The Voice of God
When I looked at this weekend’s weather report and saw a forecast of possible snow Saturday night, my first thought was, “Come on God, seriously?” I mean, God knows it’s the night before we – His Church – worships. Why wouldn’t God do a little divine intervention and hold the snow off a bit, so there’s no possibility of missing church?
Yes, that was my first thought. No, I don’t think God micromanages the weather. I think God created the world and the universe in such a way that there are systems. The weather is part of a larger system, a system not at all concerned about whether or not snow will cancel school or church, or rain will cancel a big baseball game. Do I believe God intervenes within natural order of things, within the natural functioning of weather and waves and animals and plants? Yes, I do believe God steps into the physical world.
Here’s the maddening thing. God does it on God’s timetable for God’s purposes. We may have reasons that we want God to act in this way or that way. And God loves us. But, God trusts his own thinking more than ours. So, God will allow it to snow or not, but whatever God does, intervene or not, God acts according to God’s own counsel. We can’t predict God’s actions and often we don’t know the reason for them.
It is one aspect of the mystery of God. God will speak to us, but we can’t predict or control when or how God will do this. My own belief is that God speaks far more often than we realize, but we miss God’s voice because don’t listen closely. It is crucial to shut out the noise that fills our heads and blocks our hearts and our perception. But even doing that, praying consistently and listening earnestly, still we do not have one iota of control over when and how God will act.
The novelist and ordained Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner writes of a time in his own life that he expected a miracle. He was laying on a grassy hillside on a sunny day. He writes, “Because of a variety of circumstance, I had a very real, strong feeling that the time was ripe for a miracle, my life was ripe for a miracle.”[i] He lay there a while and watched the wind blow the leaves of the nearby apple tree. No miracle happened. Was God in the wind?
Last week (1/1/17) in the sermon, I talked about the way modern day western culture, generally speaking, ignores God. That’s a serious spiritual condition that warrants attention. Just as interesting is the phenomenon of Christians, like Buechner, earnestly seeking a sign from God, only to hear wind in the tree branches and nothing more. Why does the world around the church ignore the voice of God even when that voice shouts? Why does it appear that God ignores those in his church, individual Christians, who strain to hear Him?
How do we hear the voice of God?
There is no secret answer. There is no technique. There is nothing we can do to compel God to speak. I have a friend who literally fasted from all food for the 40 days of Lent one year. In the middle of his fast, he was hungry and getting impatient. On a prayer walk, he insisted that God speak to him, and he actually did hear the voice of God. God said to him, clearly and audibly, “Just because you fast doesn’t compel me to speak.” My friend was humbled, but when he told me the story, I was furious. Come on God, what’s up with that?
How do we hear the voice of God?
We listen. We cultivate a prayer life in which we spend our lives attentively listening. This comes in a context of worship and participation in ministry. Those things must be constants in our lives. We must live as disciples in our thoughts and the perfect, selfless love of God must drive our actions. We may never hear God audibly, but if we live this way, I believe God will speak and we’ll feel the blessing and presence even if we don’t know it is God who is at work in us.
I’ll address this further in a blog post coming early next week.
[i] Buechner is quoted by Philip Yancey in his book Reaching for the Invisible God (Zondervan Books: Grand Rapids, 2000), p.32.