It can be difficult to recognise God in some of the things that happen. And it’s critical that we remember that some things happen in spite of God and ot because of Him.
We have certain authority in our lives, including – as the people of Jesus’s home-town demonstrated – the authority to stop God working in our lives. Even Paul chose to not heed a warning given by the Holy Spirit, choosing to go to Rome as a prisoner to be held before Caesar rather than wait and possibly later have been able to go as a free citizen of the Empire because he believed he had to stand before Caesar at that point. Perhaps the New Testament would have been longer had he waited, we can’t tell and ultimately it doesn’t matter.
The important thing is to recognise Paul made a choice. He recognised the Holy Spirit was warning him, and chose to allow his own arrest. He recognised the Risen Christ, just as he had on the road to Damascus so many years before. He made an informed choice to allow his own arrest as he believed it would allow him to accomplish what he knew God’s plan for him was.
We need to do this as well. We need to be aware of Christ. To recognise Him in each move we make and see His hand in the events unfolding in our lives. John Eldredge wrote a great book called “Walking with God” in 2008, which illustrates how we can be aware of God continuously. There’s too much to quote here as I’d need to quote the entire book, but it documents John’s walk over the course of a year, good and bad, listening and rejecting – and the consequences of both.
But simple awareness is not enough. The disciples were aware Jesus had risen. After all, he’d sat and had supper with them, invited Thomas to stick his finger in the nail marks and restored Peter. But every time they saw Him, they failed to recognise Him. They had walked with Jesus physically for over three years, and when His risen form appeared they didn’t recognise Him.
At least when Paul got knocked off his donkey he recognised the light and the voice were God. The news it was Jesus came as a shock, but he immediately surrendered his life to Him when he realised the Truth.
Recognising Jesus in our lives, and more importantly what isn’t Jesus, is a key to moving in His Will. It sounds obvious, but all too often we do what we think is the right thing without actually going to Him and asking. The result is we run into obstacles at best, and serious problems, illness, injury and even death at worst. Nobody is immune to the effects of missing the point. Nobody ends up “accidentally” doing His Will as our old nature rears its head and drags us off in the opposite direction.
Yes, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, but we still sin. We still fall flat on our faces. I’d learn more easily if I listened instead of insisting on Hard Knocks University as my tutor, with a major in Faceplanting. Paul writes to Timothy that scripture is what God intends to teach us. Every situation we can possibly face is in scripture somewhere. Murder, suicide, adultery, poverty, riches and how anything can become an idol that draws us from God.
Yes, we need to recognise what isn’t God as much as what is – and make sure we follow the right voice.
Recently I ran outside to help a woman who was screaming. A voice inside me said “grab a walking stick – you’ll need it” so I did. As I got there, her dog had been attacked by two large boerbull-cross dogs – at least 70 – 80lbs each. Soaked in the dachshund’s blood they looked at me next, and the stick started swinging. I am certain that had I not had it I would have been badly bitten, but with it I chased them off. The lady was ok, but her little dog didn’t make it. The point is that I recognised the voice warning me to take the stick. As a result, aside from being out of breath I suffered no harm. The dogs were eventually captured by someone else and taken away, but if I’d ignored the voice, interrupting a kill by two dogs who together may have outweighed me would not be a smart thing to do. I’m a big guy – 6ft tall and over 190lbs – but against two large, heavy dogs I’d be kibble now. That recognition saved me.
One time, some years ago, I failed to regognise the voice warning me to go a different route I ended up being mugged by three assailants in a dark street alone at night. I was able to escape serious injury, but was bruised and battered before I got away. Because I didn’t recognise the warning voice. More accurately, because I ignored it. The result was painful, but could have been worse.
Recognition is not enough on its own. We need to act on the recognition as well. We must follow the instruction, heed the warning we’re given. Sometimes, like Paul, we will take it as a way to prepare for what is coming. Sometimes it is a way to avoid unnecessary pain. Sometimes it is a way for God the Bless us through what we come across on the alternate direction.
An example would be the home I lived in in Devon for almost ten years. We found it by accident after I went down a little alley at a prompting by God and found a new development I didn’t know about at a time I was looking for a new house. The house I bought was brand new. I got to choose (some of) the fittings and fixtures, and enjoyed a long time living there and having it to be able to not only be Blessed in, but to Bless others. I was able to open it to my friends who were still living with parents or at university accommodation who wanted to getaway for a bit and sleep in a quiet environment. I was truly blessed by inviting a dear man called Tony to stay for a few nights – a tramp living rough who needed somewhere warm in a harsh winter. His presence blessed me, and I was able to be a blessing to him.
All because I listened and walked down an alley.
I don’t seek praise for my own actions. God already blessed my socks off at the time. But it serves as a part of my testimony to God’s Goodness. His guiding voice encouraging and enabling us to be a blessing in His name. To deliver someone else’s need through His supply to us. To avoid trouble.
If we listen.
If we recognise.
If we act.
The book is the Acts of the Apostles, not the Sitting-about of the Apostles. They waited for His voice after the Ascension, were hit with Holy Fire and then began doing everything Jesus had said they could and would do. If He’d do it through them and their obedience and recognition, He’ll do it through us. The World has a desperate need for Jesus right now. Even the Church needs a reminder sometimes. We all do.
Our constant need to hear Him starts by recognising Him.
One guiding voice at a time.