What are the promptings of God, and how do they show up in our lives?
Listening prayer in pastoral counseling
Peter Mayberry, associate pastor, First EFC, Colo. Springs, Colo.
Our denomination has a deep commitment to health in our churches. But as shepherds, we are often on the front line of providing care to saints who are far from healthy spiritually and emotionally. This challenging aspect of ministry is one where we, at First EFC, are learning to hear from God as we minister.
Joe’s experience is all too familiar. This member of my church had wrestled with outbursts of anger for years, just like his dad. Joe was concerned enough that he pursued biblical counsel for help. He memorized the verses, did the Bible studies, often fasted and prayed earnestly—all without apparent forward progress. Joe recognized that his anger was threatening his marriage and could very well take him out of ministry. He was in bondage to this sin of anger.
Finally Joe called me to seek additional help. Our counseling staff members routinely incorporate “listening prayer” as we meet with people: intentionally stopping to ask specific questions of the Lord, and waiting quietly to hear His promptings as we move through a counseling session. We work hard to have three people present in these sessions: one who is leading; one who is recording, observing and contributing as needed; and the individual who has come seeking counsel. This time, as circumstances had it, it was just Joe and me.
We addressed specific questions about the root causes of the anger; about whether there were lies he believed that had given Satan a foothold; about whether or not his anger had a generational component we needed to address; and more. After each question we waited, believing that “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him” (Psalms 91:15, New American Standard Bible).
With each query, the Lord was faithful to identify issues that we could then look at biblically. He communicated in a variety of ways with Joe, sometimes recalling memories of his past experiences or bringing Scriptures to mind. Other times, Joe clearly sensed themes that the Lord had been impressing on him for some time.
Some of the promptings of the Lord led straight into times of confession and repentance. Other times, the Lord affirmed His love and care for Joe, resulting in times of great praise and rejoicing. Many times we listened, discussed, and then simply went back to the Lord for clarification and further insight.
All of the time our Bibles were open, and we were bringing thoughts and ideas into the light of the truth. At the end of the day, the Lord addressed important issues that had been untouched in previous times of ministry with Joe.
This active asking and listening together in a counseling situation has had fruitful ministry with a wide variety of saints in our body. A number of our lay people have had training and participate in this work together.
From young to old, we have found that our Lord is very interested in being invited to speak to hungry hearts, and He has clear messages that wipe away confusion and lies, and bring hope and forgiveness to the weary ones. He is still carrying on His redemptive healing ministry “to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).
Once we become part of God’s family, the Holy Spirit lives in us and speaks to us.
The Spirit who speaks
Grace Ryken, high-school student and member, First EFC of Ames, Iowa
One definition of the word prompt is to inspire. When God prompts us, He is planting inspiration inside us.
God informs us that once we become part of His family, the Holy Spirit lives in us and speaks to us: “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:20, New American Standard Bible).
God often prompts me through the Holy Spirit working in my thoughts. Usually it’s an idea that pops into my head out of the blue when I’m thinking about something else. It’s as if someone else created it, and that someone else is the Holy Spirit.
Our enemy can plant ideas in our minds in a similar way, so I follow a few practices to determine if a thought or idea is from God:
First, I ask God if it is something He wants me to do. Then I look at His Word: If the prompting contradicts the Bible in any way, then it is definitely not from God. If it does not, then I look to see what else God’s Word says on that subject. Although the Bible might not tell me exactly what to do in each situation, I often find the advice I am looking for.
If I am still not sure what to do, I seek advice from other strong Christians. God often works through the words of others.
Once the Holy Spirit gives me an idea and I’m sure it’s from God, I can’t just move on and keep thinking about other things.
This happened one afternoon while I was leading my prayer-walking group. Our goal is to prayer-walk every street and pray on every corner in Ames, Iowa. We pray in a different place each time, and observe and discuss what to pray for as we walk. Stopping at one corner, we decided to pray specifically for the families with kids in the neighborhood.
As we began to pray, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to pray for the families of the people in the prayer group instead. This seemed strange, as no one in the group lived near this area.
I decided I would wait until the next street corner to pray for families in our group. Yet as I opened my mouth to pray, I could no longer think of the families in the neighborhood, only of the families of people praying with me. So I prayed for each person’s family. After we had finished praying, someone in the group thanked me, saying his family was going through a tough time and could use prayer.
The Holy Spirit had worked in my thoughts and prompted me to pray for that family. When I tried to resist, He made it impossible by blocking my ideas to pray for other things. It is amazing how our God prompts and inspires us to do His work.
To learn more about Grace’s adventures in prayer walking, read “Block by Block” in the summer 2013 issue of EFCA Today.
God’s ability to speak at critical points never ceases to amaze me.
A ring of truth
Bill Shereos, senior pastor, First EFC, Chicago
A few years ago I was on a prayer retreat with several members of our congregation when someone related the story of Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s Army, in Joshua 5:13-15:
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
I’d read and heard those words read many time before, but in that instance I heard them in a completely different way. The words pierced my heart. Immediately I understood that I had offended God.
You see, for quite some time I had been asking a simple question: “How can I help our church grow?” Yet, in that moment, like Joshua, I sensed the need to reframe my question. The real question was, “Am I willing to follow?”
In that brief yet profound moment there was far more than simple rebuke. With the correction came comfort and a deep assurance: God was reminding me of His love and His sovereign power over all creation, of which I am a part. My task as a believer is to align myself with God’s Word and His will, rather than He having to align Himself to my puny plan.
God’s ability to speak at critical points never ceases to amaze me. It often comes when we least expect it through Scripture, a conversation, a serendipitous turn of events or any other creative way God chooses. My experience was so powerful that I decided to have my ear pierced as a sign and a symbol of God’s desire to speak.
Now, when people ask, “Why do you wear an earring?” I tell them, “I wear it as a reminder that though I don’t always hear, I know God is speaking.”
Hearing from God is about being close to the One who is talking; being in His presence.
Messages from the invisible beyond
Jenni Hoag, spiritual director, Trailhead Church, Littleton, Colo.
Not long ago I enjoyed a movie night with my husband and two teenagers. Early in the movie we witnessed the main character stop and cock his head to the side. It appeared that he was listening. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, a drone bomber flew overhead. The scene is a vivid illustration of listening. This character had trained his ear to hear. Before anyone else, he could hear the approach of the invisible.
Hearing from God is mystical and beautiful. Although we can’t predict a stirring from God every day at 6:30 a.m., or know that on the third day of the second week of the month God will reveal Himself, we can put ourselves in a place to attune to the movements of the Spirit. God’s goodness leads us to seek Him and delight in responding to His voice. How attentive am I to the Lord’s nudging?
“Whoever has ears, let them hear,” is repeated 14 times in the New Testament. Not only does Jesus instruct His followers to “hear,” but He also makes it clear in John 10 that we can hear because we can know the voice of God. God meets us through His Word, in stillness, in solitude, in seeking and in surrender. Am I training my ears to hear?
Hearing from God is about being close to the One who is talking; being in His presence. Maybe I need to recommit to a practice of solitude and rest to clear the noise from my ears. And perhaps I need to resuscitate my approach to the God-breathed Scriptures. Instead of looking for details or principles to share, I must seek to meet with and encounter the Savior, King, Redeemer, Friend, Lover, Healer and Provider of my faith.
It takes training to attune to the promptings of God. In what ways is my posture before God training me to hear His voice? I want to hear His Spirit move and be prepared to follow wherever He leads. May I train my ear to hear the approach of the invisible.
Jenni Hoag’s husband, Gary, is an EFCA generosity consultant.
I’ve found that promptings are revealed through study, prayer, worship and other spiritual disciplines.
Scripture and wise counsel
Emily Fontenot, member, The Orchard EFC (Arlington Heights, Ill.); and past president, Trinity Wives Fellowship at Trinity International University
The promptings of God rarely land in our lap, neatly wrapped and unsought. Instead, they are often a product of pursuing holiness, and they help us in pursuing holiness.
A Bible verse that reminds me of the necessity and value of seeking promptings of God is Proverbs 16:9: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
The promptings of God help us to plan accordingly and, as we move forward with our plans, they help to affirm or redirect our plans. I’ve found that promptings are revealed through study, prayer, worship and other spiritual disciplines.
For example, a prompting of God could come about through a memorized Bible verse that is unconsciously remembered. When it commands your attention, it directs you in a decision. After all, “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
God often uses other people to deliver or affirm His promptings. My husband’s journey to TEDS began during a time of corporate worship. God did not audibly speak to my husband; rather, the words of a song led my husband to recognize a desire to serve in ministry. We believe, by faith, that God is responsible for this desire. Later, during a time of prayer, God similarly called him to pursue theological training. Then, a pastor and a teacher each encouraged him to consider TEDS.
Many students are at TEDS because they talked with their pastor or mentor about their desire to serve as a pastor, teacher or missionary. Just as their pastor helped deliver a prompting of God to them, so they are preparing for and desiring to also deliver promptings of God to God’s children.