This is the audio recording of the second reading of week four of Start, entitled Positioned to Listen.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The closer you get to a person, the more you learn about their priorities and interests. You may find their family is the center of their world, or they’re an avid water polo fanatic, a Lord of the Rings aficionado, a lover of all things beekeeping, etc. One of the joys of human relationships is learning about one another’s passions.
The longer you listen to a person, the more familiar you become with their expressions or tone. You pick up not only their heart’s content but the vocabulary by which they speak about it. You begin to recognize their terms and nuances. You may even subconsciously incorporate some of their common phrases into your speech. In the same way, we can discover God’s tone and heart as we listen for His voice. Pastor Lance explains:
“The more we encounter God’s Word, the more we get His groove, how He would speak, what’s important to Him, what He says, etc. It sets a tone. When you hear a voice that deviates from that, an alarm goes off in your head that says, ‘something doesn’t sound right.’ But, the more we know Him personally and spend deep times in prayer and reading His Word, the more the Shepherd’s voice becomes amazingly distinctive.”
Jesus speaks of this in John 10:1-11 and 10:26-30. Before continuing this reading, take some time to read these passages and note how many times Jesus uses the words hear, call, speak, and listen.
We learn that the sheep hear His voice, they know His voice, they know Him and follow Him ( ironically, verse six tells us, “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what He was saying to them.” (emphasis added)). Both passages help us to get a better idea of what Jesus’ voice sounds like.
Yesterday we learned that through reading Scripture, we begin to learn what God’s voice sounds like. Today, we want to explore how to position ourselves to actually hear it. The voice of a loved one, no matter how familiar, will remain indiscernible to us if it is drowned out by other voices, and the same is true with God’s voice.
We live in a noisy world. Whether it is the hum of traffic, the music in a coffee shop, a conversation from the office next to ours, or the sounds of a video we’re watching, noise is seemingly ever-present. Beyond physical noise, we are bombarded with digital noise during the seven hours per day that the average American spends looking at a screen. Add to that the over 45 push notifications the average American receives daily and the mental ‘noise’ that comes from our jammed schedules, and it’s a wonder any of us can focus on anything for more than a few seconds without being distracted. Author Gary Chapman rightly points out, “God is not silent. However, often we are too busy to hear His voice.”
The good news is God is powerful enough to overcome all of that noise. He can reach us anytime and anywhere. The better news, that may not sound like good news, is that God seems to speak best in silence. It seems His general way is not to shout to get our attention but to wait until we quiet ourselves enough to listen.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah has just experienced a great victory over the prophets of Baal. Despite this victory, he is still in a state of distress because others are seeking his life. He shares this with the Lord, who responds back to him,
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19:8-10
When God came to speak to Elijah, it wasn’t in a strong wind or a powerful earthquake. It was in a low whisper. It would be a misreading of this passage to say it tells us God only speaks in a low whisper. After all, in Scripture, we see God speak through shaking rooms (Acts 4:31), blinding lights (Acts 9:3), and prophetic revelations (Rev. 1:10). But, Elijah’s story is nevertheless instructive. These types of displays were rare in biblical times and remain rare today, perhaps because God generally chooses not to overwhelm our senses with displays of His power. That means if we truly want to hear God’s voice, we would be wise to seek to turn down the noise so we can tune our ears to hear Him.
Seventh-century monk John Climacus said, “The friend of silence draws near to God.” In a world of noise, silence is something we are unlikely to stumble upon by happenstance. If we are to find it, we must pursue it.
Pursuing silence means we must be clear-eyed about how difficult it can be. Not only does it require us to resist the myriad of entertainment options around us, but it also forces us to face what is actually going on in our hearts. 20th-century Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen captures the joy and challenges of silence in saying, “Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter—the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers Himself as the substance of the new self.”
It is in the silence that we can finally face the inner chatter happening in our heads, and ultimately quiet that chatter so we can tune in to the voice of God. I (Brian) am not someone who naturally gravitates toward silence. Throughout my life, my general practice has been to fill nearly every moment of my life with noise. My motives for this aren’t entirely negative—I’m relentlessly curious and love to learn. However, in the last couple of years, I’ve discovered the need for silence in my life. I’ve learned that I’ve overloaded myself with information and that the growth I need is unlikely to be found in such a high volume of content consumption. These days I rarely turn on music or a podcast during short drives, and I’ve disciplined myself to avoid instinctively reaching for my phone (most of the time) when waiting for a meeting or an appointment. I’ve learned to let these moments be opportunities to pray, let my mind wander, or simply be attentive to God’s presence. In addition, I’ve pursued the discipline of silence, where I’ll set a timer on my phone for five, seven, or ten minutes and just sit in silence and give God my attention. Sometimes I’ll end up praying for specific things God brings to mind, but most of the time, I just sit and enjoy God’s presence.
These times can be uncomfortable. It feels weird to not ‘do’ anything, and sometimes the lack of distraction forces me to face things in myself that I’d rather keep hidden. But I learned to view these practices in a similar manner as physical exercise. When I’m out of shape, exercise seems hard and even awkward. But, as my fitness improves, I can find more joy in it. In the same way, silence is uncomfortable at first. And, as with physical workouts, sometimes these times of quiet are unremarkable. But, as I’ve incorporated them into my life more and more, I’ve learned by experience that when I fill my mind with Scripture and give myself to regular times of silence, I’m shaped into someone who can better recognize God’s voice. I’m confident that anyone who seeks after these things will be able to say the same.
- How comfortable are you with silence? What makes it easy or difficult for you?
- So far in these readings, we’ve talked about filling our minds with Scripture and making space for silence. What other practices can help us better hear God’s voice?
- Consider taking some time again today to sit in silence before God. You can set a timer on your watch or phone so that you are not distracted by how much time has passed. Give yourself grace when your mind wanders, and consider using a simple word or phrase like “Jesus” or “God is love” to gently refocus yourself if needed.