Hear What the Spirit Has to Say
“Your own ears will hear a word behind you saying: ‘This is the way. Walk in it, you people,’ in case you people should go to the right or in case you should go to the left.”—ISAIAH 30:21.
1, 2. How has Jehovah communicated with humans throughout history?
THE island of Puerto Rico is the home of the world’s largest and most sensitive single-dish radio telescope. For decades, scientists have been hoping to receive messages from extraterrestrial life, using this huge instrument. But no such messages have ever been received. Ironically, though, there are clear messages from outside the human realm that any of us can receive at any time—without the use of sophisticated equipment. These come from a Source far loftier than any imagined extraterrestrial. Who is the Source of such communications, and who are receiving them? What do the messages say?
2 The Bible record contains several accounts of occasions when messages of divine origin were made audible to human ears. Sometimes these messages were delivered by spirit creatures serving as God’s messengers. (Genesis 22:11, 15; Zechariah 4:4, 5; Luke 1:26-28) On three occasions, Jehovah’s own voice was heard. (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 12:28, 29) God also spoke through human prophets, many of whom wrote down what he inspired them to say. Today, we have the Bible, which includes a written record of many of these communications, as well as the teachings of Jesus and his disciples. (Hebrews 1:1, 2) Jehovah has indeed been transmitting information to his human creatures.
3. What is the purpose of God’s messages, and what is expected of us?
3 All these inspired messages from God reveal little about the physical universe. They focus on more important matters, which have an impact on our life now and in the future. (Psalm 19:7-11; 1 Timothy 4:8) Jehovah uses them to communicate his will and offer us his guidance. They are one way that the words of the prophet Isaiah are being fulfilled: “Your own ears will hear a word behind you saying: ‘This is the way. Walk in it, you people,’ in case you people should go to the right or in case you should go to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21) Jehovah does not force us to listen to his “word.” It is up to us to follow God’s direction and walk in his way. For that reason the Scriptures admonish us to listen to communications from Jehovah. In the book of Revelation, the encouragement to “hear what the spirit says” appears seven times.—Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.
4. Is it reasonable in our day to expect God to communicate directly from heaven?
4 Today, Jehovah does not speak to us directly from the heavenly realm. Even in Bible times, these supernatural communications were rare events, sometimes separated by centuries. Throughout history, Jehovah has most often communicated with his people in more indirect ways. Such is the case in our day. Let us consider three ways in which Jehovah communicates with us today.
“All Scripture Is Inspired”
5. What is Jehovah’s principal instrument of communication today, and how can we benefit from it?
5 The principal instrument of communication between God and humans is the Bible. It is inspired by God, and everything in it can prove beneficial to us. (2 Timothy 3:16) The Bible abounds with examples of real people who exercised their free will in deciding whether to listen to Jehovah’s voice or not. Such examples remind us why it is vital to listen to what the spirit of God says. (1 Corinthians 10:11) The Bible also contains practical wisdom, giving us counsel for times when we are confronted with decisions in life. It is as if God were behind us, speaking in our ear the words: “This is the way. Walk in it.”
6. Why is the Bible far superior to all other writings?
6 In order to hear what the spirit says through the pages of the Bible, we must read it regularly. The Bible is not just a well-written, popular book, one of many available today. The Bible is spirit-inspired and contains the thoughts of God. Hebrews 4:12 says: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” As we read the Bible, its contents pierce into our inner thoughts and motivations like a sword, revealing the degree to which our lives conform to God’s will.
7. Why is Bible reading vital, and we are encouraged to engage in it how often?
7 The “thoughts and intentions of the heart” can change as time passes and as we are affected by our experiences in life—both pleasant and difficult. If we do not constantly study the Word of God, our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions will no longer be in harmony with godly principles. Hence, the Bible admonishes us: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.” (2 Corinthians 13:5) If we are to continue hearing what the spirit says, we should heed the counsel to read God’s Word daily.—Psalm 1:2.
8. What words of the apostle Paul help us to examine ourselves with regard to reading the Bible?
8 An important reminder for Bible readers is this: Allow enough time to assimilate what you read! In an effort to comply with the counsel to read the Bible every day, we would not want to find ourselves rushing through several chapters without getting the sense of what we read. While reading the Bible regularly is vital, our motivation should not be solely to keep up with a schedule; we should have a genuine desire to learn about Jehovah and his purposes. In this regard, we may well use these words of the apostle Paul for self-examination. Writing to fellow Christians, he said: “I bend my knees to the Father, to the end that he may grant you . . . to have the Christ dwell through your faith in your hearts with love; that you may be rooted and established on the foundation, in order that you may be thoroughly able to grasp mentally with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness that God gives.”—Ephesians 3:14, 16-19.
9. How can we cultivate and deepen our desire to learn from Jehovah?
9 Granted, some of us by nature do not enjoy reading, while others are avid readers. Regardless of our individual disposition, however, we can cultivate and deepen our desire to learn from Jehovah. The apostle Peter explained that we should have a longing for Bible knowledge, and he recognized that such a desire may have to be developed. He wrote: “As newborn infants, form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word, that through it you may grow to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2) Self-discipline is vital if we are to “form a longing” for Bible study. Just as we can develop a liking for a new food after tasting it several times, our attitude toward reading and study can change for the better if we discipline ourselves to follow a regular routine.
“Food at the Proper Time”
10. Who make up “the faithful and discreet slave,” and how is Jehovah using them today?
10 Another avenue that Jehovah uses to speak to us today is identified by Jesus at Matthew 24:45-47. There he spoke of the spirit-anointed Christian congregation—“the faithful and discreet slave” appointed to provide spiritual “food at the proper time.” As individuals, the members of this class are Jesus’ “domestics.” These, along with “a great crowd” of “other sheep,” receive encouragement and guidance. (Revelation 7:9; John 10:16) Much of this food at the proper time comes in the form of printed publications, such as The Watchtower, the Awake!, and other publications. Additional spiritual food is dispensed in the form of talks and demonstrations at conventions, assemblies, and congregation meetings.
11. How do we prove receptive to what the spirit has to say through “the faithful and discreet slave”?
11 The information provided by “the faithful and discreet slave” is designed to strengthen our faith and train our perceptive powers. (Hebrews 5:14) Such counsel may be general in nature so as to allow each one to make a personal application. From time to time, we also receive counsel that deals with specific aspects of our conduct. What attitude should we have if we are really listening to what the spirit says through the slave class? The apostle Paul answers: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive.” (Hebrews 13:17) True, all involved in this process are imperfect men. Still, Jehovah takes delight in using his human servants, though imperfect, to guide us in this time of the end.
Guidance From Our Conscience
12, 13. (a) What other source of guidance has Jehovah given to us? (b) What positive influence can the conscience have even on people who do not have an accurate knowledge of God’s Word?
12 Jehovah has given us another source of guidance—our conscience. He created man with an inner sense of right and wrong. It is part of our nature. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul explained: “Whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.”—Romans 2:14, 15.
13 Many who are not acquainted with Jehovah can, to some extent, bring their thoughts and actions into harmony with godly principles of right and wrong. It is as if they were hearing a faint inner voice guiding them in the right direction. If this can be true of those who do not have accurate knowledge of God’s Word, how much more should that inner voice speak in the case of true Christians! Certainly, a Christian conscience that is refined by an accurate knowledge of God’s Word and that works in harmony with Jehovah’s holy spirit can provide trustworthy guidance.—Romans 9:1.
14. How can a Bible-trained conscience help us to follow the guidance of Jehovah’s spirit?
14 A good conscience, one that is Bible-trained, can remind us of the way in which the spirit wants us to walk. There may be times when neither the Scriptures nor our Bible-based publications comment specifically on a particular situation in which we may find ourselves. Still, our conscience may sound a warning, cautioning us against a potentially harmful course. In such cases, ignoring the dictates of our conscience may, in effect, mean ignoring what Jehovah’s spirit says. On the other hand, by learning to rely on our trained Christian conscience, we can make good choices even when there is no specific direction in writing. It is vital to keep in mind, however, that when there is no divinely provided principle, rule, or law, it would be improper to impose the judgments of our own conscience on fellow Christians in what are purely personal matters.—Romans 14:1-4; Galatians 6:5.
15, 16. What can cause our conscience to malfunction, and how can we prevent that from happening?
15 A clean, Bible-trained conscience is a good gift from God. (James 1:17) But we must protect this gift from corruptive influences if it is to function properly as a moral safety device. Local customs, traditions, and habits that conflict with God’s standards can, if followed, cause our conscience to malfunction and fail to prod us in the right direction. We may prove unable to judge matters correctly and could even deceive ourselves into believing that a bad act is actually good.—Compare John 16:2.
16 If we continue to ignore the warnings of our conscience, its voice will become weaker and weaker until we are morally unfeeling or insensitive. The psalmist spoke of such people when he said: “Their heart has become unfeeling just like fat.” (Psalm 119:70) Some who ignore the proddings of their conscience lose the ability to think properly. They are no longer guided by godly principles and are unable to make proper decisions. To avoid such a situation, we should be sensitive to the leadings of our Christian conscience even when the issues in question seem minor.—Luke 16:10.
Happy Are Those Who Listen and Obey
17. As we listen to ‘the word behind us’ and heed our Bible-trained conscience, how will we be blessed?
17 As we establish a pattern of listening to ‘the word behind us’—as it is provided through the Scriptures and the faithful and discreet slave—and as we heed the reminders of our Bible-trained conscience, Jehovah will bless us with his spirit. The holy spirit will, in turn, enhance our ability to receive and understand what Jehovah tells us.
18, 19. How can Jehovah’s guidance benefit us in both our ministry and our personal life?
18 Jehovah’s spirit will also embolden us to face difficult situations with wisdom and courage. As in the case of the apostles, God’s spirit can stimulate our mental powers and help us always to act and speak in harmony with Bible principles. (Matthew 10:18-20; John 14:26; Acts 4:5-8, 13, 31; 15:28) The combination of Jehovah’s spirit and our own personal efforts will bring us success as we make important decisions in life, giving us the courage to follow through on those decisions. For example, you may be considering adjusting your life-style to make more time for spiritual things. Or you may be faced with important, life-changing choices, such as selecting a mate, weighing a job offer, or buying a house. Rather than allowing our human emotions to be the sole factor in making our decisions, we should listen to what God’s spirit has to say and act in harmony with its guidance.
19 We truly appreciate the kind reminders and the counsel we receive from fellow Christians, including the elders. However, we need not always wait for others to bring matters to our attention. If we know the wise course to follow and what adjustments we need to make in our attitude and conduct in order to please God, let us act. Jesus said: “If you know these things, happy you are if you do them.”—John 13:17.
20. What blessing comes to those who listen to ‘the word behind them’?
20 Clearly, in order to know how to please God, Christians do not need to hear a literal voice from heaven, nor do they need to receive an angelic visit. They are blessed with having God’s written Word and loving guidance through his anointed class on earth. If they carefully heed this ‘word behind them’ and follow the guidance of their Bible-trained conscience, they will be successful in doing God’s will. Then they will surely see the apostle John’s promise fulfilled: “He that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
A Brief Review
• Why does Jehovah communicate with his human creation?
• How can we benefit from a program of regular Bible reading?
• How should we respond to direction from the slave class?
• Why should we not ignore the dictates of a Bible-trained conscience?
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Man does not need sophisticated equipment to receive messages from God
Courtesy Arecibo Observatory/David Parker/Science Photo Library
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Jehovah speaks to us through the Bible and by means of “the faithful and discreet slave”