Hearing the voice of God

Back in the mid ’80s I had an apartment in what used to be a storefront. My door opened directly onto the sidewalk. One winter it snowed a lot, and there was a stretch of several days when there was just a deep puddle during the day, then at night it would freeze. I didn’t know what my liability was, but I didn’t want to be responsible for someone slipping on the ice and breaking a hip or something.

I felt kind of helpless. There’s not much you can do about either a puddle or a sheet of ice with a cheap snow shovel. But then I noticed a pile of snow that had never melted. I shoveled it into the water and then shoveled the slush into the street. Problem solved. I was pretty pleased with myself as I went back inside.

But before I got both feet into my apartment, I heard this question in my mind: “Are you going to take credit for that idea, or are you going to give me the glory?” That was God speaking to me, and it was God who told me how to solve my problem!

I’ve thought about that a lot over the past 25 years or so and concluded that God and the devil both speak to us constantly. We experience their words the same way we experience our own thoughts. We don’t have to find a way to get God to speak to us. We only have to learn the difference between his voice and all the others that speak into our minds.

We want God to speak to us corporately, too. We go to church and hear a sermon, but hearing the sermon must not be our purpose for being there. In fact, in a way, we should not be very concerned with what the preacher has to say.

We want to hear from God. And I’m sure all of us have experienced the difference between a preacher with a message from God and a preacher bringing his or her own message. One way to pray for preachers is to pray that God will give them their message and enable them to deliver it clearly. The preachers will hear from God the same as anyone else and have to go through the same process of discernment as anyone else.

The book of Hebrews starts with a reminder that not all generations have had the same privilege we do. God did not make himself available to the most faithful Old Testament believers as he does to us. Before God became the human Jesus, he spoke only through prophets. Some generations of Hebrews had no prophetic witness at all. By the end of the Jewish kingdom, most of the prophets had become corrupted and would proclaim their own message for a sizable fee.

The Greek world knew the Delphic oracle, who spoke in such cryptic terms that the prophecies would seem true no matter what happened. Whether in the Jewish or pagan world, people rarely had the chance to hear what God had to say.

But the Word did become flesh and dwell among us. He did speak the word of God that he heard directly from the heavenly throne. Those with ears to hear heard. Jesus came, lived, suffered death on a cross, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Then he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within the hearts of any who would welcome him. Two millennia later, Christians still testify of personal encounters with the living Lord.

God used to speak to selected individuals at various times. Otherwise he remained silent. He inaugurated the last days speaking through Jesus in a geographically limited area. Through the Holy Spirit, that voice resonates to all who will listen for it throughout all space and time. Let us give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for all of us.

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