Note: This is part 2 of a series I’m doing on “Hearing God’s Voice”. You can read part 1 here.
“This should be interesting,” I thought skeptically. I was in class at Discipleship Training School with YWAM in England. Our guest speaker had just told us he had “a prophetic word” for every single person in the class. All I knew of prophecy at that point was the prophecies in the Bible, and the doomsday preachers who would occasionally prophesy “the whole world is ending on October 28, 1993!” and that sort of thing.
Imagine my surprise when I was the second student he called on. He had me stand up, and with my heart pounding, I listened as he delivered the message to me.
When I was growing up, my parents had a lot of books around the house. I was a voracious reader and would often go to their bookshelves when I ran out of library books. Many of them were biographies of missionaries and evangelists. It was fascinating to read about many giants of the faith who lived lives of radical faith and communion with God. There was a story about a missionary who’d been struck down in Africa with malaria in the nineteenth century. A housewife in the United States had been woken at a specific time during the night feeling she needed to pray for this missionary. It was only a few months later, after the mail had been delivered, that it was discovered that the housewife had been prompted to pray at the very same moment the missionary had been near death. He had miraculously recovered!
There was Rees Howells and his life of radical consecration and obedience to the Holy Spirit. He would do whatever God told him to do, no matter how strange it seemed to others. God blessed his radical obedience by miraculously providing for all his financial needs (and those of many others, through him). There was George Muller, who cared for orphans and established five different homes for them without a dime to his name. He never shared his financial needs with anyone but God, and trusted Him for provision. He taught the orphans to pray and submit their needs to God. And God always came through! Money or food would show up at the eleventh hour, sometimes when everyone was literally seated at the dinner table with empty bowls, not knowing if they would be filled. I was also inspired by Corrie Ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, Loren Cunningham, and many others.
I did not know anyone in real life who had experiences or faith like these people. I didn’t know anyone who claimed to be able to hear the Holy Spirit. But just reading the testimonies of those who had gone before began to increase my faith for what could be possible with God. It was utterly thrilling to realize that not only had God spoken to me, but I had heard him correctly, that night I had prayed for my friend.
Though I was raised in a church that did not preach about the Holy Spirit, miracles, or divine healing, there was a part of me that was always hungry for more of God. Missionaries often visited my little Christian school and would speak in chapel. They told us stories of great faith and God’s miraculous intervention in seemingly impossible situations. These missionaries’ stories were the only ones I ever heard that included miracles, and they piqued my interest. I wanted to see God move like that. Thanks to the books I read and the stories I heard, I couldn’t help but think I was only scratching the surface of what it could mean to know God.
My hunger for more of God struggled to reconcile with what I would occasionally see on Christian television. I grew up in an era where several high-profile television evangelists made headlines due to various moral failings. My denomination, my family, and I all had a deep-seated distrust of the Pentecostal movement. I felt that everything I saw on Christian television was fake. For the most part, if something was “supernatural”, we assumed it was of the devil. Sometimes my brother and I would watch Christian television just to entertain ourselves by making fun of it.
But a few years later, at the age of twenty, I sat in a room on a YWAM base in England and learned about hearing God’s voice for myself for the very first time. I’d joined a discipleship training school with YWAM (Youth With a Mission) in pursuit of a great God adventure. That week, our guest lecturer flew in from another country. He told us he had prayed over the list of student names on the school on the flight, and that God had given him a prophetic word for each one of us, just based on our name. I was skeptical. I did not know what a “prophetic word” was. The idea of it made me feel uncomfortable. I thought of prophecy strictly as foretelling the future. I didn’t know that “prophecy” was merely hearing God’s voice and then sharing it. I did not know at that time that a person could practice listening to the Holy Spirit and grow to know His voice. I did not realize that God could give one person very specific words of encouragement for another, and that was considered “prophetic”. I’d been taught that if I wanted to know God’s thoughts, my only source was the Bible.
So, I was not sure what to think about this lecturer and his prophetic words, until he delivered the message he’d received for me.
It was a message that only God would have known to give me.
His words spoke right to the heart of something I was wrestling with at the time that nobody knew about! It was both encouraging and incredibly powerful.
I’d entered the class as a skeptic, but now? For the first time I realized that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have the full picture of who God was and how he liked to communicate. My conception of God and how He operated had just been radically challenged. It can be easy to argue things in an academic sense, but then sometimes God allows us to have an experience that we can’t fully explain, and it blows our preconceived notions of Him out of the water.
As uncomfortable and humbling as it can be to realize I was wrong (or at least too limited in my thinking), I’d rather have a God who is so much bigger, more powerful, and more personal than I’d imagined.
Little did I know it was only the beginning of a lifetime of being surprised and humbled by a God who didn’t fit in any of the little boxes I’d believed He fit in.