When you buy a new power tool or household appliance, it usually comes with operating and safety instructions. At first glance your new gadget may look relatively easy to operate, but when you look at the written instructions you often discover some features you weren’t aware of. It gives a few tips for maintenance that will keep your new tool or appliance in top working condition, and it lists some safety points that may not have occurred to you.
Receiving the gift of prophecy is like receiving a new spiritual power tool. There are a few things you really should know about it before you try to use it.
Choosing the time and place
If you’re going to get things from the Lord, you need to choose a quiet place, as free from distractions as possible. It’s still possible to hear from heaven if there are outside noises like children’s rowdy play, other people talking loudly in a nearby room, or traffic or construction in the street, but it’s harder to concentrate.
In the hustle and bustle of a busy day, it’s hard to find even a moment of peace and quiet, and once your day begins, you may find it hard to stop for this type of quiet time—not to mention finding a place where it’s quiet. And of course the best time to find out what you’re supposed to do each day is before the day starts. Those are three good reasons for taking your time with the Lord first thing in the morning. You might not always be able to do that, and even when you do, other things may come up later in the day that require you to stop and get God’s new perspective, but that’s the ideal.
Your body doesn’t have to be in any certain position to pray and hear from the Lord. Whatever position makes it easiest for you to concentrate and receive the Lord’s words is best. It also helps if you aren’t too hot or cold, tired, hungry, or thirsty. Any of these circumstances might distract you, so take care of them first if you can.
However, you can’t always wait until the circum- stances are just right in order to take time to hear from the Lord. If you wait until the setting is perfect, you might never get around to it. So if you need an answer right away, then stop wherever you are and ask Him. No matter what else is going on, you can still get a reply if you put forth the effort.
Clear your mind
Whether you’re just beginning your day or stopping in the middle of it to hear from the Lord, you’ll need to get in the mood. Sometimes it’s difficult to get your work or other thoughts out of your mind, but it’s important to ask the Lord to do that.
It often helps to spend time—it doesn’t have to be more than a few minutes—reading the Word before you start. Keep a Bible and other devotional material handy for times like this. Sometimes it also helps to sing a song or two of praise to the Lord. If you can’t or don’t feel comfortable singing out loud, sing in your heart. “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.”1
Praise, prayer, the Word, singing—all these can help clear your mind, quiet your spirit, and focus your full attention on the Lord. Find whatever works best for you.
Keep a record
When the Lord speaks to you, try to record His message in some way. If you have an audio recording device, you can repeat the words phrase by phrase as you receive them from the Lord. Or if you see a vision, you can describe it, in as much detail as possible. Or you can write or type the message as it comes. If you choose to write down your messages, you may want to keep a notebook especially for this purpose. Be sure to record the questions you ask the Lord, as well as His answers.
Recording the questions and messages makes it possible for you to review and study them later. Often people who hear from God don’t remember the message clearly afterward, especially if it was a long or detailed one. Or even if they do remember the gist of what the Lord said, they can’t remember exactly how He expressed it. It’s often as though His Spirit bypasses your consciousness and puts the words right in your mouth if you’re speaking them into a recorder, or pushes your hand along if you’re writing them down or typing them as they come. So sometimes only if you recorded it will you know what the answer was.
It’s only natural to start thinking about what the Lord is saying once He starts—after all, that’s why you asked Him to speak, so you could find out what He has to say. But if you start pondering on or analyzing the message before He’s finished, that will make it harder for you to keep receiving more. Your thoughts can drown out the Lord’s voice. If you miss even a part of what the Lord has to say to you, you may miss something important.
Recording the message as it comes helps you relax and just let it flow out, because you know every word will be there when you finish. After you have received His entire message, that’s the time to reflect on what He said. Play it back or read it over, and think about what the Lord told you.
It’s also important to ask the Lord to help you correctly interpret or understand what He has said. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we think the Lord said they would, simply because we have misunderstood what He said. We think He said one thing, when actually He said something else.
For example, is He saying that it’s His best that you to do a certain thing? Or is He saying that He will allow you to do it, if you want? Or is He saying that the course of action depends on your personal conviction, what you believe is right and best? Or is He saying very clearly that this is something that you need to do, or that you must do to avert problems or injury?
Every word counts: the way God expresses it, how He puts it, so study it carefully and ask the Lord for the correct interpretation.
Also, don’t be surprised if a message that seemed to be disjointed, unclear, or clumsily expressed while you were receiving it is in fact complete, well-rounded, and even eloquently put. This is often the case, and is further proof that the message you received was indeed the Lord speaking, not just your own thoughts.
Look it up
Often the Lord speaks to us by bringing to mind a verse or passage from the written Word. If you haven’t experienced this already, you will be surprised to discover how alive Scripture can be when the Lord applies it to you personally. Have a Bible handy, so you can look up the verse or story the Lord gave for your situation, if it’s one you’re not very familiar with. A Bible concordance—in print or on computer—can be a big help at times like this, and makes looking up specific verses or passages quick and easy.
The minute we begin to listen to the Lord’s written Word, we put ourselves in the position of being willing to listen, so then the Lord begins to speak and give us His current Word in prophecy.—D.B.B.
Lord, I have shut the door, speak now the word
Which in the din and throng could not be heard;
Hushed now my inner heart, whisper Thy will,
While I have come apart, while all is still.
Lord, I have shut the door, here do I bow;
Speak, for my soul attent turns to Thee now.
Rebuke Thou what is vain, counsel my soul,
Thy Holy will reveal, my will control.
In this blest quietness, clamorings cease;
Here in Thy presence dwells infinite peace;
Yonder the strife and cry, yonder, the sin:
Lord, I have shut the door, Thou art within!
Lord, I have shut the door, strengthen my heart;
Yonder awaits the task—I share a part.
Only through grace bestowed may I be true;
Here, while alone with Thee, my strength renew.
—William M. Runyan (1870–1957)
God has just filled life full of puzzles and problems and mysteries and excitement and suspense to challenge our intellect, challenge our spirituality, challenge our faith, challenge our trust in the Lord, and to get us to want to find out the answers.
In trying to show us His will, He sometimes lays a mystifying puzzle before us. He sometimes speaks in riddles and mysteries that are hard to understand, but He almost always gives us the starting clue. Then He leads us on step by step. He likes for us to have to seek it. Because this is exercising our faith in Him and His Word and His divine guidance and magnanimity, His parental love.—D.B.B.