Several years ago I sat in a class in which the teacher was expounding on the story of Gideon in Judges. As his talk went on, I found myself more and more perplexed with the interpretation of the story. Gideon was humble, the speaker said, that’s why he didn’t believe God when God called him a mighty warrior. Gideon asked God for proof of His voice, which was definitely not what we should do today. In fact, we should not try to hear God’s voice on our own, since it only comes to us through the brotherhood.
“What is he saying?” the student sitting next to Will asked. He didn’t get it, either. But the teaching continued, about how faulty it was to try to get an answer from God yourself, and how you must rely only on the Bible and what your church people say.
I sat there, stunned. How in the world were we supposed to get wisdom from the brotherhood if people were not hearing from God individually?
Looking back, I see that as a defining moment when I realized just how strong the current of thought ran that God does not speak to us personally, that His words must only come through our minds interpreting the Bible or other people giving their opinions. A relationship with God was not a communicative relationship, but one of learning about Him in an abstract sense and submitting to that. Yes, the heart and emotions were still involved; and to be fair, I don’t think most dedicated Christians were and are that extreme in real life. But still, that kind of teaching felt oppressive to me.
This plunged me into a sort of desperation. Does God speak? Am I wrong in thinking He’s been talking to me all these years? I began reading more intensively, both in the Bible and in other spiritual books. As I read, I felt my faith growing. The Bible is packed with God’s words to individuals. Several books I can recommend: Hearing God by Dallas Willard, Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere, Growing in the Prophetic by Mike Bickle. I started being more intentional about my spiritual life. I asked questions. I sought advice from people I trusted to be spiritual leaders. Through all of this, my journey confirmed a stronger sense of His presence, a closeness to God that I had not experienced before.
Around this time Will and I received some counseling from some godly older people. Our lives had taken a sharp turn toward disaster—it seemed that almost everything that could go wrong, did. Through seeking God’s face in counseling, we received some life-changing messages from God. Instead of living as “failures,” we began living out of what we heard God say about us. Living out of our identity in Christ was incredibly freeing for us, and we began regularly asking God things about our lives instead of trying to figure out everything ourselves.
I found myself caught in the tension between the freedom in Christ we were experiencing, and the expectations of our culture. Our Mennonite culture is hugely focused on “brotherhood,” which is a priceless gift. I love the closeness of living in community. But a downside of that is that sometimes a person receiving a personal message from God is seen as a threat.
That’s why I was surprised at a church service during this time when the preacher announced the title of his sermon as “My Sheep Hear My Voice.” What?! I thought. I was almost scared to hear what he was going to say. This man proceeded to deliver a solid message using many Scriptures to show us clearly that yes, God speaks and His sheep do know His voice. The sermon was like rain after a Kansas drought. And how can we deny it? His sheep KNOW His voice!
But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
John 10:2-4 (ESV)
Sadly, after this man of God sat down, four preachers got up in turn and tore his message to bits with their solemn warnings. Hearing God is dangerous! People do crazy things in the name of hearing God! We must be very, very careful! The faith in the room fizzled like a pricked balloon.
The pain in my chest was palpable. More than anything, I wanted people to know the kind of life that exists in Christ. And this is what I believe about God:
1. God wants a conversational relationship with His people. This is the reason He created us—He wanted to share the love He had within Himself with others. From cover to cover, the Bible is full of stories of God speaking to His people, from Adam and Eve in Genesis all the way through John in Revelation. The Holy Spirit pleads with us to hear Him, to not let our hearts harden.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
(Hebrews 3:7-10 ESV)
2. God the Spirit talks to us, helping and teaching us. At no point does He say that He will no longer talk to His children, that we have to rely only on common sense or other sources to know how to live.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
John 14:26 (ESV)
3. God’s longing for friendship with His children bleeds through the pages of Scripture, and that friendship transforms our inner lives.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:15 (ESV)
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Revelation 3:20 (ESV)
I can testify of my deep wounds that were healed by His voice. Years of baggage can drop with one word from Him, one touch of His presence.
4. God wants us to ask Him things, even about simple aspects of daily life.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Matthew 7:7 (ESV)
My sister-in-law tells of how God helps her plan her days. Having eight children, she always has way too much to do. She makes a list of what needs to be done, then she asks Jesus what is most important. And Jesus tells her. She lives her full life in peace, because of that simple communication with Him every morning.
God communicates…why then are we so scared to listen to Him? I think it comes down to the fact that hearing involves risk. We are not perfect, and sometimes we hear wrong. (This can be very painful—I plan to discuss this more in a later post on Learning to Listen.)We are deathly scared to make a mistake, so we try to control the situation to prevent making mistakes. In doing that, we make the worst mistake of all. Do we want to have these startling words by Jeremiah said of us?
For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.
Jeremiah 10:21 (ESV)
Sometimes we try to control things by saying that we will depend on the Bible only. As important as the Bible is, we must have the Holy Spirit to help us understand it. This is what Jesus told the Pharisees about their dependence on the Scripture without God’s light:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 5:39-40 (ESV) emphasis added
God is a communicator—the best one ever. And the exciting part is that he wants to talk to us! He is always knocking, always wanting to come in and talk with us as friends. How can anyone resist?
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
Psalm 25:4-5 (ESV)
How has God’s voice changed your life? Do you believe that He communicates with you?