Another dad and I were talking about how we enter into the world of our kids. In order to connect with our children, we’ve discovered how important it is it find a way to get into what matters to them and not simply try to get them to care about what matters to us. That’s “incarnational” in approach . . . like the way Jesus entered into our world to reach us, to communicate with us.
That led us to think and talk a bit about how the Lord speaks to us, how Jesus communicates with his followers, how the Spirit’s voice is heard. And we looked at Acts 16:
They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10)
What Luke describes here is at the start of Paul’s second “missionary journey.” Paul had already made one prolonged and effective missionary journey, sharing the message of Jesus wherever he went. Here, Paul is simply seeking to follow through on what he knows Jesus wants for him. And, in the process, he “hears” from God . . . in a variety of ways.
First, we are told that they are “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” This sounds “content-ful.” That is, this appears to be more than a vague “sense” that they should or should not do something. They knew with clarity that they are not to “speak the word” in Asia (what would be land on the north-east coast of the Mediterranean Sea).
Changing direction, we read “they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” How do we understand this? It is reported differently than what happened in the Phyrgian and Galatian region. This reads more as obstacle or hinderance, perhaps without specific content. They somehow knew the Spirit is not allowing them access to Bithynia.
As they try to make sense of what the Lord wants for them, Paul received a vision. He saw a man from Macedonia inviting and calling for them to come over to that region. This is visual, compelling, graphic, and contains some specifics. What is fascinating (as we read how the story unfolds) is that when they arrive in Macedonia, they didn’t initially meet a “man of Macedonia” but a woman from Thyatira (see Acts 16: 11-15). So, although the vision provided insight into the way forward, it wasn’t a specific and clear indicator of exactly what was going to happen.
Luke closes out this recounting of the Lord’s leading writing they “concluded” God had called them to preach to the Macedonians. The word Luke uses speaks of “putting two and two together.” They ended up, in some sense, reasoning about what to do–although basing their reasoning on what they knew from Scripture and how the Lord had been speaking, communicating, and revealing what he wanted for them.
So as I am trying to grasp how the Lord “speaks” and what “hearing the Lord” looks like, I’m thinking . . .
The Lord is creative, he speaks and communicates in a variety of ways.
Although all of the Lord’s communication is consistent with his own Word and the call he has placed on our lives, there may be things we need to know or hear from him that we cannot get from reading texts alone.
There is no perfect, always exactly clear way for the Lord to communicate; we will have to think well about what we believe he is saying and draw reasonable conclusions about what he wants for us.
It might be helpful to listen for the leading of the Lord and the voice of the Spirit in the context of a community of brothers and sisters who will listen with us, pay attention with us, think through things with us.
Scripture. Words. Nudges. Impressions. Visions. Revelation. Reason. Messages. Content. Senses. Hearing from the Lord might look like all of this and more.