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The whole question of how we hear God’s voice has occupied people for centuries. Books have been written on the subject and there is far more to this question than can be answered in a short post! But as we look at Acts 13:1-3, we see three crucial elements mentioned which I think facilitated the response that was to lead to the first missionary journey and the spread of the gospel to the wider world.
Worship, prayer and fasting are mentioned in these verses, and it was from these activities that the Holy Spirit spoke (we are not told in what form, though the mention of prophets and teachers may hint that this came through a prophetic word). These three things need to be at the heart of every church’s life.
Worship involves all that we are and do. We often think of it in terms of praise – singing to God, bowing before Him, lifting our hands, playing instruments. The word itself implies service, however (Rom 12:1 in the NIV talks of worship, whereas in the KJV it talks of ‘reasonable service’), and the Message version of Rom 12:1 makes us realise that worship really is about everything: ‘your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life.’ In terms of church gatherings, I do believe there is a vital place for adoration, praise and worship, however, where our gaze is firmly fixed on who God is and what He has done and I’m firmly convinced from the Bible that music and singing have a vital role to play in this.
Prayer is our communication hotline to God and involves both listening and talking. The implication is that once they heard from God, they needed to continue to pray before action was taken. I’m convinced we often react and act first and pray second, and this is a problem every church needs to address. Prayer will often involve waiting on God. We have absolutely no clue from Acts 13 how long it was after they heard the Spirit speak to them that they set out on the journey, but it’s clear there was no precipitous rush. Often, we are in a much greater rush than God is; prayer keeps us in line with God’s timings.
Fasting means to go without food, not in order to lose weight but to spend time with God and to focus our attention on God. Fasting essentially is a way that we discipline ourselves spiritually, for we are so governed by our appetites. When we fast, we acknowledge that God is more important than our hunger, that ‘man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matt 4:4) Prayer and fasting are often mentioned together, as in Acts 13:3, and this shows us that there must be discipline and sacrifice if we are to hear and obey God.
These three things need to be higher on our agenda than anything else, I think, if we are to hear from God the specific instructions we need to help us do His will.