I AM THINKING today of how God speaks clearly, cutting through the confusion of life with his clear message of encouragement.
There's plenty to be confused about. There's a war being fought with young men dying every single day but for reasons which appear to be completely made-up and false.
There's economic difficulty across Europe and at the same time, millions who have been displaced are trying to find somewhere to live safely — and legally. What is God saying about that where we are?
Church in the UK is seeing plummeting attendance in the more formal and traditional denominations and institutions, but new and freer expressions are seeing rapid growth. Where do we fit in all of this and how do we play our part?
Some of that decline has been a lack of authenticity — churches that get into conflict, fire pastors, treat attenders or outsiders unlovingly and don't know how to resolve their problems are not demonstrably hearing from God or following His lead. But God has clarity — and encouragement — for those that listen to Him. His word explains it plainly enough.
Scriptures that came to me are Isaiah 52:7 and 1 Corinthians 14:26-33.
Isaiah reminds us of the One who came to reveal God to his people and to bring the Good News of God's grace for everyone:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! Isaiah 52:7 NLT
This is looking ahead to the coming of Jesus Christ, the outstanding example of someone who is perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit. If we think of Jesus and His ministry, He had a message to announce, which was the message of God's kingdom, His just rule and reign. That is like a container for all the good God wants to bring and in particular the Good News of His salvation, not just for those who have a history of being God's chosen people, but remarkably, for all for those who draw close to Him, even those who do not yet know him.
This is about God's just and fair reign, coming to bear more and more in the world. Those who have met with God through receiving Jesus as our Saviour, and our Lord, have experience of how the Lord continues to speak his encouragement and truth to us.
We could say that God is always speaking His encouragement. We have to position ourselves to tune in and hear. We need to still and quieten ourselves and be in an attitude of praise and worship, because that helps us to tune in to what God is saying.
1 Corinthians 14 describes a church meeting where people are in this attitude of worship, but are also listening to God together.
Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God's holy people.1 Corinthians 14:29-33 NLT
Clearly, this engagement with God is a spiritual one. It tells us that the participants are seeking to be continually filled with God's Spirit — something that we should all be seeking all the time. If we are spiritually in tune with God, all of us will be receiving revelation from Him.
That could be a recipe for disorder and for conflict, if everybody insisted on speaking out what they're hearing at the same time. But that's not the way it works when God's Spirit is in charge and everyone is deferring to Him. There's no room for egos in this meeting!
What it means is that everybody present will be hearing and able to confirm and agree what is being spoken out. And they will have a sense of participation, able to add a particular thing that they are hearing with good timing, in a way that contributes to the whole. It is good to be speaking out what God is saying, because it brings him glory.
But the moment it is done in such a way that brings the focus back to us or makes us look more spiritual — grandstanding! — that's all wrong and the sense of God's presence in the meeting will quickly be lost.
But if we are able to speak out our contribution, in turn, in a way where only God is exalted — where it's clear we are deferring to what He is saying — that is showing us God's glory and not ours.
This is where the Bible teaches us to make 'spiritual music' rather like jazz musicians. Jazz is a form of improvising on a theme, knowing how not to dominate or clash, but to follow and to harmonise. Instrumentalists each take turns to lead in a harmonious way. Anyone who appreciates jazz will appreciate the skill by which musicians do this. The same would apply in a prayer and worship meeting where there is a sense of godly harmony with a lot of people participating, being woven together but with an absence of confusion.
Unlike jazz, that is not a human skill but the leading of the Holy Spirit.
This is what authenticates that it is God's voice who is being heard — His hallmark is peace and harmony, just as the hallmark of the enemy's involvement is confusion, rivalry and strife.
So we don't want to be people who hold back, and we should not passively allow the meeting to be merely front-led, certainly not listening to someone reciting out of a book. That is a way to quench God's Spirit because every believer who is in the flow of God's Spirit will be a hearer, and they will want to bring God glory by humbly sharing what He has put on their heart and taking turns with others, to listen, to confirm, to agree. And in turn, like the jazz musician who takes the lead for a while, to share something which enhances the theme.
One good way for everyone to be a conduit for what is of God, and a safeguard against what is not, is the spiritual gift of tongues.
…When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately.1 Corinthians 14:26-28 NLT
Praising God in a heavenly language is a powerful form of extolling God's greatness, because it goes beyond human words and understanding. It communicates spirit to Spirit in a spiritual dimension.
Sometimes a tongue can be more prominent than a private praise language and others will recognise a public tongue. Others will then be able to share a sense of what is being said. This makes prophecy and interpretation another form of prophecy, but more usually tongues are upbuilding personally as a private prayer and praise language.
The gift of tongues also seems to act as a conduit for what God wants to be heard and understood, perhaps because it closes down demonic interference. It is a God-given way of speaking to God spirit to spirit and denying the enemy our selfish nature and imagination opportunity to interfere with that divine communication. It re-sets the focus back to God and His purposes — what He is saying and what He wants.
Every born-again believer can play their part in hearing what God wants to say, seeking God's way, humbly waiting on Him and expectant for Him to be revealing His clarity to dissolve our confusion and complexity.
Our devotion, and our reliance on the Holy Spirit's leading, is how we strike the right relationship between our need and imperfect hearing, and God's incomparable majesty and all-knowing wisdom.
Others on the outside who witness this kind of exchange will be left in no doubt that God is present, here in this fellowship of His sharing and submitted believers.