AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
by Lisa Goddard
With a bit of nudging, my husband Andy convinced me to participate in a Christian couples group a number of years ago. I was reluctant, but game, thinking it would be a somewhat traditional Bible study where we would get connected with a nice group of people. After a couple of weeks of introductions and sharing stories, our facilitators began discussing “hearing God.” Full disclosure here…alarm bells rang in my head (along with the theme music from The Twilight Zone), and I wondered if I had wandered into some voodoo Christian cult!
I knew there were numerous examples of God audibly speaking in the Old Testament and a few in the New Testament, but I wasn’t aware of any present-day, literal conversations with the Lord.
As I delved more deeply into the scriptures that described God’s “voice,” I began to realize that God does speak to us in more ways than in that James Earl Jones voice we might conjure up when we imagine him speaking to Abraham or Moses. Not only does God reach us through His Holy Word, but through prayer, nature, music, thoughts, dreams, books, and the words of others. Throughout the Bible are examples of the many ways God communicated with His children. Through angels, a burning bush, miraculous healings, and even a donkey, God’s existence, commandments and power became evident, but could I actually hear God, and how would I know when it was Him?
Everyone hears God, through his Son Jesus, differently. I hear Him best through the majesty of His creation, as when I sit on a bench facing the lake in our neighborhood in the quiet of a pre-sunrise morning, or during a hike on a wooded, tree-lined trail. Oftentimes, Jesus speaks to me through the words of a worship song that hit home on an issue I’m struggling with or a worry that churns up my insides. The key, I have discovered, is to be still and LISTEN.
I know that I often need quiet in order to really focus on what Jesus might be trying to communicate to me, but with to-do lists, activities, media, and other distractions (often translated as grandchildren in my world), it’s not always easy. At first, I sort of patted myself on the back, thinking, “I spend a good bit of quality time with Jesus.” But upon further reflection, I confess that many of those prayer and devotional moments are spent talking to, rather than quietly listening to Him.
Elijah listened when he went out and stood on the mountain as God instructed, but what transpired was not what he anticipated.
“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:12,13
It was not in the wind or an earthquake or a fire that Elijah saw or heard the Lord, but in a whisper. Through silence, through quiet, God speaks.
During the Transfiguration, in a flash of lightning, Moses and Elijah appear in glorious splendor, and the disciples Peter, John and James believe Jesus has been elevated to the status of Moses and Elijah. It is only when Moses and Elijah disappear, leaving Jesus, that they hear the word of God.
“While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.” Luke 9:34-36
Again, God displayed awesome acts of power, but His glory was most apparent when the distractions disappeared.
Jordan posed a question during his message this past Sunday that encouraged me to consider where Jesus stands amid the activity and noise of my day: “What are the voices we have permitted to take up residence in our hearts and minds besides Jesus?” Some, he said, are good but they can crowd out Jesus. Then he asked, “What are the good things in your life that have been elevated a bit too high and need to take a step down?”
Lots of thoughts camp out in my head every day. They can change by the hour, depending on what’s going on in my life. They’re not all negative. In fact, most are pretty positive. I know God is reflected in many of them. It just sometimes takes me looking back to see where he was talking to me, poking me, encouraging me, reminding me. I realized that in the midst of the din of daily routines and activities, He reveals himself most when I stop, pause and listen. But, more importantly, as one of our Sunday worship songs imprinted on me, I have to listen with the heartfelt desire to “WANT to know Him, to WANT to hear His voice.”
That “wanting to” echoes the sentiments of a quote I read recently on a web site, Countless Wonders. “I may not speak your language, but when you spend time in my presence and listen with your heart, you will hear my voice.” And, as Dallas Willard said, “Our failure to hear His voice when we want to is due to the fact that we do not in general want to hear it, that we want it only when we think we need it.”
My prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to sift through the chaos and confusion, to redirect my gaze from myself to you and to desire to know you more. Allow me to create space to stay awake to what you have to say. I know that it is in the silence of the heart you speak, and it is there I will know you, and you’ll know me. Speak Lord, your servant is listening. Amen.