This Sunday, after worship, I found myself in one of those conversations I absolutely love.
It had started out simple enough: how was your week?, how’s work?, etc. But then the friend I was talking with dropped this: “The message today was a tough one for me.”
I had just preached on John 2:1-12 – the story of Jesus revealing his glory for the first time at the wedding at Cana. Toward the end of the message I had suggested that the servants had taken Mary’s words seriously (do whatever he tells you), and it was their obedience to the voice of Jesus that was the catalyst for transformation (water to wine, as well as increased faith in the disciples).
Back to the conversation. “The message today was a tough one for me.”
“Oh yea? Tell me more.”
“Well…just exactly what is Jesus telling us to do? How do we know what he’s saying to us? I mean…can’t we all point to people who justified their actions (sometimes their terrible actions) by saying ‘God told me to ____’? So how do we know if it is God talking to us, or just the voice in our head?”
It’s an incredibly important question, isn’t it? Not only do we want to know what God is saying to us when we’re faced with a major life decision (what school should I send my kids to?; should I take that job?)….but I believe that hearing God’s voice is absolutely central to being a Christian. We can’t follow Jesus unless we’re able to hear his voice. Which is to say — the stakes are high. So how do we do it? How do we hear God speak, and know it’s God speaking?
Have you ever been at a big party in a small house? The kind where everyone is standing shoulder to shoulder. The kind where everyone is talking — no shouting — to the person next to them. The kind where you have to work really, really hard to hear the person you’re talking to. I am no good at parties like this because my hearing is a little suspect (it might have to do with blaring House of Pain and other awesome 90s artists while in high school…I’m not sure), and so my only hope is to step outside (literally) to continue the conversation. It’s only when I’m away from all of the competing voices that I’m able to hear the person I want to hear.
I think this is what it can be like to try to hear God’s voice in the midst of our loud, chaotic lives. That’s not to say that it can’t be done — in fact, I believe as we develop the skill to hear God’s voice, we’re able to hear it in any circumstance, no matter how loud. But if we’re just getting started — if we’re just beginning to develop the ability to distinguish God’s voice from all the others — we’re probably wise to step away from the noise.
It’s interesting that this is what Jesus did. Jesus.
He slipped out of bed early, before anyone else, to pray. He retreated to the wilderness — to the quiet — to the stillness.
Take a moment and look back at this last week. Were there any times when you withdrew from the noise and the chaos? Where were your places of ‘wilderness’ — your times of quiet?
If you can’t point to any — then start to consider where and when these might be for you in the coming week. Where could you carve out 15 minutes to be quiet and pray? Do you need to rise early — or step away from the office at lunch? Find a time and schedule it in (no…seriously…put it on your calendar 🙂
In the next few days, I’ll offer some thoughts on what we can do to discern whether or not it’s God’s voice we’re hearing — but before we get to that, let’s make sure that we’ve put ourselves in a position to listen. Let’s retreat from the noise – in simple and small ways — so that we can hone in on the one voice we most need to hear.