Summary: How do we hear God speak?
Learning to Listen
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
July 4, 2010
Series: Through the Bible in a Year
One of the things that seems to disturb us most about believing – about being disciples and trusting in God’s promise of redemption is the apparent silence from heaven. I often hear frustration voiced by believers who just want God to say what’s on his mind. When I was in the service if the captain wanted to address the crew, he just got on the p/a system and spoke to us. I have often wondered why God doesn’t have a p/a system.
But when I look back over my life – and I have heard this from other believers as well – I can see plenty of moments where God spoke very clearly. Like the time I was driving the road from Dad’s house into town – I’d done it millions of times. I knew every pothole and bump. I knew exactly how fast I could take each turn without skidding out of control. I even knew how each house, tree and meadow alongside the road should look. I am fairly certain that I have actually driven that road in my sleep.
Then one evening – a very beautiful evening; temperate, the sun painting exquisite pastels across the azure sky – I saw something that took my breath away. Three crosses – a gold one flanked by two blue ones. I had just been this way a day before and there was no sign of them then. Now, on this hill just off the road they stood – a silent witness of to the wage of sin and the grace of God.
I was dumbstruck – my mind began racing. I actually began thinking about whether this was a sign that Jesus Christ would soon return. The sudden appearance of these crosses seemed like a miracle – an omen, really – that both thrilled me and unnerved me. The vision of those crosses burned into my memory banks and became the fodder for much reflection over the next few days. God had spoken a simple and one word message to me through those three roadside crosses – a message that continues to be essential to my faith and preaching even today – remember.
There are other instances when I look back where I can point to divine discourse – times when God spoke to me – but I missed the message, like we had a bad cell connection or something. And invariably, our connection problems were a result of me not listening.
If God were to speak to you, how would you expect him to speak? What exactly would you listen for or maybe look for? And that’s really the rub isn’t it? Maybe the problem isn’t divine silence. Maybe the problem is that we don’t know how to recognize when God speaks. Maybe the real trick is learning how to listen.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Elijah. Elijah is a study in the ups and downs of the life of faith. A chaplain I knew described Elijah as a wild-eyed mountain man coming out of an obscure village called Tishbe in Gilead. He answered the call of God to go before King Ahab and jab the finger of judgment in the royal chest and cry “Repent!” The kind of guy, this chaplain said, who would charge hell swinging from a wet noodle and using a squirt gun.
I am not all that certain this is an accurate description of Elijah, but it is true that he was called out of the mountain region to the west of the Jordan and was to confront the apostasy taking root among Israel. He prophesied before Ahab that God would shut up the waters of heaven for three years – no rain. There seems to be no lack of boldness in Elijah – at least, not at first. Elijah had obviously heard from God and had no doubt about his message or his mission.
The story we read this morning from 1 Kings 19, however, is the story of a guy who has heard the voice of God in as many ways imaginable but still managed to have it drowned out in a moment of fear. It’s a story that gives me hope because amazingly, God does not forsake the suddenly hard-of-hearing prophet. Instead, he continues to speak to him, lisping softly as a parent to an infant, to comfort and encourage.
Just to catch us up to date – after telling Ahab that the Land would have no rain for three years, Elijah melts into the landscape and disappears for three years – to Ahab’s everlasting chagrin. The king looks high and low for Elijah, but God keeps him hidden from the king’s sight. After three years, Elijah reappears issuing a challenge – your gods against mine; let’s offer a sacrifice to each – you to yours and me to mine – whichever God answers with fire is the true God.