If you’re just joining us, we’ve been considering some practical steps we can take to get better and better at hearing God’s voice. To see what’s been covered so far (each post is fairly short), start here. Today I want to offer a final ‘filter’ in the process. To recap:
Get away to listen. Then, when you believe you’ve heard God speak…
filter it through Scripture,
filter it through wise council and finally,
filter it through action.
Samuel is such a helpful example of how important this final ‘filter’ can be. When God first whispers to him, Samuel doesn’t recognize God’s voice (can anyone relate?!?) But he gets up — and goes to the only person he can think is speaking — his mentor, Eli. Eli, like any sleepy adult who is awoken at 3am, tells the child to go back to bed…perhaps with a slight edge to his voice. Samuel obeys, but he soon hears the voice again. So he gets up — goes to Eli — and is again told to go back to bed. This happens a third time, and finally Eli is awake enough (spiritually speaking) to realize what’s going on. He tells Samuel to go back to bed and if he hears this voice again, he should answer “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
It was through action – through trial and error – that Samuel learned to discern God’s voice. It is so often the same for us. There comes a moment when only stepping out will tell you what you want to know.
Recently, while spending some time reflecting and praying in the morning, I thought that I heard God say to me that I needed to confess my pride to someone in my life — someone very close to me — and ask for forgiveness for the way my pride had damaged our relationship. To be clear — I didn’t hear God audibly speak. It was more of a whisper — a still small voice. And so I started to run it through the filters.
Does this line up with Scripture? Absolutely. We are to lay down our lives for each other. And pursuing reconciliation is at the top of the list. Check.
What about the filter of wise counsel? I knew that everyone of the people I go to for help in these situations would encourage me to move forward. This one was pretty obvious. Check.
So that meant it was time to act. Time to move. Time to obey.
But I didn’t. Not at first. Even as clear as this was to me — I didn’t want to do it. I made up reasons why I thought it wouldn’t work. I imagined horrific scenarios during which my confession was rejected — the relationship damaged. Etc. Etc. It wasn’t until weeks later — and a couple of more times of hearing from God — that I finally acted.
And do you know how it went? It. was. really. hard. (I mean….really hard). But at the end of it, a small ray of light began to shine again in our relationship. A light that grew and grew in the coming days. Reconciliation ended up happening. And it was at that point — being able to look back on the experience — that I was able to say with confidence that God has spoken to me all those days prior.
Obeying God doesn’t mean that the path forward will be easy. Again – the conversation I had (out of obedience) was tough. So the test isn’t whether or not everything becomes rosy once we obey — the test is whether there is fruit produced. Somewhere, somehow there should be fruit if it was God speaking (think about all of the times in Scripture when God’s spoken word — God’s voice — produces life. The same is to be true in our lives).
Samuel learned God’s voice through trial and error. He, like Abraham had to get up and go — and it was in the ‘going’ that God’s voice became more clear. Esther – who had received wise counsel — found God’s word faithful when she stepped out and had one of the hardest conversations imaginable. It was in the wrestling and struggling that Jacob heard God speak. And the stories go on and on.*
Hearing God’s voice is not always easy. The world is a terribly noisy place. But God is speaking. Today. To you. Because, you see, you are meant to hear and know the Shepherd’s voice. To help us, God gives us the Scriptures and wise friends. But in the end, we must step out and obey as best we can. Sure….we may get it wrong some times. But so did Samuel and plenty of others. Because you see, even when we get it ‘wrong’, God uses it for good — using our mistakes to teach us to better recognize his voice the next time around.
So keep listening, friends. And then start moving, because it’s in that journey of obedience that we become better and better at hearing our Creator’s voice.*[Side note: if you’re like me, you may imagine that whenever God spoke to someone in the Bible it was a pretty straight forward event: the clouds parted — a beam of light shot down from the sky — and God’s audible voice rang out. And maybe that’s how it happened once or twice, but I can’t help but wonder if practically every character in Scripture didn’t go through the same sort of discernment process we go through…and then finally have to take a bold and faith-filled step of obedience. True…there are those burning bush moments — but those seem to be the exception, not the rule]