What the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God

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Years ago, when I was a child, I took a trip with my family each summer to visit my grandmother. Her house was located two states away, so we had to drive for a few days to get to her house. I grew up in the 80s before Internet, email, and GPS. Therefore, we used a paper map to navigate the route.

I laugh when I think of the memory. Now, when I need to find my way to a particular place, I pull out my iphone and type in the destination. Two years ago, when we moved to a new community, I found my way around quite easily because I had the automated voice on my phone’s GPS to tell me the way.

In my spiritual life, I have often wished that God’s voice was always as crystal clear as the guide on my GPS. At times, I have faced a decision and wished it was more obvious what God would have me do or would say to me in that situation. Although the Bible says that He guides those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ (Psalm 32:8,9; John 10:3-4; John 16:13), hearing from God and discerning His will isn’t always so easy. It takes time to develop the ability to recognize His voice and know which way to go.

One story we can look to for guidance in this area is the story of the wise men in Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV). A few lessons we can learn about following Jesus:

1. It doesn’t matter who you are.

What we should note in the passage is the wise men were magicians. They weren’t part of Israel’s elite or Jewish rabbi. They were Gentiles “from the east” (v. 2). And yet, they saw God’s star and followed it to Jesus.

If we have never accepted Jesus as our Savior, we may disqualify ourselves from coming to Him based on our background or the choices we have made in our past, but we must remember that God doesn’t disqualify us from coming to Him based on what we’ve done. He wants all to come and seek Him. John 6:37 says, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

Similarly, as believers, we may think that we can’t hear from Him in our Christian walk like other believers. However, we can approach Him not because of our merit but because of His work on the cross (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5). We may not feel good enough for Jesus, but we must remember that even the most religious looking person — the person with spotless clothes and an even more spotless past — is not good enough to stand on his own righteousness in front of Jesus. In fact, our own unbelief that He will speak to us can be an obstacle that hinders us hearing from Him (James 1:5, 6).

Certainly, there are certain behaviors He will ask us to let go of as we walk with Him; however, he will help us in that endeavor. When we mess up, we can come to Him, confessing our sins knowing that He cleanses us (1 John 1:9). As 2 Timothy 1:9 says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”

2. The way Jesus leads is often treacherous.

Often, the assignments of Jesus are difficult and those we would rather not do. They may cost us our social standing with a group. They may cost us our job. They may cost us our pride because we have to humble ourselves and take a lower position than we would want for ourselves. They may cost us delays and alterations in our own plans. But all the assignments of Jesus are perfect and lead to goodness in our lives and the lives of others (Psalm 18:30, NLT). But we have to be willing to follow where He leads.

The wise men had planned their own way back to their home, but their plans were interrupted. Instead, they had to go back a different route they had not intended, as they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. While Jesus’ directives may appear arduous at times, His “burden” is described as “light” in the Bible. Matthew 11:28-30 says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

I once had a discussion with God about this passage. In the midst of a season where He put particularly challenging tasks in my own path, I told Him I didn’t think His burdens were light and easy at all. In fact, I told Him His way was hard and His burdens heavy. It was only a moment after I had made this accusation of God where a revelation washed over me that our burdens are not light because we never have to do hard things — the hard things we do in obedience are what make our burden light.

Conversely, when we go our own way, however easier it may be in the moment, is when we collect heavy burdens that we do not have with Jesus (Psalm 84:10). As Thomas á Kempis is quoted as saying in this Transformation Garden devotional:

What can the world offer you without Jesus? To be without Jesus is a hell most grievous, to know Jesus the sweetness of heaven. If Jesus is with you, no enemy can harm you. Whoever finds Jesus, finds a rich treasure, and a good above every good. He who loses Jesus loses much indeed, and more than the whole world. Poorest of all is he who lives without Jesus, and richest of all is he, who stands in favor of Jesus.

3. God maps the course.

What we notice in the story is that the wise men weren’t responsible for the course, they were just responsible for following. If we commit our way to Him and continually seek His counsel, He will show us what path we should take. As Matthew Henry says, “There arises a day star in the hearts of those who seek Him.” Isaiah 30:21 says, “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.’ “ (See my previous post on this topic.)

How does God communicate to us which way to go? In a variety of ways — through dreams and visions, directly speaking to us, through others, etc. We hear from God by spending time in His Word every day, praying to Him, and learning about Him in a corporate worship setting with other believers.

Often, when God gives us a specific word for our lives, He will confirm it by giving us the same word in different ways more than once. For instance, 2 Corinthians 13:1(NKJV) tells us, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” In that passage, the word “word” in Greek is “rhema.” According to Helps Word Studies,Rhema is a spoken word, made by ‘the living voice’ (J. Thayer). Rhema is commonly used in the NT for the Lord speaking His dynamic, living word in a believer to inbirth faith.”

When we listen to a sermon, read a passage, or talk to a friend, and their words deeply penetrate us and we know that word is for us from the Lord, that is a “rhema” word. If we see the same message more than once, we know God is speaking to us. We need only watch for His answer to us and look for what He will say (Habbakuk 2:1).

On thing we must note, however, is that God’s instructions to us will never violate what He says in the Bible. We must be careful to not attribute every passing thought to God and be in His Word so we know the difference.

4. Those who trust His way get to where they need to go.

The wise men followed His star and found Him. In contrast, there were those who did not find him on that night because they weren’t looking. In fact, the wise men had to knock on doors and inquire about the Son of God because no one else was apparently all that interested. Similarly, when Jesus was born, there was no room for Him in the inn (Luke 2:7).

God has given us all promises of what He will do in our lives. Often the path to those promises is confusing and twisted and difficult. It doesn’t tell us how long wise men traveled to get to Jesus, but it was months and possibly more than that — before they found Christ. Surely, in that time they questioned the route, got discouraged, wanted to give up — but they didn’t give up and got to where they were going.

Similarly, in Mark 6:45-53, the disciples encountered a storm when Jesus sent them on a lake to row over to the other side. But though they were met with trials, they still got to where they were going because Jesus was the One who had sent them in the boat across the lake.

If we want the kind of life that is possible only with Jesus — a life where we live out our God given-purpose, we have to let Him have His way and lead us where He wants. We can chart our own path, sure, but we cannot generate the results that come from walking with Jesus. When we try to take matters into our own hands, we won’t get to where we are going. As Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, “Do your part, and God will do the part only He can do!”

Conclusion:

Learning to hear from God and follow His will for our lives is a process that takes time to learn, but when we put ourselves in a position to hear from Him, He will speak to us. No matter if we like the way He leads, it is in following Him that we encounter blessings that we would not apart from Him.

As J.R. Miller is quoted as saying in Streams in the Desert:

Every difficult task that comes across you path — every one that you would rather not do, that will take the most effort, cause the most pain, and be the greatest struggle — brings a blessing with it. And refusing to do it regardless of the personal cost is to miss the blessing.

Every difficult stretch of road on which you see the Master’s footprints along which He calls you to follow Him leads unquestionably to blessings. And they are blessings you will never receive unless you travel the steep and thorny path.

*Updated December 16, 2017.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in more of our latest posts? Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

To read the poem by T.S. Eliot I mention in the podcast, click on this link: “Journey of the Magi.”

Interested in salvation but want to read more? Check out our Know God page or contact us through the Contact page.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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My Problem in Hearing From God

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I am shopping in Ross. I have come for spoons, new journals, and decorative wall plates.

I am not here because I desperately need any of these items. I am here because I don’t want to face the God nudge pulling on me. He has me working on a project that I don’t want to be working on. A project of calling some people, and I am trying to escape Him — even for a few moments. So, I browse the different options of silverware, the journals stashed on the shelf, and the household accessories.

And for a moment I am on hold. He won’t push me or force me to do anything, but the invitation always awaits.

The truth is that listening to God is scary. He asks me to do things that completely stretch me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I feel impressed to go up to a stranger in a store. Sometimes a name of a former student pops in my head for me to call. And sometimes — I choose not to listen. I hedge and I doubt. I get afraid and talk myself out of what God has told me.

And while His assignments stretch me and pull me where I don’t always want to go, I know they are always for the best even if I don’t immediately see results. So, how do I hear from Him? I think it’s worth taking a look at some of the ways I’ve tried to block out His voice to better discover what not to do when attempting to better tune in to what He’s saying.

3 Things That Make It Hard to Listen to God

1. Read the Bible Without Paying Attention.

Quite honestly, I went through a season where I was a little afraid of what God would tell me. As I started to see that my situation wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to, as foolish and ridiculous as this sounds, I decided to put a “check in the box” when it came to having a quiet time with God every day. However, I wasn’t really paying attention. I read the Bible with my children running around, the TV in the background.

I was carving out time, but the time didn’t allow for me to really hear from God. I was skimming words without meditating on them or letting them sink in. And, when I was alone with Him and prayed, I listed all my requests and then got up from my prayer time and went about my day without getting quiet enough to hear if He wanted to respond to me right then. In a sense, I was allowing only a little bit of Him in — the little bit I could “handle.”

But what I was doing was trying to control God. And because of that refusal to open up all of the places of my life to Him, I made some poor choices in that season — all because I didn’t trust Him enough to open up myself to His instruction.

2. Allow Distractions to Drown Out the Voice of God.

Another way I have chosen to minimize God in my life is by busying myself with my to-do list: shopping, housework, activities with my children, church work that might even look spiritual — tasks that keep me so busy that I shut out any time to hear what He may be saying to me. Lisa Whittle, author of I Want God: Forever Changed by the Revival of Your Soul, describes times she has attempted to evade God, like me in Ross, by filling up her schedule with excessive shopping:

Sometimes I don’t want to hear from God, and shopping helps with that. I think, and I know, that this moment is not about the shopping (because it rarely is). I recognize it as the human impulse of storing up, controlling my world before He starts requiring something of me. When you know God in that intimate way, there is an understanding that when He calls, it will be loud. And it will be specific. And it may require other things to go away. And it’s terrifying. So I shop.

In the biblical story of Martha and Mary, Jesus rebuked Martha when she complained that Mary was not helping her with meal preparations (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus was hard on Martha, I believe, not because she wanted to serve Him and others in making a nice dinner — but because her busyness distracted her to the point that she wasn’t listening to Jesus.

And when Martha wasn’t listening, she got off track. She got impatient with Mary, demanding of Jesus and fretful about her situation. The same is true of me and you. When we stop listening to Him, we lose our peace, our sense of direction — and we get impatient and critical of others.

3. Let my “Rational” Side Override God’s Voice.

Just like Martha couldn’t understand why Jesus would allow Mary to sit at His feet rather than help her pull together an important dinner for Him, I have fallen into the trap of allowing my own “rational thinking” to drown out God’s voice. I have looked at situations through practical eyes — wisdom that I have acquired from the culture, my parents, and my friends — even wisdom from well-intentioned Christians.

However, by smothering that still small voice inside of me with others’ advice, I can drown out and explain away the voice of God. Because the truth is that His instructions and ways just do not appeal to my logic at times. They usually go against what I feel must be right. Then when I check with other people to see if He could indeed be speaking to me, and they agree that the action must not be God — I can make the mistake of not taking the step He wants me to because I am relying on my own or others’ wisdom.

Take, for instance, when I decided to quit my teaching job. I felt God say to me very distinctly during a sermon that I was to quit my job. However, when I brought this up with my spouse and we looked at the numbers — how we were going to afford to live on one salary — my husband pointed out how illogical it would be for me to stop working. We had a brand new car payment, a hefty mortgage with a decreased value in a sunken market, bills of all kinds. The situation truly looked impossible from a human vantage point.

The more that I looked at the practical side of things, the more I talked myself out of what I thought had been His voice. Here were some of my questions based on human logic: Why wasn’t my husband excited about me quitting if God was indeed telling me to go in that direction? Why didn’t my husband make more money if we were supposed to exist on one income? Why didn’t God have a position lined up for me to transition into if He was indeed asking me to take a leap of faith and go in another direction?

All of my arguments were faulty when I read yet another story in the Bible — that of Mary and Joseph — and realized that God told Mary first about the fact that she, a virgin, would bear a child. He then orchestrated some of the other things in her life to make it possible for her to do His will. Joseph wasn’t on board with the plan until an angel appeared to Him later (Matthew 1:18-25). And my husband wasn’t either until we had several intense conversations. He then relented with the stipulation that I work for one more year before quitting.

At one point during the process, I gave up on the idea and told God it just wasn’t going to work. Despite my unbelief, God was persistent and gave me more chances than one to act on His call. However, He didn’t start working on the logistics in the way I thought He should. I didn’t see Him work on my behalf until what felt like the last minute many times as I actively committed myself to following Him in a direction away from my career in education.

Heeding God’s Voice Through Prayer and Swift Obedience

In my experience, the voice of Jesus is that still small voice — and one that can easily be drowned out by the voice of fear and doubt. Fear prevents us from stepping out and doing what we should because we dread the consequences. Doubt prevents us from stepping out by overwhelming our resolve with rationalizations that contradict what we believe so we get confused and we start thinking that we never heard from God at all.

The way to combat the voice of fear and doubt is by comparing what we heard against God’s Word, by prayer (the listening kind) and swift obedience. Prayer times that regularly give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to infiltrate our minds and thoughts help us to constantly know what God thinks about our situation and expects of us. He has promised us counsel on the inside. However, we have to make ourselves available to hear Him. When we do feel He is asking us to take a step, we must act in obedience.

When we let doubts creep in, the longer we neglect to do the thing He has asked us to do, the less likely it is that we will do it. Sometimes the opportunity is only there for a narrow moment and then disappears. We may not have the same opportunity open up in the same way again.

This area of trust and submission is quite possibly my biggest struggle. I don’t like to do what God tells me sometimes. But I can say that when I do obey, I am always glad I did. I feel a radiance enter me. When I don’t, I always regret it. As Whittle concludes after her shopping trip in I Want God, we have a choice to make on whether we will open ourselves to God, however scary it can be:

But even as I sit in the parking lot of this antique mall with all of my precious finds perched around me, I know it is a myth, the storing up. For a brief moment, the shopper subsides and writer awakens. What I am really wanting is not to tear my house apart and put it back together more beautifully, but what I want God to do to me: deconstruct me, clean me up, make me better, streamlined, more beautiful. And at the same time I’m scared He will. This is the rub of my life. The words are now done and the writer goes back to sleep. I have dialogued with no one in particular, but I have somehow worked it all out.

1) God is what I want most

2) Other things scream for my attention.

3) I will choose between them.

It is the same for you.

What prevents me from hearing God isn’t that He doesn’t speak to me. When I make time for Him and quiet myself enough to hear His voice, He generally does speak to me. It’s not always the answer I want or expect, and it doesn’t always come on my timeline. My problem is that I don’t always want to listen.

What about you? What is your biggest struggle when it comes to hearing from God? I would love for you to leave a comment below.

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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