Consider Cornelius, the centurion. This man was not a preacher or a lay minister. In fact, being a Gentile, he wasn't even numbered among God's people. Yet, Scripture says this soldier was "a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2).
Here was one busy man. Cornelius had 100 soldiers under his immediate command, yet he prayed every spare moment. And one day while in prayer, he heard the Lord speak to him. An angel appeared, calling Cornelius by name. The centurion recognized it as the voice of God and answered, "What is it, Lord?" (Acts 10:4).
The Lord spoke directly to Cornelius, telling him to find the apostle Peter. He gave him detailed instructions, including names, an address, even the words to say. Meanwhile, Peter was praying on a housetop when "there came a voice to him" (10:13). Again, the Holy Spirit gave detailed instructions: "Peter, you're about to hear some men at the door. Go with them, for I have sent them" (see Acts 10:19-20).
Peter followed the men to Cornelius' house for a truly divine appointment. What happened there shook the entire Jewish-Pentecostal church. The Lord opened the gospel to Gentiles. Yet, the hardest thing for the Jewish believers to accept was that God had spoken to a common, untrained Gentile. They could not understand how Cornelius had heard God's voice so clearly, and spoken with such power. It challenged every believer there.
Paul also received a revelation of Jesus directly from heaven. He testified that the things he was shown about Christ weren't taught by any man. Rather, while on his knees in prayer, he had heard the voice of Jesus Himself. "I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). "It pleased God . . . to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood" (1:15-16).
Now, there were great teachers in Paul's day, leaders mighty in God's Word, such as Apollos and Gamaliel. And there were the apostles, who had walked and talked with Jesus. But Paul knew a secondhand revelation of Christ wouldn't be good enough. He had to have an ever-increasing revelation of Jesus—from the Lord Himself.
Tragically, many ministers today preach lifeless sermons. Their messages neither convict of sin nor answer the deep cries of the heart. This is absolutely criminal. Empty philosophies spouted in a time of great hunger will only cause greater sorrow in hearers.
John the Baptist taught, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled" (John 3:29). The literal Greek meaning translates, "The friend of the bridegroom, who abides and continues with him." John the Baptist was telling his disciples, "I've heard the bridegroom's voice and it has become my greatest joy. Its sound fulfills my soul. How was I able to hear His voice? By standing near Him, listening to Him speak His heart."
You may wonder: How did John learn the sound of Jesus' voice? As far as we know, the two had only one face-to-face encounter, at Christ's baptism. And that was a very brief exchange, consisting of only a few words.
John learned to hear the Lord's voice just as Jesus did: alone in the desert. This man had isolated himself in the wilderness from a very early age. He would not allow himself any pleasures of this world, including tasty foods, a soft bed or even comfortable clothes. He had no teachers, no mentors, no books. During those years alone, John fellowshipped with the Lord. And all that time, he was being taught by the Spirit to hear God's still, small voice. Yes, Christ spoke to John even before He came in the flesh.
John learned everything he knew by being in continual communion with the Lord. That's how he received the message of repentance, recognized the coming of the Lamb, perceived his own need to decrease while the Messiah increased. John learned all these things from the Lord. And the sound of God's voice was his joy.
If we give ourselves to this kind of daily communion, the Lord will be faithful to direct our lives, even down to detailed instructions.
I have been asking the Lord if it's possible today, in this time of grace, to live as He did. Can we be totally dependent on the voice of the Father in glory? Is it possible to hear His direction for our lives day by day, moment by moment? Is there such a walk laid out for us, so we also can say, "I speak only what I hear from the Lord, and do only what I see Him doing"?
I know the joy that comes from being shut in alone with Christ. It comes from worshiping Him, ministering to Him, waiting upon Him to reveal His heart. I call this Jesus' feeding time. I sit in His presence, listening for His still, small voice. And He speaks to me, teaching me, ministering to me by His Holy Spirit, showing me things I could never learn from a book or another person. His truth comes to life in my spirit. And my heart leaps within me!
Of course, I haven't arrived. This kind of occasional experience still hasn't become a way of life for me. So, I've been asking the Lord, "Is the wholly-dependent life possible? Or is it just wishful thinking? Am I dreaming of something that's impossible to fulfill?"
I believe most of us live way beneath the privileges we have as children of God. For example, I read of Elijah standing before the Lord and hearing His voice. I read of Jeremiah standing in God's presence, hearing His counsel. He cries, "Who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard his word? Who hath marked his word, and heard it?" (Jeremiah 23:18). I read a similar cry from Isaiah: "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isaiah 30:21).
Why wouldn't God speak in our generation, when there's so much fear and uncertainty? The world is in turmoil, searching for answers. Why would the Lord be silent now, when we need to hear His voice more than ever?
Was the Father true to His terms of the Covenant? Did He lead and guide Jesus as promised? Did His Spirit hover over His Son, giving Him encouragement and consolation? Did He bring Him through all His trials and usher Him home to glory victorious? Yes, absolutely! And the Father has pledged an eternal oath to do the same for us.
Jesus said, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (verse 16). Christ was saying, in essence, “Father, sanctify them through Your truth. Make them holy and pure and keep them from the wicked one. Be with them through all their temptations. Let the promises You gave Me be theirs, as well.”
By keeping the word of His Covenant in love, the Father’s glory was displayed to the world: “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (verses:22-23).
The next time you struggle with a besetting sin, you may hear an accusing voice: “You’ve gone too far and sinned too often. God has turned you over to a reprobate mind. You’re unclean, unholy, no good, a disgrace to the gospel. You’ve driven the Holy Spirit from your life completely.” When this happens, remind God, the devil and yourself: “I am one in covenant with the Father and Son. Jesus co-signed the covenant with His own blood, and the Father promised to keep me through all my trials. He’ll hold my hand no matter what comes and will never remove His love from me. He’ll lead me to victory!”
By revealing His covenant to us, God wants to remove any doubts we have about His ability to keep us. It’s as if He is saying, “I’m going to treat you as though you have no faith at all. I’ll make such a strong oath to you, you’ll have no choice but to believe in Me.” We are to stay in Christ—abide in Him, trust Him, depend on Him. If we do this, we will surely see His glory!
The book of Acts describes Stephen as a man “full of peace, joy, wisdom, grace and the power of the Holy Spirit” (see Acts 6:5, 8). One day, as Stephen was sharing his faith in Christ to a group of people in a public square, tragedy struck. Religious fanatics, in a cowardly movement, picked up stones to literally stone Stephen to death.
Stephen was stoned for having “built an altar” before God, for having served suffering widows, and for publicly sharing his faith in Christ. The Bible allows us to catch in this moment a brief and ever so intense glimpse into eternity. As this crowd of religious fanatics rushed madly toward him, stones in hand, Stephen pronounced these words of peace and forgiveness as he knelt before his murderers, but even more, before his God: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit and do not charge this crime upon them. Forgive them, oh God” (see Acts 7:59-60).
Where does this peace, this magnificent grace come from? It was as if the stones that were tearing Stephen apart were, in fact, only striking the envelope of his body as his spirit was already transported to another Kingdom. Stephen saw something glorious.
The veil opened for an instant, allowing us to see in. “Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes toward heaven and said: ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man [Jesus], standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:56). This is the only place where Christ is found standing in heaven but there are many references to the resurrected Christ sitting at the right hand of God the Father (Ephesians 1:20).
Some might say, “So what?” It is, however, extremely significant. The seated position represents the fullness of authority and the finality of Christ’s victory over sin, death and all of His enemies. The victory is eternal, the sacrifice perfect, and the resurrection absolute, total and complete. It announces the finished triumph of Christ against all of humanity’s foes. He is seated because all of our enemies are under His feet!
Claude Houde, lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada, is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences conducted by World Challenge throughout the world. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.