Summary: The best way to hear the voice of God is by reading Scripture attentively.

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Talking and Listening to God -- Part 2

Isaac Butterworth

November 28, 2010

John 10:1-6 (NIV)

1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 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. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

We’re in the second part of a series on ‘Talking and Listening to God,’ and what we’re saying in this series is that our life is a laboratory in which we discover the faithfulness of God and in which we develop our own. Last week, we looked at prayer as a kind of lab project, and, of course, one thing we discovered is that communication with God is not a one-way street. We don’t just talk to God; we listen as well.

So, how do we do that? How do we listen to God? We can’t literally hear him speaking to us, but we believe he does so all the same. How can we recognize his voice? How can we know what he is saying?

First of all, we must understand one simple truth: We hear ‘voices’ all the time. We are inundated with messages from within and from without. If you watch TV or listen to the radio, if you log onto the internet or pick up a magazine or newspaper, or if you simply drive down the street, you absorb thousands of visual images and sound bytes and sense impressions every day. And, taken together, they tell you who you are to be, what you are to do, and why that’s important. They shape your identity and define your understanding of success. They create your expectations for life and offer you feedback on how you’re doing in meeting those expectations. In many instances, these ‘voices’ are programmed to distort your humanity and perhaps even destroy your soul. Jesus says of his sheep, that is, us, his followers, that they will not listen to such voices. ‘They will never follow a stranger’ he says; ‘in fact, they will run away from [the stranger] because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.’ But it’s not for lack of opportunity to hear the stranger’s voice, is it?

So, how do we hear God’s voice among all the competing claims on our attention? How do we distinguish it from all the other voices out there? As we explore this question, I’d like to begin by asserting that there are three conditions for hearing God’s voice, three conditions for recognizing the voice of God.

And the first one is this: You have to want to hear it. Hearing God’s voice begins as a matter of affection. We have to listen for the voice of God the way a lover listens for the voice of the beloved. During the year before my wife and I were married, I lived in a remote city, and what I discovered is that there is no pain like the pain of longing for someone you love. I went to the mail box every day, and the only reason I went was to see if there was a letter from her. If there was no letter, I moped about through the course of the day, but if there was one, my heart was filled with joy. I carefully opened it and read it the same way a man dying of thirst drinks water. Then I would carry it about with me as though it were a rare and precious jewel -- and, to me, it was -- and several times during the day I would open it and read it again, weighing each word. In the Song of Solomon, the beloved says that, even in her sleep, she was on alert for the sound of her lover. ‘I slept but my heart was awake,’ she says’ (Song of Solomon 5:2). If we love God, we will yearn to hear his voice. The first condition for recognizing the voice of God is that we have to want to hear it.

The second condition is that we know we need to hear it. Jesus says, ‘The sheep listen to [the shepherd’s] 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.’ The Lord is our shepherd, and, as our shepherd, he makes us lie down in green pastures, he leads us beside quiet waters, he restores our souls, he guides us in right paths. If we are lost, he leaves the ninety-nine other sheep safe in the fold and comes looking for us, calling to us, and when he finds us, he carries us back to safety. He is the good shepherd, and we are safe only when we follow him. In order to hear his voice, we must know that we need to hear it.

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