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The Prompting of the Holy Spirit

11th October 2007

Acts 3v1-8
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer ó at three in the afternoon.
Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.
Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the manís feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Peter and John had almost certainly walked past this beggar several times before. So why did Peter stop this time? Surely it's because the Holy Spirit prompted him to.

Maybe the Holy Spirit had spoken to him before about the beggar, or maybe this was the first time. We don't know. But whether Peter had struggled with the issue of obedience for several days, or whether he responded immediately, the important thing is: he obeyed now.

Maybe Peter was nervous, or maybe he was swept up in the moment and full of faith. We don't know. But we do know of an earlier occasion when Peter obeyed the voice of Jesus - the only one with the faith to do so, when Jesus commanded him to walk on water (Matthew 14v25-31). Peter started out on the water full of faith, but when he noticed that what he was doing was impossible, he started to sink. Thus he's an example for us; sometimes he used his faith, sometimes he didn't.

We also know of the time when Peter denied that he even knew Jesus (e.g. John 18v17-18 and 25-27).

This time, however, Peter was going to obey his Lord. And, again, he is an example for us; No matter how much we've got it wrong in the past, today is a good day to start obeying Jesus again.

Meanwhile, how do you think John was feeling?

Perhaps he was wishing he was somewhere else. Failing that, he was probably praying for a way to deal with the situation, or maybe just hoping that God would do what Peter was saying He would. Maybe he wished for faith like Peter's, or maybe (at that moment) he wished Peter had a bit less faith.

You can feel very exposed when you claim that God is about to perform a miracle.

But God had spoken to Peter, and Peter obeyed, and God delivered. The beggar's life was transformed - and the people were amazed.

This is a great story - a true story about the power of God to use Christians to help others miraculously. But it raises the question of what we do when we're prompted by the Holy Spirit to do or say something.

Most Christians would admit that there have been times when they've felt that the Holy Spirit was urging them to do something. And most would admit that, sometimes, they've denied it to themselves - because dismissing the idea seemed safer than obeying. And most would admit (the sane ones, anyway) that usually they're not absolutely sure if it is the Holy Spirit that's speaking to them. It could be something else, such as their own thoughts, or an idea from a book or movie that they'd seen, or even an evil spirit.

So - what do you do when you think that God is probably speaking to you, but you're not sure?

Ultimately, you've only got two choices - do what you think He's saying, or don't do what you think He's saying. To phrase this differently, you can do what you believe is probably obedience or you can do what you think is probably disobedience. And most of us - at least sometimes - choose the path of probable disobedience - because it feels safer.

But if Peter had done that, the beggar wouldn't have been healed. I find it very sobering to think about how many people would have been helped if I had always been obedient to the Holy Spirit.

My understanding of faith, as the Bible describes it, is that faith is actually two things.

  • Firstly, faith is something given to us by God, that enables us to believe. For example, what we call saving faith is the ability to believe that Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, so that God could forgive us and welcome us into His kingdom. There was a time when I didn't have this faith. And now I have. What changed is God gave me this faith. But
  • Secondly, faith is the decision to use the faith I've been given. That is, faith is also "the ability to believe, put into practice".

Peter and John both had faith that God could use them to heal the sick. I'm sure they had both seen many miraculous healings. But on the day of the story, Peter put his faith into action (and John didn't). Maybe God gave Peter specific faith that this beggar could walk, and maybe He didn't; perhaps He just prompted Peter to speak.

But here's the point: The next time the Holy Spirit speaks to you, you have the choice of whether or not to put your faith into action.

I'm sure, my Christian brother or sister, that you have at least a theoretical faith that God can do anything He wants. Well, that includes doing anything He wants through you, doesn't it? And when He prompts you, you can put your trust in God and obey Him, trusting Him for the consequences, or you can bottle out. I know, because I've done both many times. Faith without works is dead. And obeying the Holy Spirit is important work, to put it mildly.

Last question: How do you decide if it's God speaking to you or not? Well, here's what I think.

  1. Test it. Is what you feel prompted to do consistent with the Bible? If not, then it's not God.
  2. Practice. Make a lifestyle choice NOW. Decide that whenever it seems likely (as opposed to certain) that God is speaking to you, then you will trust Him and do what you think He wants. After all, the only alternative is to refuse to do what you think God wants.

The more often you do this, the better you'll get at discerning His voice. And your faith will be stronger, because it's getting some exercise.

Tragically, many Christians have developed the habit of ignoring God's voice. Consequently, our expectation that He will do anything through us has withered. And consequently, we find it easy to continue to ignore His voice.

Dear co-worker for the Kingdom of God (for such is every Christian) Start again! Decide to practice obedience. Trust him to help you get it right most of the time (He is able to do this). On those occasions when you don't get it right, pick yourself up and start again. Develop the habit of putting your God-given faith into practice. Strengthen your spiritual muscles. Get better at hearing His voice. Find your expectation growing. See what God can do with one Christian who is willing to trust Him and obey!