I love it when God says comforting, reassuring, and encouraging things to me. And I love helping other people also learn to recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice speaking loving and gentle words to them.
So, I stopped dead in my tracks the other day when I was reading in Ezekiel. God warned Ezekiel about false prophets who deceived people “by saying that everything is alright, but it’s not alright” (13:10, GWT). He compared them to people who build flimsy walls and then try to cover them up with paint. Instead of repairing and fortifying the walls so the people would be protected, these prophets gave false messages of peace that were nothing more than wishful thinking.
God’s words jolted my soul.
I asked myself, When I write and teach about listening to God, do I remind people that sometimes His words won’t be easy to hear?
I acknowledged that I do . . . but maybe I need to say it more boldly and more frequently. So I’m saying it now: We need God’s words of warning every bit as much as we need His words of encouragement.
It’s true that the Lord speaks with grace, giving messages of acceptance and hope. Unlike the enemy, God does not speak with condemnation or send messages of despair and shame. However, that doesn’t mean His words are always warm and cozy.
There are two sides to grace. On the one hand, God does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). He is kind, patient, and forbearing with us. But that kindness, patience, and forbearance is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). One of the ways God expresses His kindness is by pointing out areas of sin and spiritual blindness. In love, He warns us, corrects us, and steers us away from the enemy’s traps.
If He said, “peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:11), that wouldn’t be helpful. In fact it would be destructive because it only gives a sense of false security.
Paul said that people who hear from God should “speak to people for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). I like the encouraging and comforting parts. But the strengthening parts are just as important. That means that sometimes the words I hear from God will make me uncomfortable. In order to strengthen me, He will need to point out weaknesses, sins, and danger zones. Sometimes He will need to put a halt to my plans. He may put me on a detour. Or prepare me for danger ahead.
People sometimes ask me, “How can I know that I’m hearing God accurately?” There are several ways I usually answer them. But I think I need to add one more to the list: If I’m hearing only soft and cozy words all the time, I may be practicing selective hearing. When I’m hearing God well, I will most likely be hearing words of encouragement and comfort, and words that strengthen (i.e. warn, challenge, convict, correct) me.