I know without a doubt in my own life the voice of God, sometimes loudly but most often quiet and sublimely subtle, has called to me. More often than not, it has called to me through serendipitous events that suggests (it always suggests, never demands) that I return to the path He has laid out for me. It calls me to cease my endless wanderings which, if I am honest with myself, lead me not to the Light, but instead, carry me through deserts without vegetation and eventually, leave my spirit bellowing, not unlike a thirsty elephant around a dried out water hole.
This still, inner voice can take many forms. Erwin Raphael McManus speaks to the reality of the inner voice:
Ever heard that voice? It calls you like a temptress to abandon the monotony of life and to begin an adventure. It threatens to leave you in the mundane if you refuse to risk all you have for all that could be. If ignored, the voice dims to silence. Yet every now and again, like a siren, she sings and begins to woo you back. She awakens within you dreams and longings you put to bed long ago. It is rarely a conscious action to choose to exist rather than to live. For most of us we are simply lulled to sleep. But there is no rest in this condition. To sleep through your dreams is to choose a life of restless nights and unfulfilled days. To avoid the pain of fear, doubt, and disappointment we have numbed ourselves from the exhilaration of a life fully lived.
My nagging problem is that I don’t always listen to the Spirit’s voice when He calls. Instead, I turn away in resistance to what that sublime voice might be calling me to. More than once the voice has beckoned me to go in directions I had rather avoid. When this happens, I at least have a biblical role model to follow.
God directly called Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah, however, wasn’t especially amenable to God’s job assignment. Rather than heading east, Jonah hopped the first freighter leaving the port and that’s where his adventure really gets moving. As you know, God whips up a squall, the sailors get scared out of their wits and, after a fairly reasonable discussion considering the circumstances, toss Jonah overboard. He ends up in the belly of a whale, gets barfed up on the beach and finally, still muttering to himself, heads off to Nineveh. Jonah ends up preaching to the lowlifes, derelicts, and assorted ne’er-do-wells that live there and they repent. Still, Jonah sits under a bush and complains. You know the story.
I relate to Jonah all too well. God has on occasion made it clear to me that I am called to immerse myself in a certain ministry to a population I had rather not deal with. Like Jonah, I get busy with my own plans and bad things start to happen. Believe me my friends, whale bellies can take many forms. My point in sharing all this is to say that God does in fact call us to specific tasks in this day and age and further, it behooves us to listen and respond.
I say this because there seems to be quite a bit of confusion in the contemporary church regarding how God might communicate with us or whether or not he still does. Much of this confusion stems from believers taking extreme theological views about things and then attempting to foist those views on everyone else.
Some Christian writers will tell you that God communicates with them on a regular basis and that he will do the same with you. These folks, most of them well-meaning, often say things like, “God told me to…..” or “The Lord laid a clear word on my heart.” Where this sort of thing gets dangerous is when they say things like, “God wants me to tell you that you need to…..”
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that God doesn’t communicate with us, for I strongly feel that he does. I just don’t really think that he talks with us like these folks often claim. I know I have never heard the Lord speak in this manner. The results can be devastating. I know a solid Christian man here in our community often has a “word” from God. A couple of years back he claimed God clearly told him he needed to quit his job working as a defense contractor and open a small restaurant selling Chicago style hot dogs.
Not one to ignore a “word” from the Lord, this man, after seeking the council of several elders in his church, resigned from his $160,000 per year position and opened his hot dog emporium. Within two years he went bankrupt, lost his investment, his car, and almost lost his house as well. When questioned about all this, this fellow chalked all this up to “the work of Satan.” The leaders at his church told him that whenever we get a message from the Lord and we are faithful to follow it, the enemy will surely try to destroy whatever we build.
Now I am not saying that all this couldn’t be true. All I am implying is that these sorts of things are often not what they seem. The result is that there is more confusion about how God might communicate with us.
At the other extreme, there are many other Christians who espouse the very liberal view that God is not personal, but instead, is an abstract principle that we cannot fully fathom. Others of a similar ilk emphasize the belief that God is a sublime force of energy that empowers us but never really talks with us. The result here is the same in that it creates even more confusion among people trying to discern the voice of God.
My take on all of this is that God does indeed communicate with us and does so in a variety of ways. I suspect that the methods God uses are individualized and designed to be clearly heard by the intended recipient. In my own case, for example, God will often speak to me through serendipitous events, those things that happen by “coincidence” that are too profound to be coincidence. At other times he clearly speaks to me through Bible reading. Verses that I have read hundreds of times suddenly take on new meaning and often that meaning is directly connected to the issue I am seeking guidance about.
I am not about to tell you how God will communicate with you. I really have no clue. But I do think, with practice and sensitivity, you can become more attuned to his methods of speaking. What I do know is that we have to place ourselves in a position of receiving. We have to dedicate time to our relationship with God. This means, more than anything else, that it is essential to set aside time for regular periods of silence and meditation. Basically, we have to quiet down enough to hear God when he chooses to speak, whatever the method.
Once God has spoken, and we have heard, we then enter the realm of obedience. Like Jonah, we have to make a choice. We can either go with God or we can flee. Among the many gifts God has given us is our free will and, like Jonah, we can choose to follow God’s direction or another way. Yet also like Jonah, we must be prepared to live with the consequences.
© L.D. Turner 2008/2012 All Rights Reserved
* This article was originally published on A Conspiracy of Compassion as well as Wellsprings and Wineskins and Lifebrook in 2008.