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How to Start a House Church Principle #5: Be Good Soil

“my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it…instead of thorns the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” Isaiah 55:11-13

I am about to share with you a secret that not many people know. This secret is not hidden. Anyone with ears can hear it. But few will understand it. This has been a vital principle of growth for our community.

One of my favorite parables Jesus tells is of the four soils. I had heard it many times before, but I didn’t understand it until God started teaching me through it in late 2016. It’s through this story that He rescued me from panic attacks and anxiety. I’m going to tell it to you in three layers. I’ll tell you the story first, then we will try to really understand how it is like the Kingdom of God by truly perceiving each “character” in the story the way Jesus did, through the lens of the natural, the spiritual, and the personal.

Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. (Mark 4:3-8)

Jesus explains what this means.

The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. (Mark 4:14-20)

THE MAIN CHARACTERS: SEED, SOWER, AND SOIL

The seed is the “word” (verse 14) The word can be understood in the natural realm as something that is spoken, the message, the logos. It can also be scripture, which is called the “Word of God” because it is inspired by His Spirit. But do you know who is called “The Word/Message/Logos”? Jesus! Jesus is the word who was with God and in God and through whom the world was made. He was “the word” made flesh who dwelled with us, pitched His tent with us, abiding among us (John 1).

Further support for understanding Jesus as the word/seed is found in Paul’ calling Jesus the “seed of Abraham” (Galatians 3:16). Looking at Jesus asa second Isaac. God promised descendants through Abraham (his natural son was born of natural means), but Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Abraham was asked to sacrifice His son (but was stopped because God provided a sacrifice), but God, the Father gave His son as a sacrifice for sin so that the descendants of Abraham could know the presence of God and multiply to include the gentiles. Christ is the seed, the kernel of wheat, that fell to the ground and died, and now produces many seeds. (John 12:24) Jesus is the message. He is the Word. He is the seed.

Who is the sower, the one who sows the word? It is anyone who speaks the message–but in this case it is also the Father. Jesus was sown by the Holy Spirit into Mary’s womb and spoken to us by the Father, first by prophecy (Isaiah 53), then by the Messiah Himself. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (Jesus, the Word) that whoever would believe would not die, but have life unending.” (John 3:16) The sower is the one who speaks the message of the truth and love of Christ. He is invested in seeing the message grow and multiply. He is a world changer.

What is the soil then? It is our hearts. The seed is sown “in them” (verse 15). In this parable, we are the soil, not the thing that grows. What Jesus is talking about here is how the message of Himself is being received. How do you receive or host the seed of God’s Word–Christ Himself? Each one of our hearts represent a type of soil. Let’s explore our heart conditions.

THE FOUR HEART CONDITIONS

Which of the following best describes your heart?

The soil of the path has been hardened somehow. Hardness can be a result of being trampled, cold, or dry. Maybe you have been trampled and crushed by something from your past–from growing up, from past trauma or pain. Some people have naturally hard personalities. It’s almost in their make-up. If this is you, you might be stubborn, which can mean you are very capable and resilient. But God doesn’t want resilience from you. He wants reliance on Him. You might know a lot about Jesus and even believe He is the son of God, but you may have never accessed the Living Water of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; Acts 18:24-25; Acts 19:1-6).

Are you hard towards God? Whether you are hardened by the past, hard by make-up, or hard from spiritual dehydration, nothing good can come from hardness. If you hear about the truth of the joy of Christ taking over your life it will not sink in. It will stay on the surface and the enemy will steal it. You will not even remember it’s there. You will forget. And you will stay hard. No one will be able to convince you.

Or…you can ask God, the Sower, to plow your heart wide open so He can speak to you. It will hurt. You will feel exposed. But He will speak to your heart and you will be soft again. And you will come alive. God loves to sow in impossible soil. Remember Abraham and Sarah the ones too old to bear children, or Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus? Hard soil is no match for the power of God. He is after your heart.

Rocky soil in the natural realm is where growth is constantly frustrated from underground. Unlike the soil in the path, here the soil itself is soft but it is full of hard things. The seed will start to grow and then the roots will hit the rocks, allowing the plant to grow, but only to wither under the heat of the sun. There is no fruit. If this is your heart, maybe you feel like you keep running into the same obstacles to growth: habitual sin, pride, fear of man, anxiety, doubt, insecurity, love of self, etc. No matter how hard you try, you just run headlong into these hard, immovable obstacles. When you receive the offer of Jesus talking over your life, you can’t see how that would be possible. There’s too much blocking Him. You are discouraged and feel the weight of failure. It takes enormous amounts of energy to even think that there is hope. That you could ever lift these things out of your life. Guess what? The hope is found in the fact that you cannot–it is impossible–for you to move these things.

But friend, the invitation is that you have a good sower who can lift these rocks out of you, above the surface. Out of the way. And all the things you have been hiding. They will be finished. And what used to be an impossible obstacle will become an uncut altar of remembrance. And just like the altars of the old days, it will be a marker of The Sower’s power and His faithfulness. Your testimony will be about His strength in your weakness. The shame will be gone. You will be free. And we who love you and who have prayed for your freedom will worship when we see the thing above ground that used to keep you root-bound.

Our God is the great mover of stones. And there was one stone that was rolled away that was also immovable. He does not want you living in darkness. He is perfectly willing and able to move the huge thing standing impossibly between you and resurrection life! He is strong enough.

It is growing lots of things in it–things that choke the life out of the plant. Thorns are sharp and pointed. They are like daggers, wrapping around and puncturing all life-giving things, until they have taken over the territory. Thorny soil is soft, but it is divided in attention. Thorns and weeds steal nutrients, they are invasive and they are nearly impossible to kill. When you pull them up, which is painful, it will regenerate if only one bit of the vine falls back to the soil.

There’s only one way to kill thorns. You have to burn them. The only problem is that you cannot do that. Because in this parable, you are just soil. So we see here that the thorns of anxiety, worries, cares of this world, desire for things, and the deceitful love for money and the things it can buy.

We try to “find time” but really, if we are honest, we have lots of time, we just spend it on what seems more rewarding or urgent. But urgency is often created by false fears and pressures. We have not decided that God is the best thing. We are still trying to balance being a Christian with being in this crazy world. These are mental distractions that steal our time and attention from Christ.

We find our minds filled with everything but fruit. We can look and talk like we are excited about Jesus but there is too much else competing. We need to weed things out but we don’t know how. We don’t know what it would look like to live from a place of rest because we have been taught that productivity and responsibility are the marks of a good Christian. But we’ve been going about that all wrong. The most responsible thing we could do is to return God in rest, quietness and trust (Isaiah 30:15) and let Him produce the fruit. He is zealous for His own name. This spiritual rest not breed laziness. Quite the opposite. You will never be more delightfully busy than when you are only focusing on Jesus. The difference is, you will be doing work that builds His kingdom, not yours.

Does this seem impossible? Could all these weeds of worry, reliance on money, and desiring more technology, furniture, clothing, cars, better houses, upgrades on those houses, activities for our kids so they can be well-rounded, the pressure of serving at your church, the pressure to keep up expectations of others and ourselves. How do we make it stop? Well, we can’t. We are soil. The only way to make it stop is to lay down and surrender.

Because…the seed of Abraham, Himself, laid down on the altar of shame and disgrace, our sin upon Him, and wrapped around His fixed eyes, over his anointed head, around His pure mind–a crown of our thorns. And HE was bruised and crushed for our idolatry and distractedness and our misguided affections.

Jesus took these thorns to upon Him so you would be free. Your mind can be clearly focused on the Kingdom of God. Your love of money destroyed by the call of the one who says drop your nets and “follow me.” Though, as descendants of Adam and Eve we once live under the curse of the ground, (Gen. 3:17ff), but that curse has been lifted (Genesis 8:20–21). We have a powerful God that wields a refiner’s fire (Mal. 3:3). We have a sower that gave Christ who baptizes with the Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11; Acts 2). “The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers.” (Isaiah 10:17)

We need everything to be burned out of us. And we know it will hurt, we know this burning out is something we must ask Him for and then withstand throughout the process as all the things we thought were important burn. All the “other things of the world” that garner our affection, resources, and attention get pulled up and out of us and it looks like we are left with nothing.

Which we are…finally.

Good soil is empty soil. It is open and ready to accept seed. It simply rests and then yields–first to the seed, then to the roots, then to the water, then to the fruit! A seed planted in good, moist, soft, empty soil is re-hydrated by “living water” (that is water under the surface). Then the seed grows out of the soil and produces a harvest. In the case of wheat or corn, the kernel planted simply multiplies more of itself, 30, 60, 100 times more!

Good soil hears, accepts, and yields to fruit. That’s it. Doesn’t that take the pressure off? We simply yield as Christ grows in us and takes over our lives. My effort does not produce His fruit. We just get to pay attention to Him and follow Him into love-driven obedience as He multiplies His kingdom through us.

What were we made of in the beginning, friends? We are made of dust and to dust we will return. (Gen. 3) We are formed from the earth and breathed into by the breath–the very Spirit, of God. And though we are just dust, like the Sower will tell you that we are His greatest treasure and His greatest hope for multiplying His Word, His seed, Christ to the world!

For us, it means that we must be emptied. Andrew Murray gives a beautiful picture in his book, Absolute Surrender, regarding a cup of tea. We will use coffee because I am American and coffee is better than tea. So say that you have a half a cup of coffee and you ask someone to please fill it with water. Suppose the person you ask simply tops off the coffee with water? What will you have? Some really disgusting watered down coffee. So, if you have a cup of coffee and you want water, you need to empty the cup.

Some of us have never truly emptied out completely.

If you keep trying to pour water into coffee, you just keep drinking watered down coffee. You need to empty out so there is room for fresh, pure water. What do you need to empty?

EVERYTHING.

Truth is, there is no balance when it comes to our lives. It is all Christ or nothing. There is no balance–He demands everything of us, our very death to the things of this world and to self.

God wants all your sin and accompanying shame and guilt. That should have happened at conversion. But what He wants now (if you have not given it) is complete permission to take you over. That means everything else has to go. You cannot serve both God and man, or God and money, or God and your own desires.

Not only that, but our good stuff is demanded of God as well. Our good reputation dies, because we will be persecuted. Our renown and legacy and fame no longer matter, because our one goal is the glory of God. Our abilities, skills, acquired areas of learning and knowledge are counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7-11) We lay each earned and valuable thing down that has been defining our identity in order to only be identified with Christ. (1 Cor. 2:2)

We are His. That is all. And that is enough.

We become literally poorer because we no longer work ourselves until all hours of the night for profit and we give generously to all who ask. We become humiliated and less socially appreciated because while we used to be able to juggle all the parties, meetings, assignments, and social things, now we only want to be at the feet of Jesus. We don’t care about climbing the ladder of success because we realize our reputation we were trying to gain so that we could be an “influencer FOR God” is actually a waste of time, because He is the influencer–He is the mover of hearts. He is our very capable leader. We see that those who are truly seeing fruit multiplying out of their lives are those who are going lower not higher.

We go lower and emptier and we finally become good soil.

We rest. And then, we start seeing the astounding beauty of Christ, the seed of Abraham, the root and the shoot of Jesse (Revelation 22:16, Isaiah 11:10). We rest and we sit at His feet and we listen to what He has to say and we finally understand the depth of His love for us. And we decide that learning to listen, and hear, and love Him in the way He wants to be loved is the best thing to waste our lives doing. We pour out our expensive time and energy on His feet. We waste ourselves in worship.

Guess what happens then? Fruit.

People come to Jesus when they experience His presence, specifically, when they experience us in His presence. My attention has been on Jesus for the last three years. It has been a reshaping and a tearing up and a deconstruction like I never could have imagined. I am not the same person.

I was the wife who idolized and found her identity in her husband and children and in my job and my church ministry, and who now worships only Jesus. I still love my husband and children, and I still love to teach and minister to people, but I find my identity rooted in Christ and His life growing up in me. I rest now. I open up to Him. I show Him my heart wide open. I ask Him every day to tend to me. To cover me. To be the one thing. To grow and multiply Himself out of the soil of my heart.

Now all of this starts to make sense:

Christ IN ME, the hope of glory. (Col.1:27)

For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live, not I but Christ who lives WITHIN ME. (Gal. 2:20)

What if we all let lay down like soil and let Jesus just take us over? What if we let Him grow in and through and out of us and see Him multiply Himself out of all this “going lower”? What if those seeds dropped to the heart soil of those around you and took root? What would that look like?

It would look like multiplication–the Kingdom of God taking over the world!

THE GROWING KINGDOM

The kingdom is this unseen thing, spreading sometimes invisibly underground. Within the soil. It is a kingdom of hearts who have given all their allegiance, even their very lives, to the King of Heaven.

20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in you.* Luke 17:20-21

Wherever you go, you carry the seed of the Word in your heart and mouth that it falls onto heart soil whenever you yield the fruit of His Spirit in you—love, compassion, humility, peace, joy, and goodness and righteousness. This is God’s means of multiplication and kingdom expansion.  The kingdom of God is within you, growing out of you, and it’s growing fast!

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:31-33

By the way, did you know that mustard plants are notoriously invasive? You know what mustard and yeast have in common? They both multiply very quickly. Yeast multiplies by budding. The bud multiplies through cellular growth where the nucleus splits itself and becomes the center of a new a daughter cell, which may separate or stay in a chain formation connected to the mother cell. Sound like a house church? The kingdom grows like that! 

Mustard seed germinates almost immediately. Germination is the process of growing from a seed to a seedling. It requires a warm and soft environment (receptive heart), water to reconstitute the seed (the Holy Spirit), and the root grows down and the shoot grows up, sprouts leaves and is now a seedling, viable to produce food from photosynthesis. In fact, there were laws against planting mustard in Jewish gardens. It would cross over fences and walls. It was out of control. I love thinking about the kingdom of God this way.

“[Mustard] grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”**

Pliny, the elder, in 78 AD writes about mustard

That is how the kingdom is supposed to grow. It should spread quickly and pop up in unexpected places so that it is impossible to get the place free of it once it has taken root. We are talking about growth that is often unplanned, wild, and “happily disorganized” to borrow a term from Mother Teresa. I think we are about to see an expansion of the gospel that is out of control because we are going to realize our role in it. First, to rest as soil, to let Jesus grow out of us fueled by Living Water of the Spirit, bearing His fruit in the world, then to rise in this new life and sow everywhere, in every heart God puts in our path. Now that we are in his agenda, not ours, now we can actually be about His glory not ours, and actually be effective for the kingdom—on the front lines!

God does not want our projects. He wants our hearts. It’s time to get back to God’s principles of growth. Speak seed. Go back to soil. Let’s just focus on the “one necessary thing”–the seed-word, Jesus. Let’s spend our lives in worship at His feet and see what He does!


*Some translations say “among you,” but the you in the Greek is singular, and it seems like it doesn’t make sense to say the kingdom is among you, singular. “Within you” is a much more consistent translation with the message of Jesus that a person must be born again from the inside out by the Spirit.

**Pliny the Elder, Natural History, translated by Harris Rackham, Loeb, 1950, Book XIX, Chapter LIV.

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How to Build a House Church Principle #3: One Thing Necessary

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:14

When thinking about what God wants, about what thrills his heart—it is just love that drives us to His feet in a posture of listening and learning. It is an intimacy with Jesus—such a closeness with God that Jesus talked about it as being “one” with Him. So much of our craving for relationships, for community, for social standing has a deeper root of a desire for love and respect that is only found in true intimacy and vulnerability.

Once, a woman named Martha invited Jesus to dinner (Luke 10:41–42). While she was busy preparing food, Mary, her sister, was nowhere to be found. Martha was understandably upset when she found Mary just sitting at the feet of Jesus with the disciples and listening to Him.  Martha complained to Jesus asking Him to tell Mary to get up and help, But He said in response, 

“…Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” 

There it was. “One thing is necessary.” What was Mary was doing? What was that “one thing”?  

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. Luke 10:39

“At Jesus’ Feet” painting with oil by Nathan Greene

If that is true, that there is only “one thing necessary”, then we have to ask ourselves what that means for us and if we are really doing it. If Jesus is right, then the one thing necessary thing is choosing to take a listening posture in His presence. We ask Him to teach us and start sitting with Him face to face by faith, hearing His Word (both directly through His Spirit and the scriptures enlivened by His Spirit).

“ONE THING NECESSARY” LIVING

The only problem is very few of us have any idea how to do this. For me, there’s a lot of embarrassment in this for me because I didn’t actually learn to do this until about 3 years ago. I had studied scripture before. I had prayed a lot. I had sensed God moving and directing my life. But about three years ago when God showed me “one thing necessary” as a response to me hitting a wall with anxiety and panic attacks, I realized I had no idea what it meant to sit at his feet and listen to what He had to say.

So the first thing I did was sit on the couch and admit that I did not know how to do this with Him not physically there. He reminded me that He was actually there with me according to the promise in His word (Matthew 28:20). He WAS sitting next to me actually, just as real as He was sitting next to Mary. Believing that was the first step.

Then, I told Him I was ready to listen and asked Him what He wanted to teach me.

That first day, I sensed one word– “Peace” along with the impression that I needed to meet Him again. I asked him follow-up questions…”what about peace?” He whispered to my heart “Go and learn what it means that I give you peace not like the world gives.” I went back to scripture (via google because I could not remember where it was) and read his words in John 14:27. I wanted to know what the word “Peace” meant, and the other places it was used. I got curious, and it became like a treasure hunt and such treasure I found! His peace is not a shallow greeting, not an outer communal peace, but a deep pervasive peace of His rule in our hearts. It’s a peace that calms seas of our souls and that flows out in the Living Water of the Holy Spirit to the world.

It was in following God’s prescription for anxiety by doing “one thing necessary” that I fell in love with this Jesus, the peace-giver, and met Him all over again in the pages of the gospels, in the prophecy and promises of the Old Testament, in the letters to the early church. It was suddenly fresh again, after all these years following Him. It was different because I started to believe and trust that 1) He was actually there and wanting to talk to me; 2) Listening to Him in His actual presence was my ONLY necessary thing for the day–absolutely vital.

Just to be clear, He actually spoke words to me. Not through my ears, but in my Spirit—discernable words. At first, I could only hear a phrase at a time. Like the word “Peace” or a fragment of scripture I was supposed to read. At the beginning I asked Him a lot of “yes or no” questions because it was easier to discern that. I would sense a still small voice of the Spirit guiding and teaching me. The Holy Spirit enlivening scripture took me to Person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit of Jesus led me by His voice to scripture.

I started sensing Him correcting me moment by moment just like He lovingly showed Martha, “You are anxious about many things, but only one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:42) He was so gentle with me. Along the way, I just simply stopped trying to fix my life and decided to seek Him and His kingdom instead—to take all the energy and time I was using for self-preservation, self-analysis, and my own reputation and glory and honor (the seeking of which strangely results in mostly shame and fear) and put all that into being with Him and in pursuing the kingdom.  

WHAT IF EVERYTHING MOVED THROUGH THAT ROOM?

This posture is the posture of a disciple—sitting at His feet, listening, learning from Him, hosting Him, being with Him, knowing Him more, asking His opinions, getting to know His heart, coming closer, walking out life with Him! The solution to striving, hustling, and over-production and the pressure of life, is to do the “One Thing” necessary—what Mary chose—sitting at His feet and listening to what He has to say. It’s loving, restorative time spent at the feet of Jesus, resulting in a joyful, intimate two-way relationship of continuous authentic connection to Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). I usually ask Him three things when I spend time with Him

+ Jesus, what do you want to teach me about my own heart?

+What do you want to teach me about yourself?

+What are you doing today and how can I be a part of it?  

(these three questions were always intertwined—isn’t that sweet of Him!?)

Many of us have experienced those moments of intimacy with Jesus before. Hopefully you have. Now imagine that you were able to extend this posture of “sitting at his feet” to the rest of your day and into every moment of your life, not only for a few minutes of quiet time, devotions, chair time, whatever you call it? Though these secret place, desolate, withdrawn moments/times are definitely important too (Jesus even modeled that), What if you did not get up and leave His feet ever, but every situation had to come into His presence before it could get to you? How would that change your life?

CONSTANT RELATIONAL RELIANCE ON THE SPIRIT OF GOD

This is very different than what most people know as Christianity. For years I thought the Holy Spirit’s job was to basically keep me obedient, to keep me pure, to help me live in the image of Christ, and to empower me to witness to others. He does do all of that, but I was still missing something crucial to Life in the Spirit here.

The role of the Holy Spirit is to actively teach us; to guide us; and to make us like Jesus by allowing us to live how He lived through an intimate, reliant relationship with the Father. We spend time at the feet of Jesus, we spend time in prayer, because we want to be able to know Him better—that’s the reward. We hear his voice often because we’re used to listening for it. We know the difference between our voice and His voice and the enemy’s voice the way I can distinguish my husband’s spoken voice among a whole house of other people. I know it because I hear it often. When he talks, I tuned in immediately. It’s not fuzzy or confusing. It’s clear because I am used to hearing it.  I have trained my ear.

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
Psalm 40:6

Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.
Isaiah 55:2b-3

God’s offer has always been to speak to us, in the Old Testament that was though prophecy and teachers, but now we have the Holy Spirit (and also apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, according to His gifts).

THE HOLY SPIRIT TEACHES US, GUIDES US INTO ALL TRUTH, AND TELLs US THINGS TO COME

Jesus said that the role of the Holy Spirit will be to teach us and remind us what Jesus said, and even tell us what He did not tell people while on earth! He will speak to us what He hears from Jesus, tell us what is to come, he will make things known to us, he will remind us of what Jesus said.  

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” John 16:12-15

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14:26

If the Holy Spirit is going to teach me and make known to me all Jesus wants Him to, then I have to be able to understand Him. He has to communicate actual ideas, words, corrections, principles, and thoughts to me, not just vague impressions. Jesus makes the analogy to shepherds and sheep. He said, “My sheep know my voice and follow me.” John 10:27

I want to just go over some of the scripture on relying on the voice of God:

He humbled you, and in your hunger He gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had known, so that you might understand that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3 (quoted in Matthew 4:4)

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst. Nehemiah 9:20

Note: These two scriptures are about eating through the ears! God’s words proceeding from His mouth by His Spirit are connected to manna, which was reliable, needed daily for that day only! We rely on His word for daily guidance and instruction and life sustenance.

My sheep know my voice and follow me.” John 10:27

For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. Psalm 95:7-9

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:7-8

49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” John 12:49-50

10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. John 14:10-11

“When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.” Mark 13:11

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21 (this one is related to hearing teachers, but read the next one!)

“As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” 1 John 2:27

Isn’t this exciting?

This means I can ask the Holy Spirit to teach me things! Not only that, but I follow Him because He is a really good leader–a good shepherd, a good king. I follow Him because when He leads, I get to lay down and drink from cool rivers of life. When He leads, I see people around me set free!

But when it comes down to it, I follow Him just because I love Him. The sound of His voice leads me to more experiences of his love. So obedience to that voice isn’t by obligation; it’s out of love and joy. I believe that where He is taking me is actually the best place. And now I understand what He means when He says if you love me, you will obey my commandments. It might be hard sometimes, but it doesn’t feel heavy anymore, because it’s so joyful under His gentle leadership. The law has been written on my heart, and my heart of stone has been turned into flesh by the miracle of his gaze. My heart is soft toward Him now. I actually want to follow Him. I always said I did before, but now I believe He is capable of leading me really well. And I truly trust Him. I sit at His feet. That’s my only strategy.

ONE THING NECESSARY IN COMMUNITY

So you make ask “how does this relate to building a house church or small group worship community?” Well, when we are in community together, we take this same posture of asking God what He has to teach us together. We sit at His feet and listen.

That’s our “model” (though it really isn’t a model). It is a direct obedience to seek Him and His kingdom first in everything.

And He speaks every time. One of us will feel led to bring a song to sing, a scripture to share, a person to pray for, a message of encouragement (1 Cor. 14:26). And one of the most common things we say after we meet is “Wow! Look what God gave us together today! Did you see how He put all that together?”

We actually see this principle in Acts with the early church, of reliant listening for making decisions and God’s positioning for the church’s and individuals’ ministries (Acts 8:29, Acts 16:6-7, Acts 20:22). Some call it “waiting worship,” some call it “worship-based prayer,” we call it “sitting at His feet.” We are not the first ones to come across this approach to church and life. But it’s so exciting that we could never go back. When we see God’s plans and purposes gradually revealed by the Holy Spirit in a meeting of the church, through the priesthood of believers and the different gifts of the Holy Spirit, it’s absolutely mindblowing.

When we live in the presence of God, He teaches us and guides us. We sit at His feet and listen to what He has to say. Jesus said he can do only what he sees his Father doing, and say what His Father is saying. (John 5:19, John 12:49-50). Do we have that kind of abiding relationship with the Father that Jesus prayed for us to have (John 14-16). See what Jesus modeled and walk the way He walked. Get it from God. Everything instruction. Every move. It is a counter-cultural way of life. But it is possible if you have tuned your ear to hear His voice by doing the “one thing necessary.”

This kind of relational reliance on the Spirit of God is only possible when we actually relinquish our own leadership and our own scheduling of our time, otherwise we would just get really frustrated when He speaks longer than we allot Him time to speak or tells us to move contrary to our plan. We go into corporate worship listening, humble, honest, and vulnerable, just as we are. And we ask God to encounter us, to continuously keep our spirits healed and freed up, so He can give us what we need to minister to others and to Him. We are usually small enough to not need sound support so there is no attention spent on production. When we meet in a larger group we just simply set up mics and kept the sound as simple as possible. He leads us in real time, in response to our obedience He takes us deeper into His presence, and into His Word, both spoken and written, where true worship happens.

IS HEARING HIM EVEN IMPORTANT?

Some might say, well, we have the Bible which is the Word of God…isn’t that enough? Doesn’t needing to hear Him imply that scripture is not enough? Well yes. I would say scripture is not enough because we don’t only need to know and understand scripture, we need to know direction and application of scripture in real-time if we are going to operate under the actual leadership of God to seek the kingdom here as it is in heaven. This active following requires a voice, not in the ears, but in the soul/mind/heart. This sense is what people call “His voice.” Whatever you are sensing can be put into words, so as people describe what they are sensing/feeling/seeing/hearing in the spirit, they recognize it as ways that God “speaks” to us. So is “hearing” Him important?

Yes. Here’s why you need this:

1.Hearing His voice is proof of relationship.

Can you imagine if you were married to someone but you never heard their voice or saw them or felt them? That would not be much of a relationship.

We have developed a religious culture around busyness and service, but many of us don’t even know Him. We know about Him. We know the Bible. But some of us don’t really know Him as a PERSON that we are in relationship with. We use the phrase “relationship with God” too loosely and it has become church jargon for many who call themselves Christians.

2. Hearing His voice guards against false prophecy and stagnation.

Many people don’t realize they are supposed to talk with God. Some have even been taught by church leaders that God has stopped speaking. Some are scared because they are worried they may become theologically off-based. But the Bible is very clear on this point. Hearing the voice of God is a discipline of listening empowered and made possible through the Holy Spirit and the Word (both Christ and scripture). We are to eagerly desire to hear God both for ourselves and for others (eagerly desire the gift of prophecy). His Word never contradicts itself. It is always true. It never returns void. It always accomplishes what it set out to do. It always bears fruit (Isaiah 53-55). Knowing how to identify His voice (in addition to knowing scripture by heart) will help us discern against false prophecy from other sources. You can only learn to recognize it by the practice of listening in community and on your own.

Regarding false prophecy, false prophecy is always from a false source.  We can know that we are not false when we abide in Jesus. As far as testing, we also need to know the voice of God which is actually called the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13). we know that one of the signs of false prophecy is anything that sets itself up against the knowledge of Christ as the Son of God. But we can also recognize false prophets by their lack of fruit (Matthew 7:15-16) and by knowing that their voice is not aligned with scripture and what the voice of God has spoken to those abiding (can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3:12).

If God speaks differently to those in the body of Christ who are abiding, we can trust that He always clarifies and brings us to unity, not the unity of our human ideas, but unity in Christ as a mature body (Ephesians 2:1-16). He never contradicts Himself or scripture. False prophecy is avoided by abiding in the true vine, knowing the true shepherd, and knowing His voice. Knowing His voice also open us up to the spiritual gift of prophecy, which the apostle Paul says we are supposed to eagerly desire (1 Cor. 12:31 and 14:1). It becomes easier to hear God’s word for others, so that we speak not out of human sympathy, but in a mutual building up of iron sharpening iron according to the word, will, and heart of God (this sometimes requires a gentle tearing down).

3. Jesus did it and so should we.

If we are being made into the image of Christ, then we should walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). How did He walk? He was led by the Holy Spirit and He obeyed His Father (Matthew 4:1, Matt. 12:28, Luke 4:18, Acts 10:38). He made disciples by saying what His Father said and did what He saw His Father doing.

How would we know where to start?

We do it the way Jesus did–in complete reliance on the Holy Spirit. We have scripture just like Jesus did. We have the added benefit of the New Testament scriptures–the gospels and the letters to the churches. Jesus studied scripture, but just like Jesus in the wilderness, we need the Holy Spirit to know how to apply the truth of God’s word in the world around us. We need to know where to go and what to do! We need power! How do we know what our Father is saying and doing? We have to listen in quiet places so we can learn what His voice sounds like. We learn how to distinguish His voice from ours, (which happens as a result of sitting with Him and asking Him questions without any other voices around us).  Then, in the moment of crisis or intense ministry, we don’t question when we hear His directions. We don’t question because we have learned His voice in the secret quiet places of intimacy. We know His voice.

BONUS OF “ONE THING NECESSARY” LIFESTYLE: NO PRESSURE

Every single day, we position ourselves close to Him so we can hear His word. This allows us to align with what He is doing and assures that we are living in His will, yielding fruit in every season as we just focus on Him through our whole lives, day to day, minute to minute. Living this way takes the pressure off. In this easy and light way, finding your calling is not something you need to really worry about. It is not a matter of you knowing yourself better or finding the right “fit” to a career or ministry activity. It is not a matter of developing your skills to perfection, because it is not about what you have to offer God. It is ONLY about learning to listen and remaining available to obey.

God’s kingdom work is done from a position of rest. Like God’s people in Isaiah 30:15, for a long time, I was unwilling to say yes to returning, rest, quietness, and trust. Yet, this exchange of my way of life for His, of my kingdoms for His Kingdom, has become my salvation. One Thing living is a lifestyle of constant reliance on the voice of Jesus—it is a constant, daily, moment by moment response to hearing him. I had heard the invitation spoken to my soul. Rest. Sit at my feet and listen.

Maybe it’s too passive sounding for you. Maybe it seems like a lazy way to live in our industrious culture. Maybe it seems too easy, like you should have to work harder or be “more sinless” for Him to be comfortable being with you or to be allowed to disciple others. Maybe you think you can’t do it, like Peter walking on the waves—you’ve tried and failed. You are too fickle to be trusted with other sheep.

Maybe you actually think God can’t do it, like when Israel asked for a human king. Maybe you don’t trust God as much as you thought you did.

But God actually really loves you. And He has made a way to be with you just as you are. He’s not waiting for you to be perfect first. Jesus always reached out to people who felt unworthy, unlovable, and full of sin. He also tried to reach the prideful and arrogant (though they rarely heard the offer.) And He sent the 12 out to announce the kingdom of God knowing that one would betray Him and all would desert Him before He died. He entrusted the message to fishermen (Peter, James, John) and tax collectors (Matthew, Zacheus), and murderers (Paul).

WHAT IF I HAVE NEVER HEARD GOD’S VOICE?

This is for you. Don’t doubt it. He promised us the Holy Spirit. He does not lie. You have to learn the voice of God by spending time with Him. There are no shortcuts. Sometimes this voice is a leading or a prompting, but there are words and instructions the Holy Spirit wants to speak to you. Often He will lead us back to scripture. Sometimes he will give us pictures. We will seek Him and find Him when we search with all our hearts. He will not hide from us (Jeremiah 29:11-13). But there are some things that can keep you from hearing His voice:

  1. Lack of faith that He still speaks or that He’s actually there with you. But He is. He promised.
  2. A broken trust between you and God. Sometimes His voice is blocked because we do not trust Him or we are angry with Him. Usually we do not trust Him because we are believing lies about either who He is or who we are. You can ask Him to reveal those things to you or you can ask a friend who walks with God to sit and ask God with you and help you identify the lies. Once you return to trust in Him, you will be able to hear His voice, and because you are confident in His love for you and His plan for you, you will be able to obey His voice out of love.

Listen and hear that there is “One Thing” necessary and then say “yes!”—get to know Jesus again, or maybe for the first time. I mean really. What do you need to know? What does your heart have questions about? Sit at the feet of Jesus—and just let Him teach you. He will absolutely speak to you.  He promised He would (John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me). 

Here’s a worship song that has meant a lot to our community. We sing it in Spanish but you can sing it in English too!