Hearing God: Motives, by Richard Tow

Hearing God: Motives

By Richard Tow

Numbers 22:1-35

What does God want me to do? Have you ever wrestled with that question? Most of us have. Most of us will at some time in the future. It’s not always easy to know God’s will in a particular situation.

Last week we talked about hearing God. In that message we identified three dynamics that should be considered when determining God’s will for a given situation. Can you remember what those three factors were? (1) the subjective leading of the Holy Spirit. It might be a dream or a vision but usually it is that intuitive prompting of the Lord in your spirit (2) the word of God-principles already revealed in Scripture about the will of God for our lives-revelations about the character of God, His purposes, and His ways (3) circumstances-God in His providence going before us and preparing the way so that He sets before us an open door. There is safety in considering all three as we endeavor to hear God about a decision in life.[2]

This morning we want to continue the subject: Hearing God. Today I want to talk about something even more fundamental than those three dynamics. What is the most basic issue in my ability to hear God’s voice? When I’m confused and don’t know what to do I cannot afford to ignore this one issue. The most crucial issue any of us face in hearing God is the motive of our own hearts. We can know our Bible backwards and forwards. We can be so spiritual that we speak with the tongues of men and angels. But if the primary pursuit of our hearts is not right we will have trouble hearing the voice of God. We will have trouble getting clear direction for our lives. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”[3] I don’t believe that promise is just for heaven. I believe that when our hearts are pure we are in a position to see what God is doing-where He is going in our lives and follow Him.

Duplicity of heart-James calls it double mindedness.[4] On the one hand, I want God and His blessings. I certainly don’t want to spend eternity in hell. But beyond that I want God to bless my life in the here and now. On the other hand, I want my own way and sometimes I can be stubborn about having it. Here is the paramount danger we face: that we would be asking God to tell us what to do; but at the same time deep down insisting upon certain things we are unwilling to surrender to God. “God, give me a ministry. Use me for your glory.” God lays something before and that’s not what we want to do. So we keep praying and praying and praying even though the answer has come. We just didn’t like the answer He gave so we are in reality trying to get Him to give us another answer. And when we are in that position the heavens can become very silent. Did you do the last thing God told you to do? Are you willing to hear and obey any answer He may give?

One of the best examples of this problem is found in Numbers 22.

Israel has journeyed toward Canaan land and come to the plains of Moab. Balak, the king of Moab is concerned about the situation. He wants rid of these people but he has also heard how they have been defeating those who rose up against them. In fact, the Amorites had just tried to take them on and got wiped out.[5] So Balak comes up with a plan. He will hire a prophet to pronounce a curse on these people and then he can defeat them in battle.

He sends messengers to a man who is perfect for the job. The prophet’s name is Balaam. Balaam’s home town is probably in Northern Syria [6] about four hundred miles from Moab.[7] So this man obviously has quite a reputation as a prophet.[8] He’s not just a local want-a-be prophet. He is widely recognized as a man who can operate powerfully in the spiritual realm. At the end of verse 6 Balak has said to Balaam, “For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.”

One thing about Balaam is certain-he is very spiritual. He hears God speak to him. He has dreams and visions. His problem is not a lack of spirituality. He uses the name Yahweh, which is a strong indication that he knows the true God of Israel. There are interesting paradoxes in this man and some have tried to deal with them by simply labeling him as an evil “baru”-a pagan diviner. But the flow of the story tells us it’s not that simple.[9] In fact, when we do that we miss a significant message about guidance. Balaam hears God speak to him. He gives some of the most powerful prophecies in all the Bible. We see his moral struggles in Chapters 22-25 and then in Chapter 31 and comments in the New Testament we see his ultimate choice.

Now let’s watch Balaam as he seeks to know God’s will in this situation. Follow with me as we read Numbers 22:7-13.

“The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.”  (Notice the Moabites and Midianites have joined together in this endeavor.  Midian was one of the children Abraham had with his second wife Keturah.[10]   “And Moab was the child Lot had by his oldest daughter.”[11]   Notice they brought with them the fee for divination. This plays prominently in the story.)

8 “Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will bring you back the answer the LORD gives me.” So the Moabite princes stayed with him. 9 God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?” 10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: 11’A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.'” 12 But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” 13 The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s princes, “Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.”

Balaam seems to get off to a good start here in verse 8. He knows enough to seek God for direction. Sometimes we fail to get guidance simply because we don’t ask for it. One of the big mistakes Joshua made as a leader was to make a treaty with the Gibeonites without going to God in prayer about the matter. As it turned out the Gibeonites were not being totally honest and Joshua and the leaders in Israel. Leaning on his own understanding Joshua got deceived and missed God.[12] But Balaam does not make that mistake. He insists upon asking God before he gives them an answer. And notice that it is Yahweh (the true God of Israel) that he is going to in prayer.[13]

The answer God gives him is loud and clear. “Do not go with them.” That’s simple enough. That’s not hard to understand. “You must not put a curse on those people…” What part of “no” do you not understand, Balaam? God even goes a step further and tells him why-“because they are blessed.” At that point Balaam has clear guidance from the Lord.

But now watch how he begins to get confused about what God wants him to do. The next morning he gets up and tells Balak’s princes to “Go back to your own country…” Now hear his reason “for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” He has just left the door open for temptation and confusion. He should have told them that these people are blessed of God and they need to abandon their efforts to curse them and he would have nothing to do with it. Instead he sounds like a spoiled teenager who wants to go somewhere with his friends but Dad & Mom won’t let him-for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.

What happens next? Verse 15 when Balak hears his answer he does not hear an unequivocal no. He hears “I want to” but God won’t let me. So he sends a greater temptation: more numerous and more distinguished princes and the promise of a handsome reward for coming.

In verse 18 he seems to make a good stand. But he makes his next mistake in verse 19 when he asks them to stay while he seeks guidance from the LORD. He does not need to seek guidance from the LORD. He already has guidance. All he needs to do is obey it. Look at his last comment in verse 19 “I will find out what else the LORD will tell me.” Now we are getting indications that Balaam’s prayers for guidance may have ulterior motives. I suspect at this point his prayer is more an effort to persuade God to see it his way than to simply hear and obey.

What is motivating this man? Is his one motivation to do the will of the Father?[14] No, if that were the case he would simply do it.

Peter comments on this issue of motivation in his epistle. 2 Peter 2:15-16

“They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey-a beast without speech-who spoke with a man’s voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.” The way of Balaam-he loved the wages of wickedness. Balaam wanted the money and prestige. Balaam wanted God to say one thing. When God said something different then he just kept coming back hoping to get the answer he wanted.

And to our amazement (at least to some degree) he gets that! In verse 20 God tells him that he can go with them. This is why Jesus taught us to pray “Your kingdom come Your will be done…” We should pray with an attitude that is upfront submitted to the will of the Father. But that’s not Balaam’s attitude. He has prayed and prayed until he got what he wanted. He wants to go with these guys and God lets him. Now what has he done to himself. He has put himself in the arena of temptation. Had he just obeyed God from the beginning he could have avoided the temptations that Balak is going to throw at him. And we know he ultimately succumbs to those temptations.

When we are insisting on having our own way sometimes God corrects us by letting us have what we’ve demanded.[15] While in the wilderness Israel had complained about the manna God was miraculously providing for them. They were asking and asking for meat instead. Listen to what God says to them in Numbers 18b-20a “Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month–until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it-”

What is it about our nature that leans in this direction-wanting to have what we can not have? “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence” they say. This is a big trap when it comes to guidance. If I am insisting on the desires of my flesh-coveting things God is not giving me-thinking that by praying long enough and hard enough I can persuade God to see it my way-if that is what’s going on in my heart I am going to have all kinds of problems hearing God.[16] Why-because even when He does speak to me I’m not satisfied with that. I am only satisfied when He tells me what I want to hear.[17]

We read verses 21-35 at the beginning of the service. Here is Balaam proceeding with what he has determined to be God’s will for the situation. No doubt he is excited about the guidance he has gotten from God. He wants to go to Balak and God has said that he could. He has prayed and gotten an answer from God-finally, the one he wanted to hear. He is up the next morning and on his way. But then everything starts to go wrong.[18] His good old reliable Toyota-I mean donkey-gives all kind of trouble. He gets so mad he beats the donkey and then has a very strange conversation with the beast. In verse 31 Balaam’s spiritual eyes are opened and he sees what the donkey has been seeing-the angel of the LORD obstructing his path. What had blinded Balaam to the will of God? His own carnal desires-his pursuit of his own will caused him to not be able to clearly discern God’s will. He says lots of fine, religious things. He is even used by God to speak blessing on Israel and prophesy her future. By the end of chapter 24 we might think he somehow came out alight after all.

But that is not the end of the story. Balaam wanted that money. His basic motivation was covered somewhat by a religious veneer. But chapter 25 tells how Israel was seduced into sexual immorality and idolatry which did bring a curse upon them. A plague broke out that killed 24,000 Israelites. Do you know who hatched that plan? Jesus made reference to it in Rev 2:14 “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.”[19]

Balaam got what he wanted after all. He used his spiritual knowledge in a diabolical way. Only one thing could bring judgment on Israel-sin. Even though Balaam could not get his money by speaking a curse on Israel he could get it by showing Balak how to lead them into sin.

Here is an extremely spiritual man who prophesies of the coming Messiah and says wonderful things by the Spirit in his oracles-yet he misses the will of God for his life. At times he seems to be repentant; but the repentance proves to be superficial and he reverts back to pursuing his own lust.[20] In Numbers 23:10 he says “Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!” We know that is not what happened. Numbers 31:8 tells us he was killed as part of the judgment on Midian.

How do we Deal with this aspect of guidance in our lives?

As I reflect back over my life I am certain that motive has been the most important factor in hearing God-in knowing and doing the will of God. The times I missed it big were the times that I was pursuing something my flesh wanted rather than sincerely seeking to do the will of the Father whatever it might be. At other times when my motive was right I may have not heard all that perfectly; but God got me where I needed to be. Prov 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Back in the mid-80’s I was discussing the possibility of coming on staff at a church that ran four or five thousand people. It looked like an exciting opportunity. But I was having a hard time hearing God on the matter. While praying about the decision I was reading from the book of Jeremiah in my devotions. And I came across these words in Jer 45:5 “And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them…” (NKJV) God used that to awaken me to why I wanted the job.[21] He used it to show me that below all my nice religious talk I was really pursuing this for my own self-promotion. By exposing my motive He gave me my answer.

There are powerful examples in Scripture of people who did not allow their own desires to derail God’s will for their lives. Think about Abraham in Genesis 22. God tells him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. I’m quite sure that was not what Abraham wanted to hear. Yet he immediately begins to obey. It would have been very easy to rationalize away that directive. He could have even decided that it was contrary to the promises of God in his life and rejected the message. What enabled Abraham to overcome his own emotions and obey? Faith in God-he trusted God to make a way even if it meant resurrecting Isaac from the dead.[22]

The best example is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he is facing the unthinkable-bearing the sins of the world. His struggle was not the fear of death. His struggle was the awful thought of carrying the sins of the world-the pure, spotless Lamb of God bearing your sin and my sin-bearing the punishment we all deserved. How does he deal with the struggle? Matt 26:39 “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'” It is quite alight to make your petitions unto God (“if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me”). But that must always be tempered with an absolute commitment to the will of the Father (“Yet not as I will, but as you will.”) There is a time to be insistent in prayer. But that insistence is in executing the known will of God not in somehow getting your own way in prayer.

If you’re having trouble hearing God-if there’s confusion about what the will of God is for a matter-take time to deal with the motives of your own heart.[23] We need the help of the Holy Spirit in doing that-but He has come as the Divine Helper and He will help us.[24] “It is God who works in you both to will and do His good pleasure.”[25] If you’re not sure that you’re willing, then just be honest about that and ask God to make you willing-ask Him to change your heart so that His will becomes what is important. I close with this precious promise from Ps 25:9 “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” Hear His voice this morning. If you have never surrendered your life to Christ-now is the time to do that. He opens His arms and calls you to come to Him today.