Discerning God’s Voice | UMC YoungPeople
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September 2017

Discerning God’s Voice

By Jeremy Steele

The good news about learning how to hear and discern God’s voice is that Christians have been learning to do this for thousands of years. This lesson from the Explore Calling church-wide resource guides students through that discernment using a tool called the Quadrilateral.

Follow my voice

We are going to have some fun guiding people through an obstacle course. First thing first, decide who will be the obstacle course adventurer and send them out of the room equipped with a blindfold. One they are gone, rearrange the room. One of the remaining people will be giving the correct directions to the opposite side of the room while everyone else will be trying to misdirect your blindfolded member.

After you choose who will be the person giving correct directions, ask the blindfolded member to re-enter and have the person giving correct directions say “I am going to be the one giving you correct directions. Are you ready?” Once they say yes, everyone can start giving directions. After they complete the obstacle course, choose another person, rearrange the room and repeat!

Four Great Tools to Help Discern God’s Voice

The good news about learning how to hear and discern God’s voice is that Christians have been learning to do this for thousands of years. One of the most brilliant methods for learning to discern God’s voice was practiced by John Wesley. He used four tools to help him to tell whether or not what he was feeling/hearing/sensing was God’s voice or not.

John Wesley began with Scripture. In fact, he often said that though he read widely, he was a man of one book: the Bible. The Bible is clear about how it is to be seen and used.

Read Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:16

How do these verses tell us we should use the Bible?

What do you think the writer o Hebrews means when they say that the Bible is “living and active?”

That’s it, and it’s the key. For Wesley, God’s word was the thing that held everything else together. We should go to the Bible first and last. As we continue talking about the other tools for discerning God’s voice, we have to remember that they are only valid as they echo, explain or help us apply what we find in the Bible.

The next tool Wesley used was what people call tradition. By that we mean all of the people who have gone before us in the faith and what they learned about God. What we are doing right now (learning from Wesley) is using the tool of tradition. However, it doesn’t have to be people who are not currently living. Let’s look at a person in the Bible who used tradition to discern God’s voice.

Before you read, it’s important for you to know that this story is from the beginning of Samuel’s life when he was a boy serving in the temple with a wise priest named Eli.

Read 1Samuel 3:2-10

How did Samuel use tradition to discern God’s voice?

When have you done something similar to help you understand what God was saying?

The next tool, reason, is exactly what it sounds like it is. God gave you a brain and wants you to use it! The Bible is full of beautiful arguments, brilliant philosophy and the writing of some of the most beautiful minds to have ever lived. When we are considering whether or not God is speaking, we don’t need to check our brains at the door.

Take a look at this incredible story of Paul’s brilliant use of reason in discerning how God was speaking to the pagan philosophers in Athens:

Read Acts 17:19-23

If Paul had used something like “God told me so” as his argument, how do you think the Greek philosophers would have reacted?

Do you think Christians are more or less comfortable with using reason to discern God’s voice today than in Paul’s time?

Finally, we come to experience. The idea is here is that when we consider what the Bible says in light of how others explain it, making sure to use our ability to reason, we should ask, “Does this fit with my experience of God? Does this match what I know about God?”

Depending on how long you have been walking with Jesus, your experience tool might come up with a blank on a lot of subjects. That’s ok, but as your experiences with God grow, you can draw on them more and more. This is part of what Jesus was talking about in the passage we read last session in John 10. You know his voice better and better the more you listen to it. You can figure out whether or not something is the voice of God the more you experience it.

We are going see if we can use these tools to follow God’s voice through a real obstacle course. We are going to imagine that a friend has asked us to help them decide whether or not what they think God has said to them is really God or not. For each of these statements, allow one person to play the part of the person who believes they heard the statement. If any details are needed, they can make them up. The group should then use Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to answer whether or not God was the one who said the statement.

Statement 1: God wants me to beat up my brother for hacking into my instagram.

Statement 2: God wants me to break up with my girl/boyfriend.

Statement 3: God wants me to be a youth pastor as a career.

My Discernment

Take a look back at what you were thinking about over the past couple sessions. Choose one of them and use Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience to make them clearer:

Scripture: What does the Bible say about it:

Tradition: What do other people say about it that agrees with the Bible:

Reason: What makes logical sense in light of Scripture and tradition:

Experience: How does my past help me understand all of this:

When he's not playing with his four children with his wonderful wife, Jeremy is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, CA. Jeremy has spent over twenty years working in youth and children's ministry and continues to train children and youth workers as well as writing and speaking extensively in that field. His most recent book is the "All the Best Questions." You can find a list of all his books, articles, and resources for churches at JeremyWords.com.