On holiday in Copenhagen, I learned in the fabulous Danish National Museum that Ice Age Hunters could walk from Jutland, Denmark to England. After the great deluge, (probably triggered by the melting of the North American glaciers) described in the myths of hundreds of cultures, it was no longer possible.
In Genesis 6-10, we read how Noah, “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, who walked with God,” was saved from this natural disaster because he listened to God’s very specific directions for building the ark–see Gen 6: 14-21.
And Noah was saved while his nation perished. The ability to hear the word of God not only transforms our lives—but may save them.
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But there is a price to hearing the word of God “ like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matt: 13:44. Free treasure, but buying the field costs not less than everything.
The Negev Desert covers half of Israel, beneath the snow-covered mountains of the North. Build a massive ship—450 feet long— in the desert?? Noah looked ridiculous. His neighbours must have scoffed! How he must have doubted himself! But he persisted.
How difficult that must have been.
Perhaps the inner voice was so insistent that it was more painful to ignore it than to listen to it. And his obedience saved his life.
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And God still speaks to us as he spoke to Noah.
A. W. Tozer writes, “God is forever seeking to speak to His creation. The whole Bible supports the idea. God is speaking. Not God spoke, but God is speaking. He is by His nature continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking Voice.”
And hearing God, the logos in Scripture, and the rhema, the living word sharper than a double-edged sword, changes your life. It may even save it.
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My most-life changing decisions came to me from left-field, out of the blue, when resting in the presence of God—
a) applying to Oxford University (only!!),
b) becoming a writer
c) whom to marry!
d) starting my publishing company which now supports our family (an idea which came with Noah-like practicality, and suggestions of printers to use, distributors and how to get the books formatted!!)
e) taking up blogging–which I would never have been able to stick to if I had not been certain that it was God’s will. It is so prodigal of energy, and can take a while to pay off either financially, or as the launch-pad of a career!
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How do we hear God’s voice? Tune in to that easily-missed frequency?
Here are some ways I have personally found helpful, and, of course, I am trying to describe nebulous, numinous spiritual experience.
1) God speaks continuously and is not silent. However, the more we listen to him, the more we are able to recognise and tune in to the faint, tenuous, radio frequency of his voice.
Obey him when you hear him speak. You know, that fib you were going to tell to get out of a foolish over-commitment? Stop. Say no. No is a complete sentence.
And that argument. Drop it. Seek peace and pursue it.
Or I might hear God say: “Anita, stop spiralling into the black hole of negativity and unforgiveness; think about the good things about this person and situation, and thank me for them.” And I obey
Passing the practice tests helps me know what that still small voice sounds like. And then I recognize it when I really, really need God’s guidance for how to develop my business or my blog.
If we do not obey God when we hear him speak, we are no longer sure if what we hear is God’s voice or not. We can lose the spiritual sixth sense which helps us hear God’s voice.
2) Make space for him. I love soaking prayer, an agendaless resting in God’s presence. It takes a while to settle down, it can seem, in Richard Foster’s phrase, “not just a waste of time, but a waste of self,” but, then, often, God speaks. And even when he does not, I still feel strengthened, built up, filled, fed just by the experience of resting in his presence.
3) As star differs from star in splendour (1 Cor 15:41) so too our experiences of hearing God will differ. Remember and record them.
Listen to your body. For me, hearing God’s specific guidance feels like electricity tingling through my body. As if I’ve been trepanned and had a pearl dropped into my brain.
Listen to your emotions. I feel excitement, exhilaration, a thrill, certainty. Once I am sure it’s God, I am usually tenacious in doing what I have heard him say.
Listen to your spirit. For me, the signs are joy and peace.
4) Knowing what God sounds like in the Logos, the written word, will help us recognise the still small voice of the Spirit.
Just as we learn to be more kind, truthful, loving, and patient through a two-steps forward, one step backwards process, so too we learn to hear God’s voice, through trial and error.
And sometimes, We will get it wrong.
Francis of Assisi heard the icon say, Francis: Rebuild my house. And he, the literalist, steals bales of cloth from his father and sells them to rebuild the church of San Damiano. Later he senses God say, “No, not your neighbourhood church. For I dwell not in a house built by human hands. Heaven is my dwelling place, and the whole earth is full of my glory. I meant rebuild the Holy Catholic Church which is now in ruins.”
Through trial and error, we learn what God’s voice sounds like. When I hear God myself, or listen to people whose spiritual experience I trust tell me about hearing God, or listen to the way Jesus spoke in the Gospels–well, there are certain stylistic similarities. He speaks simply, often in one-liners, which is why Francis, for instance, misinterpreted him—a common experience, actually, as one reads spiritual biographies.
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R. T. Kendall’s The Sensitivity of the Spirit, incidentally, is a fab book if you would like to explore hearing God’s voice in greater depth.