We’ve all heard it. Someone will say, “God told me” or “I heard God telling me what to do.” Have you ever heard God’s voice? Have you ever wondered why God seems to speak directly to some people and not others? Have you ever noticed that often when you hear people saying that God has spoken to them, that what God said to them was exactly what they wanted to hear? Isn’t it amazing how often God’s viewpoint happens to align perfectly their own opinions — and their particular perspective?
I’m not being cynical here, but I think it’s only fair to tell you that I tend to take these kinds of reports not just with a grain of salt, but the whole shaker. Or, having grown up on a farm in East Texas, maybe more like a whole block of salt.
But on the other hand, how do we know? Does God speak to us in some way today? Can only a relative few hear that Divine voice? If so, how do they do that? The idea of God speaking directly to us is not new. Throughout the scriptures we see instances of God speaking to the people. For example, in the third chapter of I Samuel, when God speaks to young Samuel, it’s the old priest, Eli who helps Samuel figure out what was going on — and what to do: “Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been. Then the Lord came, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”
So, what does it mean to even conceive of God speaking to us today? How do we listen for God’s voice? How do we know when we hear it? How do we let God know, as Samuel did, that we’re listening?
In my own experience, I think that when we are paying attention to the needs in our world —when we’re tuned in deeply to Jesus’ teaching — and at the same time taking seriously our modern understanding of our world and the way things work — then we can discern God’s “voice” to come to an understanding of God’s will and way for our lives.
And how do we know it’s God’s voice and not the voice of our own ego? How can we be sure? I think any time we think we hear God’s voice providing direction for our choices and lives, there are a few simple tests we must apply within a community of faith:
- Is it in keeping with the spirit of Jesus?
- Is it Grace filled?
- Is it Loving?
- Is it Faithful?
In our United Methodist tradition, we have the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral to help with this discernment process. Using this tool of our faith, we consider our studies of scripture, our ability to think and reason, our life experiences, and the traditions of our faith.
We also have to take seriously our ability to deceive ourselves. Are we hearing what we want to hear? Is what we hear validating what we want to do anyway? I think we’re all susceptible to that. We can all fall into “creating God in our image.” These are the times for deeper discernment.
Quite often the message we need to hear will run counter to what we thought. It surprises us. It’s not what we expect, and yet when we consider it deeply, it feels right.
Sometimes we talk about “listening” in prayer. What does it mean to listen in prayer? How do we help ourselves tune in to God’s frequency? How do we pay attention to the things that will help us know God’s voice and direction when we hear it?
I look forward to delving more deeply into this kind of listening with you this Sunday in the Sanctuary.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster