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Sermon Series

 

August 23, 2015 A.D., Sermon by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction
Our reading this morning comes as King Solomon has just completed the building of the Temple in Jerusalem…

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43 [NLTse]
1 Solomon then summoned to Jerusalem the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes—the leaders of the ancestral families of the Israelites.  They were to bring the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant to the Temple from its location in the City of David, also known as Zion…
6 Then the priests carried the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant into the inner sanctuary of the Temple—the Most Holy Place—and placed it beneath the wings of the cherubim…
10 When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. 11 The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of the Lord.
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the entire community of Israel. He lifted his hands toward Heaven, 23 and he prayed,
“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like You in all of Heaven above or on the earth below. You keep Your covenant and show unfailing love to all who walk before You in wholehearted devotion. 24 You have kept Your promise to Your servant David, my father. You made that promise with Your Own mouth, and with Your Own hands You have fulfilled it today.
25 “And now, O Lord, God of Israel, carry out the additional promise You made to Your servant David, my father. For You said to him, ‘If your descendants guard their behavior and faithfully follow Me as you have done, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’ 26 Now, O God of Israel, fulfill this promise to Your servant David, my father.
27 “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain You. How much less this Temple I have built! 28 Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is making to You today. 29 May You watch over this Temple night and day, this place where You have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May You always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 30 May You hear the humble and earnest requests from me and Your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from Heaven where You live, and when You hear, forgive.
41 “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to Your people Israel will hear of You. They will come from distant lands because of Your name, 42 for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43 then hear from Heaven where You live, and grant what they ask of You. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear You, just as Your Own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors Your name.

We are baptizing Ava Zellmer into Christ this morning. The Lord calls us to baptize our children when, during Peter’s very first Holy Spirit inspired sermon, he tells the crowds, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” (2:38-39) We baptize even infants because  Romans 4:11 illustrates baptism’s relationship to circumcision: That just as circumcision was a sign of faith and righteousness to be given to all the male children of Israel even though they didn’t yet have faith for themselves, likewise, baptism, too, is to be given to the children of Christians as a sign of faith and righteousness even though they don’t yet have faith for themselves.

In our reading from 1 Kings 8, Solomon, son of David, king of Israel, has just finished building the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and is dedicating it by way of prayers and sacrifices and bringing into it the Ark of the Covenant – the golden box that contained the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s walking stick that God had made to miraculously grow almond blossoms.

And King Solomon has called all of Israel together to be a part of this sacred dedication, representatives from every family attending on each family’s behalf. And as he prays King Solomon asks God to watch over His Temple night and day. He asks the Lord to hear and answer the humble and sincere requests prayed towards the Temple: Answering and forgiving, and teaching the people to follow His ways as He does so. Solomon prophesies that foreigners who do not belong to Israel will hear of the Lord, hearing of His great name and His strong hand and His powerful arm and that the Lord would hear and respond to their prayers, as well, so that the whole world would know and fear Him, just like His people, Israel.

And Jesus said, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)
In Jesus Christ God Almighty has answered Solomon’s prayers concerning the Temple.
Jesus is the true and living Temple… We worship God in Jesus… In Jesus we have all that Solomon asked for…

Solomon asked the Lord to hear and answer the humble and sincere requests prayed towards the Temple: Answering and forgiving, and teaching the people to follow His ways as He does so. In Jesus Christ God does.

When the Lord Jesus raised Lazarus (who had been dead and in the grave for four days) back to life again, He prayed, saying to the Father, “Father, thank You for hearing Me. You always hear Me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe You sent Me.” (John 11:41-42) The Father always hears the prayers of the Son. Likewise, when we pray by faith, in Jesus’ name, according to the will of God, Abba hears our every prayer. In Christ, He hears. In Christ, He answers. In Christ, He forgives us and teaches us to follow His ways.

Solomon prophesied that foreigners would one day hear of the Lord, hearing of His great name and His strong hand  and His powerful arm and asked that the Lord would hear and respond to their prayers, as well, so that the whole world would know and fear Him.
And, in Jesus Christ, we know that that has come true and will come true.

Most of us were once foreigners to Israel. But in Christ now we have been made a part of Israel – grafted in like a branch to a tree, like a lamp to a power strip. Even so, more are coming. We regularly pray in this place for God to save this one or to bring that one to Himself: Our loved ones, our neighbors, or even others for whom He’s given us His heart. And, as we’ve said, in Christ their prayers, too, will always be heard and answered. Once in Christ, they, too, will be forgiven, and He will teach them to follow His ways.

Jesus Christ is the true and living Temple, the One in Whom the one, eternal, omniscient, all-powerful God lives. As Paul and others have written, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15); “for in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” (2:9); “the Son radiates God’s Own glory and expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3).

And that’s what we are baptizing little Ava into today: She is being plugged into Christ; becoming the true and living Temple of God with us, in Christ. Bryan and Carla are committing her – as she grows and grows in love and faith – to join us in the priestly Temple service: Serving around the church; living her life for Christ; studying Him, growing in Him; and helping others to know and grow in Him.

That’s what we’ve all been baptized into. That’s Who we’ve all been baptized into: The Suffering Servant; the Lamb of God; the Prince of Peace; the One Who alone will take vengeance; the true and living Temple.

In v. 10, we read that after placing the Ark in the Holy of Holies a thick cloud filled the Temple; that the glorious power of the Lord filled the Temple. Likewise, as Ava grows, let us keep praying for her and for all the baptized  that she and all be filled with the Holy Spirit, the glorious power of the Lord…
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Because Jesus is God’s true and living Temple, in Jesus we, too, can be filled with the glorious power of God. During the dedication of that first Temple in Solomon’s day, we read that, after the priests carried the Ark into the Most Holy Place that a dark cloud filled the Temple, and that it was filled with “the glorious power of the Lord”. In those days, because the Temple was a building made of wood and stone, the Temple being filled with God’s glorious power kept the priests from ministry until it moved on. But today, because Jesus is God’s Temple, God’s glorious power is what we need in order to be about our ministry!



July 26, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Genesis 32:22-32 [NLTse]

22 During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. 23 After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions.

24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

30 Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. 32 (Even today the people of Israel don’t eat the tendon near the hip socket because of what happened that night when the man strained the tendon of Jacob’s hip.)

Sermon

Anybody here ever have to wait a long, long time for God to answer one of your prayers? … How long did you have to wait? … How long did you have to wait? …

Anyone here still waiting for God to answer a prayer? … How long have you been waiting? … How long have you been waiting? …

Has anyone here stopped praying about something or another because so much time has gone by that you’ve decided God must not be listening, or you’ve got to thinking that maybe He doesn’t care, or that you’ve gotten to thinking that maybe prayer doesn’t matter? …

Yeah, those who live in a dynamic relationship with God and who are familiar with prayer are also familiar with the delays – and sometimes the years and years and years of delays – that are a part of praying and having our prayers change the world. And yet, these same delays can be ammunition for the enemy of our souls to tempt us to believe that prayer doesn’t matter, that God doesn’t care, and even doubt the existence of God altogether!

With all of this in mind, did you ever notice how, according to Luke, that after teaching His disciples the basic model of prayer in “The Lord’s Prayer”, how Jesus then immediately taught them about the importance of persistence in prayer?

Luke writes, “Then, teaching them more about prayer, He used this story: ‘Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, “A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.” And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, “Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.” But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.” (11:5-8)

R. A. Torrey, a friend of Dwight L. Moody’s, and one of the great Holy Spirit preachers and teachers of his day, described the practical application of Jesus’ teaching on persistence in prayer this way: “The central lesson in this parable of our Lord’s is, that, when we pray, if we do not obtain the thing the first time we ask for it, we should pray again; and if we do not obtain it the second time, we should pray a third time; and if we do not obtain it the hundredth time we pray, we should go on praying until we do get it.”

The Lord goes on, right after this teaching on persistence, to give us an astonishing promise about the results of such relentless prayer. He says, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (11:9-10)

Prayer at its most profound level is not just conversation with God, but is a living, active, dynamic engagement with God that includes wrestling and persistence. As we saw in our reading from Genesis, Jacob was blessed because he would not let God’s angel go until the angel blessed him. And the Lord Jesus seems to be encouraging us to have this same attitude. Apparently our Father likes us to wrestle with Him, not letting go until we have received what we have been asking for.

When my kids were younger, wrestling together in their rooms, on the lawn, or on our living room floor was an integral part of our life together. Noah and I would circle each other round and round, lunging at each other for a good hand-hold or take down. As Eden got older, she would get involved or set Noah to get me from one direction as she came at me from the other. I remember times when I would be walking across the room, minding my own business, and I’d hear a, “Hi-yah!” and find Caleb clinging to my back and Eden slamming her shoulder against my knees. Soon Noah would have joined the fray, too, and I would be seriously outgunned: Pinned down and having to resort to tickling or little pinches (they hated the tickling and little pinches) to try to break free.

Of course, those bouts were never about my kids trying to get anything from me. Pinned underneath them I never heard them crow with triumph, “Now bless us, Dad!” But that does get me thinking about another kind of wrestling that we sometimes go through together. Caleb is especially gifted with these moves: It’s the wrestling art of debate. Caleb regularly engages Amy and me, trying to get us to give him a dog or a new computer game or more time to watch TV or to stay up later or to get more Magic The Gathering cards and other such “bouts”. As frustrating as it can be to sometimes go round and round with him, I also often find myself secretly proud of the logic he’ll use or the examples he’ll raise that get Amy and I backed into a corner, reduced to that famous parental phrase of desperation, “Because I told you ‘no’, that’s why!” J

I think about these wrestling matches with my kids – both physical and mental – and I think about my praying and praying and praying to God, and I remember that it’s never been a fair fight. Each and every time with my kids I could use all my strength and all my know-how and overpower them and hurt them and win every time. It would leave them in tears, but I would win! And yet, then we wouldn’t get to keep on wrestling! I realize that in Amy’s and my debates with them that Amy and I are experienced enough and sinful enough that we could shame them or say hurtful, nasty things to them, and we could win each and every debate. But, again, then we wouldn’t get to wrestle! I confess to you, and I think I may be speaking on our Abba’s behalf, as well: The truth is, I like losing to my kids. I raised them to wear me down. I raised them to outmaneuver me. And, of course, after a few matches or two, I love blessing them, whether they are specifically asking me to or not.

About persistence in prayer and wrestling with God in prayer, the great Martin Luther wrote, “[God] does not give what the saints seek on the surface of their hearts and with that foam of words, but He is an almighty and exceedingly rich Bestower who gives in accordance with the depth of that sighing. Therefore He lets prayer be directed, grow, and be increased; and He does not hear immediately. For if He were to answer at the first outcry or petition, prayer would not increase, but would become cold. Therefore He defers help. As a result, prayer grows from day to day and becomes more efficacious. The sobbing of the heart also becomes deeper and more ardent until it comes to the point of despair, as it were. Then prayer becomes more ardent and passionate…” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Genesis, Luther’s Works, vol. 5, pp. 359-60)

Answers to prayer are not a matter of putting the time on our knees into a cosmic gum ball machine and getting just what we wanted just when we want it. The answers to our prayers arise out of the dynamic of our relationship with God. As we persist in prayer, we get to know God’s moves. As we debate with Him we get to know His logic. Keeping at it not only shows our commitment to Him and our relationship together, but over these periods of time as we are praying and waiting, we also find our requests being refined and molded and shaped to be more in line with His will.

And yet it’s not just our requests that are refined. We, too, are being refined as we wrestle and persist with God. As we wrestle with God, His presence, and the intimacy of embracing Him and struggling with Him, melts us and molds us. And we grow to be able to pray more and more according to His will and to truly be able to pray in Jesus’ name.

Paul writes, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s Own will.” (Romans 8:26-27) As we strive in prayer the Holy Spirit is shaping us so that He can truly intercede through us.

Of course, part of our problem is that, in the eternal life of God, waiting year after year for prayers to be answered is nothing may seem like nothing to Him. But in my life and your life, waiting year after year is a long time! That is our human nature being bound by time and space. And so, in our waiting, He calls us to trust Him: To trust that He knows all that’s involved in bringing about what we’ve asked Him for by faith; to trust that His timing as He orchestrates history and governments, as He reshapes the Devil’s evil designs for our good, as He dances around human sin and selfishness to bring about His purposes and answers to our prayers out of it all. To trust Him. In our dialogue with God, we are engaged with One Who truly has an eternal perspective. What may seem like a lifetime of persistence in prayer is just a fleeting moment in His eyes. And God is always on time!

Another reason we can have to pray for so very long is that there may be spiritual realities hindering our receiving God’s answers to our prayers. (I went into this more deeply during a sermon last year, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But, we see an example of such things in the book of Daniel where God has immediately answered Daniel’s prayer by sending him an angel, but the angel gets delayed by an “archon” [that is the New Age name for a high level evil spirit]. The angel finally overcomes the evil spirit, but as a result God’s response to Daniel was delayed. [See Daniel 10:12-13])

In a similar way, the answers to our prayers can also be blocked when demons are successful deceiving or distracting those whom God has chosen as the means for answering our prayers.

Even so, through it all let’s remember that God is almighty. He speaks, “Let there be light,” and there is light! And yet God has limited His means of working in the world to include us: He wants to work through us. And this means that God takes seriously our prayer, our faith, and our obedience. Our talking to Him, our listening to Him, our trusting Him, and our obeying Him really do make a difference, both to God and to the working out of His purposes in the world.

Like a complex domino run, there is an intricate interaction of people and history and circumstances that need to come together for our prayers to be answered. And the more world-changing the prayer, the more people and happenings and circumstances need to come together to bring it about.

And yet, this is the way God works.

For 400 years the Hebrews cried out to God in the oppression of slavery in Egypt. Finally, God gets ready to answer their prayers and what does He do? Exodus tells us, “About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son.”

He works through the process of cooperation with human beings. So, after 400 years, Amram and Jochabed (Moses’ dad and mom) need to meet, get married, have Miriam and Aaron, and then have Moses. Innumerable decisions, layer upon layer, built by acts of the human will, all come together to put into place the workings of God. (With freewill and human sinfulness getting in the way to muddy things up and to slow things down.) And only then, finally, it all comes together to the point where God – with “signs and wonders” – can lead His people out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land.

All this takes time. There is no other way for God to work if He is going to work with us. So, often, prayers take time, and so, often, prayer calls for persistence.

It can be painful and disappointing when God does not answer our prayers at a certain moment of time. But through it all we can know that God loves us, that He knows intimately all the strands that need to be woven together, that He knows intimately all the dominos that are required, and where they need to be set, and how. And we can also know that we have an awesome responsibility to be in prayer and to persist in prayer with our Abba. And we must not give up and we must not give in. Because if we do then visions and plans in the heart of God that He has placed in our hearts for prayer will never become reality…

So, let’s pray… [We can be tempted, but help us trust that You hear our prayers because of Jesus’ sacrifice…]



July 19, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

1 John 4:1-12 [NLTse]

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

4 But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 5 Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. 6 But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

A man was starting a new diet and so altered his drive to work to avoid passing by his favorite bakery. However, he accidentally drove by the bakery one morning and as he approached, there in the window were a host of chocolates, donuts, and cheesecakes.

The man felt this was no accident, so he prayed: “Lord, it’s up to You. If You want me to have any of those delicious goodies, You’re going to have to give me a sign: Create a parking place for me directly in front of the bakery.”

And sure enough, as he drove around the block for the eighth time, there it was! God is so good!

We’ve been talking about prayer for the past couple of weeks, but not just about the talking-to-God kind of prayer, we’ve been talking about the listening-to and hearing-from-God kind of prayer, as well. But like the man driving ‘round and ‘round the bakery until his “sign from God” appeared, we need to know that we’re truly hearing from the Almighty and not just our own desires or worse.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Roman Catholic monk who founded the Jesuit Order, published some rules for discernment that are as instructive today as they were back when he wrote them in the mid-1500s. He writes:

“In souls that are progressing to greater perfection, the action of the good angel [the Holy Spirit] is delicate, gentle, delightful. It may be compared to a drop of water penetrating a sponge.

“The action of the evil spirit upon such souls is violent, noisy, and disturbing. It may be compared to a drop of water falling upon a stone.

“In souls that are going from bad to worse the action of the spirits mentioned above is just the reverse. The reason for this is to be sought in the opposition or similarity of these souls to the different kinds of spirits. When the disposition is contrary to that of the spirits, they enter with noise and commotion that are easily perceived. When the disposition is similar to that of the spirits, they enter silently, as one coming into his own house when the doors are open.”

In our day the depth of Christian discernment can often be heard as going no deeper than if we have a sense of peace then the response must have come from God or if we have good feelings about the answer then it must have come from God. But Ignatius’ rules show the shallowness of such a standard: The counsel of a lying spirit will be received peacefully to one with a lying heart; the counsel of a lustful spirit will be received peacefully to one with a lustful heart; the counsel of a greedy spirit will be received peacefully to one with a greedy heart; etc…

The prophet Jeremiah famously states: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” When we trust God’s Word about the sinfulness of the human heart we know that everyone of us has the potential to be deceived and to deceive ourselves. That knowledge compels us to be careful in, and to treasure, discernment.

The gift of discernment is a vital necessity for the Church. Without it, the body of Christ is vulnerable to the assaults of Satan and false teachers and false teaching. Without discernment, Christians are unable to move forward boldly, trusting the leading of the Holy Spirit.

We live “between the times”, the time of the working of the Holy Spirit, but also of human sinfulness and the working of Satan. “Jesus answered, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.’” (Matthew 24:4-5) Jesus tells us that not all signs, wonders, and miracles come from the Holy Spirit. “For false Christ’s and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.” (Matthew 24:24) And Paul tells us, “… such people are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” (Romans 16:18)

It is critical for us to learn about discernment because there are different sources of inspiration and religious experience. We can be spoken to by 1) God and His angelic beings; by, 2) Satan and his evil spirits; 3) our own human minds, spirits, and emotions can be at work; or the response might be coming from 4) the pressures of culture and society; or we might be being wowed by 5) the awesomeness of nature; and, of course, any combination of the above.

Because of these different sources of inspiration and religious experience, nothing can be taken simply as being from God. Everything must be weighed carefully.

Have you ever had the experience of listening to someone preach or teach, or listening to a friend share with you about something God just revealed to them, in which something felt wrong, but you weren’t sure what it was? This could have been the Holy Spirit within you alerting you to some false doctrine or to the presence of evil spirits…

Each new word or action that is from the Lord must be discerned anew. Even among those who are recognized as godly preachers and teachers. Such a person may begin to assume that each time he or she speaks that the Holy Spirit is leading. The result is that he or she is no longer submitted to the rigors of the discernment process. This is very dangerous! Often the preacher or prophet’s ego, in collaboration with the passivity and praise of their hearers, provides an opening for Satan to slip in and work his mischief. Each new word that is given must be discerned.

The character and life of the person who receives the inspiration is also important. Jesus gives us clear guidance as to discerning the source of a word. That guidance is to check out the source. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16) This test of character works. Lifestyle and character will reveal the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Discernment is a supernatural gift given by the Holy Spirit as needed and prayed for, but it is also an art that may be cultivated through experience. Discernment involves both the ability to tell what is truly from the Spirit of God and what comes from other spirits. It is a process involving human reason and observation in which words or behaviors may be measured against the standard of Scripture. It is the eye-opening work of the Holy Spirit that reveals the source of some counsel or action.

There are four questions we can ask to help us discern if the spirit someone has, and/or the counsel someone has or has been giving, comes from God.

First, does it give glory to Jesus Christ in the present and in the future? John 14:26 says, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as My representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” The Holy Spirit will always point to Jesus and bring to us the words of Jesus, not anyone else.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His Oown but will tell you what He has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring Me glory by telling you whatever He receives from Me. All that belongs to the Father is Mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever He receives from Me.’” (John 16:13-14) The Holy Spirit has a single-minded focus on Jesus Christ as the truth, and will bring glory only to Jesus. If the counsel or guidance or word does not make the Lord Jesus Christ look good and draw people’s attention to Him, that counsel or guidance or word is not from God.

A second question we can ask when seeking to discern whether or not an answer to prayer is from God or not is, is the answer or counsel or proclamation consistent with the intentions and character of God as revealed in Scripture?

Paul wrote to young Pastor Timothy, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

Whether personal to corporate, every word or direction from God must be tested by Scripture.

Another question to ask is, do other people who are filled with the Holy Spirit have a confirming witness? To the Corinthians, Paul wrote: “Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said.” (1 Corinthians 14:29) If guidance or a manifestation is from the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit will confirm it in the hearts of others. The same reason we talked about last week as to why it’s so important to pray with others and have the Holy Spirit demonstrate His agreement as others pray like us.

Spiritual reality is not accessible to those who are not walking with Jesus. “But people who aren’t spiritua can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. [He’s speaking about non-believers here.] For, ‘Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach Him?’ But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Too often we seek the counsel of well-meaning friends and family members who are not Christians when trying to discern our courses of action. But only those being filled with the Holy Spirit can help us discern God’s will.

Lastly, we need to ask, is there confirmation in objectively verifiable events or facts? “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with My Word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

God is the Lord of the universe. He is sovereign and is acting in nature and in human history. This means that there will always be an objective dimension to God’s work.

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was! This light may be objectively studied and observed.

This is true for other words and actions by God. They are objective. This is why Isaiah says God’s words will not come back empty. And it’s these objective results that provide us with our answers to the fourth discernment test.

Moses wrote in Deuteronomy, ““But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?’ 22 If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.” (18:21-22)

Some examples of this would be that

Sometimes when praying for healing, there will be manifestations. If there is an actual healing, the doctor will confirm it.

If a vision or prophecy is from God, it will start to have objectively verifiable indications that it is actually being fulfilled.

A word of knowledge will connect with actual facts in the person’s life.

Etc…

Of course, sometimes the objective evidence does not come all at once. Sometimes we have to reserve judgment on whether a word or action is from the Lord until we can see the fruit, and that may take some time. But we must be willing to take the risk of obedience even though we are still waiting. Sometimes we will not know until we actually obey and step out in faith.

Because we are imperfect, there is always risk in the discernment process. We could be wrong. Yet we still have to act and make decisions. God knows this, and He helps us even when we miss His guidance.