I’m writing a new song with the chorus hook: If you want to hear from God, you have got to listen for His voice. I have to admit that I can go for days without truly listening for the voice of God. I can rely on Bible reading or recent experiences of God’s presence. I seem to be quite happy living on yesterday’s manna. But God wants to talk to me. He wants me to know His voice. He wants to give me direction, correction and comfort—today.
The Apostle Paul said there are many voices in the world, none of them without distinction. Another translation of 1 Corinthians 14:10 says there are many languages, yet none without meaning. So many voices clamor for our attention: the TV, the radio, the Internet, our mates, our children, our bosses, our employees, our friends, our enemies. People we know and love want to tell us something. People we’ve never met want to sell us something. One friend says “hold on!”; another says “let go!” One preacher says “high!”; another says “low!” One voice says “go here”; another says “go there.” What are we to do? How can we hear from God and know how to live? Sing it with me: If you want to hear from God, you have got to listen for His voice.
If we are to hear God’s voice, we must develop two skills. First, we must be able to distinguish His voice from all the other voices. Second, we must develop our discretionary hearing—the ability to mentally block out other sounds and focus on the one sound we most want to hear.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” To one of the prophets of old, God did not appear in the thundercloud, or the hurricane, or the earthquake, but in the “sound of gentle stillness.” God’s voice is most often soft. He speaks quietly in gentle stillness. If we are to hear Him and learn to recognize His voice, we must spend time in stillness, listening. The more time you spend listening for God, the more you will recognize His voice.
My wife and I went to see Finding Nemo, an animated movie with some famous actors providing the voices of the characters. We had fun trying to recognize who was speaking. After a few moments of listening to a blue fish called Dory, I leaned over to my wife and said, “Isn’t that Ellen Degeneres?” It was, she said. It didn’t look like Ellen (whatever else she is, Ellen Degeneres is not blue). John Ratzenburger’s voice was easy. He played Cliff on Cheers. We watch that most nights on Nick-at-Night. Willem Dafoe was harder to pick out. We haven’t heard as much of him. But because we’ve been listening to Cliff light up the Cheers crowd so much, we have come to recognize his voice. It’s the same with God. If you don’t spend much time actively listening for Him, don’t expect to be able to pick His voice out when it’s important.
Discretionary hearing is the term used to describe our ability to block out certain sounds when we’re trying to focus in on one in particular. In a noisy restaurant, we can hear the waitress say “Our special today is pan-fried mahi-mahi in a mango vinaigrette sauce for $29.95” by tuning our ears to hear her voice over all the others. In a mix session in the studio, we can single out the tambourine that’s losing the beat with this same ability. Mothers use it to hear their children stirring.
Christians use this in their spirits when listening for God’s voice. The Bible calls it discernment. It is the ability to know that God is speaking to you and to understand what He is saying. This is a very important skill to have. It can save you from doing stupid things. It is a skill that every—every—Christian can develop and learn to use. All it takes is sitting in stillness, listening for God.
Sometimes God will speak to your spirit or mind in the stillness when you are alone. At other times, He will light up something you read in the Bible. It will stir you more than the surrounding text and will sound a little bell in your spirit. J.B. Phillips calls this the “ring of truth.” This is the voice of God. It is here that you learn to recognize His voice.
He will speak through other voices or writings as well. When this happens, the discretionary hearing, or discernment, you have developed in the stillness will help you to distinguish His voice from the many. Just like in Finding Nemo, sometimes God doesn’t look like God. Sometimes He speaks through another person, song, book, article or movie character. Even though He may appear to you in disguise, He will still sound the same. If you have learned to recognize His voice, you will know it is Him.
There are times in our lives when we are in desperate or bewildering circumstances. There will be times when we need divine direction. At times, the choices before us are not between obvious good and obvious bad. Sometimes we must choose between one good and another good. It is in these periods that the time spent in the stillness, listening, pays off. It is just like the wise virgins in the Bible who prepared for a long vigil by stocking up on oil for their lamps. We must develop our ability to hear and understand God by listening in the stillness of our private time with Him. This is not a test you can cram for. It takes time, stillness, listening. Sing it with me: If you want to hear from God, you have got to listen for His voice.[To read the article in it’s entirety, look for the July/August issue of Christian Musician Magazine (www.christianmusician.com).]
[Bob Kilpatrick is a songwriter, singer, producer, writer, husband and father.
His new live album, Let It Shine Like That, is now available. BobKilpatrick.com]
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