Last time I taught publicly on the subject of “Hearing God”, I asked a random student onto the stage, and I began sharing with them what was going on in my life at that time. After a few minutes of useless, self-centered banter, I dove in, “Did I tell you I’m getting a new car? I have to drive to Ohio next week to pick it up: it’s used, but in great shape and I’m getting it for a steal.” After a few minutes more of babble, I asked them how they had been, but interrupted them a mere couple words into their response – clearly not listening – with another question, “So, what’ve you been up to this week?” Pausing for only a moment, looking somewhat baffled, but flowing with it, they began to answer, but before they got into any depth, I again interrupted; “That’s nice – hey, I’ve started recording another c.d.? Oh, and my last one just got another review – I’m really excited about this one. So, what bands do you like?” Again, they began to respond, but after naming only one band, again I piped in with, “That’s nice, I’ve not heard of them – I’ve been listening to this band named Pedro the Lion, and I really like Vigilantes of Love, Over the Rhine, Bruce Cockburn…” then I babbled on about the high points of each band’s careers. Yes, it was clearly a frustrating conversation for my ‘guest’, but – of course – that’s the point.
What is wrong with this relationship, if it were a real one? Self-centered? One way? Too many problems to list?
Honestly, I sometimes still struggle with this, but back in college I used to be REALLY bad. I had one friend named Rich who used to say that a visit from me was like having a Tornado not-so-politely drop by: girl troubles, school troubles, & doubts, all dumped on him at late, inopportune times, then I ran. It was like I was visiting an emotional bathroom: I didn’t hang around for long when I was done dumping. I came into his room – did my thing – and I left; I rarely stuck around to LISTEN.
So, do any of YOU want to be my friend? Back then you could’ve had a closer relationship with a tele-marketer, but sadly that is how many of us approach our relationship with God – we load Him down with requests and dump our problems upon Him, but we rarely stop to listen.
If you’d like to check out John 10:1-15 on your own, feel free, but don’t feel bad if you’re a bit confused – look at verse 6; “…they did not understand what he was saying to them.” In modern English, here’s what’s going on; “Jesus said, ‘ Let me make this as clear as I can: If someone climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the front gate, they’re probably up to no good. The shepherd, however, walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep immediately recognize the shepherd’s voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When gets them all out, He leads them and they follow because they are familiar with His voice. They won’t follow a strangers voice because they aren’t used to the sound of it.’ After Jesus told this story the Pharisees and the disciples all stood around blathering things like ‘what?’, “eh?”, and “huh?” because they had absolutely no clue as to what he was talking about.” So, see – if you’re lost, you’re in good company – so was everyone else the first time they heard it, including the Pharisees AND the disciples! I just want to focus on one part of this passage – verses 3 & 4.
“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” – John 10:3b-4
If there is one thing I can tell you about sheep, it’s that Sheep are DUMB: when I was your age I once took an old red wagon and tied it to the collar of a young lamb and kicked the wagon, which, of course, scared the living daylights out of it, so it began to run. But since the wagon was attached to it, the faster it ran the more noise it made, and the more scared the sheep became, and the faster it ran. It must have run laps around the barnyard for 20 minutes before it finally just fainted from exhaustion. Mean? Yes, very much so, but at least now it serves as an interesting analogy.
The fact is, sheep are so stupid that they often tend to follow their taste-buds – grazing face down – until they finally look up and realize they’re lost. It is any wonder that God compares us to sheep? How often have you, not intending to sin, followed your nose in a direction that seemed okay at first, only to find yourself lost and in trouble because of it?
An interesting this about sheep, however, is that they do recognize their master’s voice! You can separate 2 different herds of sheep simply by getting the masters of both herds to stand on opposite sides of the flock and call to them! In this sense, let us HOPE and PRAY that we are like sheep.
So, who the shepherd is I believe is clear; “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…” ( John 10:14) However, how did the sheep come to recognize their master’s voice?
When I first met my wife, she had to tell me who it was when she called, but now how do you think she’s react if she called me and started talking and I said, “Excuse me – who IS THIS?” NO WAY – I’ve studied her voice: dwelled upon it – I recognize her voice even if she’s sick or depressed. How much MORE should that be true of God?!
In Matthew 4 Jesus himself said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” Colossians 3:16 says to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly…” We dwell upon things we find memorable – impactful – beautiful. For instance, we would dwell on a compliment from someone you admire – it rings through your head all day long: you could never forget it. The same should be true of God’s Word – it should dwell with us, staying present in our mind & heart, to become part of who we are. God’s Word is the clearest, and the authoritative (meaning “unquestionable” or “commanding obedience”) way to hear from God, and is the means by which we learn to recognize Christ’s “voice” – we become familiar with it through letting what we’ve heard from Him in the Word dwell in us.
So, if God is a God who speaks, why is it often SO HARD to hear Him?
Satan also speaks, and with him he also brings confusion. In Matthew 16:21-23 Peter, thinking he was helping out Jesus, tried to talk Jesus out of going to the cross, and Jesus responds to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” In the desert, Satan came directly to Jesus and tempted him with power and riches and basically everything that any person could want – and to this day he is on the prowl: a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, according to 1 Peter 5:8.
Now, if God’s speaks with a “still small voice”, and Satan walks around roaring all the time, are you going to have to listen closely to hear God? Indeed, you do!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a crowded room where everyone is talking at the top of their lungs, though, and picked someone’s voice out of the crowd and was able to hear them mainly because I was familiar with their voice and able to focus on it. That is why it is SO IMPORTANT for us to read the Word of God: TO GET FAMILIAR WITH HIS VOICE!
There is one other reason that we sometimes aren’t aware of God’s daily leading – that we aren’t able to discern God’s speaking to us on a daily basis.
James 1:22-25 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.”
Tell me this, if I continually am telling you to do something simple, and you don’t ever take my advice, do you think I’m going to bother to interfere or try to give you any advice on the more intimate details of your life?
For instance, if you get pulled over by the State Highway Patrol for speeding, he’s likely not going to just remind you what the speed limit is – it’s already been posted, so there’s no reason for him to repeat it. In fact, the officer is likely to get irritated if you ask: don’t all of us despise it when people don’t listen – don’t pay attention?
Also, can you imagine what it would be like to be surprised EVERY TIME you looked into a mirror? What would you call that person? That’s how ridiculous we are sometimes, though – we expect God to direct our daily steps with a booming voice from heaven, when we haven’t even attempted to listen OR OBEY Him where he’s already spoken very clearly! Disturbing, isn’t it?
This is my plea to you, FALL IN LOVE with God’s Words – dwell on them, pour over them, let them seep into you, so when God does speak you will recognize His voice – for God’s voice is beautiful and a thing to be greatly desired.
There is another benefit to “listening” to God in His Word: We tend to become like those we are around a lot. Look around at your friends – how many of you use the same phrases, dress alike. Look at older folks – married couples often end up looking alike as they grow older. Well, the Bible says, “When we see Him we will be LIKE Him”: John 17:17 and John 15:3 says that the Word cleanses us, and sanctifies us – basically, reading the Word – becoming familiar with the voice of God makes us more like God. We become like those we spend time with.
Let me challenge you – pick up the Bible and, and read it. Use it as the foundation stone of a life lived LISTENING: a healthy prayer life is AWESOME – PRAY PRAY PRAY, but also, don’t forget to listen. This is God’s love letter to you – open it expecting to hear from Him.
Not every conversation is exciting, but every one you have with God is important.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” – Romans 10:17
“”And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD…” – Proverbs 8:32-35
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2