Story - The old oak tree.
A young man appeared to have an ideal life. He had a good job, a nice home, a loving wife and two adorable sons. There was nothing he liked better than spending tome with his family, and especially playing with his two boys.
But there was something wrong with his life. He was greedy. He thought that his boss didn't pay him enough money. So he began to steal money from the company he worked for. Just a little at first, and then more and more. Eventually, he had stolen quite a lot of money. He thought he had got away with it but, returning home one day, he saw a police car parked outside his house. He immediately realised that he had been found out.
The man was put on trial, pleaded guilty and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He was genuinely sorry for what he had done, and deeply ashamed for letting down his family. "They will never forgive me" he thought as he was led off to prison. "They are better off without me. What will our friends say to my wife when they find out what has happened? How will my sons be treated at school?" Right then that man made a decision to cut himself off from his family. "I have only brought shame to them. They will be better off without me."
Shortly after arriving in prison the man received a letter. He knew from the handwriting that it was from his wife, but he didn't open it. He was no longer part of her life. He kept on receiving letters from his wife, frequently at first, then less and less until, after about a year, they stopped coming. He didn't open any of them.
After three years, the Prison Governor called the man into his office to say that, because of his good behaviour, he was to be released the following week. Normally this would have been good news, but not for that man as he had nowhere to go on his release. He suddenly remembered his wife and sons and how good it used to be living with them. He wondered if in some way they might be willing to forgive him and take him back as their husband and father.
So the man hurriedly wrote a letter to his wife, explaining that he would soon be released, and wondering if she and their sons were prepared to forgive him and allow him to come back home. He explained that he would be on a bus that would pass right through their town and added "If you can find it in your heart to forgive me and take me back home, tie a handkerchief around a branch on that old oak tree at the front of our home. If I see a handkerchief when the bus passes, I will know that you have forgiven me and that I will be welcome. But if I don't see one, I will remain on the bus, and you will never hear from me again."
Release day came and, along with other prisoners, he boarded his bus. The other prisoners were happy upon their release, but the man was looking sad as he wondered if his wife would take him back. He was asked why he looked so sad, and explained the whole story to the other passengers. Many of the original passengers left the bus, but others took their place and were told the man's story. Many hours later, as the bus entered the man's home town, all the passengers knew his story and were eagerly looking to see if a handkerchief was tied round that old oak tree.
The bus turned a corner and entered the street where the man used to live. He eagerly looked out of the window at the old oak tree. But he didn't see one handkerchief - - - - - He saw hundreds and hundreds of them! Every branch on that large tree was covered with handkerchiefs.
That man's wife had never stopped loving him. She had forgiven him straight away for what he had done, and longed for the day when he would be allowed to return home. She was bitterly disappointed when he didn't reply to her letters. But when she finally did hear from him, it was the happiest day of her life.
Immediately she selected the largest handkerchief she could find and tied it on one of the oak tree's branches. But the handkerchief looked so small compared to that large tree. Suppose her husband didn't see it and stayed on the bus? She got her sons to help and rounded up all the material they could find to tie on the branches. But still she wasn't satisfied. She really wanted her husband to know how much he was loved and how very welcome he was. So she went to her neighbours and got more material from them. By the time the bus arrived, the whole tree was covered with material. No-one could possibly miss it.
In the same way God wants us to know how much he loves us and is willing to welcome us into His family. To understand how much He loves us, he asks us to look at another tree. No, not an oak tree, but a tree on which he allowed his Son, Jesus Christ to be crucified for our sins. When we really look at that tree, we know just how much God loves us.
Note. This story was the inspiration for the 'Pop' song "Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree" which was a big success back in 1973. Ask your parents if they remember it?
Your questions answered - Can God speak to us with a voice that we can actually hear?
God can speak to us in many different ways, and these include using an audible voice that we can actually hear with our ears. But this way is not very common. The way He choses to speak to us is not important. The important thing is are we obedient to what God says? Listed below are a number of ways in which God can and does speak to people.
1. The Bible.
This is God's Word, so what the Bible says, God says. This is the main way in which God communicates with people today. Thus, if you neglect your Bible reading, you could well be preventing God from speaking to you.
Although all of the Bible is God's everlasting message to us all, He can take a part of it - perhaps even a single verse - and use it to speak into our lives, by making it 'come alive' to us, so to speak. Thus as we read this particular verse, we get excited and just 'know' that God is using it to speak to us.
God can of course bring to our mind at any time any scripture that we have memorised. Almost every Christian has experienced times when the Holy Spirit calls to mind some scripture or truth at a moment when it is needed. That is why scripture memorisation is so important for all of us.
2. An audible voice.
The Bible records a number of occasions in which God spoke to people this way, perhaps the best known being the boy Samuel. This is not God's usual way of communicating with people today, but that is not to say that He cannot or will not speak to you in an audible voice.
I have never heard God's audible voice, but I know a number of people who have. In most cases, someone's life was in danger. It was as though God had to speak to someone urgently to avert the danger. However, I once taught my children's class about God speaking to Samuel. The following week a girl came up to me and said "God spoke to me a few days ago in an audible voice, just like He spoke to Samuel. He told me to go and tell my Gran. that He loved her." I asked her if she had done it, and she replied that she had. This reminds us that the important point is not how God speaks to us, but whether we are obedient to what He says.
3. An inaudible voice.
Although you may not hear God speaking to you with your ears, if you are trusting in Jesus, God's Spirit lives in you and He can speak to you through your spirit. For example, you may get a 'little voice in your head', a strong desire or impression to do / not to do something, speak to someone, go / not go somewhere etc. The closer you grow in your relationship with God, the more clearly will you be able to recognise this 'inner voice.'
We all have ideas, and we tend to think "Oh, that idea is mine." But perhaps God placed the idea in your mind in the first place!
I once came across an eight year old girl in the school playground, crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she replied that none of the other girls ever played with her and that she had no friends. I told her that I would pray for her and ask God to give her a good friend. As I began to pray, I noticed another girl about 100 metres away begin to run towards us. She arrive just as I finished my prayer and had said 'Amen.' She looked at the girl I had been praying for and said "Will you come and play with me?" An instant answer to prayer! But why did that second girl suddenly run over to the first one and ask her to play? I don't really think that God shouted down into the playground with a loud voice "Hey Jessie, Go and ask Jodie to play with you." No, I think He just put the idea in the mind of Jessie (who interestingly was a Christian) "Why don't you play with Jodie. She's not really all that bad." Therefore, I think that Jessie had heard God's inaudible 'inner voice'. However, the important point was that she was obedient to what God said.
4. Your conscience.
This is one of the things that makes us different from animals. God has given to everyone who has ever been born a conscience. This is God's voice within us all that warns us - by making us feel uneasy or anxious - when we are about to do wrong. God will never take our free will away and prevent us from doing wrong, but He will always warn us when we are about to make a mistake.
We should always listen to our conscience, because if we keep ignoring this "little voice" and continue doing wrong, the voice will appear to get smaller and smaller until we can hear it no more.
5. Older Christians.
By this I mean people who have known Jesus longer than you have. They are often able to give us good advice and help guide us into what God wants us to do.
God can use the everyday events of life to guide us. This can be likened to the opening and closing of doors. For example you may wish to get into the school Rugby team, but you are never chosen. Therefore you start playing Soccer instead - and find you have a greater ability for Soccer than you ever had for Rugby.
When certain events happen at the same time in our lives, it is very easy to just write them off as coincidences. Often it is only as we look back that we are able to see God's hand guiding us through these 'coincidences'.
7. The desires of your heart.
Psalm 37.4 says "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Most people think this means that if you put God first, He will then give you whatever natural desires you happen to have. I interpret this verse in a slightly different way. I believe it means that if you concentrate on "delighting yourself in the Lord", He will then put His desires for you in your heart, so that they become your desires as well.
Probably the strongest motivation for doing something is that you desire to do it. So do you have a strong desire to be something, to do something, to go somewhere? It could be that God has given you these desires because that is His will for you.
8. Through Prophets.
A Prophet is essentially a Messenger. That is someone who hears from God, and takes His message to someone else. There are many Prophets in the Bible. Indeed much of the Old Testament itself is a recording of these ancient messages from God.
There are still Prophets in the Church today, and God may use one of them to bring you a message, perhaps to tell you to do something or to go somewhere. But if someone 'brings a message from God' to you, how do you know that it really is from God? The main thing to remember is that God uses Prophets to confirm what He has already spoken to you about. For example, suppose someone comes to you and says "God wants you to go to China." If your reaction is something like "What me? What a surprise! I have never thought of going to China." Then forget it, this message is not from God. However, if your reaction is more like "Oh yes, I have always been interested in China, I love the Chinese people, I always thought I would go there one day," then this message is almost certainly from God. It is God confirming what he has already spoken into your life, and perhaps enabling and encouraging you to take the next step in your preparation.
9. Through dreams and visions.
We all know what dreams are, and God can speak to us through them. Visions are often similar to the 'moving pictures' we get in dreams (or they could be just a still picture), but God gives them to you while you are awake. God spoke to many people in the Bible through dreams (e.g. Joseph and Daniel) or visions (e.g. Peter and Paul).
A few years ago, I went to a Sunday school weekend camp. The theme of the camp was 'Hearing from God.' On the Sunday afternoon the Camp Leader gave each child a notebook and pen, and told them to go out and be completely on their own for 30 minutes. They were all told to ask God to speak to them, and write down in their notebook what they thought He said. On their return, all but one or two of the thirty children claimed that God had indeed spoken to them. Many of the children said that they had seen visions, including many of Jesus on the cross.
There was one new boy to the Sunday school at that camp, and no-one knew very much about him. He shared a cabin with three other boys. On returning from their 30 minutes of isolation, these three boys all independently said that they thought God had to them "I will never leave you, I will never let you down, I will be with you always." Their cabin companion then said that that message must be for him. He revealed that his parents were in the process of divorcing, and he felt let down and was worried about what was going to happen to him in the future! Isn't God good! He doesn't speak to us so we can just say "Wow, God spoke to me." No, He speaks to us for our benefit, or for the help and encouragement of others.
How can I know if it is really God speaking to me?
There are two tests that we can apply to any message we think may be from God.
1. Does it agree with the Bible?
God never contradicts Himself. Therefore, if your message doesn't agree with God's revealed Word in the Bible, then it is definitely not from Him. For example, if you think God is telling you to tell a little lie because it will get you out of trouble, forget it! That is not from God, because the Bible says "Do not lie."
2. Do you have 'Peace' about the message?
Colossians 3.15 says "Let the peace of Christ rule (be the umpire) in your hearts." An umpire is the one who decides. And God has given us His Peace as our umpire, so that we may know if something is from Him or not. Thus, if you feel at peace about a message, supposedly from God, then it probably really is from Him. On the other hand, if you feel uneasy or anxious about the message, that is God removing His Peace to warn you that this is not from Him.
How can we hear more clearly from God?
If you love God, your greatest desire will to know Him better and communicate more fully with Him. How can we hear more clearly from God then? Fortunately, the answer is very simple - stay close to Him!
If I was talking in my normal voice and you were sitting close to me, you would hear me very clearly. But suppose I was still talking in the same way and you were at the other end of the room, or even outside the room. Would you hear me so clearly then? No. You may not hear me at all, and if you did, you would probably hear me incorrectly and get the message wrong.
It is exactly the same when hearing from God. If we stay close to Him, we will hear Him clearly. But if we are a long way from God, we are unlikely to hear Him. How then, can we stay close to God? There is no short cut to this. We need to ensure that we spend adequate time in His presence by reading and meditating on His Word, talking to him (prayer) and doing what we know He has already told us to do. Then we will be in the right position to hear from Him when He speaks to us.
Quiz - Hidden books of the Bible.
The names of sixteen books of the English Bible are hidden in the text of the following paragraph. Can you find all sixteen of them?
I once made a remark about the hidden books of the Bible. It was a lulu. Kept people looking so hard for facts and for others it was a revelation. Some were in a jam, especially since the names of the books were not capitalized. But the truth finally struck home to numbers of readers. To others, it was a real job. We want it to be a most fascinating few moments for you. Yes, there will be some really easy ones to spot. Others may require judges to help them. I will quickly admit it usually takes a minister to find one of them, and there will be loud lamentations when it is found. One little lady says she brews a cup of tea, so she can concentrate better. See how well you can compete. Relax now for there are really sixteen names of books of the Bible in this story.
How many did you find? This is a pretty tough quiz, so why not let your parents try it out? if you get more than half the books, you are doing well. I will publish the answers in next month's "Kidzone." However, if you don't want to wait till then, you can send me an email at email@example.com , and I will email the answers back to you.
Laugh Break - A retirement funny.
A local priest was being honored at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish. A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and to give a little speech at the dinner.
However, he was delayed so the priest decided to say his own few words while they waited:"I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place. The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He had also stolen money from his parents and his his employer, and taken illicit drugs. I was appalled."But as the days went on I learned that my people were not all like that and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people."
Just as the priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies for being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and said: "I'll never forget the first day our parish priest arrived. In fact, I had the honor of being the first person to go to him for confession.
"Moral: Never, never, NEVER-EVER be late.