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The Other Side of Hearing God

I was curious. A missionary friend had returned to the U.S. for a welcome respite, so I asked him how he in his vocation seeks and hears God. “Being able to discern the Spirit’s input starts with submission,” he began, “I think it’s very easy for us, myself included, to want to hold onto my own plans and say, ‘OK Spirit do what you want to do in my life that backs up what I already want to do,’ rather than saying, ‘You have my whole life, Spirit, what should I do today? What should I do in the next hour?’” My friend spoke as one who had come to realize that, while we seek the guidance of God’s voice, He seeks our obedience to His voice. It is the other side of hearing God—now that He has spoken, how will we respond?

To God, there is no separation between faith and obedience: the latter is an element of the former—“the obedience of faith,”1 the apostle Paul called it. In other words, the soul who knows it is loved to the point of sacrifice, that its most sinful slate is wiped clean, and that it is indwelled by the God who created it—this soul gratefully surrenders its will to God’s plan, obeying Him with a divine blend of deep humility and great joy. It is how at the angel’s command, Philip ran up to the Ethiopian official’s chariot, shunning any thought of personal embarrassment.2 It is how Ananias obeyed a vision and ministered to Saul, that zealous persecutor of the church, despite the obvious danger in doing so.3 It is how at the Spirit’s moving, Emily’s former lab partner reached out to her with specific and relevant words of encouragement, despite knowing nothing of her distress, risking rejection and ridicule through his obedience.4 These and so many faithful ones like them are the blessed ones who not only call Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” 5 but also do what He says. Their faithfulness inspires us to be true; their “Yes” summons our own.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,”6 penned the author of the Hebrews epistle. As my missionary friend said, it begins with submission. We seek His voice; He seeks our obedience—the other side of hearing God.

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”7—Jesus, to His followers.

Father, You know how I seek Your voice and direction. Help me, in turn, to be faithful to You when You speak. Grace me with the heart to live today in the obedience of faith. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 Romans 1:5 ESV; Romans 16:26 ESV
2 Acts 8:26-40
3 Acts 9:10-19
4 Read this brief story in our September 8, 2021 post: “Of People, Circumstances and Timing.
5 See Luke 6:46
6 Hebrews 3:15
7 Luke 11:28

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Sitting Quietly with God

It was the 17th century mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and theologian Blaise Pascal who opined, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (And that was before earbuds!) Personally, I see our “inability to sit quietly” as more of a symptom than a cause, but the man raises a good point, for have you ever noticed our tendency to fill “dead air”? Let us count the ways: podcasts, movies, TED talks, calling, texting, streaming, newsfeeds, YouTube, TV . . . we could go on. There is nothing wrong with any of these helpful means to learning, connection and leisure, of course, but when they conspire as enablers to our “inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” we can miss the calm of God’s presence and the balm of His voice.

God speaks through His Word, for the Spirit ignites its truth in our hearts, where it transforms us in beautiful ways and equips us for God’s meaningful work. (See our August 4 post: “The Bible is Changing Me.”) Still, there is a difference between reading Scripture and meditating on it, for when we engage the Word, knowledge matures into understanding, and a flickering light burns brighter inside. “I have more insight than my teachers,” marveled David, “for I am always thinking of your laws.”1 And when we mull Scripture over in our minds, insight leads to wonderment. “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.”2

Then how do we meditate on God’s Word, that it would speak to the innermost reaches of our soul? I have found that journaling takes me deep into the Word. I jot down a Scripture passage and then write whatever comes to mind—usually what I am learning from the verse and also how it is affecting me (e.g., praise, conviction, or a call to change or action)—after which I respond in written prayer. Of course, not everyone finds journaling to be helpful, so perhaps the memorization and recall of Scripture ushers you to a closer seat in the presence of God. Maybe you’re a student by nature, one who searches deep and wide to understand individual passages within the broader Biblical context, your heart burning with fresh insights to ancient words. How do you best focus?

Truthfully, we are never “in a room alone,” for God is always with us and He invites us to draw near to Him. He is the One who sustains us through “humanity’s problems,” for He is faithful. “Sit quietly” with Him, and meditate on His Word. He speaks.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.3 In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 Psalm 119:99
2 Psalm 119:97
3 Psalm 19:14

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Of People, Circumstances and Timing

Emily was struggling. As she pursued graduate school admission, her GPA and GRE were not in her favor, and she was convincing herself that she would fail and miss the opportunity to pursue her dream. By the time she completed the application process, she had worked herself into an anxious state. One Sunday evening, Emily attended her church’s small group for the first time in months, and later opened her Bible and journaled her thoughts, also for the first time in months. The next morning, she received a text from a former lab partner with whom she had not been in contact for well over a year. He had been praying that morning and was moved to share with her with a very specific note of encouragement. “I don’t know if you’re a believer, and I’m sorry if this sounds weird to you,” he began, “but I had to tell you this was on my heart: As I was praying, I saw you and I knew I needed to connect with you to tell you God is here for you. He supports you in your goals, and you need to continue your pursuits, because that’s what God is calling you to do and you will be successful with it.”

We have been focusing on how we hear God, notably through His Word, through prayer, and that still, small voice of the Spirit. Yet God also speaks to us through people, circumstances, and timing. We sometimes call these, “God moments.” Is it just a random coincidence, for instance, that God steered Emily to fellowship and the Word one evening, and then within mere hours stirred her lab partner to step out in faith and affirm her for “pursuits” about which he knew nothing? I don’t think so, either. For the Sovereign God works through His creation to meet us at our need, whatever it may be. As Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, “be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”1 Then whether we are called to offer the same to others, as the lab partner did, or we are moved to receive it from others, as Emily did, we also do well to remain watchful and ready.

This is not to suggest we run to people for their answers to our challenges, nor do we run to others with every untested thought about them. Rather, “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.”2 This is what Emily’s lab partner spoke, and this is what Emily received, both operating in faith.

Father, in Your love You speak to us and through us. Humble us and quiet us, that hearing Your voice and discerning it from all others, we will be faithful to You today. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 2 Timothy 4:2
2 1 Peter 4:11
3 Romans 1:5