The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.
– John 10:3-5, NIV
I want to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd! To follow Him I must listen to His voice. In everyday life though, how do we do that?
God speaks to different people in different ways – to some He speaks with a voice, with words; to others with pictures and visions; to others dreams, songs, nature, angels, feelings, signs… God can speak to us through the Bible, through Creation, through opening or closing doors ahead of us, and in many other ways. People often become discouraged by the belief that they don’t or can’t hear the voice of God – but is this simply because they have expectations of the way God might want to speak to them; thus restricting Him and trying to fit Him into the small box of human imagination and our own experience?
As God’s sheep we must grow to know and recognise the ways that God chooses to speak to us. We ourselves speak to different people n different ways: we use different words and a different tone when speaking to children, to teenagers, to those we respect, to those we dislike, to those we love… People can also have different call-sounds for their pets, for example someone might use a whistle for their dog and a bell for their cat. And we all use different methods of communication to talk with different people: for example by letter, phone, email, social media… Likewise, God speaks to each of us in different ways. Perhaps the number of ways that God can speak to people is equal to the number of people who have ever lived. No way of hearing His voice is any better than any other way.
We must silence every creature, we must silence ourselves, to hear in the deep hush of the whole soul, the ineffable voice of the spouse. We must bend the ear, because it is a gentle and delicate voice, only heard by those who no longer hear anything else.
– Francois Fenelon
Listening to God is vital for following Him and being His disciple. If Jesus’ disciples did not listen to Him, how would He have discipled them? And if we do not listen to God’s voice, how can we know His will and follow where He is leading us? One morning before church as I was surrendering the day into God’s hands, I asked Him what His will was for the day – and I felt Him clearly tell me that He wanted to physically heal someone. I was surprised to hear this, and asked for some sort of sign to confirm who it was that I should look for. He showed me what to look for. Later that day I saw the person and prayed with her, and God fulfilled His promise and brought healing. From situations like this we can see the importance of listening to God – He had extraordinary plans for the day, and if I had got up and gone through the day without stopping to prioritise listening to God, I would never have known and perhaps the situation would have ended up very different. So may we surrender to God our ability to hear His voice and our priority of listening.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
– Hebrews 12:18-21, NIV
Looking at the Bible, it seems like it was easier for those in the Old Testament to hear and know God’s voice than it is for us today. God’s voice then was extremely clear – sometimes even loud and terrifying. And perhaps nowadays we might not WANT to listen to God’s voice if we believe He will challenge us and make life more difficult for us. Seeing the terrifying ways in which God sometimes spoke to His people in the Old Testament could put people off wanting to hear His voice. But at the same time we know that in love He communicates with His people, to guide us and teach us and bless us and warn us; we NEED to know His voice in order to truly be His people. We don’t necessarily need to hear loud trumpet blasts or an audible voice, but we need to learn to recognise how God wants to speak to us as individuals.
Sometimes it can feel frustrating to try to listen to God’s voice – especially if He doesn’t seem to want to speak to us in the time that we want Him to and in the way that we would like. May we surrender to Him this frustration. It takes time to learn to listen and know God’s voice, just as it takes time to learn a language and it takes time for a baby to understand and respond to people’s words. But, like when learning a language, we must prioritise learning to listen to God and finding out the ways He wants to speak to us. We must commit the time to wait on Him and to pray, expecting Him to answer. May we surrender to God our priority, and our time. May we surrender the ways we hear from Him, and the ways we might want to – and ask Him to show us and teach us to hear Him; teach us to recognise it when He is speaking.
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
– Mark 9:7, NIV
On one of my visits to Cambridge I found myself participating in a prayer-on-the-streets thing, which is not usually my cup of tea but it was great fun and God used it. Half of the group prayed inside the church while the other half went out and offered prayer for passers-by. Those inside the church were listening for what God wanted to say, and at one point someone inside sent a text message to those of us who were outside, saying that God had shown him a picture of a turquoise hoodie. Pretty much as soon as the message was read to the group outside, a girl passed wearing a turquoise hoodie. She had a problem with her knee and after prayer was immediately healed, to the amazement of both herself and her friends. If those inside the church had not been listening to God as they prayed, this opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed may well have passed by unnoticed.
When we come into situations where we have to make decisions, we need the voice of God to guide us. When we pass through times of hardship and trouble, we need the voice of God to comfort and sustain us. In times of joy and excitement, we need the voice of God to keep us focused on Him and to show us the God-given opportunities before us wherever we are. May we surrender to God our ability and practice of listening to His voice.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
– Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV
God’s voice is so powerful. Through it He created the universe – by His command everything was brought into being. Using His voice He teaches, corrects, encourages, challenges, comforts and leads us, and much more. But it takes an active choice on our part to listen to it. Hebrews 4, the context to the above passage, talks of entering God’s rest, approaching God’s throne, receiving from Him… These are beautiful concepts and incredible when put into practice – but it is not a passive thing when we come to know Christ; it is very much deliberate on our part if we want to enter God’s rest, approach His throne, receive from Him, and let His word penetrate us. And this can be scary, that the word of His voice is so sharp and can penetrate and judge us, that we are laid bare before Him; we can be made vulnerable and helpless when we choose to enter God’s presence and listen to Him. But do we choose it anyway? Do we trust Him enough, and value His true life enough, and love Him enough? May we surrender. And may we choose to accept His invitation, follow His instruction, and choose to come into His presence to listen to His voice on a regular basis, starting today.
God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
– Hebrews 4:7-11, NIV.
Let us listen to God’s voice! We all need it.
God my Teacher, my Guide, my Comfort…
Thank You that You love to communicate with Your people.
Thank You for Your infinite creativity – that You speak in different ways to different people.
Please help me to not restrict You in my understanding, and to be open to whatever ways You want to speak.
I surrender to You the ways I try to listen to You:
– my priority of listening to Your voice
– my awareness and ability to recognise Your voice when You speak to me
– my cynicism, and my desire to know Your voice and follow You.
I’m open to You speaking to me in whatever ways You choose, in Your timing.
Please communicate with me in the ways that You want to.
Teach me to recognise Your voice every day!
Let Your word penetrate my being – I surrender to You.
Teach me Your truth, loving God!
I surrender to You the way I live as a result of knowing and listening to Your voice.
Please shape my understanding.
I give You my ears and I ask that You teach me how to use them; teach me to listen to You.
May I live in Your ways, following Your voice rather than my own thoughts and understanding.