In our Seek the Gifts series on gifts of the Spirit, we want to turn to the question of how you follow the Spirit and His lead. In our last post, we discussed how you use your gift to minister to the body of Christ.
This is another question many often have when they hear people saying to follow the Spirit. How do you do that? Is it easy? Does it take time? I have asked these questions as I have learned to listen to the Spirit of God and follow His lead. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at following the Spirit.
Listen to His voice
You can’t follow the Spirit or do what He says if you don’t know how to listen to His voice. So, this is the first step in learning how to follow the Spirit. How do you hear God’s voice? Many good books have been written on the subject of hearing God’s voice.
Henry Blackaby and Dallas Willard are some of the most well-known and helpful books. But hearing the voice of God starts with being a Christian. Jesus tells us that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:27). But most Christians don’t automatically start hearing Jesus’ voice the moment they become Christians.
It takes time for many of us to hear Jesus’ voice. We listen, and over time, we begin to understand what it means to hear the voice of God. I don’t know many Christians who hear the audible voice of God.
Many times, people hear God’s voice in different ways. You can hear God’s voice through reading the Bible. After all, we call it God’s Word for a reason. He speaks to us as we hear and read it. But that’s not the only way you hear God’s voice.
You can hear God’s voice through other Christians as they use some of the gifts, like words of knowledge and words of wisdom, the prophetic gift, and speaking in tongues with interpretation. Some Christians are full of godly wisdom and you can hear Him speak through them to your situation.
You can also hear God’s voice in some situations you face. Something may be wrong, not going your way, as you go through a trial. And you can distinctly hear God’s voice, His wisdom coming through loud and clear in your situation on how to resolve it.
These are great ways to learn how to hear God’s voice in your life. But when we talked about feeling the prompting or impressions of the Spirit, this is the most common way the Spirit leads Christians in service to Him.
Those promptings give you the clearest way to understand the Holy Spirit wants to use your gift. I found my own promptings to be almost irresistible. The more you feel the prompting of the Spirit and follow it, the more you get used to being ready for the Spirit’s leading for your gift.
When I said it takes time to hear the voice of the Spirit, it takes a lifetime to master knowing when He’s calling on you to use your gift. We all make mistakes along the way. But the more we are open to hearing from Him, the more we will be able to hear the Spirit.
Obey His Voice
When you know you have heard the Spirit speak to you, prompt you to use your gift, you must follow through and obey Him. It’s no good to just know you’ve heard the Spirit speak to you. Hearing Him speak requires you to act on what He has said.
Throughout the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus continues to repeat, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). It isn’t just to say you could hear the Spirit speaking. You must do what Jesus says to show you hear the voice of the Spirit.
Obeying the Spirit means doing what He tells you to do. It means following through with whatever command He gives. So, in a service, or wherever He prompts you to use your gift, that’s when He wants you to use it.
I know this sounds simple enough, but there are so many times I have heard in a church service, “Someone is supposed to use their gift.” And yet many times nothing happens in the service. This may be because someone is unsure if they have felt the prompting of the Spirit. It may be because a person does not want to use their gift or speak the message He has given them.
It is not up to us to agree with the message the Spirit wants to give. Jonah didn’t want to speak the message God gave him for the Ninevites. He ran the other way, and yet he ended up in Nineveh speaking God’s message to the people of that city. And he still wasn’t happy at the end of the book!
All that’s required of us is to be obedient to the Spirit and use our gift when He prompts us. As long as we are faithful doing that, He has no problems with us. I would rather step out when I believe He is speaking to me than to wonder and miss the moment.
Especially if you are in a church and under a ministry of Spirit-led leaders who are sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, you should not be afraid to use your gift. They will guide you privately if they feel you have missed the Spirit’s prompting or message.
You will become more comfortable hearing the Spirit’s voice and obeying Him the more you do it. After you have heard His voice and obeyed him by using your gift, you are not responsible for what happens after that. He only looks for those who are faithful to listen and obey Him.
Step Out in Faith
Obeying the Spirit when He prompts you to use your gift means stepping out in faith. You step out in faith because you trust you have heard the Spirit speak to you and prompt you to use your gift. Right between hearing from the Spirit and stepping out, I have a moment of self-doubt.
I evaluate if I really did hear the Spirit’s voice. I wonder what will happen if I’m wrong about hearing Him. Then I second-guess myself. Then I third-guess myself. I wonder if I should just keep silent and not use my gift since I am unsure.
Imagine what would have happened if the apostles in the Bible went through this process. We may not have much of what was written in the Bible today if they thought they were wrong or if they missed the Spirit.
Instead, you have apostles like Peter who was not afraid to be wrong, speak first, and then think about it. I’m not saying he is the perfect model for listening to and obeying the Spirit. But I believe we need more Peter’s in the Church who are not afraid to step out and be wrong.
If you do not step out in faith, you will never learn how to feel the Spirit’s prompting and follow through in obedience. Jesus calls Him the Spirit of truth because He does not lead us astray. When He speaks to you, He wants you to use your gift.
Have confidence that the Spirit is prompting you and wants you to use your gift for His glory and the edification of the church. Don’t be afraid to use your gift. The best way to learn how to use your gift is to use it. Think of how the church would miss the encouraging and uplifting results of your gift if you didn’t use it.
Whatever feedback you observe or receive does not negate listening to the Spirit first. This is after you use your gift. You will often receive confirmation in some way that the Spirit has spoken through you. And perhaps you may receive help from the spiritual leaders of your church if you miss the mark.
Both of these are good feedback. If you see the positive results of using your gift, it reinforces how to feel the prompting of the Spirit for the next time. If you have “missed the Spirit,” and your pastor or other spiritual leaders of the church speak to you in private about it, you receive instruction on how to use your gift better the next time the Spirit prompts you.
You can receive feedback from multiple sources in the Christian community. Your primary feedback is from God’s Spirit as He speaks to you, uses your gift, and shows you the positive results following your gift.
Feedback from your church leaders is one of the best ways to know if you have not used your gift properly. If you use it properly, they usually won’t say anything. They may thank you for using it after the service.
Another source of feedback for knowing your gift is effective in the church is when Christians receiving your ministry tell you how it has helped them. Often when I teach a group, at least one person, if not several people will walk up to me afterward and thank me.
They tell me what helped them understand God and the Bible better or what they learned, or what they had never heard before or thought of before. This happens to me from time to time as I teach and preach.
You may not receive feedback from other Christians depending on your gift. It does not immediately confirm you are accurate in using your gift. But it can be one way of confirming you have heard from the Spirit when you used your gift.
Ultimately, the Holy Spirit ministers to Christians through your gift, and He may not use them to confirm your faithfulness in it. That doesn’t mean you should not continue to use your gift.
Finally, you can get feedback from other people with the same gift. When other people have your gift, they can tell that you are growing and maturing in using your gift. They may be able to provide helpful input on your effectiveness with your gift. But it is still up to the Holy Spirit to affirm you and confirm your gift as you use it.
These are some ways you know you are following the Holy Spirit in using your gift. First, you listen to the Spirit to receive direction. Then, when He speaks to you and prompts you to use your gift, you obey Him and step out in faith.
God has given helpful ways for you to know your gift is effective for the body of Christ. All these approaches help you to follow the Spirit and do what He wants you to do when He wants you to do it. How do you know you are following the Spirit with your gifts?
We’ve talked about how to follow the Spirit and hear His voice to use your gift. But what happens when people misuse the gifts of the Spirit?