Hearing the Voice of God: Biblical Integration and Listening to the Spirit

After reading the recent LeadLikeThis article on prayer, a few people came to me saying something like, “Your article helped me to better understand how to speak to God and how to help students do that… but how can I hear Him speaking to me?” This is an important question, so I wanted to answer thoroughly and biblically. If we are followers of Christ, it is necessary that we are able to confidently hear his voice so that we can know Him, love Him, and follow his direction. So where can we turn to hear God’s voice? The first place we go should be Scripture.

Scripture is God’s words (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, anyone who wants to hear God speak should open up the Bible and read. While popular pastors like Andy Stanley may be telling us to unhitch from parts of the Bible, we recognize that Scripture is filled with God’s own endorsement of his written Word. Psalm 1 says it brings joy. Psalm 18 calls it flawless. Psalm 19 says it is perfect. Psalm 119 says it is a light for our path and the way to purity. Isaiah 40 testifies that it lasts forever. 1 Peter 1 calls it living. And the list could go on and on.

The Bible is only place that a person can go to be 100% sure that he is hearing from God. While the Spirit of God can and does actively lead us, there are others who would as well. Scripture is the key in knowing the voice of God as He leads us. The sheep know the Shepherd’s voice to us (John 10:4) because it is always consistent with his Word to others (Titus 1:2). His voice is always calling us to “crucify the flesh” so that we can walk “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). We know we are in step with the desires of the Spirit when we live according to the Word of the Spirit. The Bereans pleased God and were called noble because they tested Paul’s preaching against Scripture (Acts 17:11). As a result of their use of the Word, many believed (Acts 17:12).

As evangelical Christians, we call this trust in God’s Word the sufficiency of Scripture: that everything we need to know in order to follow God in this life is found in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:17 says that Scripture thoroughly equips God’s servants for every good work. “Every good work” includes your work as a biblically integrating teacher. The Bible is sufficient for leading you because it is God’s own words.

What about the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t He speak today? Yes… notably through the Bible. Look at 2 Peter 1:20-21:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the Author and Originator of the Bible. Those who want to hear the Spirit’s voice need only open his book. He has given it to us. And He wants us to go to the Word since it is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). There is no distinction between the words of the Holy Spirit and the words of the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living and active, and that Word is the Spirit’s Word.

So how does the Bible lead the Christian teacher? Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Not only did the Spirit of God inspire the text of Scripture, He also applies it to us. He reminds God’s people about the Person and work of Jesus (John 14:26). In that way, the Holy Spirit points away from Himself and to the glory of Christ (John 16:14). This is not because He is lower or less than Christ (He is not), but because each Member of the Trinity has different roles. We see these differentiated roles in the gospel: the Father sent the Son (John 3:16), the Son lived and died (Romans 5:8), the Spirit raised the Son from the dead (Romans 8:11). We can also clearly see the roles of the Trinity in creation, in Jesus’ baptism, and in God’s work of drawing us to Himself. Likewise, each Member of the Trinity has a different role in speaking to us. The Spirit “carried along” human writers as He authored Scripture through them. But the Bible is complete (Revelation 22:18-19), so what does the Spirit do now that his canon is closed? One pastor sums it up well:

“The Holy Spirit’s role is to empower us as we preach, teach, write, talk, witness, think, serve, and live. He does lead us into God’s truth and direct us into God’s will for our lives. But He does it through God’s Word, never apart from it.”

The Spirit works all the time in our world in real ways. He guides us. He convicts us. He reminds us. He encourages us. He is alive and active. And He does all of those things in conjunction with his perfect Word. The Spirit has said all that need be said in his Word, and the complete faith has been handed down once and for all in the Bible (Jude 3). Thank the Spirit for that! And ask Him to bring his own words to bear on our lives through his active ministry.

And, of course, a strong belief in the sufficiency of Scripture does not in any way diminish our confidence in the supernatural God’s ability to do supernatural things. The message of the Good News is a perfect picture of the supernatural Word in action since the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). Faith is a supernatural gift that the Spirit gives through the hearing of the Word about Christ (Romans 10:17). Our God works in wondrous ways and He does as He pleases. But any miraculous works we see are servants of the miraculous Word since Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), and God does not contradict Himself. Those who love to please the Spirit should love to honor his priority on the Word.

The Spirit may use any number of means to illuminate and apply the Scripture to our lives as He pleases. Through the Word, the Spirit tells us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). He then shows us how to love our neighbor, convicts us when we don’t, and gives us the power to love like He does. Therefore, we must recognize that all of God’s supernatural works are meant to point us back to his voice as revealed in the Bible. The Bible is the Spirit’s voice and He is invested in letting it ring out clearly in our minds and hearts.

So to close: What kind of person pleases God? The one who trembles at his Word (Isaiah 66:2). What kind of teacher pleases God? The one who trembles at his Word and rightly handles that Word (2 Timothy 2:15). If you want to hear God speak, look to his Word and tremble. The Spirit of God will work through his Word in you and in your class. If you want to lead your students to hear God’s voice, call them to tremble at his Word as well. How do we hear his voice? We go to his Word.

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The Recipe: Cooking Up an Integrated Syllabus

The aim of this post is to offer step-by-step help in creating a biblically integrated syllabus. The syllabus can be described as the plan, the contract, or the map for the whole course. But here I am making the case that you can think of your syllabus as a recipe.

A recipe is the guide for making a dish. It outlines the tools, the heats, the ingredients, and more. Those who follow a clear recipe for a great dish often save themselves from frustration and disappointment. Having a recipe does not guarantee success; executing the meal is still necessary. But it is important to construct  your dish before it goes into the oven. Likewise, it will take the whole year to bake your course, but it should be fully constructed before you add the heat of the school year.

[Note of encouragement: In order to succeed, you do not need to throw away your existing material. This process outlined below is designed to help you improve what you already have.]

Step 1: Picture

It wasn’t always this way, but now most people find their recipes on the internet. Since webpages aren’t limited by space or color, we most often see a beautiful picture of the dish being described. This is usually at the top of the page. Why? Because it is a visual summary of what you can expect if you follow the instructions. Your course description can be thought of in the same way. The course description paints the picture for your class. It shows the students a snapshot of what they are getting into.

So, what does an integrated course description look like? And how do we get there? I engaged the topic of course descriptions in a previous post that is certainly worth reading. Here, like with a recipe, I am simply going to give some clear directions.

First, look at the course description that you have already constructed. If you have not included a course description in your syllabus, it is imperative that you write one. It does not need to be long, and there are many examples that you can access on the internet. Here is the course description/rationale from WRIT201: Intro to Creative Writing from Liberty University.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing, including how to successfully explicate selected poems, creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction. The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality.”

In order to integrate this description, we need to start asking the essential worldview questions that we want the students to be able to answer throughout this course. (For some help, check out this post.)

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing (Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means?), including how to successfully explicate selected poems , creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction (Why is it important to understand what an author means? ). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality (Why is it important that we create quality, creative works?).”

These are just a few of the questions that we could ask (others might show the connection and importance of story-telling/fiction to Jesus’ parables, etc.), but these three questions are enough to fuel our integrated course from start to finish. Once we have the essential worldview questions in place, we want to design a biblical framework for answering them.

Our course descriptions must have scriptural basis. We cannot be biblical integrators without using the Bible. A Spirit-led class = A Scripture-led class. God has elected to speak to us through his Word, and we need not look for any other word from Him because the Bible is God-breathed—useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God will be fully equipped for every good work. His Word is sufficient. And his Word is the only authority for the church. Therefore, if you want God to work and lead and speak in your classroom, make space for his voice—the Bible. Let us not try to make God mute by emptying our syllabi of his words. So, next we investigate some ways in which the Bible speaks to our course questions.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing (Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means? → Because the Bible is made up of many complex units, genres, and styles, and we want to rightly handle the Word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15.), including how to successfully explicate selected poems , creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction (Why is it important to understand what an author means? → Because God is the ultimate Author who speaks to us through the written Word, and we want to understand what He means. 2 Pet 1:20-21.). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality (Why is it important that we create quality, creative works? → Because disciples are to teach all the things that Jesus taught, and He taught thoughtfully and creatively. Matt 28:18-20.).”

We are nearly done with our course description. Now we take out the essential questions, but leave the responses and Scripture references.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing because the Bible is made up of many complex units, genres, and styles, and we want to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). This will include how to successfully explicate selected poems, creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction because God is the ultimate Author who speaks to us through the written Word, and we want to understand what He means (2 Pet 1:20-21). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality because disciples are to teach all the things that Jesus taught, and He taught thoughtfully and creatively (Matt 28:18-20).”

Now that is a nicely integrated course description! And every other portion of the syllabus flows easily from there.

Step 2: Pieces

The next part of a recipe (after the picture) is a list of ingredients—getting all the pieces together. The syllabus should have a list of assessments, projects, etc. as well. These are your course ingredients.

For our Creative Writing class, we might have a list of assignments that looks like this:

Quizzes – 30%. Students will be tested on vocabulary, knowledge, and ability to recognize different genres/literary devices.

Analysis Paper – 30%. Students will choose an piece of approved literature to research and explicate. They will note the literary tools used to express worldview ideas in order to understand the rationale and aim of the author’s art.

Creative Essays – 40%. Students will demonstrate their understanding of by writing short, personal essays that employ techniques discussed in class.

Your syllabus likely already has something like this laid out within it. In order to integrate this section, simply take the questions that you asked in the course description and add them to the appropriate assignment as an essential integration question like so:

Quizzes – 30%. Students will be tested on vocabulary, knowledge, and ability to recognize different genres/literary devices. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means?)

Analysis Paper – 30%. Students will choose an piece of approved literature to research and explicate. They will note and evaluate the literary tools used to express worldview ideas in order to understand the rationale and aim of the author’s art. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important to understand what an author means?)

Creative Essays – 40%. Students will demonstrate their understanding of by writing short, personal essays that employ techniques discussed in class. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important that we create quality, creative works?)

Now, whenever you use your class time for a quiz/paper/essay, you have an integration question to work with: your assignments match and are married to your course description. The work is done, and you do not need to create new integration questions for any day that you engage one of these assignments. And, because you already have a biblical rationale to answer these questions in your course description, you are in great shape to reinforce what the Bible teaches throughout the year. You can keep going back to the central ideas that you have already laid out. This little bit of work now saves you much time and struggle later. And won’t it be great to finish the year and know that your students have grasped the ways in which their creative writing course is built from and toward God’s glory?

Step 3: Process

The final part of a recipe is the process—when and how to do what. In our syllabus, it is the same. We have all the components, but we need to have a plan for how to fit them together. This is where unit planning and your course objectives come in. Here are the measurable learning outcomes from Liberty’s WRIT201 course:

  1. Identify and discuss the major elements and characteristics of contemporary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  2. Develop and implement strategies for reading and evaluation of published contemporary literary works.
  3. Author original writing in three genres: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  4. Evaluate, edit, and revise original creative pieces of writing produced within the course.
  5. Identify trends and opportunities in publishing original writing.
  6. Demonstrate the ability to organize and work collaboratively with others.
  7. Discuss the deployment of creative writing in relationship to a Christian worldview.

All we need to do in order to integrate these objectives/outcomes is bring in our questions and answers from the course description and assignments. Notice what I mean below:

  1. Identify and discuss the major elements and characteristics of contemporary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in order to better understand important works including the Bible.
  2. Develop and implement strategies for reading and evaluation of published contemporary literary works in order grasp and rightly respond to the underlying worldview.
  3. Author original writing in three genres: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  4. Evaluate, edit, and revise original creative pieces of writing produced within the course in order to grow in creative and technical proficiency for the advancement of the gospel
  5. Identify trends and opportunities in publishing original writing in order to use my gifts to honor God.
  6. Demonstrate the ability to organize and work collaboratively with others in order to better serve the church and reach the world.
  7. Discuss the deployment of creative writing in relationship to a Christian worldview to grow in understand of God, his Word, and his world.

Conclusion

I want to encourage and challenge you to make time to integrate your syllabi. It is a process, and it does take work. But it is an investment that I know you and your students will find worthwhile. More than that—it grounds your course in the Word, worldview thinking, and discipleship.

Careful Bible Quoting and Tired Teachers

I love God’s Word. I love to read it. I love to sing it. And I love when people quote the Bible. It can be wonderful to hear God’s words on the lips of God’s people. But the Bible is a sharp sword (Heb 4:12), so it can also be disturbing and dangerous when Bible quotation is misused. Let me share an example.

Over the course of this week, I have shared with friends and family that I am tired. It is the end of the school-year and this is a busy time. Events are often. Grading piles are deep. Emotions are strong. During a one of these conversations, someone quoted the King James Version of Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” He used it to remind me that God made today, and we should be joyful in the fact that He made it for us. This is a good sentiment. And I am joyful. However, there is a big problem with this interpretation—basically, that is not what the text actually means. And it is less than the text means.

Psalm 118 is a celebration of God’s saving plan and power. It extols Him for bringing salvation to his people through hardship. To get a picture of the true message of this psalm, look at what verses 20-24 say in the NIV translation:

20 This is the gate of the Lord
   through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
   you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
   let us rejoice today and be glad.

When we read the context, it is difficult to miss that this is actually a messianic prophecy about Jesus. In Acts 4 there is even more clarity when we read Peter quoting this passage correctly under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He said,

Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected,
  which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The danger of misreading Psalm 118:24 to be about rejoicing today without having a gospel-motivation is two-fold: 1) When we do that, we are not actually letting God speak through the Bible—we are putting our message into God’s Word instead of hearing his message. We are missing out on hearing his voice. 2) When we do that, we remove a clear declaration about Jesus, our Messiah, and replace it with a moral challenge. “This day” in the text is not today, but the day of salvation. But the day of salvation should make us joyful today.

As a tired teacher, there is something much more encouraging than a call to be joyful because God made today. There is something deeper, richer, better. There is real Good News. What actually can make a tired teacher joyful? The gospel. Jesus has saved me. In the words of Psalm 118, “I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice and be glad.” Why should a tired teacher be glad? Because of the gospel.

Please hear this call from one teacher to another: work hard to read the Bible in order to grasp what God really says in it… his message is better than whatever we could replace it with. And let’s work hard together to share the true message with our students.

How Does the Holy Spirit Speak in the Classroom?

I recently asked a student, “How can you know what God wants you to do? How can we listen to the Holy Spirit?” The answer was fascinating. The student answered by pointing to prayer, talking to parents/mentors, and turning off the smartphone. While those are helpful and needed answers, the foundation was missing. Even after much prodding, the student could not seem to get there. Of course, the key to knowing God’s will is listening to his words… the Bible.

It is amazing that many seem to miss that God is speaking still today through his ancient words. Scripture is living and active (Heb 4:12). It is fully equips us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). It comes down to this: you cannot know the Lord if you don’t listen to Him speak. And, while there are variations between English translations, there are about 800,000 words in the Bible we read. There is no question in the believer’s mind that these 800,000 are God’s own words. This is the objective message of God. So we must hammer home that in order for students to hear the voice of God, they need to listen to Him speak through his Word. Do we want to hear the Spirit speak? Do we really? If so, we must go to the Word.

And, of course, we know that. How did the student know that it is important to pray, speak to wise mentors, and eliminate distractions? From the Word.

A pastor painted this picture beautifully for me from the Bible. Ephesians 5:17-20 (NLT) says, “17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How do we understand what God wants us to do? By being filled with the Spirit. But how do we do that?

Look at the parallel passage from Colossians 3, “16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Here Paul replaces his statement about being filled with the Spirit with being filled with the message. So how do we know what the Spirit says? How can we become filled with the Spirit? Become filled with the Spirit’s message. Become filled with the Word. He is the Author of the Bible, after all.

So do you want the Spirit to speak powerfully in your classroom? Then give the Bible, the Spirit’s own words, a prominent voice in your teaching.

The Holy Spirit and Your Class

Jared Wilson, in Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life, says,

“The bottom line is this: the Holy Spirit can’t be pumped and scooped. He can’t be slung around, gathered up, or dispensed. He’s not pixie dust. There’s no such thing as the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is not a thing at all, but the very presence of the personal God himself—with us, in us, and around us.”

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is one of the most misunderstood ideas in the church today, and much hard work needs to be done to help get us back onto a healthy track. However, I think this quote gives us a good place to start. It helpfully reminds us that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and that Person is God Himself. For a more in-depth look at the Holy Spirit in education, download the paper below. I wrote it about how teachers should understand the Person and work of the Spirit. I know it will help you start thinking about this in a constructive way.

Click to Download Paper Here **The Role of the HS in Christian Ed_Hayes PDF**