Today Pastor Choi urges the congregation to cultivate sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Using the example of Philip in Acts 8, he points out that God only works with those who are willing to do God’s will and with those who put their trust in the Lord one day at a time and one step at a time.
Following is a summary of his sermon:
Holy Spirit: Sensitivity
Acts 8:26-40 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
“He was led as a sheep to slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He does not open His mouth.
33 “In humiliation His judgment was taken away;
Who will relate His generation?
For His life is removed from the earth.”34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.
There was a family who lived in New York City. They were the Thomas’s: father, mother, and their kids. The mother, Mrs. Thomas, stayed home taking care of the kids. The father, Mr. Thomas, was the only bread earner in the family. In fact, he was a pastor who ministered to the poorest of the poor in the City. As you can see, the income he brought home was far from enough to feed the entire family. Although the two oldest kids worked part time, it didn’t help the situation much. Moreover, no one outside the family would support them on a regular basis.
Although the family was poor, they were never down. One thing they always kept in their hearts was God’s promises in the Bible, especially Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” They believed deep in their hearts that as long as their father served God in faith, and as long as they sought God’s kingdom first, their needs would be met according to God’s riches (Philippians 4:19). Indeed, most of the time their needs were met timely, but sometimes their faith was tested.
One afternoon, as usual, the father was out busy working for the poor. The mother found out that she had no bread for supper, not even for one person. No money to buy bread, either. She immediately went to the Lord in prayer, pouring out her heart to Him, “O, Lord, what shall I do? The kids are hungry, and we have no bread, let alone money to buy it.” While she was waiting on the Lord in silence, she heard God speaking softly in her heart, saying, “Arise, go to the kitchen, and start cooking right now! Fill the pot with water and put it on the stove. And call out the children to the table!” Wow!
Even though she couldn’t understand a bit why the Lord commanded so, she simply obeyed the voice of the Lord. As the children were gathered around the dining table, while the water was boiling, she offered her words of grace, saying, “O heavenly Father, thank you for giving us our daily bread…” Before she finished her grace, there was a knock at the door. One of the boys ran toward the door to answer. As soon as he opened the door, the family saw three gentlemen standing on the porch with grocery bags in their hands, six bags in total. One of the strangers asked, “Is this Mr. Thomas’s residence?” “Yes,” answered Mrs. Thomas in curiosity. “Ma’am, this afternoon we were gathered together in my place for prayer,” said one of the men. “While we were deep in prayers, all three of us heard God speaking to us urgently, ‘Hurry up! Go to the supermarket, get some groceries, and go to Mr. Thomas’s residence, 123 Apple Street Apt. 1B.” “We don’t fully understand what this is all about,” he continued, “but we brought some groceries to your family, and hope you can use them.” That night the family had a feast with a grateful heart.
The story shows us one thing that the family and the three men shared in common: sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit. When they both heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, they obeyed and experienced God’s miracles in their lives. God worked with them because their hearts were trained to discern God’s voice and their minds were trained to obey God’s will. That’s the topic I am going to talk about this morning: how to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit so that we may work with God.
Sometimes we hear Christians claim that they indeed have heard the Lord speaking to them in such and such a manner. Or, some would say, “The Holy Spirit spoke to me such and such...” We should be very careful before we believe every single story or every detail of what they claim, but one thing is certain. Only those who are sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, or trained to discern it, can receive clear directions from the Spirit and therefore have the privilege to work with God.
In today’s passage, we see such a man who was well trained in discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit and ended up working for the Lord. His name was Philip. Every time the Spirit of God spoke to him, he knew right away that it was from God. He didn’t have to spend the next seven days to figure out whether it was from God or not, because he was sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
Philip was one of the deacons in Jerusalem Church. He was well known among the believers. He served as one of the dynamic witnesses for Christ. He worked with God because he was sensitive to the Spirit of God. For instance, verse 26 reads, “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Also, in verse 29, it says, “The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Both times Philip was able to clearly hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and obeyed. The result? The Ethiopian eunuch and his household, later the entire kingdom of Ethiopia, came to know the Lord Jesus through the Gospel (the eunuch returned home and became an evangelist— Eusebius, W. Willimon, p. 72). Many lives were touched and saved because of one believer who was sensitive to the voice of Spirit.
A question arises. Does every believer in Jesus have such a keen sensitivity like Philip’s to the voice of the Holy Spirit? I wish I could say yes, but the answer is ‘unfortunately not.’ Why? Here’s why. After we accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, after we were born again, many of us remain spiritual babies—the babies who do not grow spiritually: many of us are not growing in the knowledge of the Lord. Neither are we trained in discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, God cannot use us or work with us, even though He wants to,…. like a chef cannot use a dull knife for cutting vegetables.
What keeps us from growing spiritually? What keeps us from being sensitive to the voice of God? In my humble opinion, the single most important reason for our inability to discern God’s voice is unwillingness to obey the Lord. Many of us still live a life where we are in charge not God. We are the king and queen not God. Our will rules, not God’s. That’s why we don’t hear God’s voice, even though God still reveals Himself through various ways (audibly, visibly, through our dreams or visions, and through our daily devotions). When we don’t hear God’s voice, then we miss the opportunities to participate in God’s mighty works.
E. g. One year I asked my adult Sunday school, which consisted of 12 students, saying, “Suppose God appears to you tonight in your dream and ask you to go to an inner city and minister to one of the lonely, dying AIDS patients. How many of you are willing to go and minister to the patient?” To my surprise, only two of them raised their hands. The rest of them weren’t sure. What surprised me more was a man’s response. He said, “I would make sure if the dream is actually from God or not.” Although I made it clear that it was from God, the man still wouldn’t go. A good example of unwillingness to do God’s will.
Jesus says in John 7:17, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” If you want to know the truth and true God’s will for you, you need to be willing to do what God wants you to. Do you want to know God’s will clearly? Then get your heart ready with absolute obedience to God. When your heart is ready to do God’s will, He will make known His will to you. His clear guidance is revealed only to those who are ready to do His will. And once God makes His will known, and then all that is left is to obey and do it.
Philip was one of them. He was a man of obedience. Whatever the Lord commanded him to do, he was ready to do it, and did it immediately. For instance, look at verse 26. “Go toward south (kata membrian), which also can be translated into at noon. If that’s the case, God asked Philip to travel at noon. And, if I were Philip, I would negotiate with God for another time or gently protest why I should go out into the desert in the middle of the day when the sun is extremely hot right above my head. Yet, Philip never raised such questions but simply went out as he was told.
Another point I see in today’s passage is Philip trusted in the Lord even though he didn’t know what was ahead of him. Consider the passage once again. When the Lord spoke to Philip, He didn’t tell him everything ahead of him. He didn’t say, “Hey Philip, this is what’s going to happen to you today. Go south, and you will meet an Ethiopian eunuch. You will find him reading the Prophet Isaiah. He will invite you onto his chariot and you will explain to him the book of Isaiah. After that, you will baptize him in the water, and I will take you back to Azotus.” No, the Lord rather simply revealed His plan one thing at a time. At first, He said, “Go to the desert road.” And, when Philip arrived there, He spoke to him second time to run to the chariot and stay by it. And, when he got there, the Lord gave him another direction. This is the way the Lord leads us. He leads us one step at a time, not showing the whole picture. This is where our trust in the Lord comes in. The Holy Spirit works with only those who put their trust in Him and obey one day at a time, and one step at a time.
Today the Lord anxiously waits to work with His children. He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit as He did to Philip. He is ready. You need to get yourself ready, too. How? By cultivating your sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit. By training your senses to discern of God’s voice through the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 5:14). By getting our hearts ready to do God’s will. Cultivating sensitivity to the Spirit is a process, which means it takes time and practice. So, we can start it today and as time goes by, we will get better each day. The more we practice it, the more sensitive we will become to the guidance of the Spirit. The less we do it, the less sensitive we will become. May the Lord fill our church with such spiritually sensitive believers.
I am going to lead in prayer those folks who would like to live a life guided by the Holy Spirit. Say after me the following prayer: “Lord, help me train my heart and mind to listen to Your voice. I am ready to do your will. I put my trust in You. I know You will guide me into the right path. Use me for your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”