by Ted Kyle
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23)
The final part of our Lord's command in the above verse is "follow Me." Our response to this must be in two phases: first, ascertaining where the Lord is leading, and second, actually moving out to follow Him.
"Hearing the Lord's Voice"
The first step generally is reading one's Bible, but with a difference: Read it with a listening heart. We should prepare our hearts to hear the Lord if He should have guidance for us in the text. Being ready and willing to listen is a big preliminary victory for anyone wanting to follow the Lord.
I use words like "listening," but we understand that our Father has many ways of getting our attention. While He spoke with an audible voice to selected saints in the Old Testament, it is my belief that He seldom uses this method today. And if He does speak to you, it will very likely be in a "still, small voice." But He is much more likely to "speak" through a leading, a planted thought or conviction-probably induced by contact with an external source, such as a Bible passage or even a seemingly random comment by an individual close to you.
When God "spoke" to me, it was by means of a vision planted in my mind, in which I saw a simple sketch, showing a road leading to a fork in the way ahead. I knew that I could choose either way, but if I wished my life to be useful to God, I must choose the road to the right. I was also given the knowledge that if I chose this path, my first action would be to tell my boss-whom I was actually driving to meet at that time-that I was quitting the best job I had ever had-up to that point. After some intensive soul-searching-for I was forty-one years old, with a family of four to support, and the thought of losing the perks of the "good life" we enjoyed brought its own challenge-I paused to consult my pastor by phone, and with his blessing secured, and then my wife's, I went on to meet my boss and told him he needed to find my replacement. Everything since then that has been of use to my Maker and to His Kingdom began with that step.
Is the Message Really from God?
But let's suppose that your message from God begins as an inner thought, which persists. Is it from the Lord? How can you know?
The first test is simplicity itself: Does it nudge you to do what God has already said in His Word that we should be doing? If this stubborn thought that may be turning into a conviction is telling you to do something on the order of forgiving someone for a deep-held hurt, or reflecting Christ's love to a neighbor, you already have the answer.
If, however, this inner compunction is scary, or calls for a drastic change in your life, then you do right to "try the spirits, whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). This will involve deep prayer, querying God and asking Him to confirm His leading by establishing it as a settled conviction-and then waiting prayerfully for His response, however long it takes.
Moving Out in Jesus' Footsteps
Once we are certain we know the Lord's will on a matter, we are ready to move out. This may be as simple as going to a family member who has hurt you, or to a neighbor who needs the Lord. Or it could mean selling our material goods to finance a mission trip (or a mission life) in a far-off dangerous part of the world. It's God's call. When we are certain where God is leading, our part is to immediately say, "Yes, Lord," and start taking the steps to make it happen. Aligning our will with God's will, and keeping it there, is undoubtedly the greatest challenge we will face.
Dwight Moody is reported to have responded to a claim from his assistant that it would be foolish to rent a hall for a meeting on the very day that potential attendees would be on holiday and thus otherwise minded, by telling his assistant that God had laid it upon his heart-and that if God had laid it on his heart to jump out of the second-story office window, he would do so without hesitation.
You doubtless already know that following our Lord is the very opposite of taking the path to worldly riches. If we follow Jesus, who owned no place to lay His head (Matt. 8:20), we should expect no better-though that, too, is the Lord's province, and He delights, on occasion, to give us "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Eph. 3:20). Again, it is His call. Only we must never lose track of what is paramount with our Lord: It is spiritual riches He promises in abundance. I believe the only material promise God makes to His children is found in Matthew 6:33: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things (simple necessities) shall be added unto you."
Though He may call us to stress and hardship, He also calls us to a life of fruitfulness, and with fruitfulness, joy. There can be no finer life than to live for Jesus! And our goal is to hear Him say at last: "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt. 25:23).
Ted Kyle served as managing editor of Pulpit Helps from 1993-2008.