By Mary Foulger
Have you ever considered asking your children to listen to the Holy Spirit when they are having a hard time listening to you? That is exactly what my pastor Amy Ryan did one time when her young son was having a problem eating his meal.
“My son had been crying on the floor for two hours about eating chicken that night, and we just wanted him to eat one bite.”
Amy took him away from the situation and asked him to listen to the Holy Spirit. “Just pretend that it’s your favorite food” is what he heard.
“And he went downstairs and finished his whole portion of chicken and was like ‘oh that’s actually fine.’”
The God who is interested in a young boy eating his dinner is also interested in speaking to you and me, encouraging us, reminding us that he loves us, letting us know that we are important to him. In fact, it is the cry of God in Psalm 81:13 that his people would only listen to him. Then in the wonderful chapter about the Good Shepherd and his sheep, John chapter 10, we read that “the sheep listen to his voice” (John 10:3). Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep, and he says, “my sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
While some Christians think that they don’t hear when God speaks, I respectfully disagree. If you are following Jesus, then you have heard him calling you. Keep listening, because he has more to say to you.
I first heard teaching on how to hear God’s voice when I was a teenager, looking to serve the Lord on short term missions. About 70 of us young people had gathered for a week of teaching, and that was to be followed with five weeks of outreach at various locations in the United Kingdom, where we all lived at that time. The leaders shared about seven different places where they were going to send us and informed us how many were going to each location. I wondered how they were going to choose who went where and was completely shocked to learn that they were not choosing, we were all going to go away and privately ask the Lord where he wanted us to be.
I found a tree to sit under and asked the Lord where he wanted me. I had no preference for anywhere, since I had come to this outreach on my own and knew little about any of the places we were going to. The first place that came to my mind was a town called Folkestone, so I wrote that on a slip of paper alongside my name and placed it in a box provided to receive these notes. That evening the leaders shared that they had received exactly the right number of people for each location!
It took me several years to learn that the Lord did not just want to give me direction; sometimes he just wanted to share encouraging words with me. I asked one of my pastors, Amy Ryan, from my earlier story, to share some of her experiences with hearing from the Lord with me, and she told me how often the Lord simply tells her that he loves her:
I usually wake up every morning, and I say, “Holy Spirit you are so welcome in my day,” and then I just hear him say something like “I’m proud of you,” or “I love you,” or “I’m with you,” kind of every day.
The Lord has spoken to me many times during my Scripture readings for the day, but it is exciting to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit outside of that situation too. I used to think that the Bible had the answer to every situation, but it did not take long to realize that there is no verse that tells me which university I should attend, or which courses I should take, or whether I should give money to help this person or not. There have been times, however, when I have felt the Lord giving me a particular Scripture to direct me — even taking it completely out of context. And God can do that. God can even use a donkey to speak if he wants to, like in the story of Balaam’s ass.
There are many ways that the Lord has led me over these last 50 years that I have chosen to walk with him, but right now I am excited that he is speaking to me about things other than where to go and what to do. That is important, but it is so encouraging to sense the Lord telling me that I am strong. I don’t feel strong, but I am going to believe the word that I received from him. And when I feel the Lord is encouraging me to be faithful to the end, then yes, that is what I intend to do.
Have I ever gotten it wrong? Perhaps. I have read the Bible all the way through probably at least 30 times, and many parts hundreds of times. I have a good idea of what God is like, and that makes it easier to recognize his voice. It’s a bit like recognizing a voice on the phone. And if I ever were to sense something unusual, I would share it with my pastors, and let them discern with me if this is God or not. Also, knowing God’s character not only helps me with recognizing his voice, but it can give me confidence to follow even when I’m not sure. Like when Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water: he knew that Jesus would help him if he began to sink.
You are valuable and greatly loved by God. God wants to speak to all his children, us older kids as well as the younger ones. Why don’t you start by asking him what he thinks of you? The answer will make you very happy.
Mary Foulger currently lives in Ontario, Canada, with her husband Mike. She is a college math instructor who enjoys writing about her faith and living it out.