Can we hear God speak?
Jim started the morning out with a recap of the story of Samuel as a boy – hearing the voice of God and not immediately recognizing who it was. This story is significant for a variety of reasons – Samuel heard the audible voice of God, asked for corroboration of the veracity of that voice, and then sat quietly listening to what God had to say. Jim went on to suggest that God still speaks today – sometimes in an audible voice, but more often in a sense or impression that impacts our way of thinking.
He then presented six questions that can be used as measuring sticks to understand whether or not God is speaking. I have listed the questions below – each with a few comments intended to spark deeper thinking about the questions. In general, I agree with what Jim had to say.
1. Is the voice of God telling you to do something that is outside scripture?
This is the easy one. Very few people (if they were being honest) would believe that God was telling them to do something clearly against the central tenants of scripture. Sounds pretty easy – right? But what about all the places where scripture if vague? And, let’s face it; there are quite a large number of places where this is true. God will not tell you to deny his Son and walk away from your faith. Neither will he tell you to leave your wife of 10 years for a younger, more exciting model. That’s not God – it’s lust – there is a difference.
But what about God telling you to protect the liberty of immigrants from Central America? It would be pretty easy to defend that one scripturally. Rational, reasonable Christians read the scriptures and come to some very different conclusions about what the church should do in that context. So, Scripture is a good guide – but not quite all-inclusive.
2. Do you have a sense of peace about the experience?
This is a more difficult one. Sometimes it is easy to do what I think God is telling me to do. Other times it is very difficult. Usually, what God is telling me to do makes me downright uncomfortable. Not exactly peaceful. There have even been times that God has asked me to make very difficult decisions which I labored over in prayer and fasting. No peace there – just turmoil.
In my experience, peace is the afterglow of doing what God asks us to do. We often do not experience that sense of peace that Jim spoke of until we obey. Peace is the confirmation of doing the will of God, not necessarily in discerning the veracity of his voice in the moment.
3. Is there corroboration of what the voice of God is telling you to do from within the church (body of Christ)?
Confirmation within the body of Christ is crucial – especially for big decisions. This is why we have a board of elders at the Madison Park church. It is also the reason that we have church-wide votes on the larger decisions. We believe that God’s will can be best discerned by listening to the will of the body. Some traditions take this even further. Folks in the Quaker tradition do not vote – they talk through issues until they reach unanimity. Sometimes this takes years, but it certainly promotes peaceful (albeit, slow) movement on the will of God.
This does raise an interesting point – there are many times we are called to act on what we believe God is saying without having the luxury of confirmation of the Church. In those cases questions 4 and 5 (below) are more important that what the church has to say. Indeed, many of us may worry too much about what people in the church will think – and are hampered in out pursuit of the will of God.
Later in this sermon series I will suggest that the Church serves another important function related to the voice of God – but more on that later.
4. Is what you believe God to be saying a loving message?
Jim has this one exactly correct (in my view). Far too many of our brothers and sisters spend too much time sending out messages of condemnation and not affirmation. Gossip, rumor, innuendo, news, slander, and outright condemnation of other people have, so very unfortunately, become what the body of Christ is known for in America. God is not in the business of telling his people to write signs “God Hates … “ you fill in the blank: gays, abortionists, prostitutes, Arabs. If the object of the sign is a person – God does not hate them. To be certain, God hates sin – but he LOVES sinners. We must be very careful in how we promote our political agendas using the powerful rhetoric of “God told me…”
5. Is your conscience seared by any sin in your life?
Ouch! This is a tough one! Recognizing a seared conscience is one of the toughest things a person can do introspectively. A peaceful soul is a good indicator, however, a badly seared conscience may seem to be at peace. Here is another place that we need to place ourselves under the authority of the body of Christ. Accountability within the body is the best insurance against a seared conscience.
6. Do you believe God is telling you to do something that will be detrimental to your relationship with Him?
In this last point Jim sums up much of what the previous five points are getting at. God will never tell you to do something that will place your relationship with him at risk. The danger for us is in the flipside – God will ask us to do things for him. If we neglect them, if we choose not to respond – WE are placing our relationship with God at risk, and hampering our ability to hear his voice.
Herein lies the real danger.
So many of us, called by the name of our master, have ignored his voice for so long that we cannot hear it any longer. Let me illustrate: As I write this I am sitting in Starbucks. Around me there is a cacophony of noise. The baristas are talking, the cleaning guy is working, customers are gabbing and networking, there is music playing, coffee brewing, and papers rustling. Up until the last 30 seconds I did not listen to any of it. I was absorbed in writing this little note – my brain is very effective at filtering out the background noise of life. And yet – as I listen closely – the music is about lost love and the search for meaning, at least one of the conversations is about a relationship going bad, there is a business deal (possibly worth millions) taking place inches from my table, and somewhere, amidst the clamor, is a still small voice. Wait – I think I can almost hear it…