How God Speaks to Us
December 27th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
HOW GOD SPEAKS TO US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-27-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled How God Speaks to Us. The Book of Hebrews begins with this avowal.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.
This is a resume of the whole gamut of God’s revelation. "At sundry times," here and here and here, "and in divers manners," in this way and that way and in yet another way, "God spake in times past unto our fathers, to our forefathers, by the prophets" [Hebrews 1:1], and today we would say, "and by the apostles."
And He "hath in these last days" . . . isn’t that an unusual descriptive word from the Book? This dispensation, this era, is referred to in the Bible as the last days, beginning with Christ to the consummation, the last days. By God’s clock, we are approaching the third day; in God’s sight a thousand years is as a day [2 peter 3:8]. Our Lord’s been gone, soon, two days. Will He return the third day? In the Scriptures, since the days of our Lord, the era in which we live is called the last days. And God, who in different times and in different ways spake unto our forefathers by the prophets, "hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son" [Hebrews 1:1, 2].
Now the thought that I take from this avowal at the beginning of Paul or Apollos’ letter to the little church of Hebrews is that God speaks to us. How does God speak to us? In those days past, at the sundry times and in the divers manners, in those days gone by, there have been times when God spoke in unusual ways, different ways, unique ways, unduplicated ways.
For example, the high priest wore on his breastplate the Urim and the Thummim. And when he went before the Lord to inquire God’s will for the nation, he used the Urim and the Thummim [Exodus 28:30]. Nobody knows what they are. They were so familiar through the generations in Israel that the Scripture writers never took time to describe what they were or how God made His will known through them.
Yet God spoke to the nation in the Urim and the Thummim. Possibly they were stones on the breastplate of the high priest. And when he inquired the will of God, the Lord spake through lights, or through casting them, or through the arrangement of them; we don’t know. That is a way that God spoke that is no more.
Another way that God spoke, as described in 2 Kings, was when Jehoshophat, the king of Judah, came before Elisha, who had poured water on the hands of Elijah [2 Kings 3:11], and inquired of Elisha concerning the drought that threatened his army. Elisha said, "Bring me a minstrel" and while the minstrel played, the Spirit of God came upon Elisha and he prophesied, and the Lord spoke to Elisha while the minstrel played [2 Kings 3:15].
I can understand that. I can understand how a tremendous song or music program would inspire a preacher to feel the unction and presence and Spirit of the Lord God upon him. But I doubt whether such a thing would be with us as it was with Elisha, that God would make His will known while the minstrel played.
Another way that God spoke in the Old Testament which is unique, He spoke through Balaam’s donkey [Numbers 22:28-30]. Well, I say that is unique. Sometimes when I go to conferences and listen over radio and I hear men speak for God, purportedly, supposedly; well, I think I ought not to judge that man. I ought not to be critical of him. After all, God uses donkeys to make known His word. But you must say that it is unique, it is unusual, yet God spoke to Balaam through his donkey.
Usually though, as we read through the Scriptures, God speaks in times of crisis, and He does it through the Angel of the Lord or through an audible voice. For example, on Mt. Moriah, whenever Abraham lifted up the knife to plunge it into the heart of his son Isaac [Genesis 22:10], God spoke to him. The Angel of the Lord called to him and said, "Abraham, Abraham" [Genesis 22:11]. God spoke to him. The Angel of the Lord spoke to him; Jesus, Jehovah spoke to him. As Moses was on the back side of the desert he saw a bush that burned unconsumed [Exodus 3:2], and Jehovah Jesus spoke to him out of the burning bush [Exodus 3:4-22]. On the top of Mt. Sinai, out of the fury and the flame and the fire God spoke to the nation [Exodus 19:18-19]. The Lord spoke to Samuel when he was a little boy and called him by name; "Samuel, Samuel," and did that four times [1 Samuel 3:4-10]. As the years passed God spoke to Daniel in visions and in dreams [Daniel 2:19; 7:2, 8:1-2, 15, 26, 27, 10:1].
In the first chapter of the Book of Luke, the Christmas story begins with a visit of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias the priest, who was ministering at the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place. And there on the right side of the altar suddenly appeared Gabriel, the messenger from the presence of the Lord. And God spoke to Zacharias through the angel messenger [Luke 1:8-20].
In the passage of Scripture that you just read, Paul – Saul of Tarsus, breathing out and threatening slaughter against the people of God, on his way to Damascus, met the Lord Himself in the road. And Jesus spoke to him and called him by his name [Acts 9:1-4].
In the first chapter of the Apocalypse, the apostle John says he was on the isle of Patmos, in exile for the word and testimony of the Lord. And he heard behind him a great voice, as of a trumpet, and being turned to see the voice that spake unto him, he saw the glorified Son of God walking in the midst of the seven lampstands, His presence in His churches [Revelation 1:9-13].
God speaks in these glorious and marvelous and soul-determining ways. "God . . . .at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by prophets," and by the apostles [Hebrews 1:1].
Now sometimes we fall into the error of thinking, as we read these unusual manifestations and theophanies, an audible voice of the messengers of God, and of God Himself, we sometimes think, well, you know, God ought to speak to me like that. There ought to be a vision of an angel, or there ought to be an audible voice. And some of us, of which I have been one, in these days past, especially in the years of my beginning ministry, I have earnestly desired and prayed that God would reveal to me a message from heaven by a holy voice or the vision of an angel. And that is quite common, I have learned, among us. We reach out for those visions and those audible voices for God to speak to us.
Well, the reaching out for the unusual is something that is unique in human experience. We sometimes fall into those hopes and graspings and outreachings. Lord, that an angel would come, or that I might hear a voice, or that there might be a light from heaven, or a sublime vision or dream. And that gives rise to the message of the morning. How does God speak to us?
First and foremost, God speaks to us by His Word. When we talk to God, we call that prayer. As Abraham stayed before the Lord and said, "Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak unto Thee, I who am but dust and ashes" [Genesis 18:27]. When I talk to God, I call that praying, pleading, interceding, speaking to the Lord. That’s prayer, when I talk to God. How does God talk to me? God speaks to me first and foremost through His revealed and written Word, through the Holy Scriptures.
As the scroll was given to Jesus, and the Lord unrolled the scroll and read out of God’s Holy Word [Luke 4:16-20], and said to the people in the synagogue, "This day is this word fulfilled in your sight, in your presence, in your hearing [Luke 4:21]. This is God’s Word to you," this is God’s Word to us. And all human experience, all of it, spiritual and religious and emotional, must be guided by the revelation of the Word of God in this Holy Book. For my faculties are fallen. It is not just my human body that is fallen; my entire personality, my soul, my spirit, my mind, my emotions, my will, my whole being is also fallen. And I can fall into extremities and into error; by my fallen nature I can be misled. And by deceiving spirits I can be misled. And I must judge and guard and guide all of my experience by the Word of God. This is according to the saintly prophets and apostles and the Lord Himself. They studied the Holy Scriptures, and they guided their prophecies and their lives by the revealed Word of God. God spoke to the apostles and to the prophets and to the saints by the Holy Scriptures.
For example, Daniel was studying the word of God, in this instance the prophecy of Jeremiah. Daniel was studying the Word of God, and it was there that he learned, in studying the Word of God, that the Lord had said, "Seventy years and the people will be free to return to Jerusalem, to the homeland" [Daniel 9:2, Jeremiah 29:10]. And the seventy years had come to pass, and Daniel prepared himself and his nation for the great trek back to Canaan. He studied the Bible, and God spoke to Daniel through the Word of God.
Ezra gave himself to a studying of the Word of the Lord, and God spoke to Ezra through the revealed and written Word. And Ezra stood on a high pulpit and he made known the word to the people [Nehemiah 8:1-4]. And when Ezra opened the book the people all stood up [Nehemiah 8:5].
The Lord Jesus says, and how many times does He repeat it, that this is done and that is done in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled [Matthew 26:56, Luke21:22, John 13:18, 15:25, 17:12]. That is, He ordered His life by the Word of God. And if I were to begin to take the apostles as they write here in these epistles and quote the Holy Scriptures, we would be here all day long. The Book of Hebrews, out of which I have taken my text, is almost nothing else but a collocation, pericopes of the Holy Word of God.
And it is no less so in the Apocalypse. How very much of the Revelation, the last climactic consummating book of the Bible, is a collection of the Holy Scriptures that God has revealed to the fathers, to the prophets. God speaks to us by the Holy Word. And if I would listen to the voice of God, let me open this Book, and as in prayer I speak to God, so in the Book God speaks to me.
There is not a more moving passage in the Bible than Paul’s word to his son in the ministry Timothy at Ephesus, pleading with the young fellow to come to see him before he is executed. And he says, "And when you come, stop by Troas and get the garment that I left with Carpus, because it is cold in this dungeon. And bring that cloak." And then he says, "And bring the books, but especially the parchments" [2 Timothy 4:9, 13]; that is, the Word of God, the Bible.
How does God speak to us? He speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures. How does God speak to us? The Lord speaks to us in that inner tribunal and holy judge that we call our conscience. God speaks to us in a trained Christian conscience.
I haven’t time to go through this first letter of Paul to his son in the ministry Timothy, but how many times will he speak of a good conscience, and of a pure conscience? [1Timothy 1:5, 1:19, 3:9]. And of a pure conscience; that is, a Christian, trained, sensitive conscience. Then in the fourth chapter he speaks of some who have their conscience seared with a hot iron [1 Timothy 4:2]. They have so given themselves to evil that they have lost that sensitivity of heart and soul toward God. But God speaks to us in that great holy judge who sits in judgment upon every thought and act of our lives.
And when a conscience is made sensitive and when it is guided and trained by the Christian faith and directive and Word of God, the Lord will speak to us in the conscience. I am condemned and convicted as the Holy Spirit speaks to me inwardly; or, I am encouraged and I am furthered and I am led in a fine and noble commitment and life. Judged by my conscience. God speaks to me, as Paul says, either affirming or disallowing, condemning in my inward soul, in my conscience [Romans 2:15].
That’s why when I pray and when I talk to God, almost always there will be somewhere in that prayer that I will mention my sins. And when I hear our people pray, almost always there will be an asking of God to forgive us our sins, because that inward judge that God has placed inside of us, the moral image of God makes us sensitive, and the Lord speaks to us inwardly in our conscience [John 16:8].
Third: God not only speaks to us in His Word, and God not only speaks to us inwardly in our conscience, but God speaks to us in quietness and in stillness. Isaiah said to the king, "We are threatened by the winged bull of Asshur, by the bitter and merciless Assyrian, and you have sent down to Egypt, and you are resting in the strength of the arm of Pharoah and of the swift horses of Egypt" [Isaiah 30:2-6, 16]. Then the prophet said to the king, "In returning and in rest, in quietness and in confidence be your strength" [Isaiah 30:15].
Oh, dear! What a word of God that is to us. We think, and we suppose, that as we face the flood tide of evil, oh, how we must be busy, and how we must employ the methods of the world, and how we must use all of these ingenious things in the world in order to stem the flood tide of evil; when actually, the strength of the people of God never has been in their busyness, in their multiplied activities. But the actual strength of the people of God lies in their communion, and in their quietness, and in their assurance, and in their confidence, in that deep un-perturbation that belongs to those who know God.
Ah, Lord, how many times do I sense, do I have the feeling, that oh, how much is going on, but how little of the power and presence of the Spirit of the Lord is in it. In rest, in quietness, in confidence shall you be saved [Isaiah 30:15]. God speaks to us in stillness and in waiting.
I could not think of a finer illustration of that than Elijah. Oh, how active he was, he said, for the Lord, and how jealous he was for God [1 Kings 19:10]. Then when Jezebel got after him, fleeing before the face of that imperious queen, he went down to Mount Sinai. And there in a cave there was a great wind that tore the rocks of the mountains; but God was not in the wind. And there was a mighty earthquake that shook the foundations of the earth, and God was not in the earthquake. And there was a flaming, furious fire, and God was not in the fire [1 Kings 19:11-12].
And then there was a still, small voice; the Hebrew is "and there was a great stillness," a great stillness, a gentle stillness. And Elijah covered his face with his mantle in the presence of God, and the Lord spake in the great stillness [1 Kings 19:12-13].
I can tell you, and any preacher, this: that if you give your life to things and things and things, your ministry will be shallower and shallower and shallower, until finally it hardly has the presence and power of God in it at all. It is they who have time to commune with the Lord to whom God speaks. He speaks to us in quietness and in stillness.
Somebody, while I was sick, sent me a little poem. May I read it to you?
I needed the quiet, so He drew me aside
Into the shadows where we could confide.
Away from the bustle where all the day long
I hurried and worried when active and strong.
I needed the quiet, though at first I rebelled,
But gently, so gently, my cross He upheld.
And whispered so sweetly of spiritual things
Though weakened in body my spirit took wings
To heights never dreamed of when active and gay
He loved me so gently He drew me away.
I needed the quiet, no prison my bed,
But a beautiful valley of blessings instead.
A place to grow richer, in Jesus to hide
I needed the quiet, so He drew me aside.
["I Needed the Quiet," Alice Hansche Mortenson]
Isn’t that a sweet thing for somebody to do to the pastor? I’ve been going between Sundays for seven consecutive weeks, and have worn myself out going. And then they sent me that little poem.
I know we ought to do for God. And I know for the most part we are phlegmatic and lethargic in the presence of the work of the Lord. And I know we ought to dedicate ourselves to the tasks and the assignments that God has laid upon us. But I also know first and above all, that before I attempt them I ought to be endued with power from on high. Tarry, wait until the Holy Spirit, in unction and in grace, is upon you [Luke 24:]. And we can literally lose our strength in the busyness of life. God speaks to us in stillness, in quiet, in intercession.
Fourth: God speaks to us in need. Paul said, "In the night I had a dream. A man of Macedonia stood up and said, Come into Macedonia and to help us" [Acts 16:9]. Then the next verse Luke appears, and for the first time you have a "we." Luke appears, and Luke says after Paul dreamed that dream, "Then we crossed the Hellespont into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel unto them" [Acts 16:10].
A need; in a need God speaks to us. Why, I remember one time I went to a queenly, lovely woman and said to her, "In this community our young people are so turning away from God. Would you teach a class of young people?" A lovely home, a lovely woman; and I pressed upon her the need of those young people. God calls in a need, in a need.
One of the young men with whom I went to school in the seminary came back from the mission field andat a service he said, "It came to my heart not why should I go to the mission field, but why should I not go to the mission field, and I didn’t have any answer to God why I shouldn’t go. The need is so great, so I went to the mission field."
A need. God speaks to us. There is a class of boys or a class of girls, or here is a mission, or here is a ministry. God speaks to us in a need.
Fifth and last; and I must hasten: God speaks to us in family responsibilities. Isnt it an amazing sentence, listen to it: Paul wrote to his son in the ministry Timothy; "He that provides not for his own, and especially they of his own house, has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" [1 Timothy 5:8]. I just can’t imagine a sentence like that. However a man may pray and be holy and pious and attentive to religious duties, listen to that sentence: "But he that provides not for his own, and especially they of his own household, has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." God speaks to us in our family responsibilities.
Before I got down, as some of you know, I was in a week’s meeting with a friend from seminary days, whom I promised for thirty years that I would be with him in a revival meeting. And he had built a new church house. He has a little church, but oh, they had done such a magnificent thing. And he said, "If you are ever coming, come now. It will be a part of the dedication of our new building."
So I said, "Well, write it down". So the first full week in December I held a meeting. In that meeting on Wednesday night, I had a service in which I preached a sermon entitled Dad, Look Behind You; dad, turn around and look behind you. Look at your church; look at your home, and look at your son. That was the sermon: dad, turn around and look behind you. Look at this boy who is following right behind.
And when I got through preaching I pressed an appeal: "All of you men here who have a son, all of you men here who have a son, get that son by the hand, take him by the hand and come down here, and let’s dedicate our lives and the life of that boy to God. And if the boy is over here and you are over there, get that boy; or son; if you are over here and your father is there, get your father and come. Oh, it’s a moving thing. Those men down there with their boys, one, two, three, sometimes four, and then we have that service of dedication and commitment; the father committing himself to God, walking in the presence of the lad, and then dedicating that boy kneeling by his side. It’s a moving thing.
Right here sat a man and his wife and two boys; right there. And as we sang and pressed the invitation, stubborn, unyielding, rejecting, he stood there. And finally his wife walked in front of him as he moved back against the pew to let her by. And his wife moved in front of him, and then the older boy moved in front of him, and then the younger boy moved in front of him, and she came down with those two boys, and acting in the place of the father she knelt with those two boys, and dedicated the lives of those two boys to God.
When the service was over, the pastor, who is a godly, humble, sweet, wonderful servant of the Lord, the pastor went to the man and said, "Sir, why did you not come with those boys?"
And that man replied to the pastor, he said, "I was waiting for God to speak to me to tell me to do it."
And the pastor replied, "Sir, if God does not speak to your heart in a service like that, and in a message like that, and in these two boys, God does not speak at all!"
And that is the truest word that any pastor ever spoke in his ministry. If God does not speak to a man in his children, and if God does not speak to a man in his home, and if God does not speak to a man in the responsibilities of these the Lord has placed in His care, then God does not speak at all.
These are the ways that God speaks to us today. Lord, humbly may I listen. And may I respond as in the word, as in the inner conviction of the Spirit, as in those moments of quiet intercession, as in the need of God’s witness in the earth, and as in the face of my children and in the circle of my home, I hear the voice of God.
In a moment we shall stand to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, you, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, "Pastor, God has spoken to me and I am coming. I have made that decision and I am coming." In the balcony round, you, on this lower floor into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor." Make that decision now. Do it now where you are seated. Up there, down here, make that decision now. "God has spoken to me and I am coming." Giving your heart to the Lord, dedicating your life to God, putting your life in the fellowship of this dear church, "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today." Or just you; in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming. Down one of those stairways or into the aisle and here to the front, "Here I am. I am answering God’s call today and here I come." Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
HOW GOD SPEAKS TO US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. In days past God spake unto our fathers
A. Unusual and unique ways
1. Urim and Thummin(Exodus 28:30, Leviticus 8:8, 1 Samuel 10:19-22, 14:37-42, Nehemiah 7:65, Numbers 20:8)
2. Minstrel (2 Kings 3:15)
3. Balaam’s donkey(Numbers 22:28)
B. In great crises
1. To Abraham at the offering of Isaac(Genesis 22)
2. To Moses in the burning bush(Exodus 3)
3. In trumpet tones to the people from atop flaming Sinai(Exodus 19:17-19)
4. To Samuel, by name(1 Samuel 3)
5. To Daniel in visions and dreams
6. Gabriel sent to speak to Zacharias(Luke 1)
7. To Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus(Acts 22)
8. To John on the isle of Patmos(Revelation 1:17-18)
C. Because of these examples, I used to pray for a similar experience
II. How God speaks to us today
A. His Word – first and foremost
1. Prayer is us speaking to God; God speaks to us when we read the Bible(Genesis 18:27, Luke 4:16-21)
2. All experiences to be judged, guided by the Word
3. Prophets, apostles, saints studied the Word(Psalm 119:105, 2 Timothy 4:13)
B. Inwardly, with a guided and trained Christian sensitivity(1 Timothy 3:9)
C. In quietness, rest and assurance(Isaiah 30:15, 1 Kings 19:12, Proverbs 3:5)
D. In need, in a call
E. In family relationships(1 Timothy 5:8)