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Spirit Guidance: How to sift the wheat from the chaff

Posted on 29 June 2016, 9:45

Many people, including myself, pray asking for guidance from Spirit, and listen to the still small voice.  We usually hear some kind of answer. But does it come from Spirit, or does it come from our imagination? Earlier in my spiritual journey I joined a group called Subud, a product of Indonesian Islamic mysticism. It claimed to have no theology, but rather provided an openness to whatever God may be. At the time I was filled with longing to find what God was like without being influenced by church, Bible, and other people’s opinions.

Subud is not for everybody, but for the two years that I participated, it was of great help. First of all they provided an environment where I could seek a free-from-preconceptions God. But secondly they provided a means of sifting the wheat from the chaff. It worked like this: when we felt in a state of openness to Spirit, each person would ask a mental question and listen for the answer that was received. We might write down our “receiving”. We might also invite a friend to “receive” on the same question. Or we might “receive” again ourselves. This was called “check receiving” If we had the same “receiving” on all occasions, then we felt we had a real answer and that it was wheat and not chaff.   

A similar cast of mind characterised the dozen or so people who were to question the spirit of Stephen the Martyr between 1973 and 1980.  Was it even remotely possible that we were really and truly communicating with such an entity? When his picture of reality differed from those of our churches, was he right? As the supposed Stephen was speaking through the mouth of Thomas Ashman the medium, how much of what Stephen said was contaminated by the mind of Thomas? And what was Stephen doing talking to such a strange group of people in such an out of the way country as New Zealand? Much “check receiving” required! 

The supposed “Stephen’s” love, humility, and patience in his teaching, the constant synchronicities that surrounded our encounters with him, gradually led us to accept that he was who he said he was. We noted how his teachings coincided or did not coincide with our understandings of the teaching of Jesus.  I continued to be troubled by the question whether Stephen’s thoughts were contaminated by the mind of Thomas, until the time came when Stephen spoke those words in his native dialect of Greek. It took almost thirty years to understand the full implications of those words.  But this form of “check receiving” provided close to absolute proof that we had been hearing from the historical Stephen. My problem now is that few people have the linguistic and historical knowledge to understand why it is proof.

Dr Roy L. Hill is author of Psychology and the Near Death Experience, Searching for God published by White Crow in 2015.  It is an admirable book, which I have read twice so far. He builds up a convincing picture of spiritual reality through the comparison of a collection of accounts of more than three thousand NDEs,  He considers that the NDEs provide an entirely consistent picture of non physical reality, regardless of their provenance, or the country, culture or time. According to Subud an NDE is definitely a “receiving”, so in putting all these experiences side by side and comparing, is a tremendous example of “check receiving” which might lead a reader to agree with Roy Hill that this is a true picture of the reality that a discarnate soul can encounter, if it is not too defended.. We can accept the combined story as fact. We are on firm ground here.

Readers might like to read quotes from his book: 

Hill was kind enough to review Afterlife Teachings of Stephen the Martyr.  I take the liberty of quoting it here, because it shows “check receiving” at work:

“As someone somewhat skeptical of medium work, I was skeptical buying this book. However, the theological meat was without precedent. Not standard Evangelical Christian fare, Stephen’s words respected Biblical teachings but more from a near death experience point of view. In other words, what he was saying was consistent with people who had interacted with spiritual beings while in heaven. Yet, in some ways, Stephen goes further in explaining some of the biggest theological questions in a coherent manner. For these reasons, I became a believer. Even if one is not, the content in this book will give any spiritual seeker much to ponder. This is one of the most intriguing spiritual books I have read - and I have read many. Thus, I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to go deep.”

His comments inspired me to “check receive” for myself: the comparison between the Stephen book and NDEs.  On quick reading of Hill’s book I could see how NDEs did give actual examples of what Stephen had been talking about. Why didn’t I go through Hill’s book and make a comparison table between the NDEs and Stephen’s teaching? I spent some hours doing so and it became very clear that what Stephen had said more abstractly the NDEs were depicting in actual experience. In so many cases I could present one of Stephen’s teachings and present an NDE that would illustrate it.

Scientists like to express things mathematically. If we can count and measure we have fact.  But experiences are facts too. And if most experiences confirm each other then we seem to have a more universal fact.

In 1996 physicist Dr John Moss published a book called What do you think of Christ?  Amazon describes it: “The author examines what ‘the best modern spirits and mystics’ say about Christ, from Wellesley Tudor Pole, to Rudolf Steiner to St. Francis”. Moss makes many comparisons with “our” St Stephen.  He provides another example of “check receiving”, and compares spiritual teaching through a variety of mediums.  John was a highly spiritual man, and his work in this book, was his own personal effort of obtaining a clearer view of the reality that was so real to him.

Another way we “check-receive” is by noting the effect an event has on us emotionally and spiritually. An English bishop wrote about Stephen’s teaching, “”– I have been very affected by it. What comes to mind immediately is: 1. the sense of life after death being very close, very normal and not very intimidating; 2. Stephen’s experience of being at first after his death very tied up with his identity as Stephen but later leaving that behind and only picking it up again in order to communicate with Thomas and the others; 3. the way in which individuality becomes much less important but that nevertheless the ‘ego’ is not something to be avoided but something which contributes to this experience of being part of the whole.”

Wendy Zammit was moved to write, “Stephen emerges as very balanced loving and non-judgemental presence with a similar energy to the speaker in A Course in Miracles and Conversations with God.

Bruce Scott-Hill wrote, “The use continuously of parables by St Stephen can itself be surely regarded as an initial striking ‘test’ for the validity of his teachings as being those truly of a saint (but now as a higher being in an afterlife). As one continues to read, for myself the conviction becomes overwhelming. First one becomes aware of not only the quality - including the rationality, depth and wisdom of all his teachings; but also the wonderful and careful explanations (unusual and helpful) that St Stephen gives for each of them.”

I would like here to make a brief notice about the important work of Dennis Grega and his associates with their and These must be the best sites that exist on the web, where they list and compare spiritual writings, and do so in some depth.  Read this link, and scroll down to see how they treat Afterlife Teaching from Stephen the Martyr.

Stephen’s last words to us were “For what truth I speak is but my truth; my truth comes only from my experience, and alas, my judgements.” He emphasised that teaching can become distorted coming through a medium, and that we need to “check-receive” through prayer, through dream, synchronicity, deep sensing and feeling, and all means available.  This is how we separate the wheat from the chaff in such matters.

He is seeking to help us to realise who we are, eternal spiritual beings having an educational experience in the physical.  We learn the centrality of love often from its lack.

What is required is for us to awaken out of our sense of false separateness, out of our prejudices and houses of belief is to be open to the Spirit in all through all and above all.

Subud had it that we needed to be Opened to Spirit, and we had Opening ceremonies.

When we had performed spiritual exercises where we practised being obedient in all things in Spirit, we would receive and then check receive.

Stephen was our Opener, and helped us in our Receiving and Check Receiving. We were led to submit to Spirit, and to be observant in the ways that Spirit led us.

Stephen was our brother helping us to be aware of the divinity within, and to live according to our higher natures, and be sensitive to our souls attempting to guide our physical minds.

I have been using Subud terms. But basically we are thinking in terms of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.  So many of us have gone into a far country and wasted the enormous gifts bestowed on us by our heavenly Parent. What is required is not that we should be punished for our sins, but with all our baggage of wrong doing and guilt repent and come back to our Parent who, so far from punishing, comes rushing towards us with the open arms of love.  Stephen said of God, “What is it that God will give us? All that he has to give.”  That is what we shall “receive” when we repent and come to him.

Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
His latest book, Into the Wider Dream: Synchronicity in the Witness Box is published by White Crow Books.


“But experiences are facts too” expresses a fundamental tenet of my own spiritual work.  Even when we make measurements with technological devices of the greatest degree of sophistication, ultimately all we have is our own experience of those measurements.

Stephen’s profound humility comes through in that statement “For what truth I speak is but my truth; my truth comes only from my experience, and alas, my judgements.”  It is that humility that, most of all, says to me that Stephen is true “wheat.”  Any self-aggrandizing in a spiritual source, and any insistence that it is transmitting the only truth, is a signal to get away as fast as you can.

Around the time that I first encountered Michael’s book of his teachings, I found myself visiting with a being who identified himself as Stephen.  I was immediately starstruck, and asked if I might become one of his followers.  He gently told me that he would just as soon not have followers, but that I could walk with him if I wished.  And I did so wish, but I have never seen him again.

Elene Gusch, Thu 7 Jul, 06:12

Thank you for your thoughts, Michael
One could say that to “receive” is “intuiting spiritual guidance” and that “check-receiving” is checking one’s own intuition and that of others, and whether it corresponds to facts established in other ways.

“It’s the teaching that counts.”
It’s more complicated than that. Roy l. Hill considered that “Stephen” must be genuine because he describes the same reality as experienced in the thousands of NDEs that he has studied. Other reviewers give other reasons for considering “Stephen” to be genuinely that Martyr.
For those talking with “Stephen” over all those years the teaching certainly was important. But more importantly it was also the relationship. And in that relationship he helped us to be more aware that we were part of Universal Spirit, and that in one sense we were all each other. (All children of God, if you like). But for there to be love, we are also individuals. In our relationship with him, he counselled some of us individually, he spoke briefly in the Greek of his Celtic childhood. He told us of the village in which he was born, repeated in his Thracian dialect the words that he had spoken to Joseph the parent of Jesus, on the occasion of his admission to an Essene group called Nazarene, described his childhood, what happened at his stoning.  He spoke humbly, respectfully and patiently. He was a very loving person.  If you read the last chapter carefully you can see why a number of scholars agree that the evidence could not have been fabricated either by the medium, or myself, or by a puffed up spirit trying to impress us with the importance of his words. 
In addition there was the synchronicity. Surrounding our conversations with Stephen were years of jaw dropping meaningful coincidences (See my Into the Wider Dream). These give insight into other dimensions of relationships.

Michael Cocks, Mon 4 Jul, 12:26


Very interesting.  Does “check-receiving” translate to intuition?

Concerning St. Stephen and other “celebrities” from the past, I think there may be something to what Alan Kardec said. As he came to understand, superior spirits, while preserving their individuality, have no need to be identified with their teachings delivered while on earth, but because humans seem to need an identity in order to fix their ideas, superior spirits who identify with the teachings of the famous personage and belong to the same “family” or “collective whole” may take that famous name to appease us, as it is the teaching, not the signature, that is important.

Kardec asked if taking the name of a famous person would not be fraud. “It would be fraud on the part of a bad spirit who might want to deceive,” came the answer, “but when it is for good, God permits it to be so among spirits of the same order, because there is among them a solidarity and similarity of thought.”

Whether St. Stephen himself or a group soul representing him doesn’t seem to make much difference.  It’s the teaching that counts.

Michael Tymn, Mon 4 Jul, 07:44

dear michael,
how wonderfully written and explained!
god is about listening, near-death-experiences are about listening and even more of letting go of any preconceptions. each of us takes their own questions with us where ever we go, especially in dying and death. i just watched “black sails”, a tv-series set in the 20 years before stevenson treasure island. the last episode, the very last of the third installment, is extremely enlightened. it shows the making of what then becomes a myth after being the events the myth then relates to. the last episode is divided by flashes to a talk between two men: flynt and silver when digging the treasure and of events before and after. then comes the observation by silver: “what we (the pirates of their crew and others) live are your dreams, your monsters and monstrosities…” and then, in the end, it flashes to pirates which write this story and who discuss that the story they write will become a myth, because the myth includes those who heard the story and start telling this story from their own perspective and in their own colors…
- i see this as a close pattern of naratives which we encounter in the bible and in the lives of prophets and ecstatics and of course in the many people with near death experience.
the experience becomes our own story, but most of this story isn’t told or most of us don’t tell at all, because we just want to encourage others to experience their own…
—it is a beautiful day on stewart island and despite my hours of total desperation today,
i feel blessed and grateful, but can’t wait to leave this “now” all behind.

manfred, Fri 1 Jul, 01:17

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“Children and the Light” by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – ALF Rose had this experience many years ago when he was ill with pneumonia as a young child of four or five. Suddenly I was out of my body and floating near the top of the window in my bedroom. I could see myself in bed and my mother kneeling at the side of the bed. She was crying and looked very distressed. I gazed at this scene for a little while and remember that I didn't feel any emotion at all and was completely indifferent to what I saw. Without any warning at all I was travelling very swiftly through a dense forest. Read here
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