If you hear a voice saying, “Hold back, be patient!” That is God. “Love is patient. Love is kind.” If you hear a voice in your head to show kindness, that is God! “It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking” If you hear in your head a message that make you selfish, that is not God. “It is not easily angered.” If your response is, when people disagree with you or something happens, you feel the heat start to rise in the center of your being and you want to lash out….that is not God! Because “it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. If you want to know if it is the voice of God or another voice, ask yourself: What would Jesus do? Is it in line with the character of God, the fruit of the Spirit, the description of love in Corinthians?
The third filter is to ask some good friends. Do you have some advisors, counselors; mature people, not people who don’t have the backbone to stand up to you, but people who will tell you the truth even if it hurts you? The wounds of the friend are better than the kisses of an enemy. As a Session right now we are going through writing out policies for weddings, transportation, personnel, policies to ensure the safety of our children in an age where there are sexual predators, etc. The church has never written policies and it is important to know how we are going to behave in certain instances. What would Jesus do?
We are always asking, “What is the right thing to do?” “How do we do that?” A lot of us don’t know. What do we do? We find advisors. We find people who are professionals in these areas that can help us, those who have already done these things so that we can learn from them. That is important for all of us to do, to seek wise counsel. When you are not sure….seek wise counsel, ask somebody! I am getting this impression that a lot of them will say (if it’s way out there), “Man! You are whacky!” They will help pull you in. Others will say, “That sounds about right.”
Two mistakes made in this area:
1. They don’t have mature friends who will give them good advice.
2. They don’t listen to them. I can’t tell you how many people church hop because they don’t get the answer from the church or from the pastor that they are looking for. They go to the next church, and the next church doesn’t give them the right answer they are looking for. So they go to the next church, until they find the church that agrees with them.
If in reading the Bible you are the only person that interprets the message that way, you can be pretty certain that it isn’t from God. That is why I feel being a part of Small Group or having a close knit group friends is so vitally important because sometimes you get too close to a situation and you just need someone to be a third party looking from the outside. You can see more clearly as a result.
First filter: Is it contrary to Scripture or in line with it?
Second filter: Is it fitting with the nature of God? Does it make me more life Jesus?
Third filter: What do my (godly) friends think?
Fourth filter: Does it concern you?
I find a habit people have is telling other people what to do. “God told me to tell you….” I think that is a dangerous statement! I have the Spirit of God. I have a connection with God. If God really wanted to tell me, why does he need you? I believe the Bible says there is only one mediator between God and man and it is Jesus alone. God can communicate for himself! He doesn’t have laryngitis! He doesn’t have a problem speaking.
I find this common in marriage where a wife perceives herself as the voice of God and tells her husband, “Here is what you need to do to straighten up…” Or the husband does the same thing. It doesn’t concern you! If you are going to hear from God, God is going to speak to you personally. Deal with your self. God will speak to your spouse. God will speak to your children. You need to deal with you. Does it concern you? God will speak to you personally. If he wants to deal with someone else he is going to speak to them personally. Don’t put yourself as the mediator between God and them, because you are not. Roman 14:4 says “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he (or she) stands or falls. And he (or she) will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:13 says “It is before God alone; we shall stand and give accounting for our actions.”
Does it mean that God can’t use me to speak to someone else? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. But, usually when you go to speak to someone you are confirming an answer to a question you had in your own life and often times you aren’t aware that God used you. Usually, it happens with the turn of a phrase or a comment that is made off the cuff and it is the perfect information that you needed to hear, but they didn’t know you needed it.
One time I was in a worship service for a camping program our church had and we had a speaker who was the head coach of the Geneva football team. He was new, and for some reason I just leaned over to him and told him that we were rebuilding a church and using Nehemiah as a passage for rebuilding the church. He was praying at the same time, “God show me a passage of Scripture that I need to use in order to rebuild this football team, because it had gone down like a 0-6 team. I said (not even knowing the question that he had), “Nehemiah.” He said it was just like a light bulb going off in his head! That was the word that he needed, but I didn’t know that was the word that he needed.
The fifth filter is: Do I experience a peace about it?
Jesus instructed his disciples in Matthew 10, “When you enter a city go into a home, sense whether or not my peace rests upon it. If it comes bouncing back, don’t stay there, but if God’s peace rests on it enter into that house.” That is in line with his character. 1 Corinthians 14:33 says “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Some people call that a “check in my spirit.” I just call that a sense of, “Am I at peace with my decision or am I wrestling with it?” Don’t ever do anything you are not certain of. Can you have a false peace? Yes, you can! We have a penchant for talking ourselves into things that we really want; but that we know are not what God wants for us.
How do I know whether it is a true peace or false peace? Apply all five filters. Sometimes just going through the Scripture alone is enough to settle the issue, but the larger the impact of the decision on your life and the lives of others, the more filters it requires. The best way is to utilize all five filters.
When I moved to Delaware (and the first thing I do with every home I own) I put water filters in the house. Lots of water filters! Water is something you put in your body all the time. It affects your health. The more filters you pass the water through, the cleaner the water becomes. They do that with bottled water. A lot of bottled water is filtered water. The same thing is true with discerning God’s voice. The more filters you pass it through, the surer you will be that it is the clean, crisp, life-producing word from God that you need.
Again, what are the filters?
1. Does it contradict Scripture?
2. Does it lead me back to becoming more like Christ?
3. Check with your friends. What do they think?
4. Take responsibility for your own life. What is God saying to me? (If the word is not for you then don’t own it)
5. Do you have a sense of peace about it?