During the transfiguration of Lord Jesus, God’s glory was revealed to the three disciples and from the cloud of His glory the command was, ‘This is My beloved Son, hear Him’. The earlier similar command that is prayed by all Jews, ‘The Shema Prayer’ is also about listening to God where the word, shema is used 92 times in the book of Deuteronomy. During His temptation by the devil Lord Jesus quoted all verses from this one book of the Bible for He had been hearing the Word speak to Him from the book.
Creation reveals God’s glory – Legend has it that a king desired to listen to God’s voice and an agreement was reached between a married couple expecting their child to live in a place away from populated areas for a few years without speaking to each other and to the child at all. All supplies for them were left in a particular spot and they would collect that. After about four years when the king visited them to hear the language of God that the child would have learnt, he was surprised to hear the child speaking the language of the birds and animals around him. All of creation declares God’s glory and ‘day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard’ (Psalm 19:1-3). Nature even in a fallen state reveals God’s glory but human beings are unable to hear God’s voice.
Sin of the Garden – Mankind decided to make a name for itself by erecting ‘a tower whose top is in the heavens’ and God came down to see the work of their hands. Thereafter God declared that people are one with one language, in total agreement with one another, ‘now nothing they propose to do will be withheld from them’ (Genesis 11:4-6). All the people listened to one another and reached an agreement on everything they wanted to do and God had to intervene to stop them from entering heaven with their sinful nature. Lord Jonathan Sacks, says, The sin in the Garden of Eden was that they followed their eyes, not their ears and decided on the basis of what they saw, the beauty of the tree, not by what they heard, that is God’s command not to eat from it. They acquired the knowledge but of the wrong kind.
Effect of worldly knowledge – Man is created to act and be like God and hear His voice to obey His call and the inherent knowledge was about right and wrong. Ruth Benedict, the great anthropologist, in her book, ‘The chrysanthemum and the Sword’ talks of two types of cultures in the world. The ‘shame culture’ is about honor and feeling bad about failing others’ expectations and is other directed forcing us to flee and hide. The second or the guilt culture is about righteousness, about being wrong and failing to live up to the voice of our own conscience and is inner directed leading to introspection and correction. The acquired knowledge brought in shame culture forcing Adam and Eve to hide from God. Satan leads us to shame culture where we listen to everyone else and not God induced voice of inner conscience.
Listening to God – Lord Jesus has repeated this call many times in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, ‘He who has ears, let him hear’ (Matthew 11:15). This is not just a normal statement but a call to hear and take heed. The basic command to love God is preceded by the command to ‘hear’ and the Hebrew word ‘shema’ used here means ‘diligently hear, obey and proclaim’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). God has promised to restore to the people ‘a pure language’ to enable them to listen to and speak to God and to each other (Zephaniah 3:9-10). The blessings of the indwelling Holy Spirit of speaking and interpreting ‘different kinds of tongues’ is about listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, interpreting and prophesying about God’s plan to others (1 Corinthians 12:10). The devil, who is god of this world, blinds the minds of the people that they are unable to perceive the voice and message of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).
God confused the language of the people to hinder their oneness with each other and with the devil for the potential of the fallen man to do evil is terrible and powerful as has been seen in the past. But now that the language has been restored to all believers, the language of God through His Spirit and we are enabled to hear God’s voice. Listening to God is to allow His words to sink in, to enable Him to write on our heart, get understanding and then respond. Listening for Abraham was absolute obedience, whether it was to leave his ancestral place or to offer Isaac as a sacrificial offering.
Listening and obedience was and is not about trying to earn God’s favor but about love. It is not about impressing others or worrying about their perception for that is a false world of masks and disguises. It is never easy but listening alone bridges the big wide gap between soul and soul, self and God. God speaks to us to summon us to our destined task in the world and then keeps helping us to press on to accomplish that. God is keen not only to answer our prayers but also tell us about His Divine love for us and what treasures of love He desires to give us. Lord Jesus has placed us back in the abundance of the Garden of Eden but we have to meet and listen to God’s voice and be where He desires instead of hiding from Him.
God speaks to us through various means, angels, His prophets, dreams, visions, miracles and even through a donkey (Numbers 22:23-31) enabled by Him, who tried to save Balaam from the angel. And finally He has spoken to us through His beloved Son and now through His Spirit that dwells in us (Hebrews 1:2). Abraham, Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament were different from others of that age that they heard the voice of God which others could not or did not hear. Prophet Elijah fled to the mountain of God and God did not appear to him in great and strong wind, an earthquake, or in the fire but in a ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12). Prophet Samuel was a child, living in the Temple to assist the High Priest Eli and God called out to him twice (1 Samuel 2:3-11). Not being able to differentiate between the voice of God and Eli, Samuel went running to the High Priest on both times, till he was told to answer God correctly and listen to Him.
God’s voice is heard in all of creation – listen to the song of the universe in the call of birds, the movement of tree branches and leaves and the wave of the seas. Listen to those who love you and whom you love and listen to the voice of God through His Word and hear Him speak through the Bible.
We are surrounded by noise all around us, noise created mostly under the influence of the devil, ‘the prince of the power of the air’. This noise disables our ability to hear the ‘still small voice of God’ which can only be heard when we empty our soul of the worldly noise. Satan leads people to ‘the mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter’ and to astrologers who try and predict and claim to change the destined things to prevent their hearing of God’s voice. Saul, the first king of Israel saw the Philistines army and was afraid. He then went in disguise at night to a woman who was a medium to enquire of her, and not only lost the battle but also his life (1 Samuel 28).
To listen to God’s voice and to disregard the whispers of the devil, takes training and the ability to create silence in the soul. This silence is necessary to properly listen to the voice of other fellow human beings also. Through the eyes we are able to look at the external beauty of the created world but it is through listening that we connect to the soul of another person and when God so desires to His soul also. After the command to listen, the procedure for listening was given by Moses, to teach God’s word diligently to your children in your house, on the way and even while resting. And to tie the written word up as a sign on your hands and between your eyes and also to write on the doors of your house. The eyes are to see and hands are for doing everything and it is not only about ensuring that all generations would hear but also to guide their vision and every deed. We hear and obey by keeping God’s Word always in front of us as a badge of identity. In New Jerusalem all God’s people will see God’s face and His name will be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:4).
It is never that the Lord is not speaking to us but it is we who are not hearing. Lord Jesus, The Good Shepherd, has said He calls His sheep by name; they know His voice and they hear Him (John 10:3-4). It is not about our ability but clear statement about hearing His voice irrespective of that. All believers can and do hear but they do not recognize God’s voice. A TV station transmits all the time and only the one TV set that is tuned in can receive the signal. We are always blaming the Transmitter for not answering while the problem is with our receiver.
How do we hear God’s voice – The requirement is first to fix the receiver. The command is, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). Enter the room and close the door to all outside noise and hear Him. Second, God is a Spirit and He communicates with our spirit not to the ear or to the brain (John 4:24). Most often we confuse God’s voice with our thoughts. The devil creates strongholds in our minds by placing thoughts of failure causing disturbance and loss of peace. God talks through impressions and thoughts and rarely in an audible voice and when He urges my spirit to do something that gets transformed into a thought. Third, ‘Delight yourself in the LORD; and He shall give you the desires of your heart’ (Psalm 37:4). It is not about God fulfilling my desires but He makes His desires as mine and this gives me delight in that for God’s voice gives pleasure. How many times people have been delayed or missed a flight due to some urging from within to be saved from some disaster.
A Pastor in Beirut had 240 children and 34 church members meeting in the Church on the day of that massive explosion when God’s Spirit troubled his mind to urge him to force everyone to leave the building. Within minutes after they all went, the explosion occurred in the vicinity and all lives were saved, though the church building suffered damage. Four, ‘Let the peace of God rule in your hearts’ (Colossians 3:15). When in doubt, choose the option that gives peace in the soul for God is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). Apostle Peter declared, ‘God shows no partiality’ towards anyone (Acts 10:34). Our gracious heavenly Father speaks to each and every one of His children constantly to guide and equip us to be total overcomers but we have to tune unto Him.
Differentiating between various voices – Holy Spirit gift of discernment of spirits is given to the believers to differentiate between the different voices we hear (1 Corinthians 12:10). Apostle Paul has cautioned about being careful; first, Do not quench the Holy Spirit; two, Do not despise prophesies; three, Test everything that is said; four, Hold fast to what is good and five, Stay away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). Discernment is like eating fish where one swallows the meat but spits out the bones. In this neither be such that everything is suspected where even the Holy Spirit will be disturbed nor accept all without due process of scrutiny. The five tests of discernment that are generally used are as under.
First, Is it in line with the Scripture? – All Scripture is God breathed (given by inspiration of God) and anything not in conformity with The Bible is not from God, though it may sound to be very pleasant (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Second, does it lead me to Lord Jesus? Anything that tries to diminish the importance of the Savior Lord in my life needs to be immediately rejected. Three, Is it confirmed by the Body of Christ? If my fellow believers are not accepting the voice/teaching by someone, I must also reject it for Pastors, elders and other church officials are chosen by God to guide us. Four, Does it convict or accuse and condemn? Voice of God is uplifting and leading to repentance and right path but voice of the devil is accusing and condemning. Five, Is it clear and peace giving? ‘God is not the author of confusion but of peace’ (1 Corinthians 14:33). If the other tests confirm the truth, wait for God to fill us with peace.
Lord Jesus has said, ‘I know My sheep and My sheep know Me’ (John 10:14). Effectiveness of discernment is dependent on developing and maintaining a deep, consistent, intimate walk with the Lord to know Him intimately. Lord Jonathan Sacks, Ex Chief Rabbi of England, says, ‘The greatest source of sin is to forget we are children of the King’ and when we say ‘Avinu malkeinu’ our Father our King, we declare that we are all members of God’s family and we must act in faith since we are. God is love and as His children, the real honor is not the honor we receive but the honor we give (1 John 4:16). Giving honor is to diligently listen to His voice, reflect on His commands, obey and proclaim to others.
How much pain God the Father must have suffered to see His beloved Son being rejected, tortured and then crucified by the same people who had been waiting for His arrival. But He permitted that to allow many more to be added into His family through faith in the very same Son of God. After all that how can it be that God the Father would then abandon His children and not speak or listen to them? His promise is that those who seek Him will find Him and due diligence is needed in this.