Hearing God: Circumstances

This morning, we’re continuing our message series, “Hearing God.” So far, we were challenged on the foundational issue of hearing God’s voice; identity. Hearing God’s voice has far more to do with who we are than what we do. We learned that we first must be His sheep and the importance of transitioning in our relationship with Him from master/servant to friends.

We also learned a practical way to test, “Is that you, God?” If it is God’s voice, it will agree with the Bible, agree with God’s character, and produce the fruits of the Spirit.

Each week, we’ll start with this reminder that Jesus gave us found in John chapter 10. Please repeat after me:

John 10:3-5
Jesus is the Good Shepherd
I am His sheep
I hear His voice
I won’t recognize a stranger’s voice

Although God can speak to us in an infinite amount of ways, there are some which are more common than others. We learned last week about dreams and visions. This week, we’re learning how to better perceive God’s voice as He speaks to us through circumstances.

God is the originator of object lessons. He created everything and then said that we’re without excuse when we stand before Him because He reveals His invisible qualities through what is tangible as revealed in Romans chapter one. His creation is the greatest object lesson teaching us about Him that will ever exist!

Most of us got so excited whenever we would walk into our classrooms growing up and saw strange objects setup on our teacher’s desk knowing that some cool lesson or experiment was coming our way. I know that I still am intrigued and curious whenever Suzie walks toward her classroom with a large bag of stuff.

It should be no surprise to us that God speaks to us through real life object lessons or, in other words, through our circumstances. Unlike when we were younger, however, we don’t usually get excited when we become the object of God’s object lesson as He speaks to us in this way.

We ask God for patience and we encounter an accident when we’re already running late for work. We ask God for more grace and then someone blasts us with offense. We ask God to use us as His hands and feet and the pastor sends out an email with a ministry opportunity. We ask God to know Him better and our world seems to get stripped away from us. We ask God to guide us into His will and things that were previously sure things begin to become closed doors. We ask God to use us as witnesses for Him and our co-workers ask our opinion about a hotly debated topic.

Without a doubt, God can speak to us through our circumstances! In fact, Peter writes to remind us of how we should not be surprised when God does just this.

1 Peter 4:12-19
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

How many times are the surprising fiery ordeals that we encounter a direct result of something that we have been praying, or talking to God about? This scripture indicates that there may be a few different reasons for our circumstances. Keeping this in mind helps us to better perceive what God is saying to us through our circumstances.

First, we should ask ourselves honestly if our circumstances are the result of a choice that we have made. If they are, this should clarify what God is speaking to us. Perhaps He is simply reminding us of this truth:

Galatians 6:7
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

If we suffer because we murdered someone, stole from someone, meddled in someone else’s business, or for doing some other thing against God’s will, then we are simply experiencing the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping. If my suffering is a result of a poor decision that I made, then this is nothing to boast about, but rather to repent of.

If I drop a cinder block on my foot, I’m not going to interpret this as God telling me to put my foot down against the company who manufactured the block and to file suit against them. I’m going to be more careful the next time that I carry a block and take responsibility for my own actions.

If we fail to transition in our relationship from master/servant to friends with God, every hardship and trouble will be to us the wrath and punishment of God for my wrongdoing. There is a huge difference between wrath and discipline, though. As a follower of Christ, we have complete and total freedom. This freedom is the freedom to make choices as we are no longer slaves to sin. Though we are free to choose, we are not free from the consequences of those choices.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24
23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

When listening to God’s voice through our circumstances, we must first ask if our circumstances are simply the consequences of decisions that we have made. If we’re a believer who has made a poor decision, then God is using our circumstances to discipline us and lead us into His ways and away from our folly. If a good decision, then God is blessing us. Reaping and sowing works both in a negative sense, but also in a positive and rewarding one!

There are, however, times when our circumstances change beyond our control and not as a direct result of our choices. These are often the circumstances which God orchestrates in order to speak to us. In fact, more often than not, God follows up His dreams and visions with a change in circumstances. What is He speaking through this? Most of the time, God is saying, “Trust me.”

God warned the kings who encountered Abraham about the destruction He was about to bring on them because of Abraham’s deceit to them about Sarah not being his wife. God blessed Jacob after giving him a dream at Bethel. God showed Jacob in a dream which breeding techniques to use to produce speckled, spotted, or dark-colored goats. God gave Gideon’s enemies a dream to show that they were going to be given into God’s hands.

God gave Solomon a dream and granted him whatever he would ask for, which he asked for a discerning heart. Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar what he dreamed and interpreted it of kingdoms which would come after his reign including the coming Kingdom of God. He also had another dream of a great humility that did come his way as he was transformed like an animal in the wild. His sanity was restored only after praising, honoring, and glorifying the Lord for his success. Daniel also had dreams, himself, of seasons yet to come during the end times.

God gave Ananias and Saul visions about Ananias restoring Saul’s sight taken away by Jesus. Peter was given a vision preparing him for the salvation and infilling of the Holy Spirit upon gentiles when he met in Cornelius’ house. See, awesome things happen in home groups! Paul was lead to share the gospel in Macedonia through a vision of a man begging him to come there. Paul stayed in Corinth despite harsh opposition through a vision that God gave him encouraging him to stay there. Jesus explained the reason for the demonic torment via a thorn in the flesh through a vision to Paul. John was given an amazing vision from Jesus recorded as the book of Revelation informing us of things yet to come in the end times.

Dreams and visions followed by changes in circumstances go hand in hand very frequently throughout the Biblical account as well as when God speaks to us today. Often, we will have dreams and visions from God and then experience a change of circumstances to speak to us and to encourage our trust in the process which He is taking us through.

The greatest example of God speaking through dreams followed by circumstances and how we should best perceive and respond to God as He speaks in this way is the account of Joseph.

Joseph was given two dreams that revealed that his brothers and parents would bow down to him as he reigned over them. His brothers threw him in a cistern. God ensured that it was empty of water to spare his life. His brothers left him for dead, however, God sent along a caravan of Ishmaelite’s while they were eating to whom they sold their brother to for twenty shekels.

God used this caravan to take Joseph to Egypt. In Egypt, a wealthy man named Potiphar bought Joseph and eventually entrusted everything in his household, aside from his wife, to Joseph. Potiphar’s wife tried and failed several times to seduce Joseph. She gave a false testimony that Joseph tried to take advantage of her and so Joseph was thrown in jail. In jail, the warden eventually put the entire prison under Joseph’s care.

God gave Joseph the interpretation of dreams that the cupbearer and baker of Egypt’s king had while spending time in jail. The cupbearer was restored to his position to the king and forgot about Joseph. Sometime later, the king of Egypt had a dream which reminded the cupbearer of Joseph. Joseph interpreted the dream and was promoted as second in command of all of Egypt. Through famine and lack, God brought Joseph’s family to Egypt and eventually reunited his family.

Joseph’s character was revealed and shaped through many, many hardships all through his life. However, the climax of tests came when their father passed away and Joseph was in a position to pay back his brothers for all of the pain that they put him through. Joseph’s response?

Genesis 50:19-21
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

God used trouble to bring Joseph and His family into incredible abundance and blessing and to spare them from the coming famine. Over and over again, God blessed Joseph because of his chosen responses to his ever-changing circumstances that were not necessarily a direct result of his choices. Joseph turned a jail into a palace, a pit into a launching pad, a nation of people rebellious to God as a conduit to richly bless God’s people and move them one step closer to their promised land.

This morning, what is God speaking to you through your circumstances? How will you respond when things happen that are out of your control? Hear God’s gentle whisper in even the worst of circumstances, as He says “Trust me.”

Let us be ones like Joseph that make the most of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. If we’re in a pit, we’ll praise Him. If we’re lead away as a slave, we’ll serve with excellence. If we’re thrown in jail, we’ll bless that prison in any way that we can. If we’re put in second-in-command over a nation, we’ll seek God’s wisdom in how to lead it through dry seasons of drought and famine. Whatever our circumstances, we’ll trust God knowing that He is going to work it all together for good and for His plans and purposes for our lives. The Lord is faithful, good, and His love endures forever; we can trust Him no matter where our circumstances find us!