My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.
During our last two articles, we learned of growing through humility. When you choose the lower path of servanthood, and you remember others more, you will eventually get honoured. Yet while you are in that low place, you can also learn delights. There is compensation of joy when you forget yourself in service. For those who live only for themselves, they already have their forced reward. Julie Meyer shared of a time coming that is here for some already. Judgement and being found out is something that is happening among leaders. We are being warned to “go low.” This means to adopt a humble attitude for real, and not pretend. It means being authentically you, with no pretense. If you make mistakes, as we all do, learn from them. Teach through them, and show that life does not end because you’re not perfect. It shows others how to be real too. Julie also shared that those who are at the back of the line, when they look to the Lord, are being shown delight at the end of the line. That’s the delight of deep joy and contentment, as we serve Jesus in whatever He has gifted us to do. I get that when I am drawing – both of real things and people, but this fulfillment is even stronger when I’m drawing from impressions that I receive from the Holy Spirit. I also get delight when Holy Spirit speaks from the secret place, the place where I learned to hear His voice. Today we’re going to journey about that secret place and how you can carry it with you. Next time, we’ll learn point by point into different ways you can hear or see his voice.
The secret place is something that prophetic people speak of in a way that it almost seems mystical. The secret place is also the perfect place to run to in the midst of this current coronavirus pandemic. Many countries are locked down, and South Africa, where we are right now, is in a severe lockdown. While you are home, why not spend time in the prayer closet? Jesus is calling us to intimacy.
I remember Todd Bentley speaking of the secret place when I watched his revival services in Lakeland, Florida in 2008. What is this place? It’s not as weird and wacky as you think. The secret place is also called your prayer closet, or the place you go alone to pray and talk with God. Some people don’t have the luxury of such a physical place, like Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley. She had ten children with her almost all the time, so she didn’t have a place where she could be private. She also grew up with 24 siblings, so she knew large family dynamics. Her signal to the children to be quiet for a time was to wear her kitchen apron over her face. This meant that she was having time with Jesus. The children honoured her by playing quietly or doing homework assignments without disturbing her. I find that her story is amazing. Her children must have been impacted by the importance of prayer, and may have sensed just how much she needed it. After all, John and Charles Wesley were wonderful influencers when they grew up. Susanna’s prayer closet was public, but her face was private. She was a public example of prayer to her children, but her inner world, or secret place, was with Jesus.
This place can be enhanced by having an actual small room where you can retreat, if it’s available. The movie “War Room” is all about what happens in prayer birthed from a small room. That is its purpose. Here in Worcester, there is a single tree atop a foothill that is a wonderful foreground to the Brandwacht mountains. This is a spot where many people go to pray. They call it the Lonely Tree. Whenever I look at that tree, I smile, since I know it’s a special place.
My special place is in northern England, but while I’m in South Africa and in Canada any place can become the secret place. All I need to do is play soft worship music, soak in it and be still inside my heart. I am a creative, so I’ve always been open to hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. I was that way even when I didn’t know it was he who was speaking to me. Artists stop to create, so I had an advantage. Most people rush about doing, going and never stopping to even think, except perhaps on the fly. Hearing God properly requires you to stop and rest. I specifically remember David, my Foundations of Christian Spirituality professor, say that it’s nearly impossible to hear God’s voice in the midst of an adrenaline rush. It’s true.
My Iris mentor, or papa, is Brian Britton. He leads a small church in Richmond, Virginia. I met him in Williamsburg in June 2014, after Tony and I spent a week there. I was then in a transition period that was to prepare me for becoming a long term missionary. Tony decided that he wanted to see some of the American naval base in Norfolk, but we didn’t have the clearance to have a glimpse. We were advised at the Nautilus naval museum to take a boat tour that allowed us to see the periphery of the naval ships. I’m not into naval ships, so I stayed indoors. While I was there, I enjoyed the quiet ambience. Holy Spirit then whispered into my heart, “you’re about to meet some people who will be very important to you. They will help grow you spiritually.” Before 2014, I regularly flew to Phoenix, Arizona to take part in conferences and teachings of Patricia King and friends. From this time on, my “well so to speak,” became Virginia. So far, I have gone six times, with a seventh to come on our home visit this year. We’ve been able to stay at timeshares there, so it’s a perfect place to receive and relax.
Papa Brian is just one of the people there who speak into both Tony and me. Brian was one of the speakers at our Harvest School in 2016, and I happily took notes. His subject was about the very core of hearing Holy Spirit’s voice. He spoke about getting into that special ‘secret’ place. Here’s what Brian had to share about entering this place. He based his talk on Psalm 27: 4, “The one thing I ask of the Lord, the thing I seek most, is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.” The other scripture he read to us was from Matthew 6:6. In this context, Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, and gave them the Lord’s Prayer as an example. Jesus said, “ But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” While you can pray in public, it’s not about show. This is a private conversation.
Brian’s guide is simple. It starts with listening. First, you come into your real or imaginary prayer closet and shut the door. You LISTEN. You don’t just talk to God. Yes, do share your heart, but then you need shut your mouth, and quiet your mind and heart. Nicky Gumbel has a story where one goes to the doctor and shares all their different ailments, then leaves before the doctor can help him. Prayer is like this; it’s a two way conversation. Brian says that nothing can replace the confidence and glory that you have heard his voice speak to your heart. God is always speaking to us things like “I love you, I’m proud of you, trust me, and don’t give up.” God is our biggest encourager, and encouragement is one of his gifts.
It is in this place that we learn the sound of his voice. Our inner ears don’t hear through step by step manuals, although these can help gain understanding. We learn by actively listening and hearing the voice of Jesus, our shepherd. Brian shared that his dad had died 15 years ago, and yet, he still knows the sound of his voice. Nicky Gumbel also shares on Alpha about recognizing voices on the phone. Sometimes you can’t quite place who is speaking, so you try to gather details about the person before you can get into the conversation. Tony bypasses this when he doesn’t recognize who is speaking. He’s not shy to ask “Who is this?” This is especially if the person just gives their first name and Tony doesn’t know them well. Yet if Tony heard my voice on the line, he would recognize me right away. Nicky shares of a man who calls him Nicholas in a very specific, formal voice. He recognizes him right away. It’s the same with God. The closer we get to him, and the more time we spend with him, the more we recognize his voice. We also have to be aware that not every spontaneous thought that comes into our mind is God. Sometimes the source is evil, so bear in mind whether that voice is loving and doesn’t go against biblical teaching. This is another reason why it’s so important to have the discernment that you’re listening to the right voice.
God always affirms you. Some people are uncomfortable with receiving God’s affirmations. Maybe you don’t think you’re beautiful. Brian says that you have to be comfortable with letting God love you, like a child who knows they are loved. When children know you love them, they are comfortable to sit on your lap, and in your arms. They trust you to take their hand to guide them. They learn from you, and like them, you learn also your identity through listening to God. Some of your identity is grown by listening to the Father sing over you through the Holy Spirit. CS Lewis shared about this phenomenon when he wrote about Aslan, the Christ figure in the Narnia Chronicles. Aslan sang the world of Narnia, and each being into existence. He knew them. He loved them. He knew their identity. God does the same with us. Listen to the words of Zephaniah 3:17. “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty saviour. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” God always sings over us. I also love to sing when I share talks. I’ve done this in Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Kenya. I do this here in South Africa with children. Singing over children, and even grown children like us, reaches into their hearts, and our hearts, with love. When you’re in the secret place, you can also ask God questions. You can ask him to open your eyes on how something is made, or you can especially ask him what he thinks of you. This is a wonderful place to begin, as He heals your heart.
Brian says that we must listen when we are in the secret place. He says that when you know that you are loved, and he has spoken over you, nothing can stop you. The vision he gives you is yours, it’s your gift from God. You can hear God for yourself, rather than chasing after prophetic people for words upon words. Brian shares that prophets are great, but this doesn’t replace you hearing from God for yourself. God speaks through relationship. Psalm 95 gives us a choice to listen. It shares, “If only you would listen to his voice today!” The Psalm also shares of the consequences of not listening, which is not being allowed to experience God’s rest. While we are invited into that secret place, it is a choice. If you do respond, you will see and experience him there. You will hear his voice there. If you do this all the time, pretty soon you’ll see God everywhere. You can also see Jesus in others more easily and love them more. Brian also shared that the “secret place also empowers you in difficult times. You stop being grumpy and complaining. You won’t be afraid, because perfect love goes from his lips to your ears.” You carry the secret place with you. It’s like a garden in your heart.
American teacher Mark Virkler taught me how to journal back in the 90’s, starting from a workshop at a Vineyard family camp. Later I learned from him at church seminars and I asked him to share at a seminary prayer retreat while I was the student prayer coordinator.
Mark shares that journalling is “to stop, listen and write what you hear Holy Spirit say to you. He says that it’s as simple as quieting yourself down, fixing your inner eyes on Jesus, tuning into spontaneous thought (that isn’t your own), and writing.” All Christians can do this – whether you’re an analytical thinker like he is, or a creative like me. We can do this, because Jesus promises us in John 10:27 “My sheep hear my voice.” Virkler says that God’s voice “sounds like spontaneous thoughts that light upon your mind, especially as your heart is fixed on Him.”
I learned from him in workshops, and the Communion with God course. However, you can easily find his book “Four Keys to hearing God’s voice” on Amazon. He speaks directly to left-brain analytical thinkers, who have difficulty getting themselves out their rigid rational, linear thought. Do you speak in rational, linear thought when you are talking with a friend? Or do you speak that way with family members? No, we don’t, do we? Life and relationships aren’t science experiments. They are interactive and sometimes messy. So our communication with God: prayer, isn’t always linear either.
But if you do think in this way, Mark Virkler is a perfect tutor to help you overcome any blocks so you can think more easily in both ways. Virkler says that the four keys to hearing God’s voice (whether in image or word) are: stillness, vision, spontaneity and journalling. Stillness means you must quiet yourself so you can hear God’s voice. Vision is to look for vision as you pray. This is when I look for impressions and images to draw. Spontaneity is to recognize God’s voice as spontaneous thoughts that light upon your mind. Journalling is to write down the flow of thoughts and pictures that light upon your mind. Journalling also gives you the added depth of returning to your writings later, and discovering deeper truths to what you initially received. You can also learn to do this all the time, by recognizing God’s voice whatever you’re doing. It’s all part of the Apostle Paul’s direction to never stop praying. Other Bible versions call this “praying without ceasing.” How do we do this? By being tuned into God’s spontaneous thoughts to you. This is in keeping your heart and mind open to him always, no matter what you are doing. We often have ‘arrow prayers’ in the heat of the moment. When Holy Spirit shares something on the spur of the moment, it’s the reverse. God shoots down an arrow communication to you. It’s for that moment. It is usually a direction, an insight, or a word to be followed up, obeyed and often shared. We especially rely on insights like these when we are working with township children.
Matteus van der Steen was another well-known Christian leader who taught us at our Harvest School. He wrote a book called “Dare to Dream,” which was on our recommended reading list. He shares in one chapter about caring for widows, orphans and foreigners. This is something that his eyes were opened to when he went on short term outreach in Bosnia. He found appalling conditions. While he cared for these people, he found it opened his eyes and ears, as well as gave him showers of blessings. Matteus shares, “I have seen with my own eyes what happens when people commit themselves to serving the poor, the weak, and the outcast. They can suddenly hear and understand the voice of God so much more clearly. Sometimes it’s easy for us to block out the cries of the needy if they are filtered through something our friends tell us about, the internet, or media like television and newspapers. But the more we ignore what God is calling us to do, the less we will be able to form or maintain a relationship with Him. We can also convert this warning into a promise: whoever heeds the cry of the poor will be heard and helped by God when they cry out for help.”
When we do not help these people, through sins of negligence, or deliberate selfishness, God doesn’t hear our prayers. Perhaps this is due to the fact that people in this position have hardened their hearts so much that they continue to walk away from God. They also don’t know God’s heart of mercy for the broken. Ezekiel 16 shares that Sodom was not cursed due to its great sins, but rather for not helping the poor and the needy. Both the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy mention that caring for the asylum seekers is part of the law – either through a partial tithe, or through harvest gleanings. When we open our hearts and follow these principles, we hear God’s voice more clearly. We also share in his heart, because he has compassion on these people, and loves them as much as he loves us. We are part of his solution. So when we are in the townships, or with a person who needs the love of God, don’t be surprised if you hear direction, feel compassion and are given inspiration to do something.
Remember, the Holy Spirit speaks to you in your secret place. This is your prayer closet, which is also internalized in your heart to take with you everywhere you go. All you need to do is to find a quiet spot, still yourself and focus on Jesus. You can do soaking prayer with music, you can journal with a pen and paper, or on your computer. Sometimes pen and paper is better, so you don’t get distracted by social media. Remember, hearing God’s voice is by invitation. He is always speaking, and always inviting us. Stop, and say yes. That’s how it starts. Often the first way of hearing God is through reading scripture. Once you memorize and let scripture transform you, those words are now IN you. They are flowers in the garden of your heart. Holy Spirit will remind you of specific words at specific times. This too is a part of learning how to hear God’s voice.
During our next broadcast, we will journey through steps of the different ways to hear God’s voice: impressions, pictures, words, whispers, inner knowing and seeing his imprint over things and people. This is a skill to develop in, but also a gift that blesses us as we grow in our relationship with God.
Lord, I ask you to help us to hear and recognize your voice. Some people may hear you but not know that you’re speaking to them. They may think it’s strange, and yet they don’t understand how inspiration works. Give them the gift of getting beyond analytical thinking. To the creatives, give the ability to discern which voice is your voice. You are the ultimate creator, and we want to hear what is genuine, what is true. Thank you that your words to us are life – in scripture, and spoken word to our hearts. Help us to grow in it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
I’m also continuing to have follow up cancer treatments here in South Africa. We tried to return to Canada to resume treatment, but two sets of flights were cancelled, and we were forced into severe lockdown. We couldn’t even move from our home as expected, but we are safe. I may need to have surgery in South Africa, rather than what was planned in Canada. If you feel led to learn about L-A’s story and/or to pitch in, you can visit our medical campaign page. You can also send whatever amount you’d like to sow to our Paypal: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod
If you’d like to hear this article in audio format read by Laurie-Ann, visit our podcast page and scroll down to #53.
Enjoy! Please let me know if this blessed you!