THE story of time begins with a speaking God. “In the beginning was the Word … (Jn. 1:1). “In the beginning … God said …” (Gen. 1:3,6,9,14,20,24,28,29).
When God spoke at the dawn of time, the universe appeared and began flexing its cosmic muscles. The earth was shaped and sprang to life. God’s voice was intimately connected with creation. Likewise, at the end of time, that same divine voice will be heard from the heavenly throne declaring, “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5). God’s voice creates and re-creates. Without this voice, there will be no world and no redemption.
If God’s voice is central to our understanding of life, then it follows that the spiritual discipline of hearing is of utmost importance. In fact biblical religion can be described as the religion of the ear.
One has only to read the Psalms, the prayer and song book of ancient Israel, to realise that much of the psalmists’ prayer involves pleading with God to turn His ear to their cries (Ps.77:2; 88:2). God assures us that He indeed is the one divine reality who has ears that are open to our cries. Idols, on the other hand, are lifeless and though they may be depicted as having ears, they cannot hear us because they are nothing.
God not only tells us that He can hear us but He also reveals His desire to have conversations with us. Which means that we need to hear Him too. God issues an invitation to us: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” (Is. 55:3). Just as we want Him to turn His ear to hear us, He too wants us to turn our ears to hear Him.
But why is it that so many people do not hear Him? In Jer. 5:21God describes people “who have ears but do not hear”. He explains: “Their ears are closed so they cannot hear.” (Jer. 6:10). Years later, Jesus sheds more light when he told the Jews: “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (Jn. 8:47). His listeners had wrongly assumed that since they were Abraham’s descendents they had special spiritual rights and abilities. Not so, said Jesus. In order to hear God, one needs to have a personal relationship with God. One needs to be born again. The man who is not born again can pray when he is in dire circumstances and God can hear him, but this man would not be able to carry on a conversation with God. He must repent, believe in Jesus, and commit his life to Jesus before he is able to do this.
But what about those who are born again and yet do not seem to hear God?
The problem here is not inability but unwillingness to hear. In a world filled with many voices and noises, a Christian can choose to listen to every other voice except the still small voice of God. Perhaps he does not want to know the truth. Or he may be unwilling to leave his comfort zone. Imagined fears that listening to God would result in personal discomfort and sacrifice may result in choosing not to hear God.
Habitual disobedience to God would also result in growing spiritual deafness. Turning a deaf ear to God’s commandments, shutting one’s ears to the cry of the poor (Pr 21:13) — these are actions that affect one’s conversation with God. Repentance and re-commitment would help restore the conversation in these situations. In the words of Gregory the Great, one “must hasten to put into practice what he has heard”.
There are yet others who, though born again and sincere in wanting to hear God, find carrying on a conversation with God a problem. How does one recognise the voice of God for there is often too much “background noise”? Using the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep, Jesus taught that His sheep listen to His voice (Jn. 10:27). They do this because they know Him (Jn. 10:14). What we must note here is that they also know His voice (Jn. 10:4).
How can one get to know God’s voice? This is especially important because people often think that their own inner voice is the voice of God. Their imagined conversation with God is in fact a conversation with themselves. God normally does not speak to us in an audible voice. He speaks to us in our inner beings. And that is where the challenge lies. How do we know when He is speaking and when we are thinking our own thoughts?
I believe two questions will help us answer this question.
Why do we want to hear God?
In his book Hearing God, Dallas Willard fears that “many people seek to hear God solely as a device for securing their own safety, comfort and righteousness”. Such a purpose-driven spirituality that is centred in the self will not help us recognise God’s voice in the noisy conversations that take place inside us.
The Song of Songs in the Bible is a delightful record of a lovely conversation between two lovers. The lover expresses his longings by pleading with his beloved: “Let me hear your voice!” (Song 8:13). He pines, “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.” (Song 2:14). While this may be love poetry, it shows the depth of love that should characterise our conversational relationship with God. It is only possible if the motive for wanting to hear God is not self interest but true love for God.
What has God’s Word got to do with His voice?
Plenty. God speaks primarily through His Word. The more we know God’s Word, the more we will learn to recognise His voice. In a particularly insightful way, Billy Graham once said, “The word of God hidden in the heart is a stubborn voice to suppress.” God often speaks in our hearts through His Word. That is His preferred method. Therefore, the more one keeps the Word in his heart, the more easily he can know the difference between self-talk and a holy conversation with God. He will know when God is speaking.
Do you have a good conversational relationship with God? Whatever your answer, you can do a few things. Make sure you are born again. Make it a habit to obey God. Make sure you want to hear God’s voice for the right reason — because you love Him. And fill your heart with God’s Word. For this New Year, have a new ear for God! May God awaken your ear (Is. 50:4) and bless you.