Charles Stanley

B. Childress
Aug 06 2010 08:00 AM

Since we have determined that God still speaks through various means, what determines the content of what God
says?  Let's take two groups of people praying about the same thing.  Group A might hear a very positive response from
God, while Group B might be almost negative and defeated.  Why is Group A motivated and encouraged, while Group B
is discouraged?  God loves both groups equally, but there is a radical difference in what they hear.  That difference can
usually be explained through three primary factors that significantly influence the substance of what God communicates
to His children.


The first factor, our relationship with God, affects what we hear when we pray and listen.  The only message an
unbeliever ever hear from God is that he is a sinner who needs to look to Jesus as his Savior.  Until that person knows
Christ as his personal Messiah, he will not hear God speak on any subject other than salvation.

What about believers?  How does our relationship with Him influence what we hear?  That relationship is twofold.  
First of
all, we are saved
.  When we by faith receive Him as our personal Savior, the Bible says we are born again.  We are
taken from the kingdom of darkness and placed into the kingdom of light.  We become the children of God.  Our
salvation experience is the beginning of our relationship with God.

The second part of that relationship is our identification.  Our salvation takes care of our eternal security, and our
identification takes care of our daily walk of victory.  By identification, I mean that Christ's life is now mine and mine His.  
"It is no longer I who live, but Christ Lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).  What happened to Christ at Calvary happened to
me.  Christ was crucified, I was crucified.  Christ was buried, I was buried.  Christ was raised, I was raised.  Identification
is the theme song of Romans 6.  When we are identified with Him and have accepted that, by faith, sin's power is
broken, we are free to walk in the Spirit, liberated to become the persons God wants us to be.  It is Christ Jesus living His
life in us and through us as individuals.  Our relationship to Him is that we are saved, we are forgiven, we are accepted,
we are children of God.  We are secure in the Cross.  We can have the peace and assurance that our daily walk is
pleasing and honorable to Him.  These two relationships, salvation and identification, make a difference in what we hear
from God.

One who is safe and secure in the love of God and sustained by His grace no longer hears from a distant God.  He now
listens to Someone who loves him enough to bring him to a personal relationship and that makes all the difference.  We
no longer come to Him, groping and pleading, wondering if we are accepted by Him or not.

Through my identification with Him, I come, knowing that I am accepted not by my behavior but by my belief in Him
because of what He has already accomplished.  Thus I can approach Him with boldness and assurance.

He is now my personal, faithful, and merciful High Priest.  He is my Father with whom I enjoy intimate communion.  I no
longer have to stand on the perimeter, peering into His presence.  Jesus has paid the price of admission through His
shed blood so that I now am a legal member of His own family, sitting daily before Him secure in my sonship.  I hear His
voice because I am the "sheep of His pasture" (Psalm 79:13).


What we hear is affected not only by our relationship with Him but also by another factor - our understanding of who He
is.  We were born with a mental grid system into which were placed positive or negative choices.  We unconsciously
accepted viewpoints based primarily on what others taught us.  Our viewpoint of God was greatly colored by that of our
parents and what we were taught early in life.  Many of us incorporated into our inner selves concepts of God handed
down to us by schoolteachers, Sunday-school personnel, and preachers.  Our perception of God today is still comprised
to a large degree of their understanding.

One morning after a speaking engagement, two young men were taking me to the airport.  The driver began talking to
me.  He told me he had received a tape of a sermon that I had preached on putting away childish things.  He informed
me that he had driven for over sixteen hours, and throughout the whole trip he had listened to the tape.  He was amazed
at the difference that had come over his life after hearing it and how his relationship with his parents and with the Lord
had been strengthened through the message.

The other young man was quiet for most of the trip, but as we neared the airport, he opened up.  He indicated that he
wasn't sure what God was doing in his life, and some of the confusion he had concerned his call to the ministry.  When
he finished speaking, I asked him about his relationship with his parents.  He responded that his father was a very
domineering man.  Then, without any provocation, he burst out, "You know, when I come before God to pray, I get the
same withering feeling as when I talk to my father.  It's as if I see my father when I talk to God.  I have the same image of
a dominant God who has not accepted me, and before him I feel I can never measure up."

Multitudes of people approach God in the same fearful way, because their notion of God has been distorted by the
attitude, behavior, or instruction of others.  It's easy to see how our understanding of who God is affects what we hear.  
In fact, I have identified seven key areas in understanding the nature of God.  These determine the essence of the
communication we receive from Him.

Loving or Demanding Father

When God speaks, do we hear a loving Father who forgives us and has a genuine interest in us?  Or do we hear a
demanding parent who is always raising the standard on us, expecting us to measure up to great expectations?  Do we
hear the voice of One who accepts us where we are, or do we hear someone who is constantly beseeching us to make
A's instead of B's?  When we pray, do we come before a Father who wraps His arms around us in a loving embrace, or
do we stand feeling condemned?

Each of us listens to one of these:  We hear a loving, accepting Father who says, "That is okay.  Just trust me next time,
and I will make your joy full"; or we hear a demanding father who upbraids us, saying, "Well, you've messed it up again,
haven't you?  You certainly didn't do what I told you, did you?"

The latter portrayal is not the God of the Bible.  The former is.  In fact, our security as believers is often wrapped up in
understanding that the God we serve is first and foremost the
God of love.

Intimate or Distant Friend

When we hear God, do we listen to an intimate Friend or to a distant friend only casually acquainted with us?  Intimacy is
a vital part of the Christian life.  God wants to build intimacy with us.  One of the evident proofs is that He came in the
Person of Jesus Christ to walk as a Man among men.

Today when we think of intimacy, most people think only of sex.  But the greatest intimacy is that of friendship, emotional
intimacy.  When we pray and talk to God, we listen to an intimate Friend, One who shares with us what we want to share
and One who listens to us.  He is a true, genuine, and faithful Friend.

He is always there; we can always count on Him.  A distant friend may give ear to our prayers if we happen to be
interested in the same things he's concerned about, but an intimate Friend is One who listens, whether or not the
subject matter is of great interest.  Understanding God as an intimate Friend or as a distant acquaintance influences the
degree of openness we have in our conversations with Him.

As newspaper delivery boy, I had a teacher who would stop on the side of the street and buy a newspaper from me.  I
knew that he received a newspaper at home, but he bought one from me anyhow.  He then spent a few minutes just
talking and sharing with me, telling me he was thinking about me and praying for me.  Since my father died when I was
seven months of age, the teacher became a father figure to me.  He showed me that God loved me and wasn't too busy
to be interested in Charles Stanley.  He was a great encourager of my heart, and he probably was the one man who
gave me the most balanced view of what God was like - a God of loving concern, a Friend not in a big hurry who loved
me and accepted me unconditionally.

Patient or Intolerant Teacher

Let's say you've blown it and you go before the Lord to talk about it.  Is this what you hear Him say?  "I understand.  Let
Me show you where you went wrong.  Let Me show you why you didn't make it and why you're disappointed.  Allow Me to
show you exactly why you've become discouraged and how you can avoid it the next time around.  Even if you do it
again, though, I'm going to keep on loving you, because you've been accepted by grace, not by behavior.  I will teach
you by My Spirit, even though you may stumble and fall, because My ultimate goal is that you become the person I want
you to be, conformed to the image of My Son.  So hang in there, because I'm going to always be with you."

Or is this the response you hear? "Well, you blew it again.  Can't you get it through your thick skull that when I tell you
something, that's the way I want it done?  Why is it that I've told you the same thing over and over, and you continually
make a mess out of things?

If we see God as a patient Teacher who understands where we came from and how little we know, who understands that
our family members were not practicing Christians, who understands our feelings of inferiority, then we will hear with an
open, teachable heart.

If, however, we see God as a critical teacher who is always harping at our lack of spiritual understanding, then we will
continually be waiting to be punished by this intolerant teacher who cannot stand our mistakes or failures.  If that is our
idea of God, then we are hearing a prefabricated, preprogrammed deity that did not originate from Scripture.

Often one of the reasons that our viewpoint of God is incorrect is that every time we go to church, turn on the television,
or even read a book, someone is telling us, "You are sinning against God."  "You are not obeying God."  "You are not
doing this."  "You ought to do that."  "God's displeased."  "God's angry."  We receive a verbal, emotional beating at
every turn, and that is
not in accordance with the biblical God.  The God of the Bible is One whom we can come to and
meet with patient understanding.  He isn't critical, strict, or uncompromising.  He doesn't scold us and make us feel
inconsequential because we don't measure up.

Gentle or Angry Guide

We all have times in our lives when we get off course.  We take detours.  We decide that is the path to pursue, but
sometimes the result is debilitating.  How does God respond?  

Scripture says that in such a situation, God's response would be something like this:  "Hold it now, Charles.  You're off
track.  Let Me show you what's going to happen if you keep pursuing this matter.  Let Me reveal to you how you can
return to the proper course so as to avoid unfortunate consequences in the future."

Though He may chastise us to get us back on track, nowhere in the Bible does God say that He gets angry when one of
His children strays.  When we disobey Him, He doesn't get angry; He is grieved in His heart.  The Holy Spirit within us
tracks us down, reminding us of God's love and direction.  The warning system begins to work, the lights begin to flash,
telling us that we're out of the will of God, headed in the wrong direction.

He does not harshly remind us that we have once again made a poor decision.  He doesn't pound us with our own
inadequacy.  That kind of outlook only makes us come to God feeling condemned, guilty, and full of frustration, fears,
and anxieties.  Seeing Him in such a light puts us in bondage.

The negative side of all these attitudes toward God is one of the reasons the Church is weak today.  We have the wrong
viewpoint if we think of God as an angry guide.  We don't understand Him, and we come to Him as beggars rather than
as seekers in faith.

Understanding or Insensitive Counselor

When we talk to the Lord and bring our heartaches and fears to Him, what do we hear?  Do we hear God saying, "That's
okay.  I understand how you feel.  I know how you are hurting and why.  I understand exactly why you blew it, and I want
to tell you that I love you and I am going to help you."

Conversely, do we come to the Lord and say, "Lord, I hate to tell you this, but I'm really ashamed to come to You.  I feel
guilty and rather wicked about the whole thing.  I've been to You so many times for forgiveness over this situation that I
would perfectly understand if You don't allow me to come before You again.  Please forgive me, God; please forgive me
just this one more time."

When we unload the hurts of our spirits, the frustrations of our lives, God isn't the kind of Counselor who hurls back
condemnation at us or piles guilt on top of us.  Every person needs a counselor to whom the whole truth can be told, a
counselor who won't retaliate angrily.  If a worldly counselor can possess such compassion, certainly God can.

The kind of Counselor we as believers have is One from whom we cannot hide.  He knows it all anyway, and we can tell
Him anything we want to.  In fact, we can tell Him how we feel about Him, even when the feelings aren't necessarily noble
ones.  No matter what we say, God still loves us, and as an understanding Counselor, He can take anything we give and
accept us unconditionally.  This understanding Counselor puts His arms around us and says, "That's okay."  In fact,
probably the most precious thing any counselor says to a broken, disillusioned heart is, "Everything's going to be all
right."  Is that the kind of Counselor we approach, or do we come to an insensitive counselor who is rather annoyed with
our problems?  Do we come filled with rejection because our behavior hasn't matched what is expected of us?  Are this
counselor's standards holiness and justice, without any compassion?

Most of us have experienced a severe time of grief.  Wasn't the one who comforted you the most that individual who
simply sat quietly with you?  Wasn't the most effective minister the person who said little but wept with you and
empathized with your hurt?  The compassionate heart is the heart of God.

When Jesus healed and fed the multitudes, the Bible says He "was moved with compassion for them" (Matthew 9:36).  
When Christ looked out over Jerusalem, "He saw the city and wept over it" (Luke 19:41).  David wrote in Psalm 103:8,
"The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy."

Generous or Reluctant Provider

When we bring our petitions before the Lord, do we hear a Father who says He delights in generously giving us all His
riches in glory?  Do we hear a God who says He delights in providing His children abundant and enjoyable treasures?  
Or do we encounter a God who is a reluctant provider, tabulating our requests on a spiritual calculator?  Do we envision
a God with a scratch pad out, keeping count of exactly how much He will divvy out to us this time?  

The God of the Bible is not a calculating God.  He is interested in blessing us with the maximum in our lives.  That's why
He promises that some believers will bring forth fruit a hundredfold.  That's not what I call a reluctant provider. An idea of
a chintzy, somewhat tightfisted God is a total misconception of the one, true, living God.  If we come to God with a
financial need and do not see Him as a generous Provider, we have two strikes against us.  Our faith is already faltering,
and we will have a problem receiving His blessing.  All we will ask for is what we think we deserve, when in fact we don't
deserve anything.  That has nothing to do with it.  We are to come asking God to bless us out of His infinite resources of
grace, love, and mercy.  The fact that we can come boldly to the Lord is emphasized in the story of the prodigal son (see
Luke 15:11-32).  There we see the portrait of a God who is ready and willing to bless His children with wonderful things.  
If we know God, we're not lost or prodigals; we are children of the King.  We do not see Him as a stingy provider but as a
generous one; we expect His goodness to permeate us.

If we come to God as spendthrifts, calculating just how much He can bless us with, then we will not receive the
superabundant blessings of God, because we do not come in faith but in doubt.  If we have a wrong perspective of God,
we hear the wrong message.

Faithful or Inconsistent Sustainer

Almighty God is on our team.  He is our faithful Sustainer.  When everybody else abandons us, we can count on Him.  
When nobody else is willing to endure with us, He is there.  He is trustworthy, reliable, and consistent.  We can depend
upon Him.

When we come to Him and ask for some support, we hear Him reply, "I'm right in there with you.  Just endure in My love
and grace and all of My omnipotence and omniscience is at your disposal.  We are in this thing together.  You have My
strength."  Or, when we pray, do we ask, "Lord, are you there?  Lord, I just don't seem to hear anything from you.  Why
don't You talk or say anything to me, Lord?"  Well, that's the wrong God, because the Scripture says that God's mercies
are new or faithful every morning (see Lamentations 3:23).  Whether we get up at morning or midnight, His tender
mercies are there waiting for us.  We don't have to come to Him wondering if we are saying the right thing.  We just
come, knowing He is on our side and thanking Him that He is behind us all the way.


If we come to God as rebellious, indifferent, and proud, we will not hear what He wants to convey.  In order to hear, we
must possess the right attitude toward God.

First of all, our attitude must be submissive.  We need to come before the Lord and be willing to humble ourselves to do
His will.  We must be agreeable to tackling whatever tasks He has in mind.

Second, our attitude must be trusting.  We must be absolutely convinced that God is going to lead us in the right
direction and be confidently assured that He will guide us in the path of righteousness.  We can never become fully
intimate with a God we do not completely trust.  Trusting God means acknowledging that He is totally and absolutely

Third, our attitude must be thankful.  Even if yesterday was a disaster, we are to enter God's gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise today.

What about Sin?

You might be wondering where sin fits in.  Here is how it meshes with our attitude about God.  When we willfully or
impulsively sin against God, we still have a loving Father.  We still have an intimate Friend.  We still have a patient
Teacher.  We still have a gentle Guide, an understanding Counselor, a generous Provider, and a faithful Sustainer.

Don't misunderstand.  That's not getting by with sin.  The God of the Bible who responds to our sin does not respond by
trying to destroy us.  Does a loving father destroy his child who misbehaves.  Does he throw him out of the house?  Of
course not.  Does an intimate friend turn his back when we break his trust?  Does a patient teacher become increasingly
angry when we have failed?  Does a gentle guide become hostile when we lose our direction?  Does an understanding
counselor hurl animosities at us when we make mistakes?  Does a generous provider or faithful sustainer cease to be
benevolent when we're afraid to ask anymore?  Too many people have negative ideas about God, as a result, they are
in emotional and spiritual imprisonment.  That's why the Church is not a mighty army.  That's why we're not excited about
Jesus Christ and why we do not glorify God to the fullest measure.  That's why we fail to share the message of Jesus
Christ  with boldness and confidence, because we are scared to death of God.

We do not hear the truth; therefore, we do not live in the truth.  Now, I'm not belittling sin or its effects.  A loving father is
going to chastise a disobedient son, but he will do it in a spirit of love.  A patient teacher will make the child stay after
school until he learns, but the teacher will still be understanding.  A gentle guide will put a wayward climber back on the
right path, but the guide won't hurl him off the mountainside to do it!

Knowing that God is speaking is not enough.  We must understand the character of the God we serve if we are to carry
out His orders.  Our relationship with Him, our understanding of Him, and our attitude toward Him all influence the
content of His revelation to us.

Distortions of any of these factors will logically alter the substance of His communication.  When they are in harmony with
the scriptural principles, we can rest on the certainty of what we hear, for we listen to the One with whom there is "no
shadow of turning" (James 1:17).


HOW TO LISTEN TO GOD, by Charles Stanley, Copyright 1985, Thomas Nelson, Inc.